Trying to Research the History of China and Japan While Knowing Absolutely no Chinese or Japanese. (And never going to China or Japan.)

November 1, 2015 | Adam Cohen.

I’ve now written two dissertations during two different degrees with a grand total of 25,000 words on Japanese and Chinese history and yet whenever I tried to tell anyone what I was working on I would, without fail, have the following conversation: ‘Oh so how well do you speak Japanese/Chinese?’ I don’t, and I sure as hell can’t read it. ‘When are you going out to China/Japan?’ I’m not, at least not before the deadline. These were fair enough questions to ask and no doubt someone who did speak the language would have written a much better thesis than the one that I churned out. I know a lot of people though who started to narrow down a global research area, came up against these language/travel barriers, and immediately veered away from non-English history entirely, and I think this leaves a wealth of potential scholarship unexplored.

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