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The good life

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 3:08 pm

I came across this story while reading the Liaozhai 聊斋

The Loyal Mouse

According to Yang Tianyi, once he saw two mice coming out of a hole. One was swallowed by a snake. The other stared at the snake with its small, prickly ash-like eyes, looking very angry. However, it could only stare from a distance, not dar­ing to go near. Feeling quite full, the snake meandered into its own hole. When half its body was in, the other mouse darted forward and caught the snake's tail with its teeth. Infuriated, the snake withdrew from the hole. The mouse, quick and ag­ile as they all were, whizzed away and disappeared out of sight. Unable to catch up with it, the snake returned. Again, as soon as it entered the hole, the mouse appeared and held on to its tail as before. This was repeated many times, the mouse appearing as soon as the snake went in, and scurrying off as soon as the snake came out. Finally, having no other choice, the snake crawled out and spit the mouse it had swallowed out onto the ground. The other mouse came over, sniffed it and squeaked, as if in mourning, then hoisting the dead mouse with his teeth, he left. My friend, Zhang Liyou wrote a poem about this which he entitled, The Loyal Mouse.

It reminded me right away of the story of Klieobis and Biton This was a story Herodotus told about two young men who, when their mother could not find any oxen to tow her cart to a festival, yoked themselves to the cart and hauled her until they collapsed from exhaustion and died. Herodotus’s point was that you can’t really judge a person’s life until you see their death. What does it matter to pile up treasure on this earth if you dishonor yourself in death. For me at least, this is a pretty odd story, since for us moderns the purpose of life, if it has any, lies it what you can achieve and experience while alive. Leaving a good-looking corpse is not what most of us live for.

In the Liaozhai story we go even beyond dying well to being mourned and buried in a proper fashion. I like to think I do well by my friends, and who knows, maybe if they were attacked by a snake big enough to swallow them whole I might try to save them, if I thought there was some chance they might still be alive. Attacking a giant snake to get them a proper burial? Probably not. For this to work as a modern story the mouse would have to be spat out alive. This was not the case in the original Red Riding Hood, nor in China, where apparently ritual mattered.


Self-introduction: Scott Relyea 李皓同

Filed under: — Scott Relyea @ 5:59 am
Hi everyone at 井底之蛙, First of all, I'd like to thank Konrad for the invitation to join the Frog in a Well community. I'm happy to become part of what I think is quite an exciting web project and look forward to adding comments and posts to what's already a collection of quite interesting and enlightening discussions. So, the introduction, I'm a Ph.D. candidate in Chinese History at Chicago and am currently based in Chengdu for most of this year conducting research on 'Sichuan Khams', the western part of Sichuan Province on the 青藏高原, made famous in song throughout the southwest. My route to history began at much lower altitude, with a degree in Journalism at Northwestern before moving on to a Master's degree in International Affairs from GW, followed by another MA at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. While at GW my research in IR focused particularly on contemporary sovereignty issues and trans-boundary interactions among neighbouring sub-state political, economic, or social entities, an interest which remains at the near-periphery of my current dissertation project. In between the various degrees, I was a research assistant at the U.S. Institute for Peace in D.C. and did stints in web administration and design in various cities. (I guess that's a bit of an academic meander!) My interest in East Asia and the regions of historical or contemporary China originally began during my years at GW, spurring me to spend the requisite summer at Middlebury. But my shift into the field of history, and particularly the late Qing period came while at SOAS. Since 2001 I've been at Chicago with research or language trips to Taipei, Darjeeling, Dharamshala, London, and various points between. For a little non-academic diversion, a link to some photos from some of these trips can be found on my admittedly quite dull website (, long overdue for an update... Currently titled Pacifying Khams: Qing Imperialism and the Bureaucratisation of Colonial Space, the dissertation project essentially encompasses the 15-year period from 1904, the arrival of Younghusband in Lhasa, to 1919, when the last significant negotiations on the international status of Tibet took place between Great Britain and the ROC government in Beijing. While this may seem that the British efforts in Tibet are central to the thesis, indeed they're not, although most histories, in Chinese as well, would tend to place them at the centre as at least catalyst of certain events. This period encompasses the two major military campaigns sent from Chengdu to Khams, that of 趙爾豐 Zhao Erfeng from 1907-1911, and 尹昌衡 Yin Changheng from 1912-1913, as well as the Simla Conference and lesser-known negotiations carried out directly between the military government of Sichuan Province and representatives of the Dalai Lama during 1912. The central focus of the dissertation is on the political and economic importance of Sichuan Khams to both the central and provincial governments during the years 1904 to 1919 and its consequent effect on the state-building and province-building policies of each respectively. As I've been spending much of the last few months in libraries and archives in Sichuan going through memorials and especially 報刊 produced both by organs of the provincial government and by local literati, I expect at least my initial posts will come from or relate to some of what I've been finding. I suppose that's a rambling enough intro, so I'll leave it at that and post something more substantive soon. BTW, that's not me on the right, just one of my fellow researchers these days at the 四川省圖書館


Yellow Peril

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:38 am
I’ve been re-reading some Jack London stories of late, and being struck by the Chinese in them. There are actually a lot of Chinese, as the areas he tended to write about were all on the Pacific Rim. Usually his Chinese are inscrutable but intelligent and hard-working. There was one story in particular I remembered, and as I looked around on the web I found that it was called “THE UNPARALLELED INVASION.” According to Clarice Staz this is a story of the "invasion of the U.S. by China and combat by bacteriological warfare.", but this is not quite accurate as a plot summary. Quite the contrary. London begins by explaining why Western imperialism has failed to transform China.
What they had failed to take into account was this: THAT BETWEEN THEM AND CHINA WAS NO COMMON PSYCHOLOGICAL SPEECH. Their thought- processes were radically dissimilar. There was no intimate vocabulary. The Western mind penetrated the Chinese mind but a short distance when it found itself in a fathomless maze. The Chinese mind penetrated the Western mind an equally short distance when it fetched up against a blank, incomprehensible wall. It was all a matter of language. There was no way to communicate Western ideas to the Chinese mind. China remained asleep.
So how could China awaken? This is a question that would have interested lots of Chinese nationalists, but I think they would not have liked London’s answer.
And so Japan took upon herself the management of China. In the years immediately following the war with Russia, her agents swarmed over the Chinese Empire. A thousand miles beyond the last mission station toiled her engineers and spies, clad as coolies, under the guise of itinerant merchants or proselytizing Buddhist priests, noting down the horse-power of every waterfall, the likely sites for factories, the heights of mountains and passes, the strategic advantages and weaknesses, the wealth of the farming valleys, the number of bullocks in a district or the number of labourers that could be collected by forced levies. Never was there such a census, and it could have been taken by no other people than the dogged, patient, patriotic Japanese.
So Kita Ikki was right, and Japan led China forward. Naturally the Chinese were ungrateful, and in 1922 the Japanese were driven out. China continued to grow, and as a good Social Darwinist London attributes this to their special racial characteristics. This is a theme that comes up in a lot of his writing.
China's swift and remarkable rise was due, perhaps more than to anything else, to the superlative quality of her labour. The Chinese was the perfect type of industry. He had always been that. For sheer ability to work no worker in the world could compare with him. Work was the breath of his nostrils. It was to him what wandering and fighting in far lands and spiritual adventure had been to other peoples. Liberty, to him, epitomized itself in access to the means of toil. To till the soil and labour interminably was all he asked of life and the powers that be. And the awakening of China had given its vast population not merely free and unlimited access to the means of toil, but access to the highest and most scientific machine-means of toil.
The Chinese are not an imperialist race. They don’t invade other nations, they just out-breed them, and it is a long time before the other nations of the world realize that they will be buried in a tidal wave of yellow immigration. Modern technology has removed the check of famine and the Chinese were spreading everywhere. In 1970 the French made efforts to keep them from taking Indochina and failed. A French army a quarter million strong marched into China and was swallowed up in two days. The solution is the Great Truce among the white races and biological warfare.
But on May 1, 1976, had the reader been in the imperial city of Peking, with its then population of eleven millions, he would have witnessed a curious sight. He would have seen the streets filled with the chattering yellow populace, every queued head tilted back, every slant eye turned skyward. And high up in the blue he would have beheld a tiny dot of black, which, because of its orderly evolutions, he would have identified as an airship. From this airship, as it curved its flight back and forth over the city, fell missiles - strange, harmless missiles, tubes of fragile glass that shattered into thousands of fragments on the streets and house- tops. But there was nothing deadly about these tubes of glass. Nothing happened. There were no explosions. It is true, three Chinese were killed by the tubes dropping on their heads from so enormous a height; but what were three Chinese against an excess birth rate of twenty millions? One tube struck perpendicularly in a fish-pond in a garden and was not broken. It was dragged ashore by the master of the house. He did not dare to open it, but, accompanied by his friends, and surrounded by an ever-increasing crowd, he carried the mysterious tube to the magistrate of the district. The latter was a brave man. With all eyes upon him, he shattered the tube with a blow from his brass-bowled pipe. Nothing happened. Of those who were very near, one or two thought they saw some mosquitoes fly out. That was all. The crowd set up a great laugh and dispersed.
This is the oddest part of the story for me. He just can’t let go of the image of the Chinese as technological primitives. It is interesting that in the rest of the story he presents the Chinese as being modern in an industrial sense but not in a scientific one. He mentions building factories and foundries and railways, training troops and publishing newspapers and digging mines (especially “the gas wells of Wow-Wee”) but there is no mention of labs or universities. Apparently the Chinese are still not very innovative. Under pressure the Chinese revert to type. They are utterly incapable of dealing with modern, scientific warfare.
All organization vanished. The government crumbled away. Decrees and proclamations were useless when the men who made them and signed them one moment were dead the next. Nor could the maddened millions, spurred on to flight by death, pause to heed anything. They fled from the cities to infect the country, and wherever they fled they carried the plagues with them. The hot summer was on - Jacobus Laningdale had selected the time shrewdly - and the plague festered everywhere. Much is conjectured of what occurred, and much has been learned from the stories of the few survivors. The wretched creatures stormed across the Empire in many-millioned flight. The vast armies China had collected on her frontiers melted away. The farms were ravaged for food, and no more crops were planted, while the crops already in were left unattended and never came to harvest. The most remarkable thing, perhaps, was the flights. Many millions engaged in them, charging to the bounds of the Empire to be met and turned back by the gigantic armies of the West. The slaughter of the mad hosts on the boundaries was stupendous. Time and again the guarding line was drawn back twenty or thirty miles to escape the contagion of the multitudinous dead.
For me this is the classic image of the Yellow Peril, whites killing masses of mindless Asians, not wanting to even touch them for fear of infection. If they ever make a movie of this George Romero will have to direct. Of course all’s well that ends well.
Not until the following February, in the coldest weather, were the first expeditions made. These expeditions were small, composed of scientists and bodies of troops; but they entered China from every side. In spite of the most elaborate precautions against infection, numbers of soldiers and a few of the physicians were stricken. But the exploration went bravely on. They found China devastated, a howling wilderness through which wandered bands of wild dogs and desperate bandits who had survived. All survivors were put to death wherever found. And then began the great task, the sanitation of China. Five years and hundreds of millions of treasure were consumed, and then the world moved in - not in zones, as was the idea of Baron Albrecht, but heterogeneously, according to the democratic American programme. It was a vast and happy intermingling of nationalities that settled down in China in 1982 and the years that followed - a tremendous and successful experiment in cross-fertilization. We know to-day the splendid mechanical, intellectual, and art output that followed.
In the 1987 Convention of Copenhagen the powers agreed that they would never again use biological warfare.


Voice of the people

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:08 pm

One nice thing about Chinese history is that there is a long history of recording popular songs. From the Han at least it was assumed that popular songs reflected the popular mind, and so collecting them was an early form of public opinion polling.

In the first month of spring each year, just before the many inhabitants were to scatter [for farmers went out to live in their fields during the growing season], the envoys would come shaking their wooden clackers all along the roads, in this way intending to gather up the local odes, which were then presented to the Grand Master [at court]. It was he who arranged their musical scores, at which point they were performed for the Son of Heaven. Hence, the saying, “The king knows All-under-Heaven, without ever peering out from his windows and doors.” Han Shu via Nylan Five Confucian Classics

Of course the songs we have written down are problematic in that it is not clear if they are really the songs commoners sung, or what they would mean if they were. Still, a lot of them were recorded. Even the Communists did it.

This is one from Shaanxi in 1938 or so, when the Nationalists were building #7 military school

第七分校 一派胡题建校 到处拆庙 摔碎砖瓦 专要木料 政治讲话八道1训练谈不到 骑兵无马 炮兵无炮 专等吹号 吃饭睡觉

Number 7 school Is complete nonsense A school built on false pretenses Everywhere they destroy temples Shattering the tiles And confiscating the timbers Political lectures are Wild talk (could be “Wild talk about the (Communist) 8th route army”?) Military training is Endless talk without results The cavalry have no horses The artillery have no cannon They spit out slogans Eat and sleep

Although the format (peasant complaint song) is very old, this one is pretty astute in its criticisms. In the second line the school is accused of being built on false pretenses. This could mean at least two things. One of the purposes of the school was to suck up students coming from the occupied areas and headed for the Communist base at Yenan. So as far as Chiang Kai-shek was concerned the purpose of the school was not so much military training as denying recruits to the Commies. For Hu Zongnan, the commander of the school, its purpose was to instill loyalty to himself and create the building blocks for a personal satrapy in the Northwest.

As the village the school was located in did not have enough large buildings for what eventually grew into a major training facility a lot of building was done, which required a lot of lumber. Some of this was acquired by forbidding peasants access to the forests, but a lot of it also came from taking apart temples. In the wood-starved Northwest temples would be a great place to find big timbers. Revolutionaries, both Nationalists and Communists, regarded temples as worthless dens of superstition and so loved taking them apart, not as a rule a very popular move.

Mostly though the song criticizes what went on at the school, which for the peasants seems to have been very little. This was the opinion of the students and their future commanders as well, as the school had a reputation for doing more political training than military training. From a good revolutionary point of view that is fine, but apparently the peasants were not buying it.

From 文史料存稿选编 p.743

1There are a couple of possible puns on the name of 胡宗南,Chiang Kai-shek’s commander in Shaanxi and commander of the school. (He was incompetent to the point that Chang and Halliday accuse him of being a communist mole.) There are other bits of wordplay in here too, I think.


We’re not in Hebei anymore, Toto

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 2:21 pm

A Chinese Peasant

Pearl Buck has been getting a good deal more attention in China of late. Part of it is no doubt the fact that she wrote about China and won the Nobel Prize, but also because attitudes towards “friends of China” are changing. Buck was persona non grata in the Maoist period. She was also not all that popular with Chinese before 1949. Attempts to film The Good Earth in China were met with constant trouble. Authorities were unhappy that there would be scenes with a water buffalo, as this would make China look medeival. In the end all of the film shot in China was vandalized and the scenes had to be re-shot in the U.S. A lot of the criticisms seem typical of what Chinese intellectuals said about Buck. I somewhere reading a Chinese author who claimed that Buck’s picture of China was nonsense because she only talked to ignorant peasants rather than real Chinese i.e. educated people. Pearl Buck, in turn, thought that the real China had almost nothing to do with “the ice-pure pages of her wisdom literature...the teachings of sages and philosophers, put away safely into volumes and reverenced devoutly by a few hermit scholars and abstractly through hearsay by the multitudes, is China as she sees herself and as she wishes the world to see her, China in her decorous best, China as she is quoted and above all as she likes to quote herself, well-regulated, emotionally disciplined, the superior man”1 She rejected this China and wrote about the "real" China Both she and her opponents drew a razor-sharp line between elite and popular culture and located the “real” China on one side of it.
The Good Earth is not, from my perspective, a very good book about China. While Wang Lung, the peasant protagonist is indeed oppressed enough to be played by Gong Li, he does not seem like the Chinese peasants one reads about in the literature. Yes, Chinese peasants were poor and hard-working, but they were also mobile, interacted with the market, and were, in most areas well aware of what was going on. What kind of Chinese peasant has never been to the opera? Buck's peasants are also existentially apolitical. When Wang Lung is given a Christian tract he gives it to his wife and she uses it to repair shoes. When he is given a Communist tract they do the same. One way of reading this is that Buck is just flat wrong. Chinese peasants were as capable of political thought as anyone else, which may explain why Chinese intellectuals disliked Buck so. Another was to read it is that she is being Orientalist here, which also works.

What I find most interesting is why The Good Earth was such a giant hit in the U.S. It was the best-selling book in America, in 1931 and 1932, back when books mattered. Part of it was no doubt 'pity poor China', but it was a book that fit in well with American preoccupations of the time. As Blake Allmendiger points out, part of it was that Wang and his wife were perfect dust bowl refugees.2 They were honest sons of the soil who worked hard, were in contact with the earth and were cheated by the degenerate urbanites they dealt with but did not understand. This does not map as well to Chinese peasant life in the 20s, as well as it maps to the concerns of Americans. The movie project was apparently a huge mess. George Hill was hired to direct, but he died. He was replaced by Victor Fleming. Fleming was dropped from the project when he caught malaria in China, but he was involved with some of the initial work. In one of the opening scenes of the book Wang is interrogated by a guard at the gate of the House of Hwang before going in to see his landlord. In the movie the guard questions him through a peephole before leading him down a grand corridor. Fleming re-used this scene in a later film The Wizard of Oz. As Allmendiger points out, the Oz that the doorman lets Dorothy into is indeed grand, but ultimately it is a sham, and what she really needs and wants is to go back to Kansas. I would not say that China entirely lacked agrarian utopianism, but it was quite different from the American version. Ultimately Buck is a lot more important for understanding American images of China than for understanding China.

1 Pearl Buck "China in the Mirror of her Fiction" Pacific Affairs 3.2 (Feb, 1930), p.156

2"Little House on the Rice Paddy" American Literary History 10.2 (Summer 1998)


Tibet by rail

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:51 pm

It has been in the news of late that China has built a rail line to Tibet. It cost $3.2 billion, and the train cars have to be pressurized, but you can now get to Tibet cheaper than you could before. The official reason for this is to encourage economic development in the backward area of Tibet. The unspoken purpose is of course is to encourage Han migration and tie Tibet more closely to China. Might also help in case of war with India.

I have not seen it mentioned, but another reason to build it is because Sun Yat-sen wanted to build a railway to Tibet. Everyone who visits Nanjing learns that Sun wanted to build a bridge across the Yangzi, but that Mao did it. Carrying out the great tasks of the revolution is always something Chinese governments like to do.

After the 1911 revolution, when Yuan Shikai was made President Sun was made Minister of Railways. Yuan was chosen over Sun because Yuan was seen as a practical politician while Sun was a dreamer. Sun’s plan for railway development was quite frankly nuts, as the map below, from his collected works, shows.

Tibet Railways

Sun's plan

In China proper he called for a network of railways that has not been built to this day. The map of Tibet is even more fantastic. I particularly like the route that goes along the border with India along, apparently, the spine of the Himalayas. This, like his net of rails in Mongolia, was intended to tie these border areas more closely to China. The era around 1911 was the age of the Rights Recovery Movement, when in addition to Chinese governments trying to hold on to every bit of sovereignty they could, non-state actors and individual citizens were supposed to do the same. All the spur lines running into Nepal seem to be laying claim to endangered territory. Most of these lines seem economically insane, but as they are more political than economic plans in the first place that is fine. The modern Tibet line is pretty much the same thing. I have no idea how much economic growth in will generate, but I’m sure it will be short of 3.2 billion. Still, Tibet is tied to the motherland, and the fact that it is economically crazy almost makes it better.

Tibet elevation

The modern line


Japanese War Related Survey and its Results

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 11:13 am
Sasaki Kei, one of our contributors at the Japanese history blog here at Frog in a Well pointed out some results of a survey recently released in the Japanese press (Mainichi article here). I'm cross-posting an English summary of the questions and results here that he discusses as they may be of interest to readers of the Korean and Chinese history weblogs as well as those who don't read Japanese. Below are the responses of the population at large (as opposed to to those in government): Question 1: What do you think about the government's apologies and expressions of regret for actions during World War II: They are sufficient (36%) Insufficient (42%) There is no need (11%) No response etc. (11%) Question 2: Evaluation of the war against the United States (in World War II): It was a reckless choice (59%) It was an unavoidable choice (33%) Question 3: Do you think the war against China was an act of invasion? One Can't Really Say (45%) It was a war of invasion/aggression (40%) Question 4: Evaluation of the Tokyo War Crimes Trials: It was an unjust trial but having lost the war it was inevitable (59%) It was a just trial of those bearing responsibility for the war (17%) It was unjust and one-sided trial by the victors of the war (17%) Mr. Sasaki feels, and I think I agree, that the number of those who say the war was inevitable or who could not come to any kind of opinion on the issue is unusually high. He adds some results from a 2000 NHK survey: Question: The war was a war of aggression against our Asian neighbors: I agree (51%) I don't agree (15%) It is all in the past and so has nothing to do with me (7%) I don't know, no response (28%) Question: The war was an inevitable conflict that a resource deprived Japan waged in order to survive: I agree (30%) I don't agree (35%) It is all in the past and so has nothing to do with me (4%) I don't know, no response (31%) While it shows that there is significant diversity in opinion in Japan (though I have issues with the way the survey is done, its questions, and the options everyone can choose between) it also shows a significantly high number of those who seem to lack enough confidence to say much about the nature of the wars of the mid-century in either direction.


AHC #5

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:49 pm
Miland Brown has the latest edition of the Asian History Carnival up at his World History Blog, and it's a very nice collection.

We're still looking for hosts for August and beyond, however: time to step up and make your mark in the historical blogosphere!

A few non-blog items of note:


Creating East Asia

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:50 am

东亚三国的近现代史 A History of Modern and Contemporary East Asia is a book that got a lot of press when it first came out, since it was written by a team of scholars from China, Korea, and Japan, and is being published in all three languages. If you want ground zero of creating a common East Asian identity this book is it. Needless to say there are some problems with this whole project.

三国人民作为近邻,从很久以前就开始友好相处。但有时也发生争斗和战争。The people the three countries are neighbors, and have long had good relations. But at times there have been conflict and war. p.2

This is something of an understatement, since the book focuses heavily on the War (Two of the four sections deal with it.) This is a bit disappointing. Not to deny the importance of the war, or to suggest that we should miss a chance to point out how badly the Japanese behaved, but it does not help as much as it could in creating and East Asian history. In the Korean preface we are told that China and Korea have had a long relationship. In the modern period they have both been invaded by “other countries” (别国家) Obviously imperialism is a big part of the modern history of all these places, and the Japanese Empire is probably the most important aspect of imperialism. Focusing too much on the war, however, leaves very little room for comparative stuff on how the people in the various countries have dealt with the problems created by modernity.

The editors seem to be aware of this, however, and the book has a lot of sideboxes. In fact there is not much of a narrative thread at all, just bits and pieces of the stuff that would seem to go into a comparative re-thinking of East Asian history. Some of this is fairly mechanical. For instance in the section on women we get three short accounts of feminist pioneers from China, Japan, and Korea. These are the type of things the authors could have lifted from lots of other textbooks, and, as in other places, these bits seem to still be tied to national history.

Much more interesting is the section on the Independence, resistance, and social movements. 独立抵抗运动与社会运动 They open with a section on the Korean March 1st (Samil) independence movement of 1919. They then discuss the Chinese May 4th movement of the same year. They point out that May 4th was inspired by Samil, although they don’t take this as far as I would like. They also take both movements out of their national ghetto by calling them reactions to Wilson’s idea of National Self-determination. Next is a section on the “social movement” which includes a section on the plight of workers and peasants, accounts of the founding of Communist parties in all three countries, and an account of movements on behalf of outcastes in Japan and Korea.

All of these are movements or things that could be considered “anti”, especially if you look at them from the point of view of the Japanese state. How to tie them all together? The final part of the section is an account of the Kanto earthquake of 1923. (Actually they say 1932. Too many typos in here.) This was a big earthquake that killed a lot of people, but is also known for the massacres of Koreans and leftists that took place in its aftermath.

The authors point out that not only Koreans were killed. Chinese and rural Japanese were also attacked, in part because the police and mobs asked potential victims to pronounce “One yen fifty sen” to test their Japanese-ness. In addition to mob killings the police directly targeted known leftists. The authors claim that the Japanese authorities were afraid that the leftists would use the earthquake to tie together the various strands of popular thought, and so the police used people’s prejudice against Koreans, Chinese, and socialists to encourage attacks on scapegoats and take pressure off the government.

There are some problems with this. First, if the government really did think that Japanese leftists were capable of anything that organized and competent they were really ill-informed. The authors also don’t explain where “the people’s” dislike of Koreans and socialists came from or what it meant. “The Japanese state disliked them all” is a nice deus ex machina in linking all these things together, but it does not really work.

The approach is particularly weak when it comes to China. Focusing on Japanese ultra-nationalism is o.k. for understanding 20th century Japan, helpful for understanding Korea, and probably counter-productive for understanding China. It is significant that Mao and Chinese revolutionaries in general get very short shrift in here. No doubt the 1/3 of the authors who were from China were reluctant to get all revisionist on Mao, but more importantly the whole focus on Japanese imperialism puts a lot of China’s revolutionary history in the shade. I wonder how it would be different if they decided that Vietnam was part of East Asia.

Despite all that, I like the attempt. It almost feels like the beginning of Western Civilization as a concept, people casting around for the things that will tie together clearly related but also quite different histories. Sadly at least to start with in the modern period the Japanese imperialist make a good central pillar for this project.

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