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Michael Swaine ’69- A Man with China running through his veins

Michael Swaine ’69 was president of his junior class in 1967-68 and head of the HKIS student council in 1968-69. DragonTales caught up with Michael to find out what he has been up to in the 40 years since graduation...

At the HKIS 40th anniversary reunion in 2006

After graduating from HKIS in 1969, Michael Swaine entered George Washington University (GWU), where he majored in Chinese Studies. He attended GWU with Dennis Minich, another HKIS alumnus from his Class of 1969, but they lost touch with one another after graduation.

“I went on to pursue graduate degrees in political science, focusing on international relations in Asia, and especially Chinese foreign policy,” says Michael, who later obtained a Masters and Doctorate in these subjects at Harvard University.

During the early 1980s, Michael studied in Japan as a Fulbright Scholar in Tokyo. It was during this period that he made his first trip to Mainland China, in 1984.

“Everyone was still dressed in Mao suits, there were few electric lights, no ads, and the only vehicles on the roads of Beijing and Shanghai were buses, government cars, and bicycles.” He remembers that most Chinese stopped to stare at the tall foreigner with the beard; and crowds gathered when he spoke Mandarin. Shanghai was wonderful, he says, with parts of it exuding the colonial European charm of the twenties and thirties.

“In Beijing, I stayed in a hotel built in the fifties for Soviet advisers, complete with creaky beds and loud shaking pipes. The first person to flush a toilet in the morning would wake the entire building. Yet Tiananmen Square and the imperial palace were as impressive then as they are today.”

Michael graduated from Harvard in 1986, after many long years studying, writing his dissertation and learning both Mandarin and Japanese. After receiving his doctorate, he spent a year at UC Berkeley as a post-graduate student at the Center for Chinese Studies and taught in the Berkeley Political Science Department.

Peter Swaine, Tay Bosley and Michael Swaine on the Peak during their
visit back for the HKIS 40th anniversary reunion

“It was at this point I made a career choice to stay in the San Francisco area and work for a small trading firm active in China, rather than take a tenure track teaching job at Colgate University in Hamilton, NY. I worked in the Bay area for three years, and had the opportunity to travel to China several times.”

Michael eventually tired of working in the private sector: “The job became very tedious and did not pay much,” he says. He joined the RAND Corporation in 1989, a private, non-profit think tank specializing in U.S. national security policy analysis based in Santa Monica, California.

He says from that point on his career path was set. “I worked at RAND for over 12 years, travelling frequently to Asia and writing many monographs and articles, and delivering lectures and presentations to primarily US government audiences, in the Department of Defense, the State Department, the White House, and elsewhere.”

He became a Senior Political Scientist and was quite happy at RAND. However, the organization changed considerably over the years, and he says the working environment continuously deteriorated. In addition, Michael’s girlfriend at the time had to move to the East Coast (Baltimore) for job reasons. “I decided to leave RAND and took a job at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC. I had been a Senior Associate at RAND for seven years, since 2001, and enjoyed it very much.”

Michael now lives in rural Maryland on four acres of land, and works several days a week from home. Nevertheless, he still gets to travel to Asia, especially China, a fair amount. 

Can you identify the old codgers in this photo?

“I do very much the same type of work I did at RAND, i.e., research, write, give talks to advise the US government on Chinese defense and foreign policy issues, except I have more freedom to do what I want and less pressure to obtain funding for my work.”

He says he has the opportunity to influence US policy toward China and learn from a small but very thoughtful group of Asia specialists. “As I often say, it is just about the best job around for someone with a doctorate in political science and a focus on China.”

“Mom passed away in 1981 and dad in 2003. My girlfriend Monique (who is Dutch) and , never married, but we had a beautiful daughter, albeit late in life. Her name is Evelynne Fabienne and she is five years old and a bright, booming, happy little girl.

Now in kindergarten, Evelynne is the center of Michael and Monique’s life. “She lives with Monique in Baltimore, but I spend time with them once or twice during the week and on weekends. We also travel together to Europe to see Monique’s parents and sister in Holland, and my relatives in the UK.”  

“I am very close to my brother Peter, his wife Jo-Ellen and son Trevor. Peter and Jo have lived in Richmond, Vermont in the country for many years and love it.”

Peter is a senior manager at Seventh Generation, the leading manufacturer of environmentally friendly home products.


“Although I love my job and enjoy travelling to Asia, I have also developed hobbies that I enjoy just as much. I collect early editions of children’s classic books, such as Beatrix Potter, Winnie the Pooh and various types of Old West items. I also exercise regularly, ride my bicycle, attend the Baltimore Symphony and socialize with friends.”

Michael is first to admit that life has not quite turned out to be what he had expected: “But then again, when does it?”

He says he does not have a family in the traditional sense, and has a rather unusual job that is endlessly interesting.

“My personal life has been a struggle at times, but it has also brought significant amounts of joy. And I treasure my friends, relatives and, to a very great extent, my memories of two fabulous, life-shaping years in Hong Kong and HKIS. Those two years literally changed my life, sparking an interest in China that has survived to the present day and provided me with a very decent living.”

“It also gave me a sense of living life that was more intense than at any other time in my life, and some very vivid and exciting memories.” Both Michael and his brother Peter attended HKIS 40th anniversary in 2007 where they reestablished contact with a dear friend from their HKIS days, Tay Bosley, who lives and works in New Jersey.

“We had not seen one another for nearly 40 years. I have also reestablished contact via email with Christy McCaskill and a few other HKIS alums from my class, which is wonderful.”

Evelynne, Michael and Monique

“That’s about it,” says Michael, who informs us that from his office window he can see the sun is coming up over the Maryland hills, setting alight the trees and reflecting off the beaver pond at the bottom of the hill. “I must get to work. Be happy.”

You can contact Michael at Mdswaine5@gmail.com 

Source:  DragonTales  Volume 11 Summer Edition 2009