Just received the professor's comments on my PhD application. At first glance it does not seem to tell much except that my MA degree is not good enough. Without any undergraduate training in history the faculty does not confide in my capabilities to conduct proper research.
Fair enough. But this is merely one of the points.
The second point, which I personally think is the key, is that "the research topic related to Song-Korean relations, which is a huge deficiency" of the professor, in his own words.
My research interest lies in the diplomatic relations between Song China (960-1279) and Goryeo Korea (918-1392). Apparently this is not a very common topic of historical research – not just in Hong Kong but also worldwide. A main reason could be, as I reckon, that few know the Korean language and thus don't bother. There are plenty of stuff to work on in the history of Song China. At the same time, Korean historians don't seem to be very active in the international arena. Few people out there know what they have done and have been doing. Some leading scholars have their books translated into English and Chinese, but those were done decades ago.
I know too well the topic is a bit unusual, but this is precisely why I want to do it. Rather than repeating what many others have been spending years and decades, I would like to focus on something else that have received considerably less attention. I want to create more value and add to the reservoir of knowledge instead of doing something of little value for personal gain but nothing. Scholarship to me is lofty dedication. Personal interest and enthusiasm aside, I really want to do something innovative and useful.
After reading the professor's comments my instructor did share some insightful feedback as well. Firstly, "They felt your approach would cause you problems, hence their dubious comment about you not having a background in history." Point taken, and I will have to re-work my research proposal anyway.
Secondly, and more importantly, "The subject area they cannot handle, and in other words it was not attractive enough as it is to the Prof and his research interests. This is normal: profs want students to be cheap research assistants to further expand their knowledge!"
Well, if the only history professor who specialises in Song China and takes postgraduate students in Hong Kong does not find any interest in my research, it seems there is little, if any, alternative. Either I change my research topic to secure a place in the game, or just do it on my own as an amateur.
So now the question is: To do or not to do? Which way?