Fieldwork in China

  • Shaoying Zhang
  • Derek McGhee
Part of the Politics and Development of Contemporary China book series (PDCC)


Having presented our research questions in previous chapters, in this chapter we will describe our fieldwork experiences (from September 2011 to January 2012) in order to obtain different perceptions of communist officials on Xinjiang issues. We will explore how the dynamic political situation in China and individuals’ political situations influenced the recruitment of participants. We will then discuss how we used our personal relations (guanxi) to approach them and how we adopted techniques to avoid sensitive topics in interviews, such as de-focusing the research topic, establishing allies, carefully selecting the location for interviews and not always relying on tape recording. Zhang, as both an insider and outsider, managed to interview 23 officials and scholars. As we have found, participants used interviews as the site for risk-sharing to speak the truth and used the researchers as “informants” to the government. Interviews thus became a politic theatre, through which the sensitivity of the topic can be minimized and by which communist officials are encouraged to act as specific intellectuals through practising parrhesia in the context of an authoritarian country where free speech is risky.


Chinese Communist Party Sensitive Topic Young Offender Ethnic Conflict Interview Situation 
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Copyright information

© Shaoying Zhang and Derek McGhee 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shaoying Zhang
    • 1
  • Derek McGhee
    • 2
  1. 1.Yunnan Normal UniversityChina
  2. 2.University of SouthamptonUK

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