Philip Thai F'20, F'15

Philip  Thai
Associate Professor
History
Northeastern University

Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowships for Recently Tenured Scholars 2020
Associate Professor
History
Northeastern University
In the Shadows of the Bamboo Curtain: Underground Economies across Greater China during the Cold War
For residence at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study during academic year 2022-2023

This project presents a transnational history of “Greater China”—Communist China, Nationalist Taiwan, British Hong Kong, and Portuguese Macao—during the Cold War. It explores how front companies, petty merchants, ordinary fishermen, and mobile criminals crisscrossed this geopolitical battleground for profit and even survival by negotiating the tangled web of domestic strictures and international embargoes. Their activities reveal a vast world of shadowy connections and economies that traversed formidable barriers erected by rival camps and expanded in tandem with the region’s tightening links to global trade. This project draws from diverse sources to provide an unconventional perspective on the Cold War by tying high diplomacy and elite politics to underground economies and survival strategies. In rethinking the dynamic interplay between geopolitics and everyday life, it brings to light hidden or overlooked experiences to engage with key issues in international, Chinese, and economic history.

Henry Luce Foundation/ ACLS Program in China Studies Postdoctoral Fellowships 2015
Assistant Professor
History
Northeastern University
The War on Smuggling: Law, State Power, and Illicit Markets in Coastal China

During the early twentieth century, official efforts to strengthen economic controls transformed smuggling from a chronic nuisance to a virulent epidemic. Up and down the coast, state agents raided stores and villages, intercepted vessels on land and seas, fought armed gangs, and subjected travelers to invasive searches—all in the name of combating illicit trade. Canvassing legal cases, customs records, and press reports, this project uses the war on smuggling to assess the shifting boundaries and scope of state power while highlighting varied responses to creeping regulatory encroachment in everyday life. Far from being a simple law-enforcement initiative, the fight against coastal smuggling enhanced state capacity and held wide-ranging consequences for society and economy.