"From the above-mentioned translations and theses we can see, Mencius bears certain influences in the west. But in modern cultural, the flow-in and flow-out are not balanced. Those flowing out were most completed by foreign missionaries, and later introduced and translated by foreign sinologists. Those completed by Chinese scholars especially systematic introduction are next to none. Since the study of the Chinese traditional culture has been orientated by the westerners, it sounds that the secondary supersedes the primary. As a foreigner, even if he is a sinologist, his knowledge of Chinese ancient history and cultural background is surely limited. As a result of the great differences between the east and the west, those translations and reviews must have born some negative influences. The author once wrote an article entitled Comments on James Legge's Translation of Two Passages from Mencius (published in Chinese Translators Journal, the 6th issue of 1995), in which he pointed out: The work of translating The Four Books and Five Classics had better be completed by Chinese scholars in certain institutions and in a planned way and a number of learned scholars should join the work led by an authoritative administration, thus making those Chinese national treasures have better versions of foreign languages and become an important component of the world cultural treasure-house....As a translator it is an honour for the author to join part of the work. Working as a reviser of the English version of Mencius gave him an excellent opportunity to learn. Mencius mainly translated by Professor Zhao Zhentao is of high quality and better than the earlier versions such as J. Legge's. It is worth admiring." (41, my bold)Fortunately, the English in the translation of the main text is at least better than Chu's own introduction. What can we say of the claim made here though? On the surface it seems fairly harmless, if not common sensical to suggest that "foreigners" are at a distinct disadvantage when attempting to tackle such great Chinese classics, and it is certainly not controversial to claim that their knowledge is "limited." However, Chu is making the stronger claim that the translation of such works should be left to Chinese scholars. The result of this in this particular case, as I have indicated, was a translation that judged on its English alone, left much to be desired. The solution, of course, would have been better cooperation between the Chinese scholars and translators on this project, and truly fluent and eloquent English speakers (of any origin) who could have pointed out the many places where the resulting English prose suffered. While the discussion here is specifically about translation, this issue is closely related to one that many of us "foreigners" who study East Asia must face time and time again. Must all of us humbly concede at the start of our careers that due to our "limited knowledge" and "cultural background" everything we do must be tainted with whatever Chu means to imply with the term "negative influences"? Must we confess that we can never truly do important and inspiring work in the field of, say for example, Chinese history and constrain ourselves to the subordinate task of introducing this room of the world's "cultural treasure-house" to the ignorant West? Indeed, doesn't the title of this website, 井底之蛙, suggest that we have already submitted to the verdict? I think many of us would contest all of the above, and dismiss many such attacks as arrogant nativism. However, as this passage suggests, it is still more common than we might like to think. A friend of mine who studied early Japanese poetry for her dissertation was told by the professor she was to work with during her time in Japan that, "Foreigners can't possibly understand the Manyôshû." She had to switch to another professor, at another university, who had more faith her capacities. It will always be the case that well-trained "native" scholars will be able to read more, faster, and will in many cases have "better instincts" on interpreting various material. I for one am constantly reminded of my own linguistic limitations, not to mention my vast areas of ignorance when I was doing some of my research in Tokyo and Taiwan, especially when compared to others I met there sharing my interests. However, I have also encountered plenty of counterexamples to the latter "better instincts" claim, especially with scholars who may have spent greater time studying and working with certain kinds of material than their "native" counterparts. Whatever raw skills we attribute to certain individuals, however, and however easily we dismiss the idea of an innately superior interpretive ability of a people for their "own" history, it doesn't change the fact that all of us studying the history of East Asia suffer from severe limits to our vision (and I don't mean to suggest by this metaphor that there is one "complete picture" out there to be seen), whether we are working/raised in the United States or in Taiwan, China, etc. That, I believe, is what I had in mind when starting out on this 井底之蛙 project. I would love to see more interaction between graduate students and professors in the less formal and hierarchical setting of a weblog like this, between academically minded students/professors and the greater public interested in East Asian history, and between those of us studying East Asia "over here" and studying East Asia "over there." --As a final provocative afternote, I should mention that I feel strongly that the fact that Orals/Comprehensive Exam PhD reading lists are in many cases largely or sometimes completely limited to English language works is one of the first steps within the graduate education setting here to creating the mental divisions between "our academic" world and "their" academic world.
Abaoji uttered a wail of grief, then speaking through his flowing tears he said: "I swore brotherhood with the father of that lord of Hedong Province; that Son of Heaven is Henan was my son, as the son of my dear friend....That my son should have come to such an end! It is so unjust! He wept uncontrollably.It is a long account, and Mote mines it for a number of interesting things on Abaoji and his attempts to appear a good Confucian. I was struck by the tears. Did he really cry? He had no doubt heard that Zhuangzong was dead some time before (Abaoji was on campaign against the Bohai, so the ambassador took a long time to find him), so even on the off-chance that Abaoji really cared about Zhuangzong personally, it seems unlikely that this is what we would call a spontaneous reaction. I suppose the ambassador could have lied, but according to Mote this comes from a fairly private account, and that would only push the question back a bit, why would the ambassador think that the tears would reflect credit on Abaoji? That he would get credit for having a close friendship with Zhuangzhong makes sense, but why the tears? Of course as an American male I am never supposed to cry, but as a historian I am well aware that this (men don't cry) is a cultural construct that, if pressed, I would associate with the Victorians. I know that medieval white men cried, and that we don't so it seems like blaming the Victorians should work. Certainly I try to teach my son (and daughter) to display their emotions in a socially appropriate way, which may mean not crying but certainly means not melting down in the cereal aisle when I won't buy them what they want. Abaoji was apparently raised to emote visibly in appropriate situations. I'm wondering if this is a Chinese thing. At least in the Secret History I don't recall any displays like this from nomadic leaders, which Abaoji sort of is. On the other hand in at least some Chinese texts visible signs of emotion are signs of sincere emotions. The one that pops to mind immediately is a Mock Contract between a Slave and His Master, a Han dynasty text reprinted (p.231) in Cho-yun Hsu's Han Agriculture The story begins with a slave insisting that serving wine is not his job, and then having the master write out a long contract explicitly stating every duty a slave could possibly have. The document is a nice tour of the Han rural economy. It is a student favorite in part because of the slave's reaction to having his duties spelled out.
After the contract was read, the slave was utterly speechless. In reckless agitation, he knocked his head repeatedly, and struck himself with both hands. Tears fell from his eyes and snivel from his nose hung down a foot.Students of course love snot. The way I explain this is to say that given Chinese medical ideas about proper balance of the 5 elements and such any physical or emotional upset almost has to lead to visible tears and oozing viscera. The slave is emotionally upset, and you can see this in his losing control of bodily functions. (I'm not sure how accurate this is, but they seem to accept it.) Abaoji has to cry to seem really sad, so he does. I'm not so much saying he is putting it on as that he has been raised to emote visibly in socially appropriate situations. Is this a common thing in East Asia? When were Heian courtiers supposed to cry? Qing bureaucrats? For a picture of Abaoji's home town, go here
I think we need a new word for the study of colonialism, imperialism and the post-colonial discourses, pro and con. Pro? Who's in favor of it? Well, this is what makes it interesting, these days: there are a lot of former colonial powers out there whose citizens and leaders, in their heart of hearts, still believe that they accomplished something that was ultimately positive, who still believe that their developmental initiatives and their anti-communist (or anti-capitalist) positions were justified by subsequent developments. This is usually -- explicitly or implicitly -- intended to mitigate or cancel out any discussions of political repression, economic exploitation, military atrocities or strategic abandonment. Sometimes it's just good historical sense, but then it usually comes with very careful caveats about not canceling out the other stuff.
In the former category, we have Japan's second-best known conservative speaking out
[Japanese Foreign Minister Taro] Aso said that ''thanks to the significant improvement in educational standards and literacy'' during Japan's colonial rule, ''Taiwan is now a country with a very high education level and keeps up with the current era.'' ''This is something I was told by an important figure in Taiwan and all the elderly people knew about it,'' he said, according to Kyodo News. ''That was a time when I felt that, as expected, our predecessors did a good thing.''
There's been real research done on things like education and colonial legacies, but Aso is basing his conclusions on "something I was told" and a somewhat panglossian view of early 20th century Japanese leaders. Aso is not trying to present a nuanced historical revision; he's something of a flamethower, politically speaking. Another in a long line of Japanese politicians who is playing to the home audience; this time, though, unlike some of the '80s and '90s gaffes where foreign press turned off-the-cuff statements into scandals, I'm quite sure that he's counting on foreign reaction to emphasize Japan's international isolation and historical victimhood.
For a more nuanced discussion, though Prasenjit Duara's Japan Focus article condenses down some of his recent scholarship and argues that Manchukuo was a "post-colonial" state because it was formally autonomous instead of being a traditional colony. He calls this "New Imperialism" (though I thought the late 19c "scramble for Africa" and Chinese treaty ports was the "new" imperialism; hint: never name something "new" because it won't be for long), defined as "imperialism without colonialism" practiced by the US and USSR as well as Japan in the early 20th century. Some of the hallmarks of New Imperialism are the lack of colonial integration, the use of anti-imperialist rhetorical justifications, and the use of some kind of theory of solidarity binding formally autonomous states together into a community of strategic interest.
It's not a bad definition, but Manchukuo, it seems to me, is a weak example and highlights the difficulty of defining "autonomous" and "state" in meaningful ways. But Duara tries to make a case for Manchukuo as a pretty solidly modern (in concept, anyway) nation-state, and as such a sign that Japanese imperialism produced a modernization effect. Duara is not, in any way, whitewashing aspects of imperialism such as political repression or economic exploitation, but rather pointing out that the instrumental nature of imperialism often required that the imperial subject state be developed -- institutionally and economically -- to the point of being useful to its dominating power. This strikes me as interesting, but not terribly different from World Systems Theory concepts of peripheries and development under dependency.
There's lots of places where Duara's argument doesn't entirely ring true to me. To take one example, he cites Manchukuo's creation as an independent state instead of a colony as a result of intellectual trends and imperialist theories within Japan and the rhetorical structure (Confucian) of pan-Asianism, and seems to ignore the tactical issue: Japan was trying, initially, to get the world to ignore the fact that Manchukuo was a colony, however formally administered. It's interesting to see how the rhetoric fits the situation, but I'm not convinced that the rhetoric shaped the situation so much as the reverse.
Duara is also arguing for an historiographical continuity between pre-WWII and post-WWII imperial networks, which certainly rings true, at least to my World Systems Theory influenced view of imperialism. I never thought that the distinction between "colony", "puppet regime", "client state", and "peripheral economy" was clear lines or, for that matter, all that important in tracing influence; it's the direction and scale of power, which is a continuum, that matters, and the distinction between Imperialism With Colonialism and Imperialism Without Colonialism doesn't really seem all that important to me if there isn't a real difference in effect.