Gina A. Tam is an associate professor of East Asian history at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Originally from Lakewood, Colorado, she completed her Ph.D. in modern Chinese history at Stanford University in 2016, and received her B.A. in history and Asian studies from the Robert E. Cook Honor’s College at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2008. At Trinity, she also serves as the co-director of women and gender studies and a core faculty member of East Asian studies at Trinity.
Dr. Tam’s research interests cohere around the historical construction of collective identity—national belonging, ethnicity and race, and gender—in modern Chinese history. Her first book, Dialect and Nationalism in China, 1860-1960 (Cambridge University Press, 2020), winner of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians Book prize, explores the complex relationship between language and nationalism in modern China. She centers the history of the Chinese national identity on fangyan—languages like Shanghainese, Cantonese, and dozens of others that are categorically different from the Chinese national language, Mandarin. By focusing this history of nationalism on fangyan instead of the Chinese national language, Mandarin, the book challenges conventional historical narratives that simply presuppose national languages serve as the sole driver of nationalist sentiment. Instead, she argues, the history of nationalism in China is better thought of as a battle over competing notions of what the nation was: a battle between those claiming the nation must be imagined and enforced as a homogenous community speaking one standardized language, and those who insisted that Chinese national identity could encompass and celebrate diverse, multitudinous expressions.
In keeping with her enduring interest in how categories of identity shape, and are shaped by, history, her new book project will be a history of women in grassroots activism in post-war Hong Kong. Told as a series of personal histories of underground anti-Japanese smugglers, local party organizers, charity activists, student protestors and radical writers, this book seeks to rewrite the history of anticolonial activism in Hong Kong through the lens of gender.
Dr. Tam’s research and commentary has appeared in a number of scholarly journals and popular news outlets. She has published peer-reviewed work in venues such as Twentieth-Century China and Comparative Studies in Society and History, where her most recent article was shortlisted for the Routledge Area Studies Interdisciplinarity Award. She has also appeared on BBC and France 24, and has written for venues such as Foreign Affairs, The Nation, Dissent, and the Los Angeles Review of Books.