Happy Birthday China! Happy Birthday Freedom!

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:17 pm

According to People’s Daily English Edition China has turned 5,056 years old today. 5,000 years of timeless Chinese civilization, plus 56 years of New China. Always nice to read these things to get the current line straightened out. Still lots of stuff about how China was freed from oppression by the CCP. A nice quote from a 7th grader who hates studying modern history because it was “so bitter.” (I always tell mu students Chinese hate studying this period. Now I have a citation) Some stuff on how Communism led to economic development. Most interesting to me was the emphasis on democracy and minority rights.

Stability and prosperity can in no way be realized without democracy. By proceeding from its own conditions, New China practices the “system of multi-party cooperation under the leadership of the Communist Party of China,”

Minorities matter too.

All the 55 ethnic minorities have deputies to the NPC, who take 13.91% of the seats, although their combined population account for less than 9% of the national total. And their development and prosperity have always been high on the agenda of the leaders of the People’s Republic.

All of this democracy and equality will lead to more development.

Ensured by democracy, stability has ensured economic growth and social progress nationwide. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, China’s GDP has grown at annual rate greater than 9% since 1979, reaching 13,651.5 billion yuan (8.27 yuan against the U.S. dollar) in 2004, nearly double that of 1998. China is producing enough to feed one fifth of the world’s population though its arable land accounts for only 7% of the world’s total.

GNP figures we would get in the U.S. Emphasizing that we now grow enough food to feed ourselves is China.
I liked seeing democracy being presented as a necessity for economic growth, rather than a luxury good that will have to wait on development. If hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, it is nice to see the tribute system getting restored.

Via Simon’s World

Yuan Shikai, Daoist

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:00 am

Another neat thing from Tales of Old China. They have a whole section of French Images, which mostly seem to be postcards and newspaper clippings from somewhere that they have scanned in. These can be quite frustrating, since they are undated and unless there is a caption it is often not at all clear what they are. It is doubly annoying since so many of them are good pictures. The standard Chinese method of photography at this point seems to have been collect a bunch of people (The Whampoa cadets, for example) line them up in front of a building and then move the camera back far enough to get the entire building in and reduce the people to dots. The French had a very different aesthetic that led to better pictures.
Here is one of them. It shows Yuan Shikai in what the caption says is a peasant’s outfit, although to me he looks more like a Daoist recluse. I think the caption is saying that the picture was taken while he was in disgrace, which would make it just before 1911. It’s a nice shot because while there are lots of pictures out there of Yuan as a general, there are very few that use him to show the changing ways the elite (and emperors) could present themselves. When I show this one to students they (well, some of them) immediately think of all the pictures I had shown them from Hal Kahn’s Monarchy in the Emperor’s Eyes, which showed Qianlong as a Manchu warrior, poet, Buddhist, Daoist, and martial arts-master.


China is dirty

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:37 pm

Many of our countless readers already know this resource, but one of the things I like to read and teach with is Tales of Old China, a website put up by SinoMedia Shanghai. They have a nice collection of postcard pictures, snippets and larger pieces from various books and newspapers about life in the Treaty Ports. A lot of the pictures are annoying, in that they are interesting but unsourced and above all undated, so that it is hard to be sure what to make of them.

Today I came across a piece on “The Fly Menace in China” from The China Journal, October 1937. It explains the dangers presented by the hordes of flies that have descended on foreign Shanghai in the aftermath of war.

“The various flies must have been observed by almost every Shanghai resident armed with a swatter during these critical days. Our natural petulance at war conditions and aerial bombing has taken a common expression in animosity against our insect aerial foes.”


Needless to say the reading provides all sorts of teachable moments, from the stunning callousness of the foreign community to the foreign concern with the infectious nature of the Chinese. I particularly liked the way that they provided pictures of all the types of flies so the scientifically-minded Shanghailanders could classify their kills.

I assume that the readings here are so useful because someone with a sharp eye at SinoMedia Shanghai is going through and picking stuff out for web-posting. Most of this treaty-port stuff works well with American undergrads, since it is in English, it is obsessed with analyzing the Chinese, and it usually has a condescending tone that is easy for students to pick up on and use as the first step in an analysis.


What is a family?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:43 am

Via Reason’s Hit and Run I find this story about a Taiwanese women who wanted to harvest the sperm of her recently deceased fiancée so that she could get pregnant by him. Reason of course played up the sex angle, but I found it interesting from a cultural angle. The article referenced (from Taipei Times) is pretty useless from a legal point of view, but it did say that the state had ruled in favor of her petition. I sort of wondered what the man’s parents thought of this, although they were not mentioned in the piece, since they would be the obvious ones to control his “body” under American law. (The state had a special interest in this man because he was in the army at the time of his fatal accident.)

I was struck by the woman’s desire to have a baby with someone who was dead. Taipei Times stated that there had already been some 80 cases like this in the U.S. I would assume that all of these were wives who wanted to have more children with their husbands. According to one write-up I found, the fiancée claimed to already be married in the eyes of the family, and that she wanted to ensure that there would be descendents.


This seems a rather old-fashioned way of looking at family law, and apparently one that the state was frowning on at first, but then the gave in under public pressure. For any American, of course, going out of your way to become a single mom would seem a bad idea. For this woman one can speculate that she is hoping to get whatever benefits come with being a military widow. True Love is also a possibility. I would guess that cementing her position in the man’s family, in the old-fashioned way we all teach about in Chinese history classes is the most likely

Another write-up here

Suicide in China

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:10 am

Simon World’s HK Dave has a nice discussion of recent Chinese suicide statistics.

The Independent of Britain ran a story on the high suicide rate in China – 250,000 people killed themselves last year; according to the article they were victims of the country’s fast changing society. Unfortunately, numbers on that scale look shocking to anyone not from China, including the article’s author. You would need to look at the rate per 100,000, which is the measure adopted by most countries globally. There you discover that China is slightly lower than the global norm of 25 per 100,000 as provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2000. However, that rate is certainly increasing if you compare it to the rate of China in 1999 of 13.0 for men and 14.8 for women, a worrying trend.

The first chart here suggests that 1999 might have been something of a trough, in statistical terms, so that the long-term rates are still open to question, but the second one suggests that suicide is the leading cause of death for all Chinese, which is astounding.

For homework, here’s the detailed country reports (PDFs, but small) for the US (surprisingly stable over the last half century), Japan (huge peak in older males since the Bubble burst), and China mainland, 1987-99 (almost zero gender differential) and HK.


Seven steps to a better Sichuan. (part 1)

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:01 pm

One of the things I came across recently is a 文史资料 piece by 杨芳毓. Yang was a returned student who was a subordinate to the Sichuan warlord Liu Xiang in the 1930s and also served as the director of the Chongqing electric steel-smelting factory (重庆电力炼钢厂). In the article he mentions the seven steps to a better province that Liu was in favor of.

1. Is provincial loyalty. Yang says that they must counter Chiang Kai-shek’s slogans口号with one of爱国爱川,反共抗日(Love the nation, Love Sichuan, oppose the Communists, resist Japan.

-This one is pretty obviously an attempt to establish provincial identity in the context of national identity, in part by emphasizing love of province but also by elevating the struggle with Japan to equality with the struggle with Communism (As opposed to Chiang’s focus on the Communists.)
The thing that struck me was the emphasis on slogans, which I have seen before but never really thought about. I have seen lots of references to debates about 口号, long before the communists come to power. Often a conference or meeting would apparently regard the slogans they came up with as being the chief products of their work. Where did these fit into the culture of political debate in China?

2. Using the contradictions between Chiang and the imperialists. Here Yang talks about using British and French-flagged vessels to ship weapons upriver from Shanghai. Chiang was aware of this, but powerless to stop it.

-This one made me think some about the problems with 文史资料 evidence. I would have little problem using this as evidence that Liu was buying weapons direct from the foreigners in the 30’s. I am really suspicious of the framing device of exploiting contradictions between Chiang and the imperialists. Is that really how Yang would have phrased it in the 1930’s? Or is it an overlay of the fact that he was writing this after 1949?

More (possibly) to come


Chinese Expansionism v. Chinese Expansion

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 7:03 pm

Andrew Meyer takes an interview with Lee Kuan Yew and turns it into a short (considering the subject matter) but deep meditation on the history of China and “China,” the process of Chinese expansion and integration through trade and conquest. He concludes that “a ‘deep historical’ perspective makes Chinese aggression a less pressing long-term concern for global peace and stability than internicine strife within China itself.”

Though internal division and dissension are very important, I’m not sure whether I agree that, from an outsider perspective, they are more important than China’s rising nationalism and power. In fact, I think it’s entirely possible that internal dissension could drive external aggressiveness (Wag the Dog, anyone?), that nationalism could exacerbate internal tensions by narrowing the definition of full citizenship, and that external adventurism could exhaust the state’s ability to deliver benefits resulting in a loss of legitimacy. Possibly all at once.


For this you need an expert?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:14 pm

[via Simon World] An expert has outlined the six most significant problems facing China, which is to say, facing China’s government:

  • Demographics
  • Energy and Raw Resource Consumption
  • Ecological deterioration
  • Urbanization
  • Regional Gaps and Rural Economics
  • Sustainable Development and Power

This is an interesting, if entirely unsurprising, list, because it focuses on what the government can and should do for the Chinese people, but leaves out the three most significant challenges to the government itself:

  • Ethnic tensions and national identity
  • Political liberalization, aka democratization
  • Information access and control, aka censorship
  • Update: regarding the second and third above, see this

In answer to the above six problems, the government has offered, in rather stereotypical Chinese fashion, a 45-year plan with a slogan: “Three Zero Growths,” meaning stabilization of population, energy and resource use, and environmental decay. There’s some positive aspects, including education and tech sector growth, life expectancy increases, and “wealth creation” though all of those are processes that will occur pretty naturally, if the government doesn’t interfere with them, so that’s not the ambitious aspect of this plan. The continued committment of the Chinese government to mass social and economic engineering (and to retention of its near-absolute authority) is perhaps the most significant thing this tells us.


If you go down in the flood it’s gonna be your fault*

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:44 am

Watching the coverage of the New Orleans flood I was reminded of the 1998 Yangtze floods, and it occurred to me that this is yet another example of how China is becoming a liberal (or maybe Confucian) nation state. In the Yangtze floods the state made a big deal about the work done by the PLA to help people. Although I can’t find them now, there were pictures of PLA soldiers locking arms to hold back the floodwaters with their bodies. From this point of view, the flood was a godsend to the state, as it gave them yet another chance to show how deeply they were concerned with the well-being of the people. On top of that, the PLA got into the act, Maoist-style enthusiasm was in, and no matter what the state did the problem was sure to get better.

The New Orleans floods are an example of state incompetence, of course, but also of how deep the new libertarian, post-liberal state has gone in the U.S. Yes, there has been outrage from the likes of Kevin Drum about the new dispensation, but the people who think the U.S. government should leave things like disaster relief to private charities have won pretty much all the elections in my lifetime. (Yes, Dems win on occasion, but only those who look as conservative as possible.) 9/11 was an example of something that was able, for a while, to pull together an atomized society, but apparently the Big Easy is not. I suspect that this will become even more apparent as reconstruction starts. The current American administration would of course find any sort of technocratic, state-led role in reconstruction ideologically unpalatable, but most imaginable American governments would find it hard to win support (and money) for a visionary plan to rebuild a city full of music and black people.
I assume that were a historic Chinese city to be wiped out there would be a strong, state-led effort to rebuild it just like before only better, in part because (Suzhou, Xian, whatever) is a sacred symbol of the national culture and in part because the state has a strong desire to be seen as leading the nation into the future, and to be seen as competent technocrats. The U.S. is looking very post-national right now.

* Either a line from Bob Dylan’s Crash on the Levee, or advice to flood victims from the director of FEMA. Take your pick.

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