What’s Under Tiananmen?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:28 pm

A huge underground complex, according to this site which a student sent me (He’s working on an urban history project). Is this common knowledge among those who’ve been in Beijing, and what, if anything, does it mean?


Viewing Africa from Asia

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:42 pm

(This is a comment on Tim Burke’s syllabus on Images of Africa cross-posted from his blog. I am putting it up here to see if anyone has any suggestions on images of Africa in East Asia)

I’m not sure what literature there would be on Indian views of Africa, (Bend in the River comes to mind) because they were never articulated as part of a larger imperial project. You need an imperial state for archives and to encourage people to think of what they are doing as “changing Africa.” I’m pretty sure there were a lot of Indians in East Africa, and that they had at least an economic impact.

As for East Asia (the place I know best) there is some stuff that probably would not matter. Kenzaburo Oe’s A Personal Matter has a character who obsesses about Africa, but that is just using Africa as a conveniently blank Other. There is a lot of that. I can’t see why it would matter much to African history. I assume you know Phillip Snow’s The Star Raft, which has some stuff on Chinese attitudes towards Africa in the context of development aid, where it would actually matter. I would have to think that some of the Africans who studied in China or Russia must have written memoirs or something by now.

Another topic you might want to consider is the relationship between the imperial and popular and post ’45 aid-organization discourses and the academic discourse you are asking them to join. Donald Lopez did a very interesting book called Prisoners of Shangri-la on basically that topic but dealing with Tibet. I liked the book a lot because he traced the development of the popular discourse very well (Tibet has a much more unitary image than Africa) but also because he was pretty clear that this popular discourse and the academic one were closely related. Of course there is a lot of stuff on how modern Asian studies is connected to the imperial projects.


Eat and run

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:19 pm

Chinese food culture

There is a current series on Amsterdam on Slate where Seth Stevenson suggests that the Dutch are almost never seen walking and eating. Americans, of course do it all the time, and of course we also drive and eat. This got me to thinking about Chinese food culture and wondering if I had been behaving badly. In China and especially in Taiwan there is of course a lot of street food, and I of course have eaten a lot of it. One of the things I don’t remember seeing very often is someone eating and walking. People buying 生煎包子 and taking them home in plastic bags I remember. I can recall at least a few people getting 包子 for breakfast and parking themselves on the street right near the place and eating, but that was rare. (I did it all the time, so I am pretty sure on this one.) Lots of places seemed to have little tables for quick eating, whereas for Americans they might not be needed. Eating breakfast at your desk at work seemed more common, or at least more obvious.

None of this is all that surprising, of course. Watson’s Golden Arches East had some stuff on how the all-powerful arches had failed to change the cultures of eating food in East Asia. I am not surprised to see that American food culture is not universal. What I would like to know is.

1. Is my impression that Chinese don’t eat on the move correct? I was not really paying attention. I’m not really talking about things like lunchboxes, but the American style of eating a hotdog while walking down the street. (Is ice cream an exception? I eat a lot of ice cream while walking, but don’t remember others doing it.)
2. If it is less common, where does it happen? Is this culture changing, and if so how?


Nourish the people with cheap diesel

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:07 am

In the post below Jonathan asked how a Confucian China could really be in the future. One possible bit of data comes from this article (From Brad DeLong). NYT reports that there are gas shortages in Southeast China because refineries are not willing to process crude at current low (state-set) prices. I suspect that things are actually more complex than that, but what I find interesting is that people are apparently hording gas in expectation that prices will go up. In other words they think that the state will adopt a market solution. If China had a more “Confucian” government they might take a more corporatist approach, and keep prices low for the benefit of consumers and farmers or whatever. (I’m an American, so the idea of cheap gas as a civil right is familiar to me.) For Confucian economic policy think of MITI in Japan and how it developed a whole range of ways to encourage firms to behave in a way that was for the good of Japan, as MITI saw it, rather than always for profits. I don’t see China heading in that direction. In part I just don’t see it, it is not happening. In part I can’t see where that would come from. China seems to have some pretty sophisticated economic policy makers, and they seem to look more to the US than Japan for models, which makes sense in 2005.

On top of that, I don’t think you can call a pure lassie faire policy like in Hong Kong in the old days Confucian. I can think of few things less Confucian than saying that the state does not matter, and should not have a role in regulating society. Nor do I see the CCP saying something like that any time soon. Without going too far into the “is it Confucianism” thing, it sounds a lot like the Republican era, or Taiwan, with a powerful state sector with at least some corporatist urges trying to control a fairly anarchic economic system but without the willingness to develop the methods of economic control you saw in Japan.


Define “Successful”

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:37 pm

There are signs that China’s government is going to resurrect Confucianism as a source of social ethics and harmony [via Simon World]. It was, after all, the dominant social ideology for centuries, even millenia (though not exactly consecutively), and it retains a great deal of power in Chinese society (though, as the article has pointed out, hardly nobody’s been formally taught this stuff for some time) and is indeed a great system of social ethics in a fundamentally hierarchical society.

But it does beg the question: to what extent did Confucianism work better than less formal systems of social ethics? Is it something to go back to because it was effective and adaptable, or is it just “there” and available for rhetorical recycling without requiring a strong committment to the principles of reciprocality, responsibility and compassionate effectiveness that it should entail?


51st State?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:26 am

From a formal legal standpoint, the United States never ceded possession of Taiwan [via Simon World], which it took from Japan in 1945, to the Nationalist government. It’s still ours!

This raises all kinds of interesting issues, if you take these sorts of things seriously (with international law, it’s hard, because nobody really pays that much attention to the paperwork, do they?). The last time we gave away something we took from the Japanese, instead of making it an independent state (as most of its inhabitants wanted) we gave it back: Okinawa. Of course, we have a different relationship with China….


“Big Eyes” and Chinese Children

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:32 pm

This is a fascinating essay about a famous Chinese picture known as Big Eyes [Via Simon World]. The followups are fascinating: a bit uncontextualized, but historians can fill in some of the gaps. Towards the end are a few then/now pairings that are quite intriguing. Could be really neat classroom dicussion generators.

This may be the most famous picture in China, but at this point I’d have to say that the most famous pictures about China are either Chairman Mao or the protestor before the tanks.

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