井底之蛙

7/7/2005

7/7 and a Wartime Dictionary

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:30 am

While I’m spending the summer studying Korean in Seoul, one of the books I brought with me for some recreational reading is a Chinese wartime dictionary (“encyclopedia”) with mostly political and historical terms. It is often quite arbitrary with entries on everything from Lappland to one on Owen Lattimore. It is about 370 pages in length, with 10-20 entries per page, plus a timeline of events beginning with the Manchurian Incident in 1931 and up to July 1942, when it was published.

文化供應社《抗戰建國實用百科辭典》文化供應社, 1942.

Dictionaries like these, which have an almanac feel to them, give you a great look at what terms and events are viewed as important by contemporaries, and are thus great background reading for historians interested in getting a flavor for that particular period.

There are also other interesting things to note about some of the events it includes descriptions of. For example, some 68 years ago today fighting broke out between Japanese and Chinese forces at Marco Polo Bridge near Beijing and those historians who find such issues interesting still find great room for disagreement over exactly how and who bears greater responsibility for that particular skirmish. It has great symbolic importance, however, as it has traditionally come to date the beginning of the most open phase of prolonged conflict between the two countries and Japanese aggression throughout China. You can find a special article remembering the event in the People’s Daily. To use Allen S. Whiting’s term, this is also one of the “war recall” days in the Chinese media. Like other such symbolic days in August (end of the war), September (Manchurian incident), and December (Nanjing massacre) there are usually a great swelling of articles, publications, and protests related to Japan.

In this dictionary, however, there is no entry for 七七事變, which is probably the most common name by which the Marco Polo incident has come to be known among Chinese today. A small entry under 七七紀念 simply tells the reader to see 蘆溝橋事變. That second term, explicitly referring to the bridge, is the most common name today in Japan and in English, but is slightly less commonly used in China. 七七事變 must thus have become the standard Chinese term at some later point. Both terms are listed in the People’s Daily article today. The only reason I mention this minor point is that today is also a tragic one for London, as the city has been hit by a serious terrorist attack. If, like 9/11, it comes to be remembered as 7/7 or the 7/7 Incident, there will be something of a nomenclaturial clash in Chinese.

However, in addition to the amusement and information provided by reading the occasional entry, this particular copy of the dictionary is interesting in other ways. I snagged my copy from the Harvard-Yenching library, fairly confident that this particular volume would not be recalled over the summer while I was away since it hasn’t been checked out in over a decade. The copy is stamped “Rec’d thru Dr. Fairbank” on the cover. Although we shouldn’t judge a book’s history by its cover, perhaps the Fairbank picked up the copy while he was in the Nationalist stronghold of Chongqing during the war. Regardless, the book went through something of a mangling, mostly likely at the hands of Nationalist government censors (it was published in Guilin, Guangxi province). Some 63 of the entries, including the entry words themselves, are completely blacked out by a black brush or marker of some sort…

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