I like to think of Sherman Cochran
and Andrew Hsieh
's new book as Downton Abbey: Shanghai Edition
. It is that gripping, and will keep you turning the pages that eagerly. At the same time, The Lius of Shanghai
(Harvard University Press, 2013) is also an important, innovative, and timely intervention into the historiography of families, institutions, and the politics of modern China. The book is a family history of an exceptionally prominent (and exceptionally fascinating) business family in China during the first half of the twentieth century. Emerging from a cache of letters written between the late 1920s and early 1950s and held at the Center for Research on Chinese Business History in the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, the project ultimately expanded to incorporate an archive of roughly 2,000 family letters that chronicle the relationships, educations, careers, romantic and political entanglements, and physical and emotional health of all of the members (literate and not) of this large and growing family. Sherm and I talked about the arc of the story in the context of the broader political transformations of modern China, his own narrative choices in structuring the book, and the larger significance of the book for reshaping the way we think about power relationships and the history of Chinese families. It is a wonderfully gripping and masterfully written model of the historian's craft, and I hope you enjoy the conversation and the book as much as I did!