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April 10, 2010 in The China Beat


Copyright April 10, 2010. Used by permission.


Finishing up work on China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know, which is due out in a few days from Oxford University Press, and then more recently preparing for a series of public events that are linked in some way to its publication, set me thinking about the varied ways that books incorporate things that have gone before them. The many kinds of building blocks, from tales told to things written down, that authors use to create something new.

I’ve never written a novel, but I’ve heard that these can easily grow out of a tale told around a campfire or a short story. It is commonplace in the academy to assume that textbooks will contain many chapters that started out as classroom lectures. And the term “conference volume” is sometimes used as a shorthand for scholarly books with multiple contributors, since it is routine for these work to include at least some chapters that began life as papers delivered at workshops.

I know that my own first book, Student Protests in Twentieth-Century China, like so many monographs by recently minted PhDs, evolved directly out of a dissertation. My second individually authored book, China’s Brave New World–And Other Tales for Global Times, was a more complex concoction, made up of previously unpublished short pieces and chapters adapted from works of reportage and travel writing I’d done for magazines, journals of opinion, and literary reviews. And my third one, Global Shanghai, 1850-2010, though less obviously tied to previous texts, definitely had parts that had roots in academic articles and parts that had roots in public talks I’d given over the years.

China in the 21st Century is, in one sense, a departure from all of these models. It was imagined and written essentially from scratch, designed from the beginning to be part of an Oxford series, the “what everyone needs to know” one whose trademark has become a question and answer format.