The good life

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 3:08 pm Print

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.



Self-introduction: Scott Relyea 李皓同

Filed under: — Scott Relyea @ 5:59 am Print

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!)



Yellow Peril

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:38 am Print

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. (more…)


Voice of the people

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:08 pm Print

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(more…)


We’re not in Hebei anymore, Toto

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 2:21 pm Print

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. (more…)


Tibet by rail

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:51 pm Print

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 Print

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 Print

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 Print

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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