The China Blog: An Interview with Historian James H. Carter

tags: interviews, Jeffrey Wasserstrom, China, historians, James H. Carter, LA Review of Books



Historian James H. Carter recently wrote a piece for the Los Angeles Review of Books on a new “biography” of the “The Books of Changes,” an important Chinese classical text.  Asia Editor Jeffrey Wasserstrom caught up with Carter to ask him a few questions about, naturally enough, China and biography.

JW: You began your review of Richard Smith’s new “biography” of the Yi Jing (Book of Changes) with some ruminations on the whole notion of biographies that don’t focus on individuals.  If there were one other book with a tie to China you think especially worthy of a “biography,” what would it be - and who would you like to see write

JHC: It’s hard to eschew “actual” biographies - ones about people - because there are so many lives in China’s past that are so rich and resonant.  Zhang Xueliang, who began life as the son of China’s most powerful warlord, and saw his homeland overrun by Japanese troops after his own commanders ordered him not to resist, played a key role in kidnapping Chiang Kai-shek and forcing him to cooperate with the Communists before living for decades under house arrest in Taiwan (eventually dying - at age 100! - in Hawaii), seems a more than deserving subject.

If I were going to suggest a “non-traditional” subject for a biography, I think I’d still stick with a human being: Lei Feng, the propaganda hero of Mao’s regime. He only lived to be 20 years old, as I understand it, but his life “after death” has been fascinating. I’m not aware of a biography of Lei Feng in English, or even an in-depth study on Lei Feng in history, myth, and legend. I can’t think of anyone better to write on this than Geremie Barme, at Australian National University (or perhaps Jeff Wasserstrom!)...



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