Reflections on the Evolution of the China Field in Political Science

August 19, 2010


Over the past five decades, China has transformed from a closed society to a subject that foreign scholars can study directly. In a chapter from Contemporary Chinese Politics: New Sources, Methods, and Field Strategies (Cambridge University Press, September 2010), Kenneth Lieberthal explores the development of research on Chinese politics over the course of modern Chinese history.

To understand the scope of these changes, Lieberthal traces the history of China researchers from American scholars in the 1960s who studied China as an “abstraction” through information trickled through Taiwan and Hong Kong to the contemporary political scientists who travel to the PRC with frequency and ease. Meanwhile, internal reform and the diversification of media in the PRC have created an unprecedented wealth of information for political scientists. Despite the growth of China studies, problems like the complications of conducting field research in China and political pressures on both sides continue to present unique challenges to studying China.