John studies the technological, social, and political history of twentieth-century China. His interests also encompass topics from inter-war protest movements in China to the history of exploration, comparative colonialism, and global history. His current research examines how a new communication technology—radio—fundamentally disrupted politics and society in modern China.
How did China transform from a failed state in 1922 to near-totalitarian state capacity in 1958? A technological lens—broadcasting and radio listening in particular—is key to addressing this central question of twentieth-century history. John’s dissertation, “The Radicalism of Radio: Broadcasting, Techno-Politics, and the Creation of a Chinese State 1922-1958,” traces the history of radio from its introduction during a period of semi-colonial anarchy through to the peak of Maoist totalitarian power. Utilizing sources from a dozen Chinese and foreign government archives, as well numerous local publications and memoirs, the dissertation argues that the introduction and spread of radio technology led to an information revolution in China, radically changing citizens’ experience of news and politics. In urban areas, communal listening culture brought news and information to wide segments of the public, especially the often-illiterate lower classes. In inland and rural areas, private businesses and government programs brought daily news and propaganda to vast areas for the first time. In a country where, until the advent of radio, newspapers had been rare outside major port cities, the shift was as profound as the rise of mass media a century earlier in the West. Along with experience of war, this information revolution helped radicalize both rural and urban society, and encouraged the growth of intensive new forms of political organization.
John completed his general exams in May 2016 with a major field in Modern China (Janet Chen), and minor fields in Imperial China (Benjamin Elman), and Global History since 1850 (Stephen Kotkin). Prior to arriving at Princeton, John received an M.Phil. with Distinction in Modern Chinese Studies from the University of Oxford. He graduated with an A.B. in International Relations and East Asian Studies from Dartmouth College in 2010.
His research has been supported by fellowships from the Blakemore Foundation and the Fulbright Program. In 2017 -2018 he was a visiting scholar at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, History of Science Department. John welcomes any inquiries from potential students regarding the program at Princeton.