In a fit of narcissism, I was searching for my name in Chinese. I was pleased to find a few recent scholarly pieces in China that list me as a member of the ‘California school’ (加州学派) of economic and social historians who work on China. I guess if I am to be listed as the member of a faction or school, better to be listed as a member of the California School than a member of the Saskatchewan, Rhode Island, or Wyoming School. If you’re part of a named school or faction, hopefully it is named after a place that is exotic and evocative. If you hear ‘California school’, you imagine a band of open-minded, edgy and perhaps hip professors dressed in khaki pants and white linen shirts hashing out their differences down by the beach.
That said, I’m not sure those of us who are so listed would all agree that we have enough in common to be considered a ‘school’ or academic faction.
I guess the idea on the part of those who have lumped us all together into the ‘California school’ is that we are distinguished by pursuing new approaches to the study of Chinese social and economic history, including use of new methods and data, and a perspective that is less beholden to the influence of traditional thinking associated with European or North American scholars. The origin of the label appears to be that almost everyone involved either teaches at a university in California, or used to.
Oddly almost everyone who disagrees with the various views espoused by members of the ‘California school’ also has some kind of California connection: they either teach somewhere in California, used to teach in California, or earned their degrees. I guess this speaks to the dominance of California universities in the English-language scholarly literature on the social and economic history of China. Even if you violently disagree with the ‘California school’, you’re probably still connected to California. Unfortunately within California, affiliations don’t line up neatly, so we can’t really speak of opposing ‘Northern California’ and ‘Southern California’ schools.
Anyway, here are a few of the academic essays that discuss the ‘California school’, and list me as one of its members…