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NMSU history professor ready for research in China

Ken Hammond, an assistant history professor at New Mexico State University, will spend the next four months in Beijing, China, conducting research on Chinese intellectuals of the middle 16th century.

Hammond will conduct some of his research at the History Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and will try to find out how the intellectuals promoted their ideas and views during the Ming dynasty. Hammond is the president of the Society for Ming Studies, the national academic organization for scholars studying the Ming period in Chinese history. The Ming dynasty lasted from 1368 to 1644.

The focal point of Hammond's research will be on the south side of Beijing at a house that was the residence of Yang Jisheng from 1540 to 1550. The house is a rare survival of the 16th century domestic architecture in Beijing and is a protected property of the Cultural Relics Bureau of the Chinese government.

"Jisheng was a bright young fellow who got himself in a lot of trouble by talking openly about a corrupt government," Hammond said.

Jisheng was executed in 1555 after he accused Yan Song, China's chief grand secretary, of trying to take over Emperor Jiajing's authority.

"Yan Song was somewhat of a bad guy from the perspective of Jisheng and his fellow scholars," Hammond said.

Jisheng and other scholars were not allowed to meet in political organizations, according to Hammond. But they were allowed to meet socially as poetry groups. "I want to find out how they worked together in literary groupings to promote their political ideas and views," he said. "I want to know what their social life was like. Did they meet at homes? Parks? Public areas?"

Known as the Archaist Group, Jisheng and the other Chinese intellectuals wanted China to revert to a more archaic form of writing. Critical of China's orthodox political writing standards of the time, Jisheng and others preferred the archaic, or ancient, form of writing which they believed promoted higher cultural values.

Hammond has no safety concerns about visiting Beijing in the wake of recent controversies between the United States and China, although he does admit that the attitude of the Chinese people toward the United States has shifted.

"The common Chinese people think the American government is giving China a hard time," Hammond said. "A lot of Chinese think the U.S. is trying to slow down China's growth and prominence in the world."

As for China's involvement in the much-reported nuclear secrets scandal, Hammond said the dispute won't go away soon. China, Hammond said, currently has about 16 missiles in its arsenal capable of carrying long-range warheads. But, he said, the Chinese military doesn't have the financial support to arm those missiles.

"They don't have any money. They're dirt poor. If the U.S. froze its nuclear technology program this day, it would take China 30 years to catch up to where we are," Hammond said.

Hammond's China research is being funded by a $20,000 grant from the American Council of Learned Societies.

Hammond has extensive knowledge of Chinese history and has visited China on numerous occasions since 1982. He lived in China from 1983 to 1987. At NMSU, Hammond specializes in teaching Chinese history courses.