By JEFFREY WASSERSTROM
“How far is Irvine from the Huntington Library?”
This was the first question my friend Tom Mullaney, a fellow historian of modern China, asked me in 2012 when I invited him to come down from Stanford to speak at my campus. I initially found this curious, since the Huntington, which is about an hour up the freeway from me, has wonderful manuscript holdings, but few if any that deal with twentieth-century China; and while its gardens are world famous, Tom had never struck me as having more than a casual interest in plants. The mystery was soon resolved, however, when he explained that its collections happen to include one of the objects that had come to obsess him – Chinese typewriters.
In the end, he accepted my invitation. This meant Irvine faculty and graduate students were treated to a splendid talk on both the history of Chinese typewriters and common misconceptions about them (that they need to be gigantic devices with thousands of separate keys, one for each character, for example). This was half of a two-part symposium on China and global history that also included a presentation by me on the Chinese Boxer Crisis of 1899–1901. The highlight of his trip down south, though, came when we went up to the Huntington, where he gave the same basic talk but with a nice added twist: the curators were kind enough to bring their prize Chinese typewriter into the seminar room.