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Paper sessions in 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers (Boston, MA, 5-9 April 2017)



Yimin Zhao (The London School of Economics and Political Science); Yueming Zhang (University of Birmingham); Yang Yang (University of Colorado – Boulder)


Asian Geography Specialty Group, China Specialty Group, Cultural Geography Specialty Group, Urban Geography Specialty Group

Session introduction

In 1989, Mizoguchi Yuzo published China as Method and called for reversing Eurocentric theory and epistemological framework (Mizoguchi 2011 [1989]). For Mizoguchi, the end of conceiving China “should be the ‘study of China’ that transcends China” (cf. Chen 2010, 252). In other words, China is a method when understanding the world is the purpose – and in this multiplied “world”, as Chen Kuan-Hsing reminds us (ibid., 253), both China and Europe are elements. It is here that we can see some affinities between Mizoguchi’s position and recently rising comparative urbanism to study the world of cities (Robinson, 2006).

Mizoguchi’s proposition has methodological significances for it helps replace the vertical principle of history (which is teleological and dominated by Eurocentric theories) by a horizontal view of space-time where different elements are juxtaposed. Seeing in this way, claims of universalisation should be questioned, and investigations on the dynamic space-time are urgently needed. Some endeavours can be witnessed in the literature, such as Wang Hui’s (2011) discussion on “trans-systemic society” and “trans-societal system,” yet more efforts are required to rethink how and to what extent China can be a method to understand the world. This critical reflection on seeing China as a methodology approach can be potentially productive in geographical inquiries on/in/related to China.

In this session, we aim at continuing the proposition put forward by Mizoguchi almost three decades ago and focus on how the “study of China” may yield methodological and/or epistemological implications for not only studying China but also geographical inquiries in general. “China” is more than a field site, especially in the contemporary world where “the spectre of global China” (Lee, 2014) can be seen everywhere. Hence, we invite theoretical and empirical contributions that concern methodological and epistemological implications of the “study of China,” with “China” being broadly defined as the starting point and hopefully transcended at the end.

Potential topics include, but are not limited to:

  • What do China and the study of China mean in nowadays geographical research?
  • How can China be studied more than a subject, but as an entity, relation, process, nexus…?
  • What and how are theories used in and/or built from the study of China? What are the theoretical potentials and challenges in the study of China?
  • What kind of implications can be drawn from studies in/on China for broader concerns in fieldwork methods?
  • Where and how to locate China in comparative studies?


Paper Session I

Chair: Yueming Zhang (University of Birmingham, UK)

Discussant: Jennifer Robinson (University College London, UK)

(Extra)ordinary Beijing: On urban ontologies and artistic practice

  • Julie Ren (London School of Economics and Political Science, UK)
  • Murray Mckenzie (University College London, UK)

Space as a method: Field sites and encounters in Beijing’s green belts

  • Yimin Zhao (London School of Economics and Political Science, UK)

Provincialising the West, de-parochialising China: Some reflections from China’s urban centres and ethnic peripheries

  • Junxi Qian (University of Hong Kong, HK)

China in the African imaginary and the problems of solidarity

  • Xiaoran Hu (Queen Mary University of London, UK)

Paper Session II

Chair: Yimin Zhao (London School of Economics and Political Science, UK)

Discussant: Max D. Woodworth (Ohio State University, US)

From Xinjiang to Addis Ababa: Encountering China at its “periphery” and “frontier”

  • Ding Fei (University of Minnesota, US)

Displaying connections between Chinese and global Muslim communities through fashions in transnational urban space in the Hui Quarter in Xi’an

  • Yang Yang (University of Colorado – Boulder, US)

Of “other” people: The exotic landscape of Chinese diasporas (and its rejection) in Boston

  • Jing Luo (Tsinghua University, China)

Not “China as Methods” but “Chinese dialectics” as a methodology: The tongbian approach

  • Wing-shing Tang (Hong Kong Baptist University, HK)



Chen, K.-H., 2010. Asia as Method: Toward Deimperialization. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Lee, C. K., 2014. The spectre of global China. New Left Review (89):29-65.

Mizoguchi, Y., 2011 [1989]. China as Method [Zuowei fangfade zhongguo]. Beijing: SDX Joint Publishing Company.

Robinson, J., 2006. Ordinary cities: Between modernity and development. Routledge.

Wang, H., 2011. Trans-systemic Society and Regional Perspective in Chinese Studies. boundary 2, 38(1):165-201.