China Beat Archive



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September 29, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright September 29, 2008. Used by permission.


Antonia Finnane is Professor of Chinese History at the University of Melbourne, co-editor (with Anne McLaren) of Dress, Sex and Text in Chinese Culture (1999), and author of three books: Far From Where? Jewish Journeys from Shanghai to Australia (1999); Speaking of Yangzhou: A Chinese City, 1550-1850 (2004); andChanging Clothes in China: Fashion, History, Nation (2008). Read on for an interview with this prolific scholar and a review of her latest book.

Nicole Barnes: What first drew you to China studies?

Antonia Finnane: It’s hard to say, but the Cold War and the Vietnam War were probably factors. When I started university in 1971, I might have studied Vietnamese had it been available; as it was I enrolled in Elementary Chinese. But I did have a long-standing interest in China from reading children’s fiction, most memorably Ho Ming, Girl of New China, which I later found out won the children’s book of the year in the US in 1937; also House of Sixty Fathers, Plum Blossom and Kai Lin, The Chinese Twins – all borrowed from the local library. My parents had a copy of Ling Shu-hua’s Ancient Melodies, which I also read when I was young. All this childhood reading must have made an impression on me, because I have been interested in China and Chinese for as long as I can remember. I wasn’t a very good language student, but Chinese is very addictive and having started on the China road in my first year of university, I never really looked back though I have sometimes thought that life is not long enough to study Chinese if you want to do anything else, such as have a life.

NB: How did the field look when you first started? (i.e., What topics were being explored? How much collaborative work between Chinese and Western scholars was being done?, etc.)