The State of PRC History and Resources for PRC Historians in Sweden

The history of the PRC has never been a field of lively academic research in Sweden: to describe it as a “field” rather than as a few scattered 自留地 is probably in itself to employ a misleading metaphor. There are no tenured faculty in university history departments who are able to read Chinese and, as a result, those same departments are loath to accept PhD students who want to work on China. Stockholm University’s Department of Oriental Languages ( http://www.orient.su.se/english/chinese) was for many years home to researchers and PhD students working on modern Chinese topics, but protracted organizational/institutional troubles have made the human environment there less than inviting, resulting in an unfortunate ”brain-drain.” The appointment in 2014 of a new professor and head of department will hopefully boost research on PRC history, generously defined. Stockholm is home to a first-rate and quite large Sinological library collection, painstakingly assembled over many years and home to many odd gems, including many rare periodicals from the 1950s and early reform era. To access the catalogue, click here.

 

In the south of Sweden, at Lund University where I work, research on PRC history is quite limited in terms of the number of people involved. Ours is the only other institute of Chinese studies (in addition to Stockholm’s) in Sweden that has a PhD program. I have myself for the last five or so years been researching the domestic operations of Mao’s security services, and one of my graduate students is writing her PhD thesis on issues relating to social control in the early PRC. Our research is by comparison generously funded, but the absence of a critical mess of colleagues sharing similar interests is not always conducive to creativity. Thankfully, there is the internet, the close proximity of sister-institutions in Europe and the United Kingdom, and daily direct flights from our local airport (half an hour away in Denmark) to Beijing. A by-product of my own earlier Cultural Revolution research – which came to an end with the publication of Mao’s Last Revolution in 2006 – is one of the largest private collections of original Red Guard and similar documents anywhere outside China. In due course, these will be donated by me to our university archive, but in principle my idle collection may already be accessed by others at my discretion – time, energy, and logistics permitting. I am happy to answer any Cultural Revolutionary documentation-related query that H-PRC graduate students in particular might have (there is no catalogue, but I have a reasonably good idea of what I possess).

 

Later in 2014, a dedicated website of mine aimed at researchers and students of PRC history will officially come online, under the name Social History of China, 1949–1979: Research, Resources, and Sources. A beta-version to which segments (so far all of them under “sources” only) are being added piecemeal is already “out there” (see http://projekt.ht.lu.se/rereso/), but there is much more to come. One of my pet projects, that eventually will become part of this website (under the rubric “resources”) is something I call a《错别字典》. It will be a tool for those (all) of us who struggle to decode handwritten records from the early PRC written by people who, for whatever reason, meiyou wenhua. Finally, to briefly reconnect with Stockholm University’s Department of Oriental Languages and its Sinological tradition, I want to draw H-PRC readers’ attention to a handbook by Roar Bökset entitled A Dictionary of Nonstandard Simplified Chinese Characters (ISBN 91-970854-0-5). Bökset, who was in China as one of Stockholm’s exchange students in the early reform-era, compiled this quirky, wonderful booklet (1986) on the basis of everything from rural restaurant menus to private letters and I, for one, have found it extremely helpful.

 

Michael Schoenhals

Professor of Chinese

Lund University/Sweden

http://www.sol.lu.se/en/sol/staff/MichaelSchoenhals/