Philip Thai, Ph.D.
Director of Asian Studies, Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies
- Modern China
- East Asia
- Legal History
- Economic History
- Diplomatic History
Current Research Project
“In the Shadows of the Bamboo Curtain: Underground Economies across Greater China during the Cold War”
This project presents a transnational history of the Greater China economy—Communist China, Nationalist Taiwan, British Hong Kong, and Portuguese Macao—during the Cold War from 1945 to 1991. It reconstructs a vast world of informal connections and shadow economies forged by actors like front companies, merchants, fishermen, and travelers. Besides revealing a hidden history overlooked by research on high diplomacy, this project examines the creative ways actors negotiated a tangled web of domestic strictures and international embargoes to truck, barter, and exchange. Analyzing how the Cold War cordon was constructed, enforced, and violated, it engages with key issues in international, Chinese, and economic history while rethinking the dynamic interplay between geopolitics and everyday life.
- (journal article) “A Risky Business: The Tai Ping Insurance Company and Fire Insurance in China, 1928–1937,” Enterprise and Society (2020), 1–39.
- (online module) “Influenza Pandemics and Global Health in the Cold War,” Northeastern University College of Social Sciences and Humanities (CSSH) Pandemic Teaching Initiative Module (2020).
- (online essay) “The Proven Solution to Pandemics President Trump Continues to Reject,” The Washington Post (2020).
- (lecture) “Smuggling and State Power in Modern China,” Global China Humanities Lecture Series, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), 2021
- (lecture) “Disease, Diplomacy, and Science in the Cold War: Lessons for Future Pandemics,” College of Social Sciences and Humanities (CSSH), Northeastern University, Faculty Works-In-Progress Series, 2021
- (lecture) “Vice City: Hong Kong in the Anglo-American War on Drugs, 1970–1979,” Chinese Business History Webinar, Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (HKIHSS), 2021
- (interview) Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard on China Podcast (2021).
- (interview) American Society for Legal History, Legal History Podcast (2020).
- (interview) Northeastern University Library, What’s New Podcast (2020).
Affiliated Research Center:
Undergraduate Research Projects:
- Julia Harvey (CSSH), “Unsustainable Practices: How China and America Caused the Scrap Trade Panic,” Asian Studies Capstone, Fall 2019
- Seaton Huang (CSSH), “Mobile Payments and Wealth: An Analysis of Structural Inequality in China in the Wake of Widespread Technological Development,” Asian Studies Capstone, Spring 2019
- Theresa Jacobs (CSSH), “Understanding Dissent in the People Republic of China: Analyzing the Possibilities and Limitations of Public Dissent in China,” Asian Studies Honors Project, Fall 2014
Past Research Topics:
- China’s War on Smuggling: Law, Economic Life, and the Making of the Modern State, 1842–1965. Columbia University Press, Study of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute (2018).