井底之蛙

7/15/2005

Self-introduction

Filed under: — Matthew Mosca @ 4:31 pm

Hi, Everyone,
To belatedly introduce myself, I’m Matthew Mosca, currently a doctoral candidate in the program in History and East Asian Languages at Harvard. My dissertation is on the subject of Qing-era views of India, and my research looks at geographic scholarship and Qing foreign relations. On a personal note, I was born and raised in Vancouver, BC, where I received my BA from UBC, and I will be going to Beijing in September (and Taiwan in February) to conduct archival research for a year.

I’ll take this opportunity to recommend warmly “The Man Awakened from Dreams,” by Henrietta Harrison, which I have just finished reading. It chronicles the life of one Liu Dapeng (1857-1942), a juren and self-consciously strict Confucian, who lived near Taiyuan in Shanxi and has left a lengthy diary. I found the subject quite interesting: Liu was thoroughly acquainted with life under the Qing and under the Republic, and his professions included scholarship, commerce and agriculture; his sphere of activity and thought was quite broad, and some part of the book is certain to be of interest to a student of Chinese history. His attitude to newspapers, democracy, coal mining, familial relations and the like are examined, and they do not always conform to what one might expect of a rural Confucian. Konrad might be interested by his contact with the Japanese (pp. 159-65). My unscientific opinion is that detailed, scholarly biographies of ‘ordinary’ people are fairly rare in the field of Chinese history, so this work is a valuable addition.

I was impressed by Harrison’s restraint: there are only 170 pages of text, and those well-written. The book is organized according to different spheres of activity, and is roughly chronological. Given the scope of the diary she was working with, and the myriad opportunities for detailed Sinological digression, it could have been a much longer work, but on balance I think her treatment captures the essential topics and moments succinctly – and after all, I imagine it’s much harder to write a good short book than a long one. This would probably be a useful book for teaching undergraduates, especially those prone to making simple judgments about China. It would probably also appeal to the non-specialist (perhaps for this reason it’s immediately available in an affordable and rather attractive paperback – see amazon if you’d like to read a few pages online). I will add the caveat that this book is outside of my normal sphere of ‘High Qing’ research, so I have probably missed points in the work (and its arguments) that would arouse immediate interest or disagreement in a student of Republican China.

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