Dikötter, Frank 1961–
Dikötter, Frank 1961–
Born November 30, 1961, in Geleen, the Netherlands; immigrated to England, 1985. Education: University of Geneva, B.A., 1984, M.A., 1985; University of London, Ph.D., 1990.
Office—University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies, Russell Sq., London WC1 H0XG, England.
Historian. British Academy, London, England, postdoctoral fellow, 1990-2003; University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies, London, Wellcome research fellow, 1993-2000, professor of the modern history of China; University of Hong Kong, visiting professor, 2004-05, chair of humanities in the faculty of arts, 2006—. Member of board of directors, Contemporary China Institute.
Association for Asian Studies, British Association for Chinese Studies (president, 1999).
The Discourse of Race in Modern China, Stanford University Press (Stanford, CA), 1992.
Sex, Culture, and Modernity in China: Medical Science and the Construction of Sexual Identities in the Early Republican Period, University of Hawaii Press (Honolulu, HI), 1995.
(Editor) The Construction of Racial Identities in China and Japan: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, University of Hawaii Press (Honolulu, HI), 1997.
(With Lars Laamann and Zhou Xun) Narcotic Culture: A History of Drugs in China, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2004.
Exotic Commodities: Modern Objects and Everyday Life in China, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 2006, published as Things Modern: Material Culture and Everyday Life in China, Hurst & Company (London, England), 2006.
Contributor to books, including Racial Identities in East Asia, edited by Barry Sautman, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, 1995; Ethnicity, edited by John Hutchinson and Anthony D. Smith, Oxford University Press, 1996; Sex, Disease, and Society: A Comparative History of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV/AIDS in Aisa and the Pacific, Greenwood Press, 1997; The Construction of Racial Identities in China and Japan: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, University of Hawaii Press, 1997; Le corps violenté: Du geste à la parole, edited by Michel Porret, Droz, 1998; Hair: Its Power and Meaning in Asian Cultures, edited by Alf Hiltebeitel and Barbara D. Miller, State University of New York Press, 1998; Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing, edited by Kelly Boyd, Fitzroy Dearborn, 1999; Racism, edited by Martin Bulmer and Jon Solomos, Oxford University Press, 1999; Neue Geschichten der Sexualität: Beispiele aus Ostasien und Zentraleuropa, 1700-2000, Turia & Kant, 1999; Nationalism: A Reader, edited by John Hutchinson and Anthony D. Smith, Routledge, 1999; Sociétés asiatiques face au Sida, edited by Marie-Eve Blanc, Laurence Husson, and Evelyne Micollier, L'Harmattan, 2000; Si you gong: Jindai Zhongguo geti yu zhengti zhi chongjian, edited by Huang Kewu and Zhang Zhejia, Zhongyang yanjiuyuan jindaishi yanjiusuo jikan, 2001; International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behaviour Sciences, edited by Neil J. Smelser and Paul B. Bates, Pergamon, 2002; A Companion to Racial and Ethnic Studies, edited by David Theo Goldberg and John Solomos, Blackwell, 2002; An Introduction to Women's Studies: Gender in a Transnational World, edited by Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan, McGraw-Hill, 2002; The Cambridge History of Science, edited by Roy Porter, Cambridge University Press, 2003; Das grosse China-Lexikon, edited by Stefan Friedrich and Hans-Wilm Schütte, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2003; Race and Ethnicity, edited by John Stone and Dennis Rutledge, Blackwell, 2003; State, Market and Ethnic Groups Contextualized, edited by Bien Chiang and Ho Ts'ui-p'ing, Academica Sinica, 2003; China since 1919: Revolution and Reform: A Sourcebook, edited by Alan Lawrance, Routledge, 2003; Tobacco in History and Culture: An Encyclopedia, edited by Jordan Goodman, Charles Scribner, 2004; China Inside Out: Contemporary Chinese Nationalism and Transnationalism, edited by Pal Nyiri and Joana Breidenbach, Central European University Press, 2005; Crime, Policing and Criminology in China, edited by Børge Bakken, Rowman & Littlefield, 2005; Zhongguo de chengshi shenghuo, edited by Li Xiaoti, Lianjing, 2005; New Makers of Modern Culture, edited by Justin Wintle, Routledge, 2006; Encyclopedia of Legal History, edited by Stanley N. Katz, Oxford University Press, 2007; Drugs and Empires, edited by James Mills, Palgrave, 2007.
Contributor to journals, including China Quarterly, Twentieth-Century China, British Journal of Criminology, Late Imperial China, Revue des Sciences Humaines, China Information, American Historical Review, Genitourinary Medicine, Bulletin of the British Association for Chinese Studies, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, History of Science, Republican China, and Crime, History and Societies.
Historian Frank Dikötter specializes in modern Chinese history. According to his Web site biography: "His books constitute a series of micro-studies which trace the contingent ways in which ideas, objects and institutions acquire global dimensions and are locally transformed in the specific case of modern China." Dikötter is interested in many aspects of Chinese society, including the legal system, gender and race issues, and China's growing role in the global community. "His work also contributes to a number of longstanding debates about the making and breaking of individual freedoms," according to his online biography, "providing for the first time fresh historical perspectives from a non-European context on the incompatibility of racism with liberalism, the entrenched forms of discrimination against women and disabled people, the effects of state punishment in the form of the prison and the consequences of drug prohibition."
Dikötter, who was born in the Netherlands and settled in England to complete a doctorate and to teach, has been noted for the scale of his research efforts. Indeed, the scholar managed by the year 2000 to raise more than one million British pounds to pay for his expenses. The Discourse of Race in Modern China, Dikötter's debut 1992 work, is already considered a classic study. "This book is an important contribution to an ongoing discussion among scholars interested in identity politics in late nineteenth, early twentieth century China," Ralph Litzinger wrote in his H-World review, noting that the publication inspired a series on conferences and other academic gatherings. The goal of Dikötter's book is to explain how perceptions about races in China led to formal policies ranging from the exclusion of certain ethnic groups to efforts to increase nationalistic attitudes. Litzinger added: "Dikötter convincingly demonstrates that various ideas of race were put into place and then at times furiously debated among Chinese thinkers who saw their mission as nothing less than saving China, and more specifically the Chinese race, from a position of inferiority vis-a-vis the West."
How prejudices form social policy also is the subject of Dikötter's Sex, Culture, and Modernity in China: Medical Science and the Construction of Sexual Identities in the Early Republican Period, in which the author discusses how Chinese scientists were encouraged to uphold ideas that women were inferior biologically to men, thus helping to promote and sustain chauvinistic attitudes. The author analyzed some 350 publications appearing in China, but Matthew Johnson, writing on the UCSD East Asian History Program Web site, felt that such wide-ranging research might actually be a flaw because it is difficult to assert "that such a diverse body of texts, produced by a diverse and socially elite group of writers, could ever attain such unity of meaning." Current History contributor Michael Brus faulted "the jargon that clouds Dikötter's writing," but in the China Quarterly William Jankowiak declared the book a "fine study of how Chinese intellectuals re-conceptualized the place of sexuality in daily life."
China's overpopulation problem and government reactions to it are at the center of Imperfect Conceptions: Medical Knowledge, Birth Defects, and Eugenics in China. The Chinese government has a law dictating that couples have only one child, making each child all the more important to parents. A complementary law to the one-child rule dictates that fetuses with serious birth defects be aborted and that parents who are shown to have an increased likelihood of having genetically "unsuitable" children should be sterilized. "Frank Dikötter argues it is a complex issue of how the current government is adopting and adapting the deep historical and cultural roots of eugenics thinking and medical knowledge in China," reported a contributor to the Harbard Asia Pacific Review. The law, Dikötter explains, has roots in traditional Chinese culture in which a woman's pregnancy is closely monitored and controlled by others; the recent laws have the state taking over a role that once belonged to the family. "Dikötter emphasizes the holistic nature of eugenics discourse, ranging from the ancient belief that fetuses were influenced by the outside environment to the modern faith in science as a unified and monolithic understanding which could provide truth in all domains."
Dikötter also has written books about the legal system in China. Crime, Punishment, and the Prison inModern China, 1895-1949 is based on research conducted by the author using the archival records maintained at national and local levels in China. Dikötter shows that laws and policies have changed dramatically in China over the decades, reflecting how its society has evolved. As Thomas Buoye observed in a China Review International article, the scholar shows that "the topic of prison reform can serve as a springboard for a multifaceted study of the cultural and intellectual history." Dikötter points out that prison reform made a significant advance with the concept called "ganhua," or the "moral reformation by an emotional appeal to the feelings of a criminal," as the author defined it. "The fact that education was central to the task of moral transformation leads Dikotter to observe that modern prison reform in China was both ‘radically new and remarkably traditional,’" reported Buoye. Buoye was surprised that Dikötter's concluding section is only four pages long, given the extensive research he conducted, and suggested that the author could have served his readers better with a topical, rather than chronological, survey of the penal system in China during the Republican era. Nevertheless, the critic found the scholar's idea of a prison system that is both traditional and modern to be "convincing." Rana Mitter, writing in Pacific Affairs, was much more positive in her assessment of the book, stating that "it is a rich account … from extensive archival research within China…. Furthermore, it forms an important part of the emerging historiography which rejects the assumptions that all attempts by the pre-1949 Chinese governments to modernize were futile and cynical. Finally, it demonstrates successfully the way in which twentieth-century China can be understood" as a conflict between Nationalist and Communist penal systems.
In a related title, Narcotic Culture: A History of Drugs in China, Dikötter and coauthors Lars Laamann and Zhou Xun write about the significance of the drug trade—opium, in particular—in Chinese history. History Today critic Rana Mitter commented: "Opium and the economic and social ruin of China are intertwined in the popular imagination. However, the authors of this challenging and provocative book turn this conventional wisdom upside-down." The authors reveal that through much of China's history opium was used only moderately as a medicinal drug for controlling pain, but when campaigns against the drug began it caused people to react by turning to increasingly harder drugs, such as heroin. Thus, the drug problem was dramatically exacerbated by efforts to stop it. "The book convincingly argues that relatively few opium consumers became ‘addicts’ in the classic, finger-trembling sense," noted Mitter, who concluded that the book "makes its mark as part of an expanding field in Chinese history."
Exotic Commodities: Modern Objects and Everyday Life in China addresses the more recent changes in China as the country's Communist regime has slowly begun to embrace the materialism and prosperity of Western-style capitalism. In the book, Dikötter discusses China's attitudes about foreign goods, which they typically view as better than domestic products for no other reason than because they come from other countries. According to the author's Web site, the book shows how the "appropriation of objects initially associated with the foreign increased cultural diversity, contrary to the popular but misguided notion that globalisation leads to cultural uniformity."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, December, 1997, review of Sex, Culture, and Modernity in China: Medical Science and the Construction of Sexual Identities in the Early Republican Period, p. 1548; February, 2000, Diane B. Paul, review of Imperfect Conceptions: Medical Knowledge, Birth Defects, and Eugenics in China, p. 192; October, 2003, Jerome Bourgon, review of Crime, Punishment, and the Prison in Modern China, 1895-1949, p. 1120; October, 2005, Christian Henriot, review of Narcotic Culture: A History of Drugs in China, p. 1144.
Asian Affairs, October, 1996, Ian Seckington, review of Sex, Culture, and Modernity in China, p. 409; November, 2006, Joseph Askew, review of Narcotic Culture, p. 406.
Business History Review, winter, 2005, Kristin Stapleton, review of Narcotic Culture.
China Quarterly, June, 1993, Peter Zarrow, review of The Discourse of Race in Modern China, p. 366; September, 1996, William Jankowiak, review of Sex, Culture, and Modernity in China, p. 1001; September, 1999, Borge Bakken, review of Imperfect Conceptions, p. 747; September, 2001, Peter Ferdinand, review of The Construction of Racial Identities in China and Japan: Historicaland Contemporary Perspectives, p. 788; March, 2005, Joyce A. Madancy, review of Narcotic Culture, p. 187.
China Review International, spring, 2003, Thomas Buoye, review of Crime, Punishment, and the Prison in Modern China, 1895-1949.
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, January, 1996, H.T. Wong, review of Sex, Culture, and Modernity in China, p. 845; March, 2003, H.T. Wong, review of Crime, Punishment, and the Prison in Modern China, 1895-1949, p. 1238.
Contemporary Sociology, March, 1993, C. Montgomery Broaded, review of The Discourse of Race in Modern China, p. 187.
Current History, September, 1996, Michael Brus, review of Sex, Culture, and Modernity in China, p. 291.
Ethnic and Racial Studies, October, 1993, Michael Dillon, review of The Discourse of Race in Modern China, p. 752.
Far Eastern Economic Review, October 8, 1992, Grant Evans, review of The Discourse of Race in Modern China, p. 52; February 5, 1998, Dick Wilson, review of The Construction of Racial Identities in China and Japan, p. 37.
First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, May, 2000, Wesley J. Smith, review of Imperfect Conceptions, p. 62.
Historian, summer, 2006, William Jankowiak, review of Narcotic Culture.
History Today, November, 2004, Rana Mitter, review of Narcotic Culture, p. 83.
International History Review, September, 2003, Pitman B. Potter, review of Crime, Punishment, and the Prison in Modern China, 1895-1949, p. 680.
Journal of Asian History, spring, 1993, Ruth I. Meserve, review of The Discourse of Race in Modern China; spring, 2003, Benjamin E. Wallacker, review of Crime, Punishment, and the Prison in Modern China, 1895-1949.
Journal of Asian Studies, August, 1993, Lung-Kee Sun, review of The Discourse of Race in Modern China, p. 707; November, 1999, Carol Benedict, review of Imperfect Conceptions, p. 1102; May, 2003, Bradly W. Reed, review of Crime, Punishment, and the Prison in Modern China, 1895-1949, p. 583; August, 2003, Zvi Ben-Dor, review of Crime, Punishment, and the Prison in Modern China, 1895-1949, p. 927; February, 2005, Alan Baumler, review of Narcotic Culture, p. 165.
Journal of Peace Research, May, 1993, review of The Discourse of Race in Modern China, p. 228.
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, March, 2002, Kim Taylor, review of Imperfect Conceptions, p. 160; December, 2003, "Legal Anthropology," p. 811.
Library Journal, January, 1999, Tina Neville, review of Imperfect Conceptions, p. 140.
Pacific Affairs, fall, 1995, Pat Howard, review of The Discourse of Race in Modern China; spring, 2001, Dominic Lee, review of Imperfect Conceptions; spring, 2001, review of Imperfect Conceptions; summer, 2003, Rana Mitter, review of Crime, Punishment, and the Prison in Modern China, 1895-1949.
Reference & Research Book News, February, 2003, review of Crime, Punishment, and the Prison in Modern China, 1895-1949, p. 142.
Review of Politics, spring, 2000, "Popular Misconceptions."
SciTech Book News, June, 1999, review of Imperfect Conceptions, p. 122.
Times Higher Education Supplement, January 8, 1999, Xin Mao, review of Imperfect Conceptions, p. 30.
Times Literary Supplement, February 7, 1992, Dick Wilson, review of The Discourse of Race in Modern China, p. 10; October 25, 1996, review of Sex, Culture, and Modernity in China, p. 9; February 19, 1999, review of Imperfect Conceptions, p. 8; March 28, 2003, "Chloroform and Conjugal Visits," p. 29; June 29, 2007, "A Consumer Point of View," p. 12.
Asia's Medical Systems and Traditions,http://asianmedcom.site.securepod.com/ (April 3, 2008), profile of Frank Dikötter.
Frank Dikötter Home Page,http://web.mac.com/dikotter (April 3, 2008).
Frog in a Well,http://www.froginawell.net/ (July 29, 2007), K.M. Lawson, "Poverty and Prison Camps," review of Crime, Punishment, and the Prison in Modern China, 1895-1949.
Harvard Asia Pacific Review,http://www.hcs.harvard.edu/~hapr/ (April 3, 2008), review of Imperfect Conceptions.
H-World,http://www.hartford-hwp.com/ (September 14, 1995), Ralph Litzinger, review of The Discourse of Race in Modern China.
UCSD East Asian History Program Web site,http://orpheus.ucsd.edu/chinesehistory/ (April 3, 2008), Matthew Johnson, review of Sex, Culture, and Modernity in China.
University of Hong Kong History Department Web site,http://www.hku.hk/history/ (April 3, 2008), author profile.