China Beat Archive



Robert A. Kapp

Date of this Version


Document Type



November 12, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright November 12, 2008 Robert A. Kapp. Used by permission.


The first big crush of incipient China specialists after World War II marched into America’s graduate schools in the early and mid-1960s, particularly after the enactment of the National Defense Education Act made large amounts of federal money available for “Foreign Area Studies” and “Critical Language Studies.”

I was one of the marchers. Having finished college, with virtually no exposure to anything Asian, in the spring of 1964, I began six long years of graduate study that fall. The new life began at 8 a.m. on, I think, September 22, in my first language class: Chinese I. It was a helpful day; even now, whenever someone Chinese tells me how good my Chinese is, I blurt out my first teacher’s first injunction: always reply, “Wo jiu hui jiang jiju hua” (I can only speak a few words).

Our generation is now “senior,” in the way that, for us, John Fairbank and George Taylor and Martin Wilbur and, slightly younger, Arthur and Mary Wright and Doak Barnett and John Lindbeck and others were “senior” when we were barely starting. Now, at least one highly accomplished member of my academic generation is soon to publish his own informative and entertaining memoirs.

Most of us studied in Taiwan under KMT military rule in the late sixties (access to the PRC was nonexistent), then made our first trips to the PRC in the mid-seventies, either shortly before or shortly after Mao’s death. We see China through the lenses of decades of contact with the PRC.

I think I’m probably not alone in feeling powerful links to my own past in the China field, but also to the past that just pre-dated my arrival – the past of my mentors’ experience, the past that held the powerful, gripping encounter of America and China during and after World War II, the past that saw the US-China confrontation in Korea and the political convulsions over Sino-American relations in both countries.