As a teenager Armin Müller knew nothing about China, today he speaks Mandarin and is an expert on China's social security system. In an interview, he explains which impact state censorship has on his work and what money recycling machines are all about.
What would you have become if you hadn't become a scientist?
I wanted to be a musician. I played classical and electric guitar and in school I studied music as a major. I enjoyed it, but sometimes your wishes and reality do not match.
Obviously you noticed that in time and turned to science.
Yes, already as a teenager I was very interested in politics, economics and the connections between the two, especially with regard to the development of non-European societies. After school I looked around for something that was both practical and exciting for me personally. That's where political science came into play.
You're very interested in China. How did this happen?
When I was 16 or 17, I started reading oriental philosophy, and I found Taoism in particular quite exciting. I also realised relatively early on that China will have a strong political and economic position in the world by 2020. But I had to realize that I actually knew nothing about the country apart from the fact that a communist party reigns there. So I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look.
China is a rather inaccessible place for most people. Outside the capitals hardly anyone speaks English, the street signs only show Chinese characters... When did you first travel to China and how was that?
I was in China for the first time in 2003. But I had been learning Mandarin for a year and a half and was able to communicate. That made the country much more accessible to me. I have no idea what it's like to travel around China without speaking Chinese. All in all I imagine it to be quite difficult, although the most important signs etc. are now also translated into English. Sometimes, however, translation errors creep in, which can be quite funny when an ATM carries the label "Money Recycling Machine", for example.
You're fluent in Chinese now ...
Yes. Although I always have to refresh the language. I read Chinese texts every day, especially scientific ones. But that is quite a special vocabulary. So I use the time I'm on the train on my way to Jacobs University in the morning to practice my vocabulary.
China has undergone major changes since the turn of the millennium, state control and censorship are growing. How does this affect your work as a scientist?
At the beginning of the century there was a phase of opening: for some years it was relatively easy to conduct research on site. In recent years, things have tended to become more difficult again. The social climate has changed and many people are more cautious today than ten years ago. However, it also depends very much on what subject you are dealing with. Social policy is generally not a particularly sensitive issue.
Why did you specialise in social policy?
When my master's thesis was approaching, the new socio-political initiatives of China, some of which we are investigating in our CRC project, have just begun. My professor was also interested and so I started to deal with the rural health care system. The social security systems and political and administrative processes in China are quite complex and there is a lot to be done in this area.
Can you briefly outline your role in the project?
I am currently setting up an internal database to analyse how the various forms of social security have spread in recent years - especially since 2000, but also before that. Coordination among the various scientists is also an important task of mine because we are spread over two universities. And soon two PhD students wil join our team.
Dear Armin, thank you very much for the interview - we wish you and your whole team much success for your project!
Contact:Dr. Armin Müller
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy, Research IV and China Global Center
Campus Ring 1
Phone: +49 421 200-3473