Japan’s war guilt

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:25 am

As is being discussed elsewhere, the Dower exhibit on Visualizing Cultures has become controversial, as it contains images that some people find offensive, specifically woodblocks of the execution of Chinese during the Sino-Japanese War. According to the MIT Chinese Student and Scholar Association

we are confident that the authors do not endorse the wood prints’ contents in any way beyond their artistic and historical value. Nevertheless, we cannot condone the irresponsible manner in which such material has been presented. An exhibit should provoke discussion, but in this case, it could have been done in a more delicate manner.

In other words, we don’t think Dower and Miyagawa are racists who enjoy the thought of killing Chinese people, but we do insist that they be more “delicate” and less “irresponsible.” Part of the problem is that I’m not sure what they were looking at.

The authors should provide the proper historical context for the prints as an introductory paragraph at the top of the page. This text should include warnings stating that the images are graphical in nature and could be emotionally damaging, and also address the racist sentiment and provide the historical perspective (the wood prints’ wartime propaganda nature).

Speaking as one who looked at the exhibit before it vanished, there was a lot of context. The images were used to illustrate an argument about the role of the war and its images in creating Japanese ideas about China and Asia. The execution images were pretty clearly presented as examples of wartime propaganda. I don’t think anyone could honestly look at the exhibit and think that the authors were endorsing the murder of Chinese, and the MIT students say as much. Like Johnathan Dresner, I find this type of thing tiresome. Textbooks use pictures of Hitler all the time, but they don’t include disclaimers that the authors and publishers are not Nazis. In American politics this protest is the type of thing that is sometimes called a kabuki dance, a show of passion and interest that everyone knows is staged and that nobody, even those claiming to be outraged, takes seriously. 1

Of course lots of people are not looking at the exhibit, and so it would not matter what context was provided.. China News Digest is currently updating their site, and it is pretty much unusable, but I did find this http://www.cnd.org/my/modules/newbb/viewtopic.php%3Ftopic_id=45179&forum=1

The first poster says 屠杀中国人是艺术?!(slaughtering Chinese is art? ! !) and gives links to what I assume were two individual images. One commenter points out that the text is actually worth reading. Another asks is the people being killed are not Chinese but subjects of the Qing dynasty 杀的是大清国人吧? 仔细看看脑袋后的辫子。那时中国还不存在呢 “This is a China that no longer exists.” The first poster disagrees, but allows the other his “broadminded” attitude. The final poster on the page points out that Chinese have images “like this” as well, presumably meaning that these images should not be taken as evidence that the Japanese are a race of sub-human savages, unfortunately a point some people think needs to be made. Taken out of context some of these images would be great for working up a two-minutes hate, which seems to be something that could happen.

I have a few half-formed thoughts on the role of Japan in Chinese nationalism that I will try to work up and post later.

1 In using the term Kabuki I am not intending to disparage Chinese forms of drama.


Peter Perdue’s open letter to the M.I.T. Chinese students

The text, minue the disappered images


Asian History Carnival

Filed under: — katrina @ 1:29 pm

I’ll be hosting the next edition of the Asian History Carnival over at my site Miscellany on Friday 5th May.

Please get any suggestions to me before then by email


Bashing Mao Bashing

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:03 am

My one regret, really, of not going to the AAS this year, was that I could not go to the 20th Century China Forum round table on Chang and Halliday’s Mao: The Unknown Story. (Honestly, if I had time to read through the catalog, I’m sure I could come up with other regrets, but this is the only one I know about: feel free to e-mail me or comment here with triumphal gloating about the great panels I would have loved….)

Because I teach 20th century China (and World History; I just covered Mao today, in fact), I’ve been following the reviews and discussions of Chang/Halliday pretty closely; I even have a copy of the book, though I haven’t had time to get more than a few chapters in (and read bits and pieces from middle sections) and certainly not had time to do compare/contrast exercises with my other China sources (which includes a couple of Mao books by Spence, Terrill, Salisbury, and Short). The radical revisionism, the centrality of Mao’s legacy to modern China, and the difficulty of talking about Mao without working through (multiple) political and historiographical lenses, makes this challenging material. More so for teachers, I think, because the popularity of the book makes it all the more likely that we will encounter (versions of) their claims in the classroom and in popular discourse. If we chose to ignore the book in our syllabi, it will be the “Elephant in the Room” — an unacknowledged but massively intrusive presence — in the discussions. If we try to tackle the material directly, by assigning the book, then we’ll be involved in a constant critical struggle. Though it’s possible to have a good educational experience by assigning a bad book, the publicly contested issues and the strain on students of constantly doubting a textbook (when all they want is reliable, testable information) nearly guarantee a difficult term.

So I was thrilled to see one of the Forum participants, Joseph Esherick, announce on H-Asia that a student project he had supervised had produced a web site with carefully sourced fact and source checking on some of the dramatic claims. Since one of the book’s main selling points is its cataloging of Mao’s status as the greatest mass murdering autocrat of modern history, the deconstruction of death figures is a great starting place. The Mao site is part of the UCSD Chinese History Resources, a fantastic collection of quick-reference scholarship and reviews (including this cautious review of Chang/Halliday, which pretty closely captures my own feelings about the book on first reading of it).

It seems pretty clear, from the credible reviews and this web site, that Chang and Halliday have been very sloppy, historically speaking, but there is a great deal of new material which might indeed have new and interesting implications. (Honestly, when I write a sentence like this, I’m put in mind of Holocaust denier David Irving, who frequently drew on previously untouched sources … and abused them endlessly to distort the historical record) It needs to be reexamined, published by scholars who are less opaque with citations and sources; primary source collections and interview notes will be necessary before their claims can be accepted.

I’m going to be going through this material in some detail over the next two months: One of the papers I’m delivering at ASPAC 2006 will be a consideration of the political and historiographical issues of teaching Mao, which I hope will spark a discussion and shed more light on the issues. I’ve also proposed and had accepted a new course here, a seminar course on Mao’s life, with a focus on comparative biography and analysis of the discourse around his legacy. Like Esherick, I hope that my advanced students will be able to draw significant conclusions about the flaws and (if we can find any) strengths of Chang/Halliday, with careful guidance.

I’ll finish up here with a link I’ve been holding on to for a while: Photographs of the Cultural Revolution. Most are unexplained, but seem to be public humiliation sessions.


Imperial Self-Images

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:04 pm

This is a picture of the Empress Dowager Cixi


She is shown in the guise of Guanyin attended by two of her eunuchs in the guise of bodhisattvas. 1 According to Princess Der Ling, Cixi explained her motivation for having this photo taken as such..

“Whenever I have been angry, or worried over anything by dressing up as the Goddess of Mercy it helps me to calm myself, and so play the part I represent. I can assure you that it does help me a great deal, as it makes me remember that I am looked upon as being all-merciful. By having a photograph taken of myself dressed in this consume, I shall be able to see myself as I ought to be at all times.”

Liu points out that it is interesting that Cixi chose to see herself as Guanyin, a deity of confusing gender, since as a ruling empress she was also violating gender conventions.2 I find it a bit more interesting that this is the most explicit case I have seen of imperial spectacle aimed at the ruler themselves. Imperial and royal spectacle is usually studied on the assumption that the audience was the populace or the court or the citizenry or something. One obvious hard to study audience is the ruler themselves. Chinese imperial ritual was intended to constrain as much as to empower the ruler, emperors were probably aware of this, but their reaction to the ritual is hard to know.

Cixi’s was a private spectacle aimed only at herself and apparently intended to make it possible for her to always remind herself of her attribute of benevolence. It is thus an aid in a sort of Confucian (or maybe Buddhist) process of self-cultivation. It is a physical aid in self-cultivation, much like the ledgers of merit and demerit, or possibly a mandala, focusing on which is also supposed to help one attain a mental state. It seems to be something that she came up with on her own, which figures given that a proper Han court ritual would not involve Buddhism, and a Manchu ritual would, I think, not involve Guanyin.

1 From Lydia Liu’s The Clash of Empires: The Invention of China in Modern World Making p.163

2 I’m not sure if Cixi would have seen in that way. Liu points out something that is pretty general knowledge among scholars that in India Avalokitesvara was male, and then gradually became female in China. Would this have been known to Cixi?


Local democracy in China (Special finals week edition)

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:31 am

On his recent trip to Washington Hu Jintao was asked about democracy in China. To the surprise of some observers he did not immediately grow horns and start eating babies on stage, but rather gave the standard rather vague position that “democracy” is hard to define, but that a culturally appropriate form of democracy is clearly in China’s future. This is not surprising to anyone who has been following China’s rhetoric on this, and while it is easy and appropriate to mock things like last Fall’s White Paper on democracy and China as attempts to obscure the government’s position and placate foreign critics, I think it is pretty clear the “democracy” does mean something to a lot of people in the Chinese government, and that they are in favor of it.

It is pretty common knowledge that China now has democratic elections at the village level, however problematic they sometimes are. From www.chinaelections.org I find this story about selection of officials for province-wide deputy slots in Jiangsu. It’s not democracy, although ”the nomination and voting process should be based on the principle of openness, equality, legality, and democratic centralism.” The government has vetted candidates for educational level and experience, then there is a debate section, where the candidates are whittled down to two, and then there is an election.

I find the debate section the most interesting, as

Each candidate had to make a 10-minute speech on the topic of “how to make policies and boost economic development along the Changjiang River“, which required using Jiangsu province as an example.

It looks as if these speeches were pretty important, as they seem to have been one of the things that went into the process of narrowing the number of candidates. When Sun Yat-sen planned his Five-Power Constitution he included an Examination Yuan (考試院) which had the duty of selecting people for government office. This was obviously influenced by the old examination system, and apparently that influence is still around today. Although from the Song on it was the written exam that mattered most there is also a long history of oral exams, and that question sound exactly like one of the policy questions on the exams. The Jiangsu thing does not seem to be a central initiative, so apparently someone in Jiangsu came up with this one. If you are in the mood to be hopeful about these things it looks like a balancing of ideas of democratic legitimacy and civil service professionalism.


Review of Timothy Brook’s Collaboration

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 7:33 pm

In the most recent issue of The Journal of Asian Studies there is a review of Timothy Brook‘s new work Collaboration: Japanese Agents and Local Elites in Wartime China written by Susan Glosser. I was very disappointed with this review which, except for a few conciliatory lines in the beginning of the review, was very critical of Brook’s work. While I agree with Glosser on one or two points, I found her to be far too harsh, sometimes irrelevant (she complains that he does not offer a glossary with the Chinese names of all the organizations mentioned, but they can be found under the index entry for every organization) and in several instances clearly wrong in her assessment of the book, which I believe is a truly excellent contribution to the scholarship on Chinese collaboration during the occupation.

Timothy Brook’s work is a careful look at the issues surrounding Chinese wartime collaboration through a close examination of a number of case studies from the Yangtze delta. With the exception of some work I have read in Japanese and some coming out of Taiwan, this is the most detailed source based research I have seen of this kind to date.

Here I just want to contest three points in Glosser’s critique of Brook’s work that I think particularly unfair. She argues that 1) Brook doesn’t discuss the “problem of generalizing from one city to another.” 2) She complains about Brook’s allegedly unproblematized use of the word “pacification” (such as in referring to Japan’s “pacification teams.”) 3) Glosser spends almost a third of the review critiquing Brook’s “desire to avoid moral judgments” and his allegedly “neutral stance” on issue of Chinese collaboration.




Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:39 pm

Via Reason, an article on the new statue of Bruce Lee that has been put up in Bosnia.
The basic idea was the that organizers wanted to be postmodern and subvert traditional ideas of monumentality, but also that they wanted to embrace these ideas and come up with a symbol that has nothing to any local group or history. One organizer described Bruce Lee as “far [enough] away from us that nobody can ask what he did during World War II” and “part of our idea of universal justice—that the good guys can win.”

Divorcing yourself from the local is of course not what monuments are supposed to do, but I thought the story was cute and yet another example of the universalizing of Asian culture.

* With apoligoies to Elvis, who is also everywhere


Moral Panic

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:09 pm

Tim Burke has been blogging on moral panics in the context of oral sex, rape, and children’s television. Reading his stuff I was struck by the most famous case of Moral Panic in Chinese history, the sorcery scare of 1768, as studied by Phillip Kuhn.

The actual case was one of sorcerers perhaps cutting off the queues of Chinese men and using them to take control of their souls. Kuhn points out that it is not clear if queue cutting happened at all, and it was in any case not as widespread as the emperor feared it was. The Qianlong emperor took it seriously, however, in part because the queue was seen as a locus of self-ness and his subjects took their loss seriously. More importantly, the queue was a symbol of loyalty to the Manchu dynasty, and anything involving cutting it off smacked of sedition.

Kuhn suggests that there was another cause for the scope of the campaign, the Emperor’s desire to break out of the confines of regular bureaucratic politics. The problem of Chinese emperors being constrained by their bureaucracies is not a new concept in scholarship and was not new to the emperors, who had been struggling with this problem for a long time. As Kuhn points out, “bureaucratic monarchy” is an oxymoron. To the extent that the state is bureaucratic what room is there for a monarch? Qianlong took advantage of the sorcery crisis to force his officials out of their ordinary routines and break out of the confines of the normal bureaucratic relationship. (more…)

Chasing Emperors

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:01 pm
Thumbnail Dragon Pin Thumbnail Dragon Pin Backing

My wife found this pin in her collection, and has no recollection of how we got it. I did a little digging and found that the “Civil Air Patrol” was an airline which operated out of China — mainland and Taiwan — from 1946 to at least the mid 1960s. It was founded by Claire L Chennault and Whiting Willauer and purchased by the CIA in 1950. This pin was a souvenir item. The text on the backing reads

This is one of the famous Oriental symbols of CAT (Civil Air Transport)..the five-toed dragon. In olden days only the Emperor could wear this symbol; those of lesser rank wore dragons with fewer toes. We like to think that all of our passengers on CAT’s colorful Mandarin Jet — truly a flying Oriental palace — receive hospitality and cordiality beffitting an Emperor and his Lady.

Wonderful bit of orientalist marketing, I think. My wife’s family was in Asia in the late 1960s, so it’s possible that they might have traveled via CAT at some point.

The other chase: I’m using Ray Huang’s 1587: A Year of No Significance; the Ming Dynasty in Decline as the final text in my China to 1600 course, but I would really like to have a timeline to go with the book. The cast of characters and back-and-forth narrative is a bit confusing, honestly, and so I’d like a dramatis personae and chronology. Obviously, I’ve been looking on the web, but haven’t found anything. If anyone knows of a good source, and would like to share, I (and my students) would be deeply grateful. If I don’t hear of anything, I’m going to have to produce my own….

Elsewhere: Andrew Meyer is comparing China today to the Qing dynasty of a century ago: tottering, on the verge of vast social and economic changes, but without a strong reformist clique to take control. I like his analysis of China today, and I’ve got no quibble with his description of China at the end of the Qing, but I think he doesn’t take his own point — that China has a long history of extended fin de dynasty crisis eras — seriously enough. I have a sneaky suspicion, actually, that a better analogy might be to China two centuries ago: weak popular support for the monarchy/party, while the government tries to reassert increasingly irrelevant moral authority; growing but uneven economy; rising integration and tensions with international markets and diplomacy; increasing awareness of technological differentials but unwillingness to acknowledge power differentials…. maybe. Will Microsoft or Starbucks be the new opium?

Oracle Bones

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:51 pm

In Peter Hessler’s Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China’s Past and Present* I found the story of Xu Chaolong.(p.194) I found it interesting because of what it says about the current role of history and scholarship in China.

Xu is from Sichuan and got a degree in archeology from Sichuan University before going on to do graduate work at Kyoto. He now lives in Japan with his Japanese wife, and publishes his research on Chinese archeology exclusively in Japanese. He supports himself in by working for a Japanese cell-phone company. (more…)

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