Interview with Dr. Manuel Pérez García, China based ERC Grantee

Earlier this month EURAXESS Links China organized an event titled "European Research Council: Opening New Frontiers in Academic Research Between Europe and China" whereDr. Manuel Pérez García, ERC Starting Grantee based in China, for an exclusive testimonial on how to prepare a winning ERC research project from China. In this week's EURAXESS Flash-Note we will get a chance to know him better, as well as his research and experience with the ERC and working in China.


Can you briefly introduce yourself?

I come from Murcia, Spain. I graduated from the Department of History, University of Murcia. I did both my master's and PhD at the European University Institute in Florence which is a beautiful place, excellent for building up an international profile, located in Tuscany, Italy. I came to China to start a post-doc fellowship at Tsinghua University in 2011. In 2013 I finished my post-doc, and I became a lecturer at the Renmin University. Since 2014, I'm an associate professor there.


What is your upcoming ERC project: „Trade Networks, Consumption and Cultural Exchanges in Macau and Marseille, 1680-1840" about?

There are several explanations on the different models of economic growth in Europe and China, explaining why Europe developed faster in the first industrial revolution while China was left behind. The main explanation is because of the discoveries of the Americas, new outposts, raw materials, and energy resources.

I want to contribute to the discussion by measuring micro data about levels of consumption across different social groups. To demonstrate the difference between the West and the East, I am bringing up a particular study case of two city ports, Macao and Marseille. I want to use this concrete cross-cultural case to demonstrate the whole picture.


What role did consumption play in the different economic models?

There are different angles to the project. Merchants are the main social group that drive change, both in Europe and in China. They change the market both as a consumer and producer; they create new networks of distributions.

Chinese goods - Hunan silk from Hunan, Jindezhen porcelain or Yunnan tea - entered Europe at Marseille, Seville or Cadiz. China also imported European luxury products such as French mirrors, Portuguese wine or Italian wine glasses. For this, Macau was an essential entry port for inner trade routes in China, such as the Silk Route, as well as the maritime routes. Very important was also the Manila-Acapulco Galleon trade route which connected distant parts of the Spanish empire through ships sailing from Acapulco to Manila.


How is this relevant to understand the contemporary China?

At the end of 18 century, Emperor Qianlong proclaimed to the British envoy Lord Macartney that "There is nothing we don't have that we need from you". This tone helps us understand the Chinese market even today. China still is a mercantilist economy. My interdisciplinary approach helps to understand not only how Chinese market has operated but also how Chinese diplomacy has interacted with Western powers through changing political narratives related to culture and civilization. My project connects the political and economic issues with the socio-cultural impact, as well as uses new technologies and computer databases to create a unique map of patterns of consumption. I want to contribute to global history in Chinese historiography. I want to escape from national narratives and observe the whole economic system as a polycentric space.


Why is mobility important for your research?

Transfer of knowledge and mobility from Europe to China and other vice verse is a win-win situation. We need to foster more mobility, and also make Europeans to come to China. EURAXESS is a crucial platform that makes this possible.

I was also a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley, University of Tokyo, National Historical Commission in Manilla, Ricci Institute in Macao, Chinese University of Hong Kong...I have developed partnerships within the Global History Network in Spain, Italy, the UK, Japan. It is essential to build up an international portfolio, to exchange scientific ideas, meet people and develop partnerships and cooperation. It is important for your career to choose the right institution which you can use to maximize all its advantages which it can bring for your research.


Can you share some tips about how to apply for the ERC grant?

ERC is very prestigious funding. This kind of project can't be prepared in a few months, copied and pasted from previous applications. It took me around 4 years altogether to prepare this project. I have learned from my failures which all gave me hints on how to improve. Many little details together form a good project, so you need to foresee all the different obstacles that might come up.

You should stress new challenges, novel concepts and interdisciplinary approaches, and present them in the package of „high risk - high gain" ratio. Make sure you have a solid, feasible scientific approach where you use your sources properly.

There are two steps in which you defend the project - written proposal and an oral interview. In the written proposal, you only have five pages to explain the project - no less, no more. It is evaluated by a committee of roughly fifteen people. You must make it attractive for them to want to read more. It's like going fishing with bait. If you are successful and pass the first stage of selection, you will be invited to an interview conducted by top specialists from around the world in your field who can't be fooled. They know who is doing innovative research and who is only copying. Be prepared to get very tough questions - but it's a great experience, and you have nothing to lose!

There is a lot of information on ERC website, which will be your bible if you decide to apply. There are a lot of resources online on how to prepare the project and all the guidelines. ERC offers three schemes for researchers according to the stage of their career (Starter, Consolidator, Advanced).

For the Starting Grant, excellent researchers can apply when they're starting their own independent career. The ERC wants your own ideas - not the ideas of your supervisor. Your idea must stand alone and have enough ambition and the groundbreaking nature, but at the same time, it must be feasible. It must be also innovative; therefore you must be very confident about it. Don't be humble: This might mark the little difference in the process of evaluation between „excellent" or „outstanding" project. In the last call I applied for, there was a 10% success rate.


Do you have any tips for junior researchers how to succeed among such fierce competition?

There is so much competition everywhere; in Europe, in the US, in Asia. That's why you have to be passionate about your research and devoted to it. Every single month, all the time, you must constantly be doing new things, write new publications, and attend conferences, to steadily build up your profile.

In ERC, you must show the independence of your work. In social sciences and humanities, that means publications in major peer review scientific journals, monographs; any translations, presentations to international established conferences, prizes, awards, and academic memberships. To have all this, you must be very active already in your early career.


You will hire a team of people for your ERC research project, but you'll however stay affiliated to a Chinese institution.

Yes. I am doing my research in China, so I keep my position here in China. I will have a dual affiliation both in Europe and in China. In a comparative study between Europe and China, I need to use both European and Chinese sources. I am the only European in China who can do this. My position provides an excellent opportunity for an innovative project - but you must be able to demonstrate it. You need to work on your hypothesis and your methodology, and that takes time.

We are researchers. But without money, we can't do anything. To build a project and apply for the ERC requires time and patience - you have to learn from your failures all the time. But it's a very prestigious programme worth looking into.


How does EURAXESS contribute to mobility between Europe and China?

EURAXESS is an essential platform for mobility that bridges people and help them establish partnership. We spend a lot of time on meetings, conferences, networking, making connections. But how can we benefit from those connections? How can you build and maximize your time to build up the right network? For me, EURAXESS has been a crucial platform to achieve those goals.


What are your plans for the future?

I will now teach as a visiting scholar at the University of Macerata, then I'll go to Spain to start my ERC project. I will be back in China to teach in the winter semester. As for my ERC project, right now, I still am now in the middle of negotiating my grant agreement. Then I will start hiring my team that will conduct their research as PhD and postdocs in line to the project. I will create a team in which we will carry out the archive and database work in China and Europe (in Spain). Crossing such data with Chinese and European sources constitutes one of the pioneering elements of such demanding project.


We wish you good luck!



Dr. Manuel Pérez Garcíais currently an Associate Professor at the Department of International Politics, School of International Studies, Renmin University of China (SIS-RUC). See his profile at the website of SIS-RUC.

His fields of interest move around economic history, global history, history of consumption, international relations and global policy in China and the world, but also knowledge and history of trade and consumption. Dr. Pérez García did his BA and MA at University of Murcia (Spain) where he is from. Later on, he obtained an MA and PhD from European University Institute in Florence. He has been visiting professor at prestigious institutions such as UCBerkeley, University of Tokyo and UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico), among others.

Dr. Pérez García's main interest lies in consumer behaviour and trade networks in Mediterranean Europe, circulation of exotic goods such as tea, silk and porcelain from India and China. In his project he pays particular attention on market integration between the West and East prompted by the Manila-Acapulco galleon routes.

As a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of History, Tsinghua University (Beijing, China), Dr. Pérez García started studying cultural transfers between the West and East. He is being in China since 2011, firstly working at Tsinghua University, and later, in 2013, he moved to Renmin University of China where he is fully based as faculty staff member. He founded the Global History Network in China (GHN).

As a first (European) researcher fully based in China to win an ERC Grant, Dr. Pérez García was awarded the grant in December 2015 with his project "GECEM: Global Encounters between China and Europe: Trade Networks, Consumption and Cultural Exchanges in Macau and Marseille, 1680-1840", in which the Universidad Pablo Olavide (UPO) of Seville (Spain) will act as main European institution for this project.