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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

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 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. On the first count, Glosser is certainly correct in worrying about the generalization involved, but I think Brook is also well aware of the dangers and admirably avoids them in many places more adventurous scholars would not. He has already focused his study on only one area of occupied China, the Yangtze delta, and laments, in some detail, the paucity of available sources. He goes into considerable length to describe his sources and the various problems which accompany them in his opening chapter, even showing specific examples of the kinds of contradictions present and strategies he used. He works with Japanese sources (writings of the pacification team members), Chinese sources (such as memoirs), and Western sources (witnesses in Nanjing, for example) depending on their availability. I am more than satisfied by his explanation that, "I chose seven cities and counties across the Yangtze Delta for intensive study. This selection was not based on whether the sites were typical or unique (some would prove to be one, some the other, and some both), but only on whether the documentation was sufficiently dense to allow for a more than superficial portrait of what local people did in the face of military occupation...After the case studies were written, I chose to include in the book five that were sufficiently distinct in terms of the themes that the sources allowed me to explore..."1 and did not find any of his major claims to be based solely on individual findings in any one city or place. On the contrary, I imagine the accusation of generalization would be particularly offensive to Brook since he has urged the reader to try to overcome some of the stereotypes and classic images we have of the wartime collaborators and allow for the many different forms and levels of cooperation with the occupying forces, their varying motivations, costs, and ultimately levels of moral responsibility. Glosser for some reason takes issue with the fact that Brook uses the term "pacification teams" which is a direct translation of the Japanese term. She seems so concerned that we maintain a sufficiently condemnatory tone in our work on Japan's activities in occupied China that this direct translation doesn't seem to be sufficiently insidious. I find no issue with the fact that he calls these teams by the best English translation available ("pacification" is originally 宣撫, which in one of its two related definitions in Japanese specifically means to pacify a people in an occupied territory), especially since he does not, by this, ever try to hide the fact that the Japanese were guilty of horrible atrocities. She says that he uses the word "pacification" for "his own description of events (p. 134)" but I can't find any use of that word on the page, for any purpose. Instead, page 134 makes use of another term which we are all familiar with, when he discusses Japanese "counterinsurgency operations" in Nanjing. It is on the same page where he notes Japanese military promises to offer "care for disarmed Chinese soldiers" even as they carried out a policy of executing captured soldiers in Nanjing and, at the bottom of that page tells of the summary execution of fifty policemen which had just been promised permission to operate after negotiations with Nanjing's International Committee. Finally, Glosser seems to think that Brook has a "neutral stance" with respect to collaboration and wants to "avoid moral judgments." I'm afraid this kind of comment shows that she has completely misread Brook's careful argument. Perhaps she missed Brook's simple request in his introduction that, "All I ask of the reader is to suspend judgment as to who is guilty for having worked with the Japanese until after we have seen them at work."2 Brook wants to point out that the costs and consequences of collaboration, its form, and the motivations are all very much tied up in the contingencies of specific situations. Also, he reminds us that, "Ambiguity of intention is only half the problem. There is also the ambiguity of unknowable consequences."3 He is "neutral" to collaboration in one important respect: the word "collaboration" is already a morally loaded word, and I think he would argue that without some special care, this can get in the way of any interesting and productive look at the interactions between Chinese and Japanese during the war. I think Glosser fundamentally misunderstands Brook when she protests his claim that "history does not fashion moral subjects, nor produce moral knowledge." I completely agree with her when she says that, "All histories [are] embedded in an ethical view of the world."4 However, I'm not sure how Brook is to be understood as denying this. Brook admits how his own "ethical view of the world" has affected his description of some of the historical figures he describes in the book. On the very same page as his comment about moral knowledge, he has this to say, "Without question, many of [the choices of collaborators] were venal in inspiration and destructive in impact, and the historian is not disqualified from documenting that venality or tracking the damage these choices led to and declaring them to be damaging. I have found it impossible to suspend my personal distaste for some of the characters who appear in this book, and it would be facetious to suggest that the reader should, particularly when the consequences of collaboration were as stark as they were in a place like Nanjing." I think what Brook, who it might be noted collected and edited the important Documents on the Rape of Nanking (1999), wants to argue for is a more careful consideration of some of the "inconvenient facts" that produce a more complex picture - a complexity that we must face if we are to have any chance at understanding the kinds of choices faced by individuals every day in extreme times. It is because of some of these ambiguities that we cannot "deduce the causes that prompted people to act from the moral claims we impose, nor evaluate their actions solely in relation to consequences the actors could not anticipate."5 This is as true for collaborators with the Japanese occupation regime as it is with anyone who collaborated with Chinese Communist regime in its most violent hour, and as it is for the daily choices of policemen, soldiers and government officials of an occupied Iraq today. An analytic calculus of atrocity and the clarity of hindsight does not help us in the least in understanding the people thrust into extreme positions during times such as war, occupation, imperial domination, or under highly repressive governments — or for that matter the choices they faced. 1. Timothy Brook Collaboration: Japanese Agents and Local Elites in Wartime China (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005), 26-27. 2. ibid. 13. 3. ibid. 241. 4. Susan Glossar review of Brook's book in Journal of Asian Studies vol. 65 no. 1, 149. 5. Brook ibid. 248.



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.

One significant difference between this and the panics Burke talks about is agency. The Chinese case was not created by "mass media" or "fear of social change" but by the Qianlong emperor. More significant is the way that Kuhn emphasizes the value of moral panic in breaking out of normal politics or political debate. It strikes me that many of the moral panics Burke talks about are exactly the type of things that American elites would be inclined not to worry about much, or at least not as much as other Americans might think they should. Moral Panic is democratizing. You don't need a study from the Centers for Disease Control to tell you something is wrong with kids today, panic restores agency to "us" and our "common sense." It really does too, since action will come of panic in a democratic or popular state. One recent local case is the dropping of a plan to build a Turkish Cultural Center here in Pittsburgh. The plan was dropped due to local fears that the place would be a nest of terrorists. An ignorant and embarrassing reaction to be sure, but one that got results. Kuhn is trying to fit moral panic as a violation of normal politics into a new, broader definition, which might work for the modern ones as well.

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.

Hessler suggests that Xu is to some extent an exile from the Chinese scholarly community, and he is that, at least in part because his work does not work with the traditional approach to early Chinese archeology. In China the field is still dominated by the Yellow River approach that attempts to use archeology to fill out the story of the creation of the one Chinese culture and its absorption and assimilation of lesser, regional cultures. Xu is an unabashed Sichuan regionalist, who is trying to advance a view that makes the rice areas equal to the North in the story of China “We need to recognize that Chinese civilization has more than one heart. There were two ancient centers that eventually became unified.”

Hessler is comparing Xu to the American Robert Bagley, who is also an archeologist although he teaches at Princeton rather than hawking cellphones. Bagley is also suspicious of the master narrative of China, and as he points out that is in part because he is a foreigner. I would point out that he is also an American and thus more likely to be suspicious of what a “melting pot” narrative might conceal. It struck me, however, that Xu is actually less like Bagley than Hessler seems to think. Both dislike the stultifying conservatism of Chinese archeology, but Xu is attempting to replace it with another unitary narrative, only this one with two sources instead of one. He also seems deeply interested in stealing the title of “first cultivators of rice” away from the Southeast Asians, not a quest that is likely to motivate most foreign scholars.

More importantly, perhaps, Bagley and Xu are in a different relationship with the scholarly world. Bagley is a tenured academic, and if asked what relationship his work has to China’s current economic development he would probably say “none.” Xu hints that finding out more about China’s rice past will accelerate development from an old, Northern, political China, to a new, Southern, economic China. Xu says

“Jiang Zemin recently vistied the Sanxingdui bronzes, and I know from a friend there that Jiang was very interested. Look at the rest of the government—why are so many leaders from the south?” They have their own great ancient civilization, and they need to discover it, to explore it. Once they explore their past, the people will have more confidence. They’ll have more power to develop their economy; they’ll have more voice in the political system. Politics, economic, and culture are inseparable.” (p.195)

More (maybe) on this later, but I thought it was an interesting bit on what academics are and what sort of narratives they try to create and why they matter.

*Harper Collins sent me this book for free without my even asking for it. Usually that happens only with American History textbooks. Publishers should be on notice that if I am sent a free book that seems interesting I will certainly read it. So far this one looks like a good book. The author is a New Yorker writer going around China looking for things to write about (always a danger sign) but he is well-enough hooked into scholarship to make it a good read for the likes of me

Yangtze Seen as Earliest Rice Site Dennis Normile Science > New Series, Vol. 275, No. 5298 (Jan., 1997), p. 309

Discusses Xu and rice

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