Field: East Asia; Advisor: Lean; Year: 2016
Yingchuan Yang is a doctoral candidate in the History-East Asia Program at Columbia University. He works at the intersection of knowledge (often in the form of science and technology), culture, and politics in twentieth-century China. His dissertation, “Revolution on the Air: Mass Technology and the Demise of Chinese Socialism,” reveals the unexpected and fateful consequences when the Chinese socialist state actually achieved its goal of popularizing radio technology. With radio technology being associated with industrialization and national defense, the masses were mobilized to partake in the production and circulation of radio gadgets and know-how. Backed by a culture of socialist open source, amateur technologists procured and widely shared the knowledge of assembling, modifying, and repairing radio sets. As these unconventional practices of industrial and knowledge production underpinned the popularization of radio amid material scarcity, such democratization of technology and expertise helped victims of political campaigns circumvent Maoist social control. The socialist state’s success in promoting mass technology, in other words, contributed to its own downfall. By redirecting the scholarly attention on Chinese socialism away from its institutional organizations to its material base, this dissertation offers a new narrative of modern Chinese history with an emphasis on previously ignored actors and through a technological lens. The research for this work has been supported by a Mellon Humanities International Travel Fellowship, the Association for Asian Studies, the American Council of Learned Societies, the D. Kim Foundation for the History of Science and Technology in East Asia, and numerous internal grants.
His second major project explores the little known oceanic histories of China from the 1940s to the 1990s, and it shows how China was continuously seeking out international connections through the oceans in a period that is traditionally characterized as self-imposed isolation.
A native of Beijing, Yingchuan received his B.A. in History (Highest Departmental Honors) with a minor in East Asian Studies from University of California, Los Angeles in 2016