I still don't have a very good answer as to why studying Chinese history has become my life passion. When I decided to learn Chinese in high school, I knew little about China, the Chinese language, or the country’s history. But somehow I have never been tempted to do something else. Part of the reason is because the path on which this one unconsidered decision put me opened up all kinds of great opportunities: long periods in China and Taiwan, study with some wonderful teachers, and some ten years in the US where I met my wife and made many good friends. But also, Chinese history has always proved fascinating. I am at my happiest sitting in an archive or library in China, travelling through the country trying to learn more about a place important in my research, or talking about Chinese history with colleagues and friends at a university in China. And there is something very special to see former students build up lives focussed on China.
Following my undergraduate studies in Sinology at Leiden University, I went to Harvard University to study modern Chinese history. Seven years later I had a Ph.D. and went to UC Berkeley as a Postdoctoral Fellow. The rest of my career has been spent at Cambridge University. My first book From Friend to Comrade: the Founding of the Chinese Communist Party (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991) was awarded the Philip Lilienthal Prize of the University of California Press for best first book in Asian Studies.
Like all academics, I have enjoyed my sabbaticals. A British Academy Research Readership made it possible for me to spend three years away from teaching. One of these I spent as a Visiting Scholar at the Academia Sinica in Taiwan. More recently I have been a Fellow for a year at the Johns Hopkins – Nanjing University Center for US-China Cultural Exchange. I am also a Guest Professor at the Department of History of Nanjing University. I am a Fellow of the British Academy.