Dr Andres Rodriguez

Andres Rodriguez

Dr Andres Rodriguez is a specialist in China’s Republican Period, with an emphasis on borderland regions in the southwest. His work focuses on the various developmental and nationalist enterprises from 1912 to 1949.

My research, which has taken me to archives around the world, reveals the complex interaction of global forces in these remote regions of China. By studying the work of Christian missionaries, Chinese anthropologists and militarists, I have established various patterns of transnational ideas circulating during this period that deal with the incorporation of borderland areas and their inhabitants into the confines of modern political states. I am working on a manuscript based on this research, tentatively titled ‘Reconstructing China’s southwest borderlands: Frontier modernity in republican China’.

I aim to shed light on the many ‘histories’ of these communities in China, the narratives of which have been at odds with post-1949 master narratives. By highlighting the often-overlooked histories of Chinese intellectual communities that had close links with Christianity and Western academic institutions, I hope we can build a new understanding of the rich diversity of contemporary China and its republican past.

Initial outcomes from this project include an article for the journal Modern Asian Studies on the wartime mobilisation of Chinese anthropologists and students around the discourse of ‘frontier service’, as well as a chapter on missionary anthropologists in an edited volume published by the University of Nanjing. I expect to publish two more articles over the coming year – one discuses the role played by the West China Union University Museum in Chengdu, while the second deals with the growing politicisation of Yi elites under the Guomindang in the 1930s and 1940s.

In a second project, I am piecing together the lives of those Chinese intellectuals who decided to return to the early People’s Republic of China, and how their memories have shaped the identities of their families in contemporary China.

From research to real world

Most of my research deals with Western missionaries, Chinese intellectuals and certain figures from ethnic minorities, such as the Yi people. My emphasis has been on western Sichuan, although many of its people came from a diverse international background. I am looking to expand the focus of my research to neighbouring states by building parallels between the early decolonisation schemes in the border areas of the Chinese state and the final days of the British Empire.

While the nature of this project has been strictly historical so far, I have a more interdisciplinary approach in the making. Borderland issues are of great interest to both historians and anthropologists, and I will take part in the Asian Borderlands Network conference in December. We have assembled a panel with anthropologists and historians seeking to build a more complex understanding of the various identities and forces that shaped the border areas of Yunnan and Sichuan in the past – and now the present.

Joining the University of Sydney community

I was drawn to Australia’s growing involvement in the Asia-Pacific region and the University’s strong commitment to developing links with China. The University’s China Studies Centre is a rich interdisciplinary platform that allows colleagues from various fields to cross-pollinate ideas about contemporary China. The centre and its discussions support our work in China; it is essential for our world-class research in the field.

I advocate strongly for public history and building links between academia and the wider community. China is still a mystery to many and, as a result, the China Studies Centre aims to engage with sectors such as business and youth.

Students have long been constrained by their chosen disciplines, leading to serious limitations after finishing their degree. The University of Sydney’s emphasis on a cross-disciplinary approach aims to remedy this situation. The Master of China Studies and the multidisciplinary PhD in China Studies offers students a rich, multi-layered perspective on Chinese society, history and politics that will equip them with the methodological tools to make sense of China and its complexities.

Dr Andres Rodriguez is a lecturer in Modern Chinese History at the China Studies Centre, as well as a lecturer in the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, The University of Sydney.