The Scholar’s Stage: Who Are You and What do You Like to Read?

Folks, I am pleased to announce that—starting this week—the tempo at which I publish new material here shall increase dramatically. In a recent post I mentioned that I was leaving China. That move is now over with. My new position in America will allow me to devote far more time to writing than I could get away with in Beijing. In consequence, I will be publishing at least one blog post, book review, op-ed, or piece of original reporting a week. Not all of these pieces will be first published here at the Stage, but (as has been the case with past columns for other publications) I will link to anything I publish here, and will probably include a few additional thoughts on the issue at hand that had to be cut out to meet word-count requirements.

I realize that my writing has slowed down over the last year or so, and though my more successful posts can still pull in a good 10,000+ clicks, a large number of former readers have moved on. If you are one of the people who is still reading: thank you.

I would like to get a better picture for who this core readership is and what it is you look most forward to reading here at the Stage. To this end I have set up a short reader’s survey. The survey has three parts. The first asks about how you originally found this website and what content you most want to see published on it; the second is a demographic questionnaire, and the third asks basic questions about your political beliefs. I only ask that you fill out the first section. I would be pleased, however, if you filled out the other two, as I am curious about the demographics of this site’s readership. If enough people fill the second and third sections out, I will write a post up that explores the data.

One of the questions on the survey asks what posts of things you most enjoy reading here at the Stage. I split my posts up into six broad categories:

1) ‘Clear eyed’ takes on international affairs and contemporary security issues (with a focus on East and Southeast Asia). 

2) Long-form essays on macro-historical topics or little known historical events (with a focus on East and Southeast Asia).

3) Accessible summaries of social science literature with a focus on potential applications/ramifications of the results outside of their home discipline. 

4) Criticism and analysis of modern American culture, politics, or society through a comparative or historical lens. 

5) Meditations or musings on theoretical problems in strategic theory, political philosophy, or the historian’s craft. 

6) Meditations or musings on Chinese literature, philosophy, or culture.

To give you a sense for what might be included in each of these categories, the posts “China Does Not Want Your Rules-Based Order,” “The Fight Against ISIS: A Few (Unorthodox) Points for Discussion,” “A Few Comments on China, Vietnam and the HYSY981 Crisis” and my Foreign Policy piece “Cambodia Wants China as its Neighborhood Bully” are fair representatives of the first category.

The posts “History is Written by The Losers,” “Everybody Wants a Thucydides Trap,” “A Short History of Han-Xiongnu Wars,” “The Growth Revolution,” and my book review of Shanghai 1937 for Strategy Bridge are good examples of my history-oriented writing.

I used to write posts in the third category quite often but have not pursued them as much in recent years. See posts like “What Those Chinese Think (+What We Think Back),” “From Foreigners to Countrymen: How Many Generations Until Immigrants Think Like the Rest of Us?,” and “America Makes You Violent” for examples.

The fourth category can be divided into two parts. One might be termed cultural criticism. That would include posts like “Conservative Fairy-tales and Liberal Allegories?” and “A Short Defense of the Musical Hamilton.” The analysis side of the coin would include posts like “Honor, Dignity, and Victimhood: A Three Century Tour of American Political Culture,” and “Economies of Scale have Killed the American Dream.”

The fifth category would include book reviews or annotations, as done in “Justice as Vengeance: Passages I Highlighted in my Copy of ‘Eye for an Eye,'”  summaries or reinterpretations of political philosophers or strategic thinkers from days past (alaIntroducing: Asabiyah” or “The Radical Sunzi“) or attempts to solve problems I see in the way folks think about this or that theoretical issue  (ala Fiction and the Strategist” or “Islamic Terrorism in Context”).

The sixth category is probably the least explored of them all. The post “Learning From Old China” provides a hint of what this might look like, as I suppose, do the posts “The Radical Sunzi” (linked to above) and “The OODA Loop, Ancient China Style.” The Chinese intellectual and literary tradition is vast, and deserves to be popularized, analyzed, and shared beyond the cloisters of East Asian Languages departments.

Of course, there are plenty of posts that blur lines and cross categories (e.g., “ISIS, the Mongols, and the Return of Ancient Challenges“). But those category spanning posts don’t lessen the challenge that this list highlights:  I simply write about too many different things. I suspect that readers that come to the Stage to read about PLAN machinations in the South China Sea have little desire to hear critiques of America’s victimhood culture or political economy, while those interested in my take on such culture war topics might not care at all for explications on medieval Arab political philosophers or Tang dynasty poets. A partial solution to this is to try and find outside publications that specialize in these different topics (though this is easier for some topics than other ones—hot takes on international affairs are not too hard to place; publications that will take book reviews of new monographs in ancient Chinese thought are considerably more difficult to find). But even there one must prioritize. Thus my interest in seeing what kind of posts keep readers coming back to the site.

To help with that, please consider taking a few minutes out of your day to fill out the official Scholar’s Stage Reader’s Survey.

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A major problem with the last section is that there's no way to separate reporting from cultural commentary. I don't have "one opinion" on many of those (non-
strategy) sites, I have widely different ones based on subject area.

e.g. "voxplaining" is pretty worthless but I like "Vox as current home of specific type of mid-late 2000s partisan bloggers."

To pick an extreme example, "a food review that exists to pour out an open display of bigotry" just has no impact on my opinion of the New Yorker's coverage of the middle east. You can argue the connection but it's going to have minimal explanatory power.

In the future could you use "South Asian" or "Indian subcontinent" instead of "Desi"? Not many people of mostly south asian ancestry that I know (2nd gen+ immigrants) would actually identify with this term. Some of us have to look it up.