AAS Member Spotlight: Lynn White

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Dr. Lynn White, Emeritus Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University

How long have you been a member of AAS?

Lifetime member since grad student days at Berkeley in the mid-1960s.

Why did you join AAS and why would you recommend AAS to your colleagues?

The AAS Annual Meetings are interdisciplinary and much broader in intellectual terms than alternatives such as APSA (which I nonetheless also joined as a lifetime member, hoping against hope that political science could be less parochially American).

What do you enjoy most or what have been your most rewarding experiences involving your work in Asian Studies?

Seeing what study of "local" Chinese (and local Philippine) politics can contribute to ideas about comparative politics anywhere. Finding evidence that China's substantive "reforms" began in relatively rich rural areas in the early 1970s (after triple-cropping was extended sharply in the late 1960s) - not in 1978. Looking at those reforms from many angles (in the economy, politics, media, arts, law), especially from c. 1971 to 1989 for Unstately Power: Local Causes of China's Reforms, Policies of Chaos. Working with Princeton students, both doctoral and undergraduate, who have gone on to make fine academic careers for themselves in Chinese politics and law.

Tell us about your current or past research.

My current work is a draft book about "Hong Kong's Democratization - and China's?" in which the ? is, of course, the most important part of the title.  In January 2015, I published a book, Philippine Politics: Possibilities and Problems in a Localist Democracy.  Much of my past research concerns Shanghai and the culturally rich area around it: a book about ways in which ordinary citizens during the 1950s arranged their careers, another about three "Policies of Chaos" that help to explain the Cultural Revolution's violence, a two-volume book about "Unstately Power" as reforms began, a comparative book about
"Political Booms" in Taiwan, East China, Thailand, and the Philippines. Each of these emphasizes under-reported local leaders, and each takes both unintended situations and normative intentions as potentially causal.

What advice or recommendation do you have for students interested in a career in Asian Studies?

If you are interested in contemporary affairs, perhaps consider going into sociology. Scholars in that field may be somewhat more confident and broad (as most historians are) than in other kinds of social study - although all academics, in absolutely every departmental subject (including humanities and natural sciences), have a sad tendency to be methodological faddists.

Outside of Asian Studies, tell us some interesting facts about yourself.

My wife is a musician. Like my sons, I sing bass. One of many highlights at the AAS Annual Conference is, of course, the Gilbert and Sullivan singalong.


"The AAS Annual Meetings are interdisciplinary and much broader in intellectual terms than alternatives."

— Lynn White