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May 9, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright May 9, 2009. Used by permission.


I’ve recently been lucky enough to be asked to do a couple of radio interviews to promote Global Shanghai, 1850-2010: A History in Fragments, and also to get an opportunity to explain what I was trying to do in the book to various journalists working for Chinese and English language publications. This is a very nice development because I wrote the book with general readers as well as academics in mind, and because I hoped that my ideas about Shanghai would start to make their way into Chinese as well as English language discussions of the city’s past, present, and future. It was gratifying, for example, to see part of my conversation with Mina Choi (held before I spoke at the Shanghai International Literary Festival in March) appear last month in the Beijing-based English language magazine China International Business (the text as well as her review of the book is available here); to see a podcast show up on the web of the conversation I had with Jerome McDonnell for his excellent “Worldview” show; and to come across several pieces online (like this one) that draw on a discussion I had with a group of Shanghai journalists before giving a talk at Fudan’s new Institute for Advanced Study in the Social Sciences.

One question these recent interviewers didn’t ask, perhaps because they were too polite, is one that a couple of colleagues, who knew how long I took to finish Global Shanghai, asked me before I finally delivered my manuscript to Routledge. They wondered whether I was worried that being so slow to finish it up would have adverse effects on the book’s impact and reception, due to either my being scooped by another writer producing a very similar book, or the Chinese and international fascination with Shanghai petering out.

In the end, I don’t think the delayed appearance of Global Shanghai was a problem on either of these fronts. A lot of Shanghai books, including some superb ones, had already been published when I started work on mine, and many more appeared while I was working on Global Shanghai. But I felt from the start that there was one thing in particular that would set Global Shanghai apart from other works on the city in English: namely, the fact that it would be a scholarly yet accessible book that was by a single author and dealt with both the treaty-port era and the post-1949 one in detail, highlighting both the continuities and discontinuities between the internationalizations of these two periods.