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Earliest Chinese Writing?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:46 pm
People's Daily Online is reporting that 7000 year old characters have been found which seem to be direct precedents to known Chinese characters. [via]
The symbols include rivers, animals and plants, and activities such as hunting, fishing and arable farming, as well as symbols recording events, said Han Xuhang, a research fellow with the Anhui Provincial Archaeological Research Institute. ...Xu said the symbols are carved in pairs and also in groups, which express comparatively complete meanings and show the characteristics of sentences and paragraphs. ... Many of the symbols are similar to the inscriptions on bones or tortoise shells of the Shang Dynasty (1766-1122 BC) and many are still conserved in characters used by ethnic groups today, said Xu.
It's not immediately clear to my how this is terribly important, since it's been pretty obvious for a long time that Chinese characters evolve from pictographic origins. Still, it's interesting. In other news: The metal used to make Great Britain's highest military honor, the Victoria Cross, came from China. Apparently the tradition is to use cannon captured in battle: since 1914, the metal used has been from Chinese armaments taken in the Second Opium War. These cannon were used for medals because they were not considered high quality material for recasting cannons, which is what was done with a great many other seized weapons.


Denis Twitchett and the Cambridge Histories

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:57 pm
Denis Twitchett, author of the groundbreaking Financial Administration Under the T'ang Dynasty and a strong guiding force behind the Cambridge History series for China and Japan, has passed away. [via] The Cambridge History series has sometimes struck me as an odd duck sort of publication -- I think I'm channeling one of Berry's reviews here -- a mix of "state of the art" and "timeless reference" which never quite succeeded at either. But they remain very powerful tools for students, especially graduate students, in getting a baseline on a period or a topic. They remain particularly useful, I think, as syntheses of material and findings that is otherwise only found in monographs, because most of it hasn't been integrated into most textbooks on Asia. I've never had very good luck assigning the chapters -- the Japan histories, anyway -- to undergraduate classes, but they have been good for students doing research.


Where are the Chinese women?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:35 pm
From IHT via some blog I forgot, here is a little review of a book on "Chick Lit" Chick Lit is a marketing category full of books about young women trying to have a career and find love. Did you see the Bridget Jones movie? Me neither, but that's the basic idea. The interesting thing about the book is that the trend has spread all over the world, with some rather weird permutations in different places. This type of things is not very popular in Japan, since Japanese women seem to prefer fiction that deals with adolecent romance or the hell of being a Japanese wife, and skip over the independent phase. Not sure why.

Does Chick Lit exist in China? I ask because it sounds a lot like the butterfly fiction of the 20's and 30's, novels and such intended to be read by a new group of women and used in part as a guidebook to a strange new world. I would be very interesting in knowing if the genre has made a comeback. Are any of our countless readers up on current Chinese women's fiction?

The Chinese are everywhere

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:22 pm

From Granta via Reason here is a little thing by Lindsey Hilsum on Chinese businesses in Africa. It's really just a little journalistic squib mostly about how the author was surprised to find Chinese in Africa. The author has clearly not read The Star Raft. She points out, correctly, that the Chinese economy is expanding all over the place and that the Chinese demand for raw materials is being felt all over. The author points out that the Chinese are popular with charming governments like that of the Sudan because they are not all hung up on human rights.

It occurred to me that another reason the Chinese may be doing so well is that the chief barriers to doing business in Africa are supposedly corruption, chaos and a kleptocratic state. I would suspect that these would be things that would not frighten a Chinese businessman the same way they would an American.

Recent Downtime

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:44 pm
I want to apologize for the recent few days of instable contact with Frog in a Well and some downtime. I'll expand this post with more of an explanation later but in the meantime, I hope that things will gradually get back to normal around here. We have moved web hosts and I'm still ironing somethings out. Leave a comment here or email me at konrad [at] if you continue to have problems with some feature of the weblogs here, I will try to work out any remaining issues this weekend.


Women on the Long March

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:08 pm
Natalie Bennett reports that a new oral history investigation of the Long March experience is being published.
Over 10 months, travelling mainly by bus and train through areas little changed to this day, I found 40 of the march veterans. Talking to them, I learned that their suffering, and what they overcame, was actually much greater than we had been told, especially among the women. Some of the realities they described also sit uneasily with the myth - none more so, perhaps, than the fate of the children of the Long March: the children left behind, children given over for hurried adoption after being born along the way, the young taken on as recruits and sometimes abandoned if they could not keep up.
I can't tell from the article, which focuses on women and children in the march, if the book will follow that emphasis, nor does it give any clues as to whether there will be any new information on the Luding Bridge incident which features prominently in Chang/Halliday's attack on Mao's legacy. However, if the article is any clue as to the rich detail available in the book, it will be a valuable addition to the history and the pedagogy. Oral history is one of the most accessible sources for students, and well-done oral history is a joy to read and use.


Asian History Carnival #3

Welcome to the third Asian History Carnival! It's traditional for blog carnivals to have some kind of internal organization.... Heh. Media and Popular Culture We've got a particularly high profile today, because an Asian History Film just won three Oscars, though being the awards for Art Direction, Cinematography, and Costume, we might as well still be laboring in obscurity. Memoirs of a Geisha was long on style, but Emma in Sydney sums up the movie in verse and suggests why the movie won no awards for content. I still haven't seen a review of the film by an historian, and I'm not volunteering. Speaking of movies, J. Otto Pohl (who seems to have finished up his Human Cost of Communism series for now) got the coveted call from Hollywood: Historical Consultant! Perhaps there'll be more work for historical consultants now that China's outlawing historical liberties in film? Well, judging by Sam Crane's analysis of historical writing in China, only historical materialists need apply, in that case. In the days of the US Occupation of Japan, as Konrad Lawson relates, media outlets had to be careful particularly if they were going to persist with nationalistic tropes. segue -- Japanese Nationalism Japanese, on the other hand, are taking more liberties than they used to: Japanese historical movies seem to be getting more nationalistic, or at least more sympathetic to militarists. Japan and Korea: Identity and Legality How hard is it to determine identity and nationality? Well, it seems like a pretty cut-and-dry category most of the time, but check out the story of this Korean-German (or Japanese-Dutch) playwright in the US who gets investigated as Japanese during WWII The comments are very interesting, too, as people try to work out how to tell who's what with regard to Annexation-era documents. Much clearer, but also a fantastic source for classroom discussion, here's a link to an archive of photographs [slow loading, but worth it!] by Korean art photographer Jeong Hae-chang taken in the 1930s. In spite of the elegance of the images, it's not like the Japanese occupation was friendly or gentle. One Korean scholar killed himself on the eve of Annexation in 1910, leaving behind a powerful statement in poetry and prose. Less than ten years later the Koreans rose up only to have their activists killed and aspirations crushed. Another "identity issue" which rambles on forever, it seems, is the Dokdo/Takeshima dispute. The Flying Yangban has a very detailed analysis of the controversy in three parts: Japan's claims, Korea's claims, and post-WWII agreements; there's a fourth post coming, he says, focusing on the post-1951 legal situation. The best comment was from Bunklehatch on the "Cyprus Solution": divide the island in half, and presumably split the difference on economic zones, too. Practical, but thoroughly unacceptable, it seems. segue -- Korean Nationalism There are dividing lines that run through Korea still, and not just the DMZ. Owen Miller discussed some of the current debates about Korean history, the strain of nationalism and ideology that runs through them and the ongoing struggle to define the issues. Historiography: How We Write In response to Duara's argument about Manchukuo's modernity, I proposed a new umbrella term for studies of Imperialism, colonialism and post-colonialism: Colonialogy (also here), trying to tie together the many strains of critical and ideological writing on these issues. The particular tension here is over the question of whether colonial control could be developmentally positive, and Owen Miller again took up the Korean side of the issue, with his usual vigor and intelligence. Konrad Lawson took up the question of whether we -- anglophone historians, mostly -- are sufficiently engaged with Asian language scholarship, by way of an article -- which Konrad did not endorse -- arguing that non-natives can't have the intuitive understanding of natives.... Alan Baumler responds to a discussion of whether the rest of us are sufficiently engaged with military history via Mary Elizabeth Berry's AAS Presidential address The anthropologists have made deep inroads into the question of perspective and engagement: Kerim comments on a Japan Focus article by Scott Simon about Taiwanese aboriginal histories of Japanese occupation, raising all sorts of issues about the perspective from which we write and the sources we use. Segue -- Debunking The Gavin Menzies "Did Zheng He discover America" controversy erupted anew with the release of a purported 1418 map. Nobody here was buying it, and if you follow some of the links in the comments you'll find really good reasons why. When Truth Matters: Pride The debate over the origins of Indian culture and the Indian people took an interesting twist with recent DNA studies, and this post also contains an interesting meditation on the difference between a "theory" and a plausible story. Sometimes the stories aren't so plausible: Did you know that Chinese -- at least Altays -- invented Skiing? Also golf. Because nobody likes to be forgotten, Sheilax has been blogging the history of the Malays of Tumasik and their rise to power When Truth Matters: War and Guilt Penal history is an interesting field, as Frank Dikötter makes clear when he introduces the IIAS issue featuring articles on the history of prisons in Burma, India, and Hokkaido, Japan HK Dave has some thoughts on the French expedition to Beijing against the Boxer seige: a farce he calls it, and points out that missionary activity was a critical issue in the uprising. In the ever-popular WWII field, Curzon relates the recollections of a Tokyo Catholic woman about the Firebombing of Tokyo and Scott Evensen (aka Plunge), outlines a brief in favor of the atomic bombings. After that, the war was over, right? Not quite, as Operation August Storm, the Soviet entry into Manchuria lasted well after surrender and added another list of atrocities to an already long ledger of pain. Japan's wartime history is still being litigated, particularly with regard to forced labor from China and Korea. Hcpen contrasts German and Japanese post-war actions and concludes that the apology issue isn't over. Iraq's history is on trial as well: A roundup of links and stories related to the 148 deaths for which Saddam Hussein is currently on trial (disturbing images). Most people who don't study Korea don't realize that there was a Korean guerilla War, 1966-69, sparked by North Korean incursions. The South Korean response was aborted, resulting in a recently recounted atrocity of South Korea against its own soldiers. Segue - War, Memory and Religion Davesgonechina found A civil dialogue on Yasukuni. It's extremely long, detailed and ought to be fodder for someone's senior thesis. Religion and Culture Curzon describes some of Japan's more martial Buddhist figures, and speculates about their connection to samurai culture. Remco Breuker describes a Korean insect extermination ritual and discourses on rituals, science and naturalism. Alan Baumler tries to contextualize male tears. Put all this together and you've got more questions than answers, but it's great fun! Things change: The last Jewish synagogue in Tashkent to be destroyed. Things persist: Alexandra Moss, visited a traditional paper-making operation: neat pictures, too! Sometimes the Old can be New again: A Hindu temple in Singapore is attracting Buddhists and Daoists and Confucianism is on the rise. segue: Blogging for Education Morgan Pitelka of Occidental College has his whole Premodern Japan seminar blogging. It's an interesting mix of recent scholarship on Japan with methodological material about museums and physical culture. Pitelka's got a ringer in the class, Tim Anderson, who's doubling as a Museum liason and who posts incredibly useful stuff like this discussion of Yoshitoshi prints and these tips for writing about museum exhibits. The rest of the class seems to be mostly posting reading summaries, which are quite good. In an e-mail to me, he said that he's not sure what's to become of the blog after the semester's done: Count me as one vote for keeping it up, or converting it to some more organized archival form. Blogging to Win: Politics and Historical Analogies Katie McKy's column isn't technically blogging, but her analogy between Bush and Hirohito is so blogworthy that I'm surprised I haven't seen bloggers take it up. I'm not sure that the analogy is terribly apt -- there are other monarchies besides Japan's in the world -- but given my own analogy between Iraq and Manchuria, I'm not discounting it out of hand, with the usual caveats about historical analogies. Though you wouldn't know it in the Chinese press, the 1989 Tiananmen massacre continues to have implications in Chinese politics, and the example of Tiananmen 1989 seems surprisingly relevant to recent Philipine politics. Going back further, Mao's birthday inspired ESWN to translate an article about Mao nostalgia, an attitude he doesn't share (there are links there for anti-Mao commentaries, as well). Sepia Mutiny tracked South Asian references in State of the Unions back to Truman and discovered that it only comes up when there's trouble. Speaking of trouble, Ian Lamont is analyzing Chinese news reports and finds that Vietnam only gets mentioned when it's a problem for the Chinese. The End: Food and Clothing Now, I take food history pretty seriously, so I don't want anyone thinking that this is the "comic relief" at the end. That said, it's hard not to wonder whether to laugh at the Japanese bakudandon, or Bomb Bowl Lunch, that Alan Christy came across. People are creative, adaptable and eager to consume! India Pale Ale was a response to the problem of shipping beer, and hcpen is "really passionate about the Chinese dress called the QiPao or Cheongsam." And that's the lot! Many thanks to those who sent submissions, suggestions and who helped publicize the call for posts including, but not limited to: Simon World, Roy Berman, Adam Richards, Sharon Howard, Ralph Luker, Abigail Schweber, Sam Crane, Morgan Pitelka, and especially Konrad Lawson. All errors of fact, spelling, interpretation or tone are entirely my fault. Unless they're not..... The next AHC should be in two months: the position of host is open for now, but speak up soon, or you'll miss it and have to wait! Until then, you can still submit articles to the Blog Carnival folks and we'll make sure they get to the right person. Until then, there's a bunch of great carnivals coming up next week: the ancient/medieval Carnivalesque, the Carnival of Bad History and the grand old flagship History Carnival at History:Other


Hightower Obituary

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:18 am
If you're an H-Asia reader, you already saw this, but if you're not, it's an interesting look at the 20th century history of Asian literary studies in the US. James Robert Hightower has passed away, after an incredible career in Chinese literary studies and government service.

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