井底之蛙

6/14/2005

Chinese Invasion

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:31 pm

As summer is here soon we may be getting reports of the dreaded Chinese Snakehead fish.

Snakehead

Invasive species are of course nothing new, but Zebra Mussels and Eurasian Water Millfoil don’t get near the panic reaction that Snakeheads do. In fact, other species are a concern mainly to the nature nut contingent. Snakeheads add the national purity set. And, of course, they come from China, and Chinese markets right here in the U.S. They can walk on land, so they may well flop into your house, devour the kids and replace them with orphaned Chinese girls, and re-program your TIVO to record only Cantonese game shows. Plus, when you ask Chinese how to deal with them they may suggest you eat them, which is disgusting and un-American.

Does China exist?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:15 pm

The question of China’s existence or non-existence in the eyes of foreigners is an old one. At least for the early European explorers China really did exist, and more so than most of the other places they visited. It had a government, a ruler, a national character. They were not primitives. All that changed, of course, and eventually China was not there. That was one of the justifications for the Japanese trying to take Taiwan, and probably other things as well. The Qing court did not do the things that a modern state was expected to do, most notably control territory and provide just justice, and therefore it was free ground for real nations to take over.
The Chinese, of course, also did not see themselves as a nation in the same sense that Westerners did. 中國﹐天下﹐孫中山的”一片散沙”etc. This led to a lot of bickering. Two quotes.

The first is an exchange from the American Philippine Commission’s Opium Committee, which toured Asia in 1903-4 looking into the opium situation. One of the people they interviewed was the Reverend Timothy Richards, who is identified as having been resident in China for thirty-three years, and is pretty clearly seen as speaking for China. (The Commission did have some Chinese merchants speak for China as well, but they were not very articulate.)

Q: Is there any Chinese government?
A: If a viceroy does not obey the central government, he will find himself high and dry. It is a government to that extent. The appointment of all high officials is in the hands of the central government.
(Baumler Modern China and Opium: A Reader p. 60)

This exchange takes place in the context of a discussion of Chinese opium suppression policies. China is not doing enough to reform its people to be considered a true state, but Richards does defend China by saying that there is at least a minimal amount of state structure.

The second is from the American journalist Hallet Abend, who was discussing China’s threat to walk out of the League’s opium control system.

Whatever Chinese delegate there has been at Geneva, whether he represented a government the authority of which did not extend beyond the walls of old Peking or whether he represented a government pretending to rule the whole country, China has seemed to regard the League as an organization to be used for bluff and intrigue.
These delegates in succession have not only refused to give facts concerning the growing amount of opium cultivation and opium smoking in China, but by distortion of facts have sought to place upon Great Britain and Japan the blame for the great quantities of narcotics now consumed in China.
The League has sought to keep China as a satisfied member because the Chinese delegate, after all, was the sole representative of an enormous and thickly populated part of Asia, but it has been farcical to pretend that under present conditions China could participate seriously on questions like opium, disarmament, labor legislation or child welfare.
(New York Times Apr. 21, 1929.)

For Abend a nation is capable of collecting facts (and not lying about them), but also participates in the improvement of its own people. Defining a state is now going away from state formations and towards having something like a public sphere and a citizenry. My question is where China sits today. In the early 20th century a nation was pretty clearly defined as a state with power. Today in the western press there is a lot of talk about how China is on the brink of chaos, how it is a place where the rules of the universe (a Rolex is a Rolex) don’t really apply, businessmen are greedy, etc. All this is despite the fact that China clearly does have a government an army and an economy. Where is the locus of place-ness now? Why are we (Americans rather than academics) so uncomfortable with China?

-China does not fit. This works both culturally and politically. China does not bow before Hollywood, both because of pirated DVDs and because Michelle Yeoh could kick Steven Segal’s ass. China is also the only country in the world that still has a 19th-century power politics relationship with the U.S. China is powerful enough that they can tell the Americans to kiss off, and war is a real possibility in the way it is not with Japan and the E.U. China is an exception in almost every way.

-China does not articulate very well where it is going. 1989 was supposed to be a sign that liberal democracy was coming to China, and while it may yet, China’s future path does not really fit any known model. Many people know what the relationship between an editorial in “Le Monde” and “France” is, but what is the Chinese equivalent? China seems to have lots of power and money, too much in fact, but not enough society and transparency.

A lot of this is of course just laziness on the part of Western elites. China is thinkable, and if it is a bit of a special case it is big enough to be worth the mental effort needed to figure it out. It is also caused in part by poor work on the part of professional China interpreters. So, what exactly is it that makes a place a place, and which of these things does China have?

Intro

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:42 am

Member introduction.

I would like to thank Konrad for his invitation to join up, and say that I look forward to being a part of this blog.
I suppose I should start off with a bit of biography. I sort of drifted into this field as an undergraduate. I started out my career (at Northern Illinois University) as a business major. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up, but I did assume that after college I would get a job, and business seemed to be connected to jobs. After determining that I did not want to be a business major, I switched to History, mostly because I liked the stories (many of them not true, sadly) that Mr Yohe used to tell in High School history class. Really, I was trying to find something that would interest me enough that I would eventually graduate from college, even if I ended up starving afterwards. I spent a couple of very enjoyable years majoring in History that meet after noon. I realized that teaching was the only option if I wanted to eat as a historian, and I had no interest in education classes, so that meant grad school, not that I really knew what that meant. I knew I did not want to do U.S. history, and I knew I did not want to do China. I’m not sure if it was Pearl Buck or James Clavell who gave me this impression, but I had this hazy idea of China as a despotism
that was inhabited by pathetic peasants.
France
was coolMexico was cool. China was not. I took one Chinese history class on the assumption that I should know something about the place. I’m still not entirely sure why I was so interested in that class. This was long enough ago that the lecturer actually read from yellowed notes he had written out in longhand. I’m not quite sure why I liked Chinese history so much. The fact that there was a lot of it helped. All the other places I studied were bits of something larger. China was a host in itself. Also, I thought learning Chinese would be a challenge.

I mention all this in part because it seems completely inadequate. Now I’m an academic and a China person, and it is hard to imagine being anything else, but when I look back the reasons I had at the time seem silly and almost random. Apparently there is a lot of path dependence in what we do. Most of the rest of my life has been shaped by the casual decisions (and stubbornness) of a kid who was uniformed not only about China but also about academia and most other things. My professors probably had some point to a lot of what they were doing, but I had no idea what it was. They tossed out lots of interesting things, and I picked some of them at random and held on to them.

I also mention it because studying China seems to call for a lot of explanation, at least around here. I’ve given versions of the
above a zillion times. There are parts of the world and the U.S. where the coming Chinese century is obvious and dealing with it or profiting from it seem to be things that are well worth doing. The chief question in Western PA is why holes in the ground that used to contain coal no longer contain coal and what can be done about it. Explaining to people why they should care about China is part of what I do, and like most academics I am wound up enough in study in general and in China in particular that it is hard for me to get outside it and explain why anyone else should care.

This ties directly into why anyone should read this blog. Some blogs are worth reading because the people who post to them are interesting Clearly not a reason to read what I write. Some are funny.Some blogs are written by experts who will tell you things any informed citizen needs to know. I suppose my current tendency is to post on things that interest me and assume that occasionally they will intersect with a larger conversation, but mostly it will just be talking to a small group of people, and as often as not only to myself. This is sort of typical for China academics, I think, since we are always part of the narratives that society and academia want to tell. China is too big to be left out (unlike, say, Korea) and we can always get into a
conversation
if we want to. On the other hand we can also go off in our own weird little
sinological
world. I like both approaches, but I suppose that place I like best is somewhere between
I will try to post something about my current work soon, but this is enough of a trial to your patience for the moment. I will also try to figure out Word Press’s formatting a little better

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