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.

5 responses to “Self-introduction”

  1. K. M. Lawson says:

    Matt! Great to have you join us, and I look forward to your postings on Qing history and developments in the study of the period.

    Thanks for the recommendation and I certainly join you in singing its praises. Harrison’s book is wonderful and as you note, covers the tumultous transition between Qing and the Republic. As you may know, I took her class this past semester on reading 20th century Chinese historical documents and had a chance to look through “The Man Awakened from Dreams” then since we were assigned to read a passage from his diaries. I’m very much impressed at the sheer diversity of approaches and topics she has taken in her various writings (many, like this one, which focus geographically on 山西) and her careful use of materials to build fascinating stories or arguments out of incidents and personages. Very inspiring for us as students.

    My favorite passage in “The Man Awakened from Dreams” is when she discusses how Liu Dapeng, bewildered at the changing times reacts to modern things in often very distinctly “Qing” or at least Qing scholarly ways. If I remember correctly (I don’t have the book with me here in Korea) she notes, for example, how Liu shows due reverence for the value of any paper with writing on it. This has humorous consequences in his later years, when we find him picking up random pieces of advertisement or cigarrete packaging he finds on the ground with text written on it.

  2. Matt, welcome. I’ll have to look for the book: it sounds like a wonderful candidate for my 20th century China course, or perhaps for the end of the 19th century one.

    Konrad: for two people who’ve never met, we know an awful lot of the same people…

  3. K. M. Lawson says:

    Hehe, well, I do hope we’ll get a chance to meet in the coming year or two!

  4. Matt Mei says:

    Hey Matt, remember me from Manchu class? I browse the Asian blogosphere from time to time. Good luck with your adventures.

  5. I read this book when auditing an undergraduate course in modern Chinese history. Indeed, it was a smart choice on behalf of the professor. (By the way, he handed out a page long reading guide for the students to use as they went along). The book engaged many of the students primarily for two reasons: it was short and written remarkably well. Harrison’s leaves out much of the scholarly jargon used in some of the graduate class books I’ve recently finished. Without naming anyone in particular, I do think some scholars should consider writing well rather than writing more…

    I also think Harrison’s book portrayed the transition between High Qing and Modern China very well. Liu Dapeng’s struggle as a literati and his (and his family’s) social downfall clearly show how much had happened in such a short period of time, how modern ideas and culture permeated Liu Dapeng’s life by the end.

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