Placing China in Comparison
An Outsider’s Perspective
GREGORY J. KASZA
As Scott Kennedy writes in the introduction to this volume, most research on China’s political economy, and in fact, on Chinese politics in general, ostensibly takes the form of the national study, not comparative politics. China is hardly unique in this respect. Most nationals of any country study its politics because it is their politics, a vital part of their lives, not because they aspire to develop general scholarly theories. And, for a variety of reasons, even most foreign scholars of a given political system seem to limit themselves to single-country case studies. Like scholarship on U.S. politics, however, research on China suffers more from this “one-country area” syndrome than most others, for reasons that are easy to surmise.
First, when Chinese area studies programs took root in U.S. academia in the mid-twentieth century, they were initially anchored in the three humanities fields of language, literature, and history. Most scholars in these fields produced (and continue to produce) noncomparative research, and they trained their students accordingly. Reinforcing this trend was the fact that many of the founders of modern Chinese studies in the West were the children of missionaries or people who otherwise came by their exposure to China prior to undertaking academic vocations. Consequently, many approached their disciplines with the goal of expanding their knowledge of China, rather than approaching the study of China to develop the interests of their disciplines.