Chairman Mao’s teacher

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:18 pm

A nice article in Modern China on Mao’s teacher Yang Changji. The article draws on Yeh Wen-Hsin’s work on the provincial background of many of the second group of Communist leaders. The early years of the party were dominated by “an urban radicalism; in contrast, the later, revolutionary communism was an outgrowth of conservative, Confucian-bound rural China.” Liu demonstrates this by looking at the ideas and activities of Yang Changji, who might have been just another provincial schoolteacher had one of his students not been Chairman Mao.

The article is not too Mao-centered and Liu provides a nice picture of a provincial intellectual. Two things struck me. One is the description of Yang as an intellectual celebrity

within two months everyone who attended Mr. Yang’s lectures admired and respected him. Although he did not talk much in class, each short statement meant a great deal. Within a year, the entire school accepted him and he became the “Confucius of First Normal.” Other schools in Changsha invited him and he conducted classes [in schools] as far [away] as the high school at the foot of Yuelu Mountain. Soon he was known to the students throughout the city as “Confucius”

The perfect modern version of the Confucian pendant, complete with gnomic lectures and a personal following. In the old days students would have come from distant places to hear him rather than him having to trek out into the boonies to talk to them. Yang taught a lot of foreign stuff (he studied in Japan) but he always claimed that a New China had to be built on native foundations. Liu gives the following quote as an example of Yang’s interest in western-style individualism

In the physical world, the center is my body; in the spiritual/mental realm, the center is my mind. In short, among the ten thousand things in the universe, I am the essence. The emperor is my emperor; the father is my father; the teacher is my teacher; the wealth is my wealth; heaven and earth are my heaven and earth…Mencius said: “All things in the world are complete in me”…Everything in the universe is also my responsibility.

This is not, to my mind, individualism, in a western sense. Wikipedia is not very strong here but it lists a lot of the Western thinkers who have used the term. Yang seems to be revamping the old Confucian cosmology by putting himself at the center of it rather than a (usually hypothetical) sage king. Obviously this fits in well with Mao’s later ideas about himself and his role.

Liu Liyan “The Man Who Molded Mao: Yang Changji and the First Generation of Chinese Communists”Modern China32.4 October 2006


Keeping Halal in the Ming dynasty

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 2:52 pm

As regular readers know, I am interested in the question of how people are defined as Chinese. One nice bit of data comes from Hans Kuhner. He is looking at a pair of families in the early Ming and trying to figure out what, for them, is Chinese behavior. Although today the Yuan-Ming transition is sometimes presented as an uprising of native Chinese against their Mongol rulers and a restoration of Han rule, in fact the ethnic transition was a lot more complex, as shown in the case of two families.

One of the families is the Ding lineage of Quanzhou, once a major port for international trade. The Dings won their first jinshi degree in 1501. In their genealogies the first ancestor is Jiezhai, and all the early ancestors have Chinese names and are presented as wholly Chinese. It is only much later that it comes out that the first ancestor was also called Sayyid Ajall, a Bokharan who served as a governor under the Yuan. Sayyid stayed on in China after the fall of the Yuan, changing his name and attempting to deflect the considerable hostility towards semu people in the early Ming. This hostility was entirely popular. The state did not order purges of non-Chinese and in fact went to some length to avoid ethnic trouble. The Dings, however, got in a good deal of trouble over the years, as political opponents accused them of false registration, largely, it seems as a way of getting even with the Dings, not because people were so concerned with ethnicity. A later descendent, Ding Yanxia, described the family’s background this way.

We cannot know in detail where our family (jia) has come from before the time of Jiezhai. As far as religion (jiao) is concerned, in former times they seem to have followed customs that were not yet civilized. For example, they did not change the clothes [of the dead person] before it was put into the coffin, and they did not use wood for the coffin. The burial took place already on the third day after death, and [the corpse] was only covered with a very thin layer. The mourning attire was made of cotton, and when praying, there were no soul tab­lets for the ancestors, and no sacrificial offerings. On meetings, people bowed to the west at the time of sunset. Every first month [of the year] there was a period of fasting and one was allowed to eat only after sunset, while during the day, people were hungry. God (shen) was revered only with aromatic herbs, there were no sacrifices of wine and fruit and no paper money [as sacrifice] was burned. When reciting the holy book (qing jing) one imitated the traditional sound of the barbarian (yi) language, without understanding its meaning and not even trying to understand it. This was done on both happy and unhappy occasions. It was only allowed to eat meat that was slaughtered at home, and pork was forbidden. One regularly had to take a bath, and without bathing one was nor allowed to attend worship. As for clothing, cotton was preferred to silk, and on all occasions, cleanliness was desirable. When I was young, I still could see these customs personally. … Today, we burn paper money in the sacrifices for the ancestors, cattle has not to be slaughtered at home, all wear hemp as mourning attire, no more cotton. Sometimes, people wait as long as ten years before the burial. On both happy and unhappy occasions, Daoist and Buddhist monks are invited. Pork is eaten, and there is increasing conformity with [Chinese] ritual. However, there still are some who are proud of not fol­lowing the [Chinese] ritual. With regard to the desirability of cleanliness, I have seen no reduction. Alas, as far as the teachings of the Noble Man on ritual are concerned, some maintain that it should be based on the traditions of one’s coun­try and should be adhered to without the slightest change, Others maintain that some [aspects of] ritual can be different while others should be adhered to, with their practicality as criterion. What does “practicality” mean? It should conform to the principle of heaven and to human emotions. If they do not harm these two, why should we change them just in order to conform to the views of society?



Cinderella, dressed in yellow, went to Scotland and kissed a fellow

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:55 am

Via Cliopatria, a website with Scottish broadsides from 1810-1830. One is obviously satirical, announcing the arrival of a Chinese doctor Dr. Puff Stuff Sham Quirko Ye – Trick. The good doctor’s skill was admired by all the crowned heads of Asia, and he brings to Scotland his miraculous cures. He can grow new teeth, no doubt a popular claim given the state of English dentistry (back then). He can restore lost eyes and limbs. His skills kept the Chinese empress bearing children into her 80th year. He can cure cancer using something that sounds like moxabustion. Most interestingly, to me

He has also brought over the method of bandaging, by which the Chinese ladies confine their feet to that beautiful-smallness, has to be soarcely equal to the size of the great toe-nail of an English woman.

I know that the cult of small feet also existed in Europe, but is interesting to see footbinding presented in a fairly positive sort of way as late as 1830. Dorothy Ko sees the later critique of footbinding as inspired in part by a Western criticism and a new transnational context. I’m reluctant to draw a line where the joke ends and the serious begins in this text, but it seems that footbinding is still admirable here.


Monthly Miscellany

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:27 pm

The carnivals roll on: Nathanael Robinson hosted the last AHC, and did a very nice job. The next edition will be hosted by our very own Owen Miller in a week or so: get your nominations in soon! And we’re looking for more AHC hosts: we’ve got open spots from December on.

After a return engagement by founding host John McKay, the Carnival of Bad History is moving to England, where Natalie Bennett will be collecting historical turkeys for the pre-Thanksgiving edition.

As always, your best source for good history is the History Carnival, hosted this time at longtime contributor (especially to the Bad History carnival) Sergey Romanov. In two weeks, another edition: submit here. And the latest Early Modern edition of Carnivalesque features a tabloid cover and lots of great stuff. I believe they’re still looking for volunteers for hosts.

Almost forgot: The Cliopatria Award Nominations are open through November: Best Blogs (individual, group, new), Best Post (individual and series) and Best Writing. Pick your favorites and add ’em to the list!

And Now, the News

Alun Salt has some nice thoughts and links on The Needham Question, one of the great driving forces of Sci/Tech history in Asia.

It’s not Chinese history, but Chinese historian Andrew Meyer has a strong argument in favor of US withdrawal from Iraq which deserves wider attention. I’m not entirely convinced, but it does point out the need for fundamental shifts in direction and method.

Bill quotes cyberpunk novelist Neal Stephenson on the tension between the Chinese state and new information technologies. This was written back in the early 90s, by the way….

Orville Schell’s review of Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals’ Mao’s Last Revolution is a detailed and very supportive piece. For a more literary take on the GPCR, there’s Da Chen’s new novel, which sounds very interesting, though I admit that I’ve never read any Da Chen before….

Jonathan Benda reports on a new movie about Taiwanese independence activists harassed by spies — Taiwanese spies, no less — in the US

HK Dave meditates on the last Communist regime to go nuclear.

Lots of new stuff up at the anti-Menzies site 1421 Exposed, including my personal favorite, Kirsten Seaver’s demolition of his North American East Coast colonies theories.[via]

The Great Wall’s been in the news a lot lately: attracting rowdy tourists, photographed by an English runner, and facing an official survey to determine its true scale.

Other Chinese archaeological discoveries include 4500 year old writing and Han-era tunnels under Imperial compounds.

Via wood s lot, guerrilla art in China and an exhibition of new Chinese video and photographic art

Friendship Store, a refuge for foreigners in Beijing since its founding just before the Cultural Revolution, is being upgraded, part of the ongoing Olympic facelift.

Harvard-Yenching Library, my old stomping grounds, has an online exhibition of photographs of Chinese Muslims from the 1920s and 1930s.

A new publication I really ought to pick up, given my research interests and family ties to the home of the World Series Winning Cardinals: Chinese St. Louis.

The richest person in China is recycling US scrap paper. There’s the global economy in a nutshell, eh?

Finally, because this is a Frog website, I have to share one of my son’s favorite sites, National Aquarium’s Frog Chorus. It’s like the blogging soundtrack we never had….

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