313 Speaking about China, Learning from China: Amateur China Experts in 1970s America Sigrid Schmalzer University of Massachusetts Amherst “Realizing that soon the time will have passed when a two- or three- week trip to the ‘People’s Republic’ qualifies one as a ‘China expert,’ I want to seize the opportunity to join the ranks before they close.” 1 With this droll confession, an American sociologist of science in the spring of 1981 began a short article in an academic journal. Speaking about China to the American public, he realized, was a privilege of those who had been there, not of professional China scholars. Indeed, beginning with “ping-pong diplomacy” in April 1971, the renewal of relations between China and the United States ushered in a brief new era of “amateur China experts” in America. 2 While academics with decades of research behind them struggled to arrange their first visits to the place they had studied for decades, scores of Americans who could not even order a bowl of noodles in Chinese secured invita- tions to tour China’s schools, factories, communes, and research institu- tions. Some were professionals eager to discover what their counterparts in China were doing. Chinese Premier
Journal of American-East Asian Relations – Brill
Published: Jan 1, 2009
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