Philip Thai is an associate professor of history and the director of the Asian Studies Program at Northeastern University. He is a specialist of the legal, economic, and diplomatic history of modern China and East Asia and the author of China’s War on Smuggling: Law, Economic Life, and the Making of the Modern State, 1842–1965 (Columbia University Press, 2018).
At Harvard Radcliffe Institute, Thai will be working as an American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Frederick Burkhardt Fellow on his new project, “In the Shadows of the Bamboo Curtain: Underground Economies across Greater China during the Cold War.” This project reconstructs a vast world of informal connections and shadow economies to uncover a hidden history and explore the creative ways actors like front companies, merchants, fishermen, and travelers all negotiated a tangled web of domestic strictures and international embargoes. 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.
Thai received a BA in history from the University of California, Berkeley, and a PhD in history from Stanford University. He is an alumnus of the J. Willard Hurst Summer Institute in Legal History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and of the Luce/ACLS Program in China Studies. His interdisciplinary work has been supported by the American Philosophical Society, the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, the Fulbright-Hays Program, and the Social Science Research Council.