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I would Re to thank James Hevia for his "postpolemical" response to my article, "Cherishing Sources from Afar," and the editors of Modern China for permitting me the opportunity to reply. The exchange helps clarify the differences between Hevia and myself, differences that are illustrative of larger debates in our field. Indeed, the entire Modern China symposium on "The Uses of Theory in Modern Chinese Historical Research" (24.2, April 1998), together with Hevia's reply, represents a healthy and perhaps overdue extension to the China field of a wider discussion on postmodernism in the historical profession.(1)
The contributions of Alexander Woodside (1998) and Philip Huang (1998) are particularly important. Woodside notes that the "epistemological obsession" of postmodernism is a peculiarly Western phenomenon; in applying it to China, we are once again imposing Western theory on Chinese: data. Both Huang and Woodside argue that the theory threatens to deny both agency and modernity to Asians. For my part, I have always been surprised by the ease with which some Western China scholars have applied postcolonial theory to a country that never became anyone's colony. Above all, I value the growing interpenetration of Chinese and American scholarly discourse on Chinese history and believe that we need to engage Chinese realities and Chinese scholarship as much as French theory.
Most readers of Modern China will be familiar with my …