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Nomads and China

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:03 am
As the final installment in our exciting series of syllabus posts I present my last class for the semester, Nomadic Empires and China It is a topics class, so it is supposed to get our majors to do more focused historical work (the bulk of our upper-divisions are surveys, Modern Japan, Modern Italy, Colonial America, etc.) It is also supposed to get them to do some research. As I am already teaching it and may never teach it again I welcome any sort of comments but particularly any on things to watch out for/change for this semester. The only really interesting thing about the syllabus is how new it is. A lot of work has been done on these topics in the last 20 years or so, and as a result the class is almost entirely different than it would have been had I taken it as an undergrad. That's one of the reasons I picked it, of course. Lots of cool stuff and much of it in paperback. The Mote book is turning out to be particularly helpful. 80% of them bought it, even though it was optional.


Taiwanese Heroin

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:46 pm
It has been rainy rather than snowy around here of late, which is very unusual for this time of year. While walking in a cold wet rain I began to try and think of something that would make me feel better. Something that was cheap, would make me feel warm, and ideally make me spit horrible blood-red spit. Sadly the only thing that does that is betel nut, and you can't get it in Pennsylvania.
Thinking about Taiwan and betel nut led me to do a bit of research that turned out to be pretty surprising. I had always lumped betel-chewing in with all the other drug foods, tobacco, opium etc, and assumed that it appeared about the same time. According to Rooney Betel Chewing Traditions in South-East Asia, however, the custom goes back much further and probably should be lumped in with alcohol in a social, if not a chemical sense. Rooney is interested in ceramics, and thus the book is more about the elaborate betel sets that are common in Southeast Asia, but there is a fair amount in the book about the social context of betel use, again mostly in Southeast Asia. I found a lot of this to be different than the betel customs in Taiwan. In particular she emphasizes that Southeast Asians would prepare their own quids, that it was a social ritual with considerable meaning, and, of course, that it required equipment that could be quite elaborate. In Taiwan betel was and I think still is a state monopoly, and it was sold from little stands in pre-made quids. It was also a distinctly Taiwanese and working class thing. Most of the foreign students would try it at least once, but none of the (mostly middle-class and mainlander) Taiwan students would touch it. This leads me to wonder if the custom spread into China in a different way than it did in Southeast Asia. Rooney has pictures of elaborate betel sets from all over, but not from China. The one Chinese picture she has is a man selling betel in the market place (in 1805) who is apparently going to make up your quid for you. All of her stories about the role of betel in courtship ritual and such come from Southeast Asia. This may just be a source thing (It’s a fun book, but rather impressionistic) or it may be a cultural difference. The obvious comparison, at least for me, is opium. Opium also led to the production of elaborate tools, and was associated with various forms of social interaction. It was also a quick high for physical laborers. In China you eventually get morphine and heroin which take over the quick high end of the market and leave opium with the better-off users and other social contexts. My guess is that betel made it to Taiwan as a working class thing and never really established cultural meanings beyond that. One bit of evidence for this are the different ways the custom has responded to decline. Rooney has the obligatory postscript on how this interesting old custom is declining in Southeast Asia in the face of modernization, and the Thais she talked to seem to portray it as rural, backwards thing that your grandmother did. I suppose the custom might make a comeback as a marker of ethnicity. In Taiwan the response has been bin lang girls, who are not at all grandmotherly, and will bring a quid of betel out to your car and sell you the quid of betel and perhaps other things as well. This seems to be to be a set of associations that go well with the working-class relief thing and not at all well with the customs of our ancestors thing. (The bin lang girls link is to Takao Club, which has some really nice stuff on Taiwan history.)


Asia on the move

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:40 am
As we have been posting syllabi and asking for comments I thought I would do something radical and post one for a class that I will not be teaching until next Fall, in hopes of getting comments in time to do something about them. The class is ASIA 200 the intro class for our Asian Studies minors. This will be the first time it has been taught, so I am not really sure how it will work out. We introduced it in part because Latin American Studies and Pan-African Studies have intro classes, but we don’t, and we figure that it will bring the students together. 1 The class is supposed to introduce as many parts of Asia as possible, and as many disciplinary approaches as possible. I organized it around a general theme of travel. The theme, of course, does not really matter, it’s just something to hang the course on. A lot of this is stuff that I am not really all that familiar with. What I wanted to do was find a range of interesting teachable things. I am really looking forward to the class, since one of the frustrations of this job is that I often read or see interesting things, but then I have no venue to teach about them. Now, with a bit of creativity, I do. Any advice about any of these topics, other better ways to do things, better sources etc. is very welcome. ___________________ 1 I suppose it is worth explaining what the point of the class is. Like many places we have an interdisciplinary Asian Studies program that has almost no budget and no “real” faculty, in the sense of people who are hired to teach Asian Studies. Instead we have a group of people who have been hired by various departments to teach about Asia, and the University gave us a huge pile of money (Well, it would be a pretty big pile if you traded it in for pennies) to set up an interdisciplinary minor. As a result our course list consists of anything about Asia that any department thinks is worth teaching for some reason, rather than a group of classes that are supposed to go together somehow. This means that there is not much structure to the minor, and this class is supposed to help provide that. A lot of our students also don’t realize how broad this field is, and we are supposed to expose them to a lot of stuff.


Notes from the Chinese Underworld

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:32 am
I appear to have been guilty of smuggling, or at least receiving contraband goods. Probably the Triads or somebody like that was involved as well. Too cool. While bouncing around the net I discovered that the American Department of Agriculture had banned the import of Sichuan peppercorns back in the 60s, apparently because they can carry a disease that affect citrus. Apparently this ban was not really enforced for a long time, but then it began to be enforced a few years ago, presumably in the general tightening up after 9/11. Then, even more recently, the ban was rescinded on the stipulation that all Sichuan peppercorns be heated before being shipped here. I have never had any trouble buying Sichuan peppercorns and it fact never knew it was illegal. 1 I have been keeping contraband in my kitchen, and never even knew it. This causes me to think a bit about Chinese markets in the U.S. and what odd places they are. Of course they are not really “Chinese” markets, they are Asian markets that sell all sorts of East Asian foods. In the smaller places you can usually tell in about 30 seconds if the owner is Chinese, Korean, or maybe Japanese. They will sometimes have a small sad little shelf of middle eastern ingredients, but not much. Around food at least there is a common East Asian identity in the U.S. This makes some Americans nervous. When I was living in Georgia the government started pushing the store owners in Chamblee to put English names on their stores, in theory to help emergency workers find places but I suspect in part because it made people nervous to be driving down a street in the U.S. of A. and not being able to read the signs. And, oddly enough, they were right. Asian town is its own little world. I went on a field trip to the Chicago Chinatown when I was young, but I remember not being that impressed. We ate at a Chinese restaurant that could have been anywhere, heard a short talk on Chinese culture from a women in a qipao and then got to buy some rice candy. I did not think at the time that it was that much different from any other ethinc neighborhood. Actually, it is, and you can see it in the food stores. Part of it is the prices. You can get a fair number of Asian ingredients in your better American supermarkets, but the prices and packaging make it clear that there are completely different distribution channels involved. $6.00 for a little thing of sesame oil at Safeway? In any case, how long would two ounces of it last? Asian places also seem to have a rather distant relationship with American food labeling laws. I find more and more things that have a sticker slapped on that supposedly gives all the information American law says you should have, although I have come across a few manufacturers that slap the same label on everything. A lot of it is not labeled at all. I have no problem with this, but I do find it odd that governments that are so anal about things like food regulations are willing to ignore them if what you are selling is miso paste. Part of it is probably that the customers are willing to ignore regulation too. I suspect that an American supermarket would not want to get nailed for breaking food labeling laws in part because it would worry the customers. What other rules are they breaking? In the case of even the big modern Asian groceries your customer base is more likely to be local, and thus rumors that your chain has been cutting corners in the Cleveland store are less of a worry. Of course some of the customers are non-Asians. There are usually a lot of foodies, who will occasionally ask me questions like I’m some sort of cultural intermediary. ”Psst. Is this Lemon Grass?”.."No, those are long beans. Lemon grass is over next to the winter melons" I assume this works at customs to. “Are those illegal sichuan peppercorns?” “No officer, those are winter melons.” * Note to anyone from the Department of Agriculture who may be reading this: All the Sichuan peppercorns in my pantry have been cooked to 160 degrees. 1 Now that I think of it the quality has been a bit down of late. A bag of Sichuan peppercorns should smell even at arms length, and in the last few years I have not been finding those kinds, perhaps because I am shopping in the wrong places but perhaps because I am buying pre-ban peppercorns that have been sitting around for a while.


Rice Paddies

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:26 am
Following Jonathan's lead, here is my syllabus for History of East Asia, more commonly known as Rice Paddies. I suppose the first question to answer is why I teach this class at all. Lots of people don't any more. The idea that you can cover all of the history of East Asia in one class is a relic of the elder days. Fairbank created the basic course and called it Rice Paddies in the 1950s, and from there it spread. At one point offering any classes on the history of Asia mean you were some sort of uber-fancy sinological training institute. Rice Paddies was the class that colleges all over the country eventually started teaching, which meant that they had to hire someone to teach it, and add Asia as a regular part of the curriculum, thus providing me with a job. (Thank you John K. Fairbank.) When I got here this was the only East Asia class on the books, and it was an upper-division class. I kept it in part out of a sense of tradition, and moved it down to the sophomore level to fit it in with the other surveys. Part of the reason I wanted to keep it is that I wanted to avoid too much overlap with the upper-division Modern China and Modern Japan classes. One of the things that happens anywhere but particularly at a small school is that you get a lot of repeat business, and so I like to focus my classes differently. One part of this is using a long time-frame for the intro class (rather than splitting it into, say Traditional and Modern East Asia) The other is making the intro class a bit more social and cultural and the Modern classes more political. So, how do you go about teaching such a thing? One thing that helps is finally having a decent textbook. The new Ebrey one looks very good, and it fills a huge gap. I used to use a lot of extra readings in the past, but this first time through I will try to use the book pretty much straight. The book seems to have a lot of Korea in it, which is a little odd, but I usually try to do as much 'other' (not China and Japan) as possible in this class. The individual weeks of the class are organized around "worlds" i.e. themes that tie together a chunk of of the class. Thus the 'world of the Buddha' section is partly about the arrival of Buddhism in China as part of the standard narrative, but also a more anthropological (and a-historical) treatment of the role of Buddhism and especially lay Buddhism in Asian cultures. The course skates very close to being a cultures of Asia thing, which is about what I want. Things tend to get a bit more narrative as you get to the end. Then there are the outside readings. One China and two Japan, the first time I have ever done that. Book of Songs is always nice to use early in the class and make them write on. In part I like it because it is pretty foreign, and yet in bite-size pieces. The old edition, divided into topics, was even easier for them to work with. Also, it and Zhuangzi are the only classical texts I really enjoy working with for this type of class. Mutsui is the story of a late Tokugawa samurai/underworld enforcer, which I hope will work well. This class always attracts a fair number of martial arts enthusiasts, and I usually throw them a bone in the shape of some chunks from Water Margin, but this time I am doing this. I actually like the martial arts stuff, since this class has a tendency to get way too intellectual, and I like to remind myself that no matter how much Confucian or Buddhist stuff was being peddled at the top of society at the bottom your best friend was a spinning drop-kick. I have not used Hane's Gallows book before, but I always like his stuff. Plus women are great for doing 20th century in China and Japan since one of the big issues in both places was how to turn people who were not modern citizens into modern citizens, and women are an obvious and conscious focus of this. Any suggestions for future iterations of the course greatly appreciated.


Menzies and the problem of the “Smoking Gun” document

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:23 am
1763 Chinese Map Claims to be copy of 1418 Map

Menzies' thesis won't die. Just when it seemed to be fading out (unless Menzies' argument about Mongol exploration is really his next focus), along comes this map (discussed in more depth here; update: and with translations of the notations here, and much more discussion by actual map historians here) which claims to be a 1763 copy of a 1418 map of the world. The Economist story even cites it as a possible source for previously unexplained pre-Columbian maps showing (something vaguely resembling) the Americas!

Geoff Wade at the National University of Singapore (who has challenged Menzies before) provided a quick rebuttal to the Economist article, so I don't have to

The map is an 18th century copy of a European map, as evidenced by the two hemispheres depicted, the continents shown and the non-maritime detailed depicted. It proves nothing other than the Chinese (and Japanese) were copying European maps. That your writer has contributed to the Menzies' bandwagon and its continuing deception of the public is saddening. The support mentioned all comes from Mr Menzies' band of acolytes and the claims have no academic support whatsoever.

He goes into some detail on both the maps and "experts" cited, and I'm sure H-Asia will be abuzz for a while on this topic.

There are two things that I find interesting about this, on first look.

First is that it would be an interesting exercise actually tracing the intellectual and cartographic lineage of this map. I don't know much about cartography (is there a cartographic equivalent to "historiography" for writing about the history of maps?) but a map of this quality, if it existed in the 15th century, would have spawned imitations and copies pretty quickly. Contrawise, the number of European maps given to Chinese, Japanese or Korean mapmakers in the 18th century for copying must be a fairly finite number, and European mapmaking seems to be a pretty well-developed historical field: if it's a 1763 copy of a more recent imported map, that should be something which might be traceable.

The second thing is that the direction in which you study this map depends a great deal, clearly, on what you already believe about this map. The articles cite claims that such a map could have been constructed in 15th century China but, as we historians know, that which is logical, possible or even plausible "ain't necessarily so," because history is not about logic. It's about what happened. That cuts both ways, of course: I think Menzies' thesis is bunk; most historians of China that I know of think it's bunk; the evidence that we have against the thesis is much stronger than that which has been offered in support of it. But, just because it doesn't make sense to us that the Chinese would visit the Americas and leave almost no trace in their own historical record doesn't necessarily mean that it didn't happen. It means that the evidence in favor of Menzies needs to be more than just suggestive; it needs to be clear, verifiable and reliable. This means that it can't just be one piece of evidence.

I was actually just having this discussion with my World History class with regard to the document readings. One piece of evidence in isolation tells us almost nothing. It's the accumulation and cross-referencing of evidence which actually allows us to critically and reliably read and cite documents. A map copy like the one cited here could be considered authentic if it came from a copyist known to have access to lots of old maps, if it bore traces of information which we could verify as being extant in the early 15th century, if it left behind its own imprint on later intervening maps (whose creators might credibly have had access to this one), if there were descriptions of world geography in China which resembled this image, etc. Absent those supporting materials, a map -- or any other piece of evidence -- is simply a single data point. As my father says, given only one data point, you can draw any line you want to....

Menzies' supporters and believers will claim that the map is one more piece of evidence for his thesis; his detractors like myself, who find the evidence he's already cited to be highly suspect, will continue to point out that this map is not, in itself, clear evidence of anything, though it does suggest avenues of investigation.


Par for the course…

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:01 pm
I never thought I'd be citing Sports Illustrated here (Alan started it!) [via], but a Chinese historian has found references from over a thousand years ago to what he claims is the earliest known form of golf:
Professor Ling Hongling of Lanzhou University says he has uncovered evidence in a book called the Dongxuan Records that proves golf was played in China in AD 945. The book, written during the Song Dynasty from AD 960 to AD 1279, claims the game was called chuiwan and was played with 10 different jewel-encrusted clubs, including a cuanbang -- equivalent to a modern-day driver -- and a shaobang -- the ancient three-wood. The term chui actually means "to hit" while wan is the term for a ball. ... [H]e claims the game was imported to Europe by Mongol traders during the late Middle Ages. ... [H]e claims a reference in the Dongxuan Records sees a prominent Chinese magistrate of the Nantang Dynasty (AD 937-975) instructing his daughter "to dig holes in the ground so that he might drive a ball into them with a purposely crafted stick."

I was going to say "obviously, more research is needed" but then I realized that I really don't care.... The evidence at the moment is decidedly thin -- "smoking gun" traces rather than credible documentation -- and there'll be lots of heat back and forth with the Scottish, but it's going to be a long time before there's enough evidence to be worth revising the historical record. For one thing, is there any evidence that the Mongols played any such game or could have transmitted it any other way?

As the article says, "The Chinese have a history of making audacious claims to having invented sports," not to mention everything else.

Lumpy Chinese History

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:54 am
There are a few places to go for archived syllabi -- H-Net, ExEAS, I had a printed collection at one point, as well, then there's the GMU Syllabus Finder -- but not a lot of open discussion of course design. I've gotten help on sources, etc., from lists like H-Asia or by blogging questions ("bleg" means to "beg via blog" but it looks like "blech" to me so I won't use it) and bothering old friends. But we need a more sustained discussion. So I'm going to inaugurate what I hope will be an ongoing series of posts here (and the other blogs about syllabi I've designed or am working on. My only Asian history syllabus this semester is Hist 312: China I: Early China. It covers China up to about 1600: China II is Qing, including the Ming-Qing transition; China III is 20th century. Early China is a great course: I keep toying with the idea of making it the one required Asian course for history majors, because the material is so fundamental, and it's my best-attended China course by far. The problem, of course, is the richness and range of the material. This semester, though, I'm not even trying to make the semester "flow" because the history itself doesn't. It's episodic and inconsistent and the emphasis has to shift to make sense of things. The foundation of the course is in two books. The first is the textbook, of course: Valerie Hansen's The Open Empire is a great book, well-written and challenging at the same time, with lots of material for me to work with and good basic stuff for the students. There may be a better textbook out there for this class, but I don't know of it. My chief complaint about the book -- relative weakness of intellectual/religious history -- will be rectified with other readings (actually, I suspect that when she wrote the book, she knew that most teachers would spend quite a bit of time on the philosophical traditions anyway, so she didn't have to). The second "constant companion" this semester will be Chinese poetry -- Watson's Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry covers up through the 13th century, and is a really good "greatest hits" collection -- which we will discuss a bit almost every class period. I'm kind of a poetry geek: not much of a poet myself, and not a huge fan of Western poetry, but the orality and social nature of poetry in other times and parts of the world makes it fascinating social and cultural evidence. Plus, it's often quite fun, very powerful stuff. The first class was Tuesday, and I had them reading poems aloud and discussing them, something I hope we'll be doing over the rest of the semester with similar energy. Now the lumpy bits. The other three books for the course are very time-specific, and we will work through them at the appropriate moments. First is the "Axial Age" philosophers -- using Ivanhoe and Van Norden, Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, which I picked up at the AHA last year (those book table giveaways really can pay off!) -- three weeks on Confucius, Mencius, Xunzi, Mozi, Laozi, Zhuangzi and Hanfeizi. I used to use the old Columbia sourcebooks, but the new editions are ... too much. Way too much stuff that I can't use, and not quite enough of the stuff that I really want. This year's text gives me about fifty pages of each of these thinkers: quite enough to discuss in depth, with some nuance and sense. I regret that I don't have an equivalently good source for the Song Neo-Confucianists, but I might photocopy the Columbia sourcebook's readings on the Wang Anshi debates, which has served me pretty well in the past. Buddhism also gets kind of short shrift, but I haven't decided how much that's a problem yet. The last two books are secondary works, and they're relatively older scholarship. This is where a really good chat with some Chinese specialist colleagues might have helped, but I think for what I'm trying to do these are good sources. First is the forty-year-old Jacques Gernet. Daily Life in China, on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion, 1250-1276. I need to do a bit more background reading on Marco Polo before we get to that one: I'd forgotten until I picked the book back up last month that Gernet cites Polo as pretty reliable. But Gernet's book is primary-source rich and nicely structured; supplemented with some good visual materials, and it'll be a great "slice of life" experience. Second, and the last thing we read, is Ray Huang's 1587, A Year of No Significance (I love that title!), which gives nice biographical sketches of officialdom from the Emperor down to "eccentric" scholar-bureaucrats, all grappling with the great (and not so great) issues of the day. The discussion of how the Imperial system is supposed to work, and how it actually does work, should be a good cap to the semester. I'm experimenting this semester with a heavily discussion-oriented class, with much less homework than I've required in the past. So most of the grade is in the tests (a few midterms, some pop quizzes, and a final), with a full 25% coming from attendance/discussion/participation. The tests may end up being essays (I often do take-home essays for finals, in particular) so writing won't go unevaluated. But I think I want to focus on reading this semester, and engagement with texts and colleagues. I hope I've picked sources that are lively enough and clear/complex enough to make that easier. So, what have you done to your syllabi this term?


Raise high the flag, whatever it stands for

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:33 pm
Asian Harmony
This is a Japan/Manchukuo propaganda poster showing the harmony between the Chinese, Japanese, and Manchurians. I found it on the Hoover website and am using on my East Asian History syllabus for the Spring. (You need a nice Pan-Asian image for that.) I like the image because it is kids, which neatly sidesteps the question of why the Chinese and the Manchurian have abandoned their native loyalties. It’s also hard to envision trying a 6-year old as a war criminal. The thing that struck me is that Chinese (the one on the right) is holding the old 5-Color flag. This was declared the flag of the Republic after the 1911 revolution. Sun Yat-sen was never happy about this, since he preferred the Shining Sun flag (the current flag of the R.O.C. on Taiwan.) He was turned down on the grounds that Shining Sun was too closely tied to his party and gave the impression that the Republic was a party-state (which is of course why Sun liked it.) In 1921 Sun’s Guangzhou government declared the Shining Sun flag the official flag of the Republic, and after the Northern Expedition this was accepted by everyone.1 Or was it? The Japanese apparently did not. Did they never accept the Shining Sun flag as the symbol of China? Or did they drop this recognition after 1931 or something? Or was the 5-Color flag just a symbol of the Chinese race to them, and they still recognized the Shining Sun as the symbol of the Nanjing state? The imagery is actually sort of odd, since the 5 colors in the Five Color flag were originally held to represent the 5 nationalities of China (Han, Manchu, Mongol, Tibetan and Hui.) Not many Tibetans in Manchukuo, so were the colors in the Manchukuo flag supposed to stand for something other than ethnicity? This site suggests that the four colors on the Manchuguo flag stood for red (bravery), blue (justice), white (purity) and black (determination), but it gives no references. 1Above from Harrison The Making of the Republican Citizen

Cantonese is Dying! (in L.A.)

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:32 pm
A not-too well informed article from the L.A. Times lamenting the decline of lively, slang-filled Cantonese in favor of the polite and dignified Mandarin. Obviously written by someone who has never been to Beijing. Or Tianjin. Or a lot of other places. No doubt a lot of Cantonese speakers do regard the school-ish Mandarin they know as dull, but the analysis is not very strong in the article. The article blames the Mainland government for pushing Mandarin, although the focus is on Chinese in America, where the pushing is obviously of a different sort. Part of what is happening of course is that the new waves of immigrants coming to the U.S. are as likely to be Mandarin speakers as not. 20 years ago my Mandarin was almost useless in American Chinatowns (Actually, 20 years ago my Mandarin was almost useless anywhere.) Now I almost never hear Cantonese. The interesting thing to me is the difference between today and the survival of Cantonese (and Fujianese, etc.) in the past. Mandarin obviously works better if you have a community of lots of Chinese from different places, which is more likely now with cheaper transport and closer contacts with China. (One of the people learning Mandarin in the article was doing so to be able to speak to his grandkids in China.) The strange thing is that for a very long time Cantonese worked just fine to hold together business networks and families and such. Now if you insist on staying in the Cantonese ghetto you are sacrificing a lot, and people are leaving. Why the change? Part of it I suppose is velocity. People moving around a lot more and communicating cheaper and quicker make it harder for a minority dialect to maintain its kingdom. Part of it is probably a political change. Hong Kong is no longer the gateway to China in the same way it was, nor are the Cantonese particularly likely to be the interpreters of the West to China. China is all open now, and Canton no longer has a special position. I suspect part of it is that family and provincial ties are also less important than they were in 1906. The idea of continuing your Chinese studies in school is no longer just fillial piety for Asian Americans, and of course that means Mandarin. Is there anything else driving this? I know the Singapore government has been pushing Mandarin for a long time. What's happening in Australia? Even better, what is happening in Indonesia, where acting like a trans-national Chinese might not be a good idea.

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