Oral Histories

Interview of Paul Pickowicz

American historian of modern China and Distinguished Professor of History and Chinese Studies at University of California, San Diego.
Chinese Studies Scholars Oral History Project
Chinese Studies
Biographical Note:
American historian of modern China and Distinguished Professor of History and Chinese Studies at University of California, San Diego.
Chen, Xi
Pickowicz, Paul
Persons Present:
Pickowicz and Chen.
Place Conducted:
The interviews were conducted in person at the Geisel Library, University of California, San Diego.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Xi Chen, MA, MLS, Sally T. WongAvery Librarian of Chinese Studies and East Asia Collection Strategist, University of California, San Diego. The interviewer prepared for the interview by reading Paul G. Pickowicz’s A Sensational Encounter with High Socialist China; Pickowicz’s Chinese Village, Socialist State; Pickowicz’s China on Film: A Century of Exploration, Confrontation, and Controversy; Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars’ China! Inside the People’s Republic; Hanchao Lu’s Versatility, Interdisciplinarity, and Academic Collaboration: Paul Pickowicz’s Insights on Chinese Studies.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording as transcribed by a machine transcribing program and audit-edited by the interviewer. The interviewee was given an opportunity to review the transcript and made a number of corrections and additions. The transcript may thus differ slightly from the audio recording because of the changes the interviewee made at the time of their review.
5.25 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The past sixty years have been an important period in the development of Chinese studies in the U.S and Canada. Those years have seen increased funding from Title VI and other sources, the evolution of new fields and areas of specialization, and the systematization and professionalization of scholarly training. They have also seen momentous changes in China’s status in the world and in the relationship between China and the U.S.—changes that, in turn, have had major consequences for the scope, status, and impact of the field of Chinese studies. Although these have been highly consequential years for Chinese studies, the details of these developments are often preserved only in the participants’ memories, and there has been no systematic effort to record those memories. The Chinese Studies Scholars Oral History Project is a collaboration among Chinese/East Asian studies librarians and scholars in the U.S. and Canada, the UCLA Richard C. Rudolph East Asian Library, and the UCLA Library Center for Oral History Research. Through in-depth, multi-session oral histories, it documents the development of the field of Chinese studies, the academic careers of its prominent practitioners, and the social, political, and economic context of which it was a part.
Childhood in Cambridge, Massachusetts post WWII--Immigrant family, parents’ education and profession--Grandparents’ Ukrainian and Irish roots and their farm life--Childhood accident on the family farm--Siblings’ influence on reading--No Asian/Chinese connection in the community--Moving from city to suburb--Middle and high school life in Billerica--Favorite subject in high school--A popular athlete in high school--Taking foreign languages in high school--Preparing for college and getting guidance from counselor--Admitted to Springfield College and studied Teacher Education--Going on an European trip with an American History professor and peers--Life-changing experiences in Europe--Became interested in China in 1966 through news and books--Stayed in Europe for an extra summer traveling--Took more China-related courses and was mentored by China historian Francis Ross Carpenter in senior year--Didn’t learn Chinese in college due to lack of classes--Decided to focus on modern period--Family response to his study of China.
A diary keeper--Guidance from two mentors on pursuing an advanced degree on China--One year MA at Tufts - MA thesis “Old China Trade in the 19th Century”--Interviewed the Forbes family (Crosby Forbes)--Exposure to politics--Possibility of getting drafted--Missed deadlines to apply for Ph.D.--Exempted from the draft--Late application to Ph.D. programs--Chose the University of Wisconsin Madison--Had Maurice Meisner as his faculty advisor and Tetsuo Najita as the mentor of the minor (Japanese history)--Learned four years of Chinese in two years --Hu Ping, the Chinese language teacher--Student movement and age of counterculture.
Engaged in the student movement--Teaching Assistants Association (TA union)-- Intellectual history of China dominated the field--Lack of access to archival research in China--Dissertation topic on Qu Qiubai--Transnational approach in studying Chinese history--Research materials on Qu Qiubai--Going to Hong Kong for a year, the first trip to Asia--Based at University Service Center and met with other China scholars--Talking to refugees from China--Requesting to visit China as members of Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars--Lee Tsung-ying connected the group with Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries--15 people were invited to visit China--A regulated tour but a thrilling experience--Henry Kissinger visited China around the same time--Nixon’s China trip was on the horizon--Meeting with Premier Zhou Enlai (Yao Wenyuan and Zhang Chunqiao)--The trip’s impact on having a dualistic persona in the modern China studies field--Networking with people at East Asian Studies Center at Harvard University--Applied for postdoc at University of Michigan--Decided to come to University of California, San Diego.
Second trip back to China in 1977--Multi-year collaboration with Mark Selden and Ed Friedman on Chinese village (Chinese Village, Socialist State 1991; Revolution, Resistance and Reform in Village China 2005)--Why interested in village--Wugong village in Hebei Provice--Conducted oral history in the village--Process of gaining trust--Access to county archive (breakthrough)--Grassroots research or bottom-up research takes time commitment--Villagers’ view on collectivization, the Great Leap Forward, and the formation of the communes--Bonding with local people--Wugong materials donated to UC San Diego Library--Second project, early history of the Chinese film industry--Why interested in early films--Met with actress Wang Danfeng--Got access to the China Film Archive through funding, 1982-83--Interdisciplinary scholar--Screening movies in the Film Archive--Silent films and talkies--Subtitles of the films--Oral history with film people--Interviewed Qian Zhongshu, Wang Renmei, Li Lili, Shi Yu, etc--Research questions about films--Modern marriage as a thematic pattern of popular films--Present-day Chinese film industry--Research on post-1990 independent filmmaking in China--Involved in three films’ production as associate producer--Getting clips for films from the Film Archive.
Teaching is an honorable profession--Three courses on modern Chinese history--People’s Republic of China (PRC) history course in 1970s--Cultural History of 20th Century China (also known as the film class)--Student-produced films that depicted 1920s-1930s China--Golden Chopsticks Film Gala--Difficulties and obstacles in making the films--Some students went on to work in film profession--Started the Ph.D. program at UC San Diego in the 1990s (focusing on modern China)--Two-person operation with Joe Esherick--Has trained 38 Ph.D. students--Recruiting strategy and process--A system of co-advisors--Length of the Ph.D. program--Emphasis on bonding among the students--Camping trips--Guest lectures--UCLA, University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University library trips--Shift of research topics to PRC history--Job prospect--Program after Pickowicz’s and Esherick’s retirement--Partnership with East China Normal University in Shanghai--Recruitment of two new chairs--Story of the endowed chairship--International teaching--Background of the Ph.D. students (PRC vs. non PRC, gender balance)--Teaching awards--Proudest accomplishments throughout career--The significance of Chinese studies in the contemporary world.