AAS20

Jun Zhang on Cars and the Middle Class in China

Return to Home

The AAS Annual Conference is happening this upcoming March in Boston and ahead of the event, we asked author Jun Zhang three questions about her new book Driving toward Modernity: Cars and the Lives of the Middle Class in Contemporary China, and her research on cars and the middle class in China.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

My favorite anecdote is the one I used to open chapter 4 of my book. A salesperson started the car without realizing the hand brake was not up and the gear was not in the neutral position. Before he could react, the car ran into a glass partition. The car, which was severely damaged, was scheduled to be picked up by a client in the afternoon of that day. The unfolding of the story reveals the politics as well as solidarity and personalities that I had been so eager to get hold onto.

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

Nothing really. This is not because I think I know all the tricks about writing a book. Rather, exploring the unknown, stumbling, and learning from mistakes is what writing a book, or to be more precise, what academic analysis and how to articulate it, is about. 

3. How do you wish you could change the field of Asian studies?

I wish I could change the often implicit imperial tendency in scholarly practice, in which the power and authority of defining the “important” subjects remain in the hands of those at the center of the system. Decades of reflections of the Anglo-Saxon centered scholarship have not changed the structure fundamentally. This structure manifests on some occasions through the manipulation of language and rhetorical skills in which a non-native English speaker is difficult to grasp. This structure also manifests itself sometimes on prejudice against area studies, a prejudice that sees discipline-focused scholarship as superior to area-focused scholarship.


Jun Zhang is an anthropologist at the City University of Hong Kong. She is interested in social transformation in the process of rapid urbanization both from contemporary and historical perspectives.

Also of interest:

Book Finder