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A stupid idea that will never work

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:54 am
Via Mutant Palm I learn that at 13-mile long dragon is being built in Henan

Hunan Dragon

It is being built on a hill that is supposedly the home of the First Emperor, and when complete it will be covered with jade and gold scales and have nightclubs and such inside. The local environmental protection people are not happy, and there are lots of reasons why this is a really silly idea. Still, I kind of like it. I assume one of the reasons this is being built is as a ego-trip for the builder, and possibly also to attract tourists. Strangely enough,  it might work. Lots of famous historical things that mark landscapes all over the world were pretty obviously nuts when they were first built. Neuschwanstein pops immediately to mind. If your goal is to attract tourists all you need is to build something impressive and wait a couple decades. Ignore the petty types who say that it is a stupid idea that will never work.


Solar eclipse

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:48 pm

Taiwan Tree

Via View from Taiwan we learn that the statue of Sun Yat-sen in the Presidential Palace in Taipei has been replaced with a potted plant. Well, it's a Taiwan cypress, not just any old plant, but still a rather graphic representation of Taiwanification.


Asian History News Dump, March 2007

This is a "dump": all the Asia related stuff I've saved over the last.... two months? Anyway, nobody else has blogged about it, so I thought I'd toss it out there. I hope to resume more ... measured blogging soon. [Crossposted at all three Frog Blogs; sorry about the irrelevant stuff.]

The increasingly inaptly named JapanFocus website has a fantastic study of ethnic Koreans in Yanbian, China and their economic connections to both Koreas and Korean diaspora communities. The existence of this community -- the origins of which are rooted in Korean refugee migration from the Japanese incursions of the 1590s and early 20th century -- has provided a conduit for FDI, but has also been a factor in the ongoing historical/territorial debates between Chinese and Koreans (Even Salon has noticed!). Perhaps the most interesting section for me was the last third, where issues of remittances and the social standing of the Yanbian Korean-Chinese were raised: "famliarity breeds contempt" seems to be the theme, as relations between the Yanbian community and both Korean and overseas communities have gone through euphoric phases but generally been lukewarm in person, with the China-based community coming out on the short end.

In related news, JapanFocus also has an excerpt of a new translation by Joshua Fogel of Yamamuro Shin'ichi's Manchuria under Japanese Domination. Prasenjit Duara is not mentioned by name, but his works is, I think, implicitly criticized; Yamamuro's view of Manchuria is closer to Louise Young's ...someone should do a review essay drawing on all three.

It appears that our recent historiographical nightmare is over because Abe has apologized "as prime minister" for Japan's use of "sex slaves" (there was a fascinating debate on the terminology at H-Japan the end result of which is that a really concientious commentator cannot refer to the phenomenon of wartime military brothels with coerced participants except by using quotation marks or by going into long, long discussions of terminology).

I've been staying out of this whole brouhaha, mostly because of the rank ahistoricality of most of the discussion. Abe's initial point, that coercion was overstated and reevaluation is needed, is absurd on the face of it, replacing legalistic standards of evidence for historical ones. Regarding the rejection of the 1993 government finding by nationalist legislators, I can only repeat what I've said before, which is that if your pride or legitimacy rests on a denial the realities of history, it's time to find new sources of pride and legitimacy. The personal testimonies of former sex slaves before Congress, members of the Japanese military, etc.

Of course, the "debate" about the Nanjing massacre goes on: Joint historical committees come and go. Revisionist textbooks in Japan downplay atrocities, and Taiwanese textbooks seem to be focusing more on Chinese crimes than Japanese (and what can I say about the Taiwanese Nazi party? It would take a whole post...). A Chinese legislator even proposed "Humliation Day" as a commemoration of Japan's 1931 invasion.

I was struck by a Korea report of a new planed textbook which would take both Chinese and Japanese historical errors to task, while another report suggests that unique Korean errors are being promoted. This follows Presidential scolding of Japan and a lawsuit over Yasukuni Shrine.

The Matteo Ricci map [via] is fascinating, but I can't figure out why there are katakana readings of many of the place names, unless it is a later Japanese copy. Speaking of Japanese sources, the UC Japanese Historical Text Initiative looks like a great multilingual resource; a password is required to get at the texts, though not for their very detailed electronic publications, including a list of "Basic terms of Shinto" (which goes well beyond basic), their "Shinto Shrine atlas" and Contemporary Papers in Japanese Religion series.

Joe's Brief History of Lawyers in Japan (MutantFrog seems to be having some trouble at the moment, but I'm assuming it'll be back shortly) is a great example of timeline construction.

1854: The second known reference to European-style lawyers in Japanese literature. They are described as "accompanying stupid people to court and writing documents for them."

There's a new history resource, WikiHistory [via]. While I have grave doubts about the wiki "movement" I do think that it could be a good tool for creating valuable resources. This is one such attempt, though the strictly chronological format means that it's going to be useful for people looking for very specific kinds of connections, rather than general users, at least for a while. Still, if you're interested in contributing to a wiki, this wouldn't be a bad place to start. Certainly the only one I've considered, so far.

Clint Eastwood's movies on the Iwo Jima battles have gotten a lot of attention. Ian Buruma cites them as models for humanistic storytelling, and Noriko Manabe chronicles some Japanese reactions (which got a really sharp response on H-Japan). Both of them, I think, miss the point: Buruma cites the exceptional humanity of a few Japanese characters but he seems to ignore the basic inhumanity of the vast majority of them. I don't fault Eastwood for this, mind you: a movie exploring the human emotions and motivations of most Japanese soldiers would be very different indeed. I don't think Shintaro Ishihara's kamikaze valentine is going to quite fit the bill, though. Manabe's piece attacks Eastwood as a cultural imperialist, an essentialist position that would obliterate anyone's ability to do history in any form; she also cites "critiques" of the movie by online Japanese without ever trying to evaluate the strength of those critiques.

Chinese cultural heritage preservation is a huge task, with potentially large payoffs. China is considering legislation to auto-patent indigenous knowledge to prevent western bioprospectors from exploiting China's resources. Great Wall reconstruction is a perennial favorite. Language preservation is trickier, but essential to China's claims to be a multi-ethnic and culturally diverse and responsible nation. 700 year old Korans are great sources, and Chinese can even learn from foreigners. It can even be fun: Han Recreation Society is a huge hit in Beijing, reportedly, reinforcing my belief that in any given large city, you can find a group of people that will do anything for fun. And a new movie commemorates a young Englishman in China during WWII particularly his efforts to help orphans.

New materials from the Japanese Imperial house may shed light on WWII, of course. In case you missed it, George Weller's dispatches from Nagasaki have been published, but a Japanese translation of this expose of the Royal family will not be. And new material from the CIA sheds light on an aborted coup attempt, the postwar careers of Japanese war criminals, and CIA agents imprisoned in Communist China (I highly recommend that last one, by the way, for the great details and real drama, though I think the discussion of "brainwashing" is a bit cavalier). The agents came home right around the time of Nixon's ping-pong diplomacy (There's a whole book about it, now).

Lafcadio Hearn is having a renaissance, as is whaling. There's a new Japan Blog Matsuri which will run at the end of each month. Speaking of blog carnivals, there's a new History Carnival Aggregator, a "One-stop shop for announcements about history-related blog carnivals."

The opium problem in the late 19c US wasn't Chinese. The Moon Cake problem, however is. Former "rightists" are starting to speak out in China.

In southeast Asian monarchical news, archaeologists get environmental and discover that an early Cambodian capitol was abandoned due to water shortages. Vietnam's old imperial city is getting refurbished with lots of help from overseas. And "Balthazar Napoleon de Bourbon, a jovial Indian lawyer and part-time farmer," is the entirely unofficial heir-apparent to the pre-Revolutionary French monarchy. The only way this next item is "royal" is the nature of the pain: Buddhism prevents extermination of poisonous ants. Religious convictions can be inconvenient (no, I'm not ready for Passover!).

Many, perhaps most, of the above links without hat-tip credit came from HNN.


Asian History Carnival #12

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:03 pm

Asian History Carnival #12

A Carnival is an event which exists outside of the ordinary flow of time (which explains why this particular one is two weeks late) and involves people taking on roles that are not open to them in ordinary life. With that in mind I have chosen to focus on people who do not fit for this episode of the Carnival. The best place to start is with at the Granite Studio with an account of Robert F. Williams, the African-American militant who ended up spending much of his life in China as a revolutionary spokesman. Williams was able to return to the U.S. after 1969 because the Nixon administration was so desperate to know what was happening in China that they gave him amnesty. He's lucky, the Chinese rightists of 1957 are still looking to be cleared. Pictures here, all from Letters From China. Peking Duck points out that taking the capitalist road will not get you into as much trouble as it used to. Abu Aardvark discusses the current state of the Muslim Brotherhood, who have been in and out of favor with Asian states for decades.

Some people are not out of place of course. In fact in some cases the place (or nation) can be re-written to fit you. Chapati Mystery has problems with Jinnah According to Asia Cable, Thailand has been more fortunate with its national heroes. Of course the issue of who gets to be a leader is a old one, as Westminster Wisdom shows. If only more places could find leaders who were willing to retire and sit under their fig tree, like Kyrgyzstan did. Or, if you want to borrow a rotten leader you could follow the path of the Taiwan Nazis I hate Taiwan Nazis.


Of course carnivals are celebrations, and this has been a big month for celebration in East Asia. EastWestSouthNorth reports that the viewership for the Chinese Spring Festival Gala is declining.

Spring Festival

I can’t imagine why. I would give some polite advice to CCTV about how to liven things up, but unfortunately 100 word minimum tells us that polite language is dying out Did you know that this is the year of the Pig? Pigs are good to blog about. Of course you can't get let festivities get out of hand. Adhunika Blog on weddings in Bangladesh Evil Jungle Prince has some Dofu dumplings that I will have to make for the party.

It would not be a carnival without music, and so although it is a bit late I thought I should link to who let the camel loose and their collection of -FREE- Xinjiang Pop



Who lives in a Pineapple under the Sea of Japan…?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 3:45 pm
From Inside Asia I learn that China has created regulations to increase the number of domestic cartoons shown in China. This is a fairly standard bit of cultural protectionism, and Canada and France have done similar things. What I find interesting is Inside Asia leads with a picture of the Simpsons. This rule clearly is protectionist, but it is protecting China against Japan, not Sponge Bob. Japan is of course the world-wide cartoon king, and they are taking over the minds of Chinese children just as they are American children and Swedish children. Of course the American cartoon industry is also being damaged by Japanese competition, but there are not a lot of calls for protectionism here. I suspect that part of the reason is that Americans want to protect jobs in steel mills and stuff like that. The Chinese government seems to fairly hip to the role of animation and exporting cool in Japanese soft power. Like some of the Chinese interviewed for the article, I am not sure that protectionism will really lead to improvement in the Chinese product. What is the Chinese counterpart to Naruto? Even more to the point, will Japanese producers start making more Pan-Asian type stuff that can be accepted everywhere? Or are they doing so already?


Sino-Japanese Studies Journal Online

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:44 pm
I am happy to announce the completion of a project that I have been working on in my spare time for about a month now: the digitization of the Sino-Japanese Studies Journal. The full journal is available online and downloadable as PDFs at Sino-Japanese Studies Online Journal Archive This biannual Sino-Japanese Studies Journal was created in 1988 by Joshua A. Fogel, now Canada Research Chair in the History of Modern China at York University and the leading scholar in North America in the field of Sino-Japanese studies. In Professor Fogel's words:
From the start, SJS was conceived as a journal devoted to studies of China and Japan together, irrespective of discipline or time period. For many that would take the form of comparative Sino-Japanese research, while for others that meant actual Sino-Japanese interactions. Everyone involved has been committed to fostering this sub-field which at once covers both the China and the Japan fields while, at the same time, examines where these two meet.
It includes articles and translations in a range of fields: literature, history, contemporary politics, art history, etc. Its last (temporarily we hope) issue came out in 2003. In 2004 Professor Fogel agreed to my proposal that we put the whole run of this journal, which had articles by many leading scholars but a limited circulation, online as PDFs with full Open Access. He approved, but there was a long delay when I realized that issues with the various formats of the available journal files meant that most of the journal would need to be scanned. I finally returned to this project in February, and finished the scanning and processing of the documents this week. The PDFs were OCRed (text recognition) but the accuracy was only moderate. I did not go through and fix all of the OCR errors and the OCR engine was English only. However, using Adobe Acrobat, or through Google, the majority of the roman character contents of the journal issues can be searched. I hope that the availability of this journal online will get much greater exposure for many of these articles. Even a number of current hot button topics, such as the Nanjing massacre (See articles by David Askew and Yang Daqing via the author index) and Japanese gas warfare and drug trafficking in China (See Andrew Markus and Bob Tadashi Wakabashi's articles, for example) are addressed in numerous articles. There are a lot of articles on intellectual history, on Edo period relations between China and Japan, reviews of historical works by Japanese and Chinese scholars, and other interesting pieces such as Fogel's discussion of Japanese terms for China, Wixted's discussion of reverse Orientalism or Zhao Jing's discussion of Japan's Communist Party reaction to the Tiananmen incident.

A Few Small Changes

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 4:32 pm
While doing a regular Wordpress software upgrade at Frog in a Well, I have made a few small technical changes to the three blogs: 1) In the list of Frog in a Well contributors to the right, the names now link to a list of postings by that contributor, along with a contact address where you can reach them, and a web page link, if they have one. 2) Each Frog in a Well weblog now has the "Next Page - Previous Page" navigation links at the bottom of the page. 3) I have changed the font to a slightly larger Georgia font.


Gavin Menzies, Historian

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:08 pm
A few weeks ago I received a flyer from a publisher who shall remain nameless. They are soliciting people to write pro and con essays on various historical controversies. I realize that projects can change a lot, but at present it looks like rubbish. They combine... -Interesting historical questions like if American slavery was profitable, or if Nestorius was really a Nestorian. -Trivia like the authorship of Shakespeare or if Richard III killed the princes. -Crazy stuff like did Atlantis exist, and is the Holy Grail really in Wales. They also want someone to write on the Menzies controversy. I suppose if they put him in with Atlantis and the Welch Grail I would be o.k. with that. Still, it was bothersome to me to see someone entirely lacking in credibility like Menzies being mixed up with real history. Then this week I got something much worse. Worlds of History: A Comparative Reader vol II, published by Bedford St. Martin's and edited by Kevin Reilly of Raritan Valley College. It is a collection of short primary and secondary readings on various topics in World History. Surprise, surprise, there is a selection from Menzies' book. Reilly points out that Menzies'swork has "caused a stir among historians", and states that this selection "contains the author's more reliable discussion of preparations for the great Chinese naval expedition of 1421." which at least implies that the editor does not take Menzies seriously. The actual selection just a summary of stuff about the Ming and the tribute system and there is nothing obviously dishonest about it. So why does it bother me so much? I normally am not all that concerned with issues of status, but it really bothers me to see an obvious fraud like Menzies getting exposure and credibility. Soon he will be as solidly lodged in history as George Washington's cherry tree, Qin Shihuang burying the Confucians, and Francis Bacon as Shakespeare.

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