China Studies Student Fieldwork Experiences

China Studies Student Fieldwork Experiences

Caleb Pomeroy, Fieldwork 2014-15

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Cate Laporte-Oshiro, Fieldwork 2013-14

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Andrew Winterbottom, Fieldwork 2013-14

andrew winterbottom

While studying on the MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies, a generous grant from the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies (now the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies) enabled me to travel to the United Nations’ archives in New York to conduct dissertation research.  I enjoyed the chance to apply first-hand the skills taught in the course’s research methods module as I waded through the plethora of letters, communications, and proceedings that yielded the current framework of international space law.  Looking at past UN debates helped me develop a better appreciation for the present debates covered in the international relations module.  The interdisciplinary nature of the course helped me to also consider various modes of interpretation beyond just the political.  I could clearly recognize the relevance of the program as I analyzed the historical interactions of the US and China through the UN. The MSc allows its students to address and delve deep into the issues and debates of today, and its support for student research is a testament to its devotion to finding answers to the questions they pose.

My Master's dissertation focuses on EU-US-China trilateral economic relations and the rise of free trade agreements of unprecedented size, ambition, and potential ramifications. Thus, I was fortunate to receive a China Travel Research Award to fund a week of field research in Brussels, Belgium and to have additional support from the China Centre in the form of contacts, advising on relevant theory and methodology, and technical support with recording of interviews and data security.

In Brussels, I interviewed government officials, representatives of advocacy groups, and other experts about ongoing economic negotiations and broader economic strategy, gathering data that formed the foundation of my analysis and gaining important research skills and experience. After an intense week of work, including interviews themselves, preparation, write-ups, and transcriptions, I also had a little time left over to do some sightseeing, which I enjoyed as it was my first time in Brussels. The insight and contacts I gained during this fieldwork, as well as during the MSc more broadly, will continue to help me as I pursue related research as a doctoral student.

I examined contemporary minority policy in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region for my Master’s dissertation. Thanks to a travel grant from the Contemporary China Studies Centre, I was able to conduct fieldwork in Beijing and Urumqi over the Easter vacation. Preparation was crucial – the potentially sensitive nature of my research topic meant I couldn’t just arrive in China and expect to find willing interviewees. The groundwork for my research was actually laid before I started the course, during a summer in Beijing. My supervisor’s network of contacts also proved extremely useful. In Beijing and Urumqi I conducted interviews with leading minority policy academics at local universities. I found those with whom I had arranged to talk very cooperative, whilst those whom I approached at a whim generally declined to be interviewed. Again, this goes to show the importance of preparatory work. I scheduled my interviews to have some time for sightseeing on the side. I didn’t do much in the end: hearing myself speak Mandarin whilst transcribing interviews was a disturbing experience, so I decided to devote the bulk of my spare time to language learning. The findings of my research in China contributed greatly to the formation of my central thesis and streamlined the dissertation writing process. I would strongly encourage future MSc students to consider conducting fieldwork during the course of their degree: for me, it was a rewarding – and ultimately enjoyable – experience.

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