China Dissertations in France (5). History

With the present blog post, I begin a review of dissertations on China by discipline.  I do not intend to cover each and every discipline, first because some of them represent too small a sample to make a serious analysis, second because this review will depend on the input and help of colleagues outside my field of competence. Thus I will devote the first post to History.

The total number of dissertations in history amounts to 159. Again, a word of caution. History here needs to be understood as a mix of dissertations supervised by historians in the field of history as a discipline, but also by non historians in social sciences Ph.D. programs (e.g. EHESS) as well as dissertations on a historical topic. As I discuss in another post, some of the dissertations in “Chinese studies” could also be included here, but I chose to preserve the original classification by

There was a constant but irregular increase over time, although the production hovered around 3-6 dissertations per year until 2010, with a moderate peak in 1991 and an unusual one in 1997. Throughout the 2010s, there was a healthy growth that, at first glance, conveys the impression that the study of Chinese history in French universities constitute a vibrant field. There were 69 dissertations between 2011 and 2019.This represents 43 percent of all the dissertations in history. It can also be noted that history is a field where non-Chinese students dominate with 90 dissertations. The Chinese and Taiwanese produced 55 and 13 dissertations respectively.

Figure 1. Evolution of the number of dissertations in history

Altogether, 82 scholars supervised dissertations on a historical topic, although only 30 of them were China scholars and a lesser number — 16 — were historians.  The 2010s marked a new movement upward characterised by the shift from the first generation of China historians — the founders : Bastid-Bruguière, Bergère, Bianco, and Roux for modern history and Cartier  for Ming-Qing history — to the second (Chevrier for modern history and Will  for Ming-Qing history) and third generation (Henriot, Bourgon for modern history). Many scholars in other fields also contributed to dissertations in history, some in specific fields of history (Chemla: history of mathematics), but most from various disciplines (Guiheux, Cheng, Bonnin, Gipouloux, F. Wang, Durand-Dastes). A more serious categorization of these dissertations, however, would place many of them under other disciplines.

Figure 2. China scholars and dissertations on modern China

In the dissertations supervised by non-China scholars, one can find a significant proportion of topics related to France — 19 dissertations (32 percent) — and 10 dissertations  on international relations (mostly Sino-something).  Four of these dissertations dealt with Sino-French relations. This does not come as a surprise. These scholars privileged topics where they could maintain a certain degree of command of the sources. Yet another factor is their own background as historians, as well as a propensity to look at China from a Franco-centric perspective. On the opposite, there were only two dissertations on topics relating to France in the works supervised by China scholars and none on international relations per se. There were only 9 dissertations completed under joint supervision. Except for one, they actually paired French China historians and Chinese historians. Conversely, none of the dissertations supervised by non-China scholars (except Olivier Wievorka) involved any Chinese expert.

A rough categorisation of content based on the titles confirms that a substantial number of dissertations under the “history” category actually meet the criteria of works in historical research. I chose to define four historical periods to group the dissertations: Contemporary (post-1949), Modern (1840-1949), Ming-Qing (14th-18th cent.), and Pre-modern. Dissertations on the contemporary period represent 54 titles (34.2 percent). Some count as work in history, mostly for studies of diplomatic relations where access to archives is available. Only two dissertations on post-1949 China and Taiwan were based on historical archives. The vast majority of dissertations on the contemporary period actually belong to political science, sociology or cultural approaches.

Dissertations in modern history represent 70 titles (43.7 percent). While a total of 38 scholars were involved in supervising these dissertations, hardly more than one half of these dissertations — 41 (58 percent) — were completed under the direction of historians of China. For the Ming-Qing period, the number of dissertations amounts to 18 titles, of which only 8 were supervised by China historians or China scholars. Yet, except for one dissertation, all these works actually examined topics in missionary history or issues of representations of China in Europe. The pre-modern period was represented by 17 dissertations, mostly  under the supervision of China historians or China scholars (70.5 percent).

Figure 3. Word cloud of the titles of dissertations in modern Chinese history

Although 41 titles represent a substantial body of works, is there a “field” of modern Chinese history in France? Over a period of 34 years, this is hardly more than 1.2 dissertation per year. A very rough analysis of the frequency of words in the titles highlights a few terms. It will come as no surprise that “Shanghai” comes first (except for “Chine” of course), since Marie-Claire Bergère, then Christian Henriot supervised a significant number of dissertations not on the city of Shanghai, but on various historical issues in this city. It is important to make this distinction. Shanghai remains until today the place with the richest range of historical sources in China. Yet, other terms such as  “political”, “concession”, “power”, “war” also reveal some sustained trends in French research on modern China. On the whole, however, one cannot support the notion of a field for several reasons: there is no recognition of this notion even among China historians in France; active modern China historians at any one time  always represented — and still represent — only a handful of scholars; many of the Ph.D. recipients failed to find a position in a history department, or even in academia, due to the parochial nature of these departments and more globally the lack of academic positions on China in French universities. The main research organization in France — CNRS — has also failed in hiring young historians of modern China. Its section on modern and contemporary history (section 33) has not recruited anyone since 2001.


A list of French dissertations on modern China

La tendance utopique et les problèmes de l’État-nation dans le changement intellectuel de la Chine moderne : 1895-19141989
Le chantier naval de Jiangnan : 1865-1937 : les pouvoirs publics et la gestion d’une grande entreprise shanghaienne1990
L’École publique de Nanyang : Elite et éducation moderne à Shanghai, 1897-19371990
La Chine dans la politique extrême-orientale de Vichy, 1940-19441992
Shen Jiaben et le droit chinois à la fin des Qing1994
Les Études sur Henri Bergson en Chine : 1913-19411994
Shanghai : habitat et structure urbaine, 1842-19951997
Prospérité et déclin de l’industrie cotonnière nationale de Shanghai (1945-1949)1997
La Société Générale d’Éducation du Jiangsu et son rôle dans l’évolution socio-politique chinoise de 1905 à 19141997
Les racines de l’œuvre éducative de Chen Jiageng : les Chinois d’outre-mer et le développement de l’enseignement en Chine au début du 20e siècle1997
Les relations entre Lyon et la Chine au XIXème siècle. Essai d’histoire commerciale.1999
Les îles Paracel et Spratly vues de la Chine nationaliste : revendications de souveraineté pendant les années 1930-1950 dans la mer de Chine méridionale2001
L’ infanticide en Chine et l’action missionnaire (1870-1926)2001
La révolution chinoise et les sociétés secrètes : l’exemple des Shaan-Gan-Ning et du nord Jiangsu (années 1930-1940)2002
La politique de l’eau et l’hydraulique urbaine dans la plaine du Nord de la Chine : le cas de Tianjin, 1900-19492003
Orpheline d’un empire : la ville de Pékin et sa gestion à la fin de la dynastie des Qing (1800-1911)2004
L’évolution sanitaire et médicale de la concession française de Shanghai entre 1850 et 19502005
L’opium à Canton 1912-1937 : essais de mainmise politique et pratiques sociales2005
A l’épreuve du politique : les intellectuels non-communistes chinois et l’émergence du pouvoir maoïste dans la première moitié du XXe siècle2006
Les Jésuites à Taiwan de 1951 à 19752006
Femmes et crimes à Shanghai sous la République : 1912-19492007
La concession française de Hankou (1896-1943) : de la condamnation à l’appropriation d’un héritage2007
Le mariage dans les chrétientés catholiques en Chine : 1860-19402008
Le service militaire en Chine à la veille de la Révolution chinoise 1937-19492008
Élites et pouvoir en Chine à l’orée du XXIème siècle : Shanghai et la modernité chinoise2008
Les diplomates chinois en France à la fin des Qing, 1878-19112012
La police dans la Concession française de Shanghai (1910-1937)2012
Liang Qichao et la trajectoire politique moderne de la Chine : les aléas de l’institutionnalisation républicaine (1912-1917)2013
La criminalité à Shanghai pendant la guerre sino-japonaise (1937-1942)2014
La nudité dans l’image : pouvoir et représentations du corps à Taiwan (1895-1987)2014
Pouvoir et espace – la censure cinématographique dans les concessions de Shanghai (1927-1943)2014
La concession française de Tianjin : une histoire connectée de l ‘expansion des concessions étrangères en Chine (1846-1946)2015
Cosmétiques, beauté et genre en Chine. Une analyse de la presse et des publicités (Fin des Qing – 1930)2015
The History of a Chinese Pictorial Genre in Modern Shanghai: Lianhuanhua. The Palm-sized World (1920-1949)2015
L’incident du 28 février 1947, dernière bataille de la guerre sino-japonaise ? : legs colonial, sortie de guerre et violence politique à Taiwan2016
Le gouvernement collaborateur de Wang Jingwei : aspects de l’État d’occupation durant la guerre sino-japonaise, 1940-1945.2017
Placing the history of advertising : une histoire spatiale de la publicité à Shanghai (1905-1949)2017
Médicaliser au féminin : quand la médecine occidentale rencontre la maternité en Chine du Sud, 1879-19382017
L’idéal de la preuve. L’examen post mortem entre théorie et pratique en Chine à la fin de l’époque impériale2018
Construction d’une administration de sécurité : défense et maintien de l’ordre public dans la Concession française de Shanghai, 1849-19192019
Wang Xiaolai  (1887-1967): A Biography2019

Cite this blog post
Christian Henriot (2020, May 31). China Dissertations in France (5). History. Elites, Networks and Power in modern China. Retrieved April 19, 2024, from

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