Re-reading Chalmers Johnson


Chalmers Johnson, one of the key contributors to Asian studies since the early 1960s, died on November 20, 2010. (Here are several notices — linklinklink.)  Johnson has been an important contributor to Asian studies since the appearance of his first book in 1962, Peasant Nationalism and Communist Power: The Emergence of Revolutionary China, 1937-1945, based on his doctoral dissertation at Berkeley.  The book created a long debate about the causes of the Chinese revolution — patriotism or class? — which shed new light on the nature of Communist mobilization.

Johnson was a brilliant thinker who was exceptionally attuned to language — both in his own writing and in the importance of making nuanced use of Chinese and Japanese sources in studying Asian history.  And he was a figure who seemed to relish controversy, from this early debate about the Revolution to his focus on American empire in the past half dozen years (Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope).

Here is a posting on the debate about Johnson’s theory of peasant nationalism and current thinking about the Chinese Revolution that I provided for ChinaBeat.



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