井底之蛙

4/17/2006

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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