Faculty Profile: Perry Link

Perry Link

Perry Link

Chancellorial Chair for Innovation in Teaching Across Disciplines

College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences

E-mail: perry.link@ucr.edu

The first step in the career path of noted China scholar Perry Link started innocently enough. As a sophomore philosophy major at Harvard University, he sought to take a challenging language course. He selected Chinese because he “felt that studying a language other than English might help me to see different ways of conceiving the world,” adding that “I had the luck to have a very good teacher.”

As Link concluded his undergraduate work and applied for graduate programs in philosophy and law, he also earned a traveling fellowship from Harvard, which allowed him to spend a year abroad as he pleased. He chose Hong Kong.

“This was 1966, ‘67, when Americans couldn't go to China,” he recalled. “But Hong Kong was a cornucopia of fascinating things: old British colonial culture juxtaposed to the currents of Mao Zedong's ‘Cultural Revolution’ — with almost every imaginable kind of religion, newspaper, and social problem in between. I was smitten, and returned to the United States to go to graduate school in Chinese history.”

His choice and his timing were fortuitous for Link, who was named UCR’s chancellorial chair for innovation in teaching across disciplines in late 2007 following a distinguished career at Princeton University.

He is known as one of the West’s best experts on China, its language, culture and people. While at Princeton, he edited the “Tiananmen Papers” with Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan, a collection of documents leaked by a high-level Chinese official that helped chronicle the events that led up to and followed the pro-reform student protests in June 1989.

Link has just concluded editing a festschrift for former Princeton colleague and distinguished Sinologist F.W. Mote titled “The Scholar’s Mind: Essays in Honor of F.W. Mote.” He also has been working on a book on the rhythm, metaphor and politics of contemporary Chinese language. “I love the topic and have no trouble motivating myself to work on it,” he said, adding that he has several other projects in mind, but finds himself “happily sidetracked” by other, shorter projects that come up.

As the first chancellorial chair, Link said he “immensely admires the inspiration behind this initiative” and is excited by the opportunity to embrace teaching and research topics across a variety of disciplines. He added that in recent years, emphases in the humanities and social sciences have been on specialization within disciplines, and that this is potentially worrisome.

“Many of the issues of the modern world demand the address of more than one discipline. China is a good example,” he said. “China has an immense recorded history, a rich cultural tradition, a booming economy, a difficult political situation, a very complex society, a distinctive and varied language, an archaeological record, the world's biggest population, and more. Which discipline can you do without if you want to understand ‘China’?”

“My other worry about insular disciplines has to do with teaching,” he added. “No matter how bright, a college freshman can find it confusing to go from a literature class to a politics class to an economics class if the teacher of each is speaking a specialized language and using a set of assumptions different from those used in the last class. I believe that, at least at the level of undergraduate teaching, most of what the disciplines have to offer can be put in plain language.”

Link will be getting back to his roots, teaching introductory Chinese language courses as well as graduate seminars in the philosophy, methods and principles of language teaching.

“I wanted to begin this way partly because of the spirit of the chancellorial chair,” he said. “If teaching matters, then teaching right at the bottom level perhaps matters most. This is especially true for Chinese, because it is a tonal language and to get started in the right way can make a huge difference for long-term mastery of the language.”

Link said one of the reasons he enjoys teaching language is that it produces tangible results.

“Language teaching is like gardening: you plant some seeds, add some water, afford some sunlight, and then a few months later can point to the sprouts and say, ‘Look, I helped to make that happen!’” he said. “In my work with the Princeton-in-Beijing summer language program, I think my colleagues and I did quite a lot to raise standards in the Western world in the teaching of proper tonal pronunciation in Mandarin Chinese. This may seem a small ‘legacy,’ but at least it is concrete, and it is something that is useful to people who go to China for a very wide range of reasons.”

And maybe, by sharing his wisdom and expertise, he might start a young UC Riverside student on the path toward being the next great expert on China.

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