It’s not Imperialism

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:45 am

Via Yahoo a roundup of recent stuff on China’s involvement in Africa. China of course has growing economic interests in Africa and very little interest in things like promoting democracy or whatever. Jia Qinglin is currently in Africa building international solidarity. There have been a number of complaints of late about China’s growing power in Africa, and in Ethiopia  the Ogaden National Liberation Front has killed a number of Chinese oil workers to encourage China “to refrain from entering into agreements with the Ethiopian government.”

Jia has pointed out that China’s involvement in Africa is “normal business practice on the basis of equality and mutual benefit…It is totally different from the plunder committed by colonialists in Africa.”This is pretty much the standard Chinese line. What imperialism is is always a complex question, but I was struck by how much the current Chinese leaders sould like Japanese leaders talking about Manchukuo in the 1930s. In the case of many of the Japanese they were being honest, meaning they actually believed the stuff they were peddling. I assume Jia Qinglin does as well.



AHC #13

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:02 pm

The Thirteenth Asian History Carnival is now up over at my personal weblog Muninn! In addition to the usual selection of blog postings I have added a section to the carnival introducing a few online resources or references that might be of use to those with an interest in Asian history.


Maps and Empire

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:52 pm

Maps have been an important part of empire in China for a long time. In the Warring States period spies were always trying to steal maps, and defeated states presented maps of their territory to the victors as a sign of submission. Geographic knowledge written down in books like the Classic of Mountians and Seas was avidly collected as a way of learning the universal patterns of the universe. Needless to say there has been a lot written in the last decade or so about how cartography connects to empire, as it fits in so well with whole postmodern power/knowledge thing. To map a place is to control it, and thus empire-builders were always interested in mapping. I have not found many better visual representations of this than this map of Russian cartography on China, found on the CHGIS site.



More technological coolness

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:40 pm



This is probably not news to many of our readers, but you can now download the entire 1941 animated film Princess Iron Fan from Internet Archive. It is part of the story of Journey To the West This is of course a classic, and thus timeless. It still amazes me that it was made in China in 1941. Timeless classic or not I can think of a lot of things that might distract one from making China’s first full-length animated film in 1941.

Asian History Carnival Call for Submissions

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 1:34 pm

I will be hosting the thirteenth installment of the Asian History Carnival at Muninn on the evening of April 21st. Please make your submissions by noon the 21st, US Eastern time. See the carnival’s homepage for more information. You can nominate postings here or simply tag them with the Delicious tag: http://del.icio.us/tag/ahcarnival/


More geographical coolness

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 4:40 pm

Konrad’s post on the GIS dataset below is well worth looking at, as this is a very cool dataset.


China Historical GIS Data Sets Project Available

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 2:47 pm

There was an announcement on H-Asia which might be of interest to historians and researchers that appreciate the power of GIS geographic information data. This Harvard program has made available for free (with registration) the download of an amazing collection of GIS data related to China’s historical borders, administrative units, etc. Below is a copy of their most recent announcement:

China Historical GIS Data sets project available, Harvard University

CHGIS China Historical Geographic Information System [Version 4]
We are pleased to announce the release of the China Historical GIS –
Version 4, providing a fully documented database of historical
administrative units in China. The new datasets may be downloaded free of
charge for academic use.

Contents of the new release include:

Updated! Time Series datasets (from 222 BCE to 1911 CE) for the region
covered by modern Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Fujian, Jiangxi, Guangdong,
and Hunan and partial coverage for Guangxi, Shandong, Sichuan, Yunnan &

Qing Dynasty Datasets circa 1820.

Updated! Late Qing Datasets circa 1911 for the region covered by Anhui,
Fujian, Gansu, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hebei, Henan, Hubei, Hunan,
Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Shandong, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Yunnan, Zhejiang, Zhili
(Including more than 35,000 town and village points)

New! ChinaW Dataset (with more than 150 variables related to Cities,
County Seats, and Yamen) circa 1820-1893, produced by Regional Systems
Analysis Project (G. W. Skinner, Zumou Yue, Mark Henderson at UC Davis)

New! Physiographic Macroregions of China produced by Regional Systems
Analysis Project (G. W. Skinner, Zumou Yue, Mark Henderson at UC Davis)

Updated! CITAS 1990 data (Provinces, Prefectures, and Counties) joined
with basic census statistics.

New! USGS Geographic Names Data circa 1990 for all Provices (over 140,000
named features)

New! Digital Elevation Model plus Topographic Background Image (derived
from GTOPO-30).

Frontier Regions datasets (circa 1875 – 1900) covering areas in Tibet,
Qinghai, Xinjiang, and Mongolia, as digitized from Russian historical

Digital Scans of Southwest China Maps by Joseph Rock

The complete contents of the datasets listed above are available for free
download by registering your name, institution and email address at

CD-ROM is available ….. For price and postage information please
contact CHGIS…

Editors:: Peter K. Bol [pkbol [at mark] fas.harvard.edu] and Jianxiong Ge
Executive Editors: Merrick Lex Berman [mberman [at mark] fas.harvard.edu] and Zhimin

Chair, China Historical Geographic Information System Project
Center For Geographic Analysis
Institute for Quantitative Social Science
1737 Cambridge Street
Harvard University
+1 617-496-6222
Email: pkbol [at mark] fas.harvard.edu
Visit the website at http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~chgis


Where’s my check?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:30 am

A lot of discussion of who China scholars in the U.S. -really- work for. (Hint, it’s not Cleo) One thread of the discussion, from Far Eastern Economic Review, via Cliopatria, asks if China Scholars have been bought off by the CCP. This focuses more on general research on contemporary China, but the point of the piece is that China scholars have become adept and not asking the type of questions that might annoy the state, and are thus complicit, at one remove perhaps, in what it does.

Another thread started on the H-Asia discussion list. Yang Bin and Thomas Dubois brought up the question of why Chinese scholars are “under-represented” in the field. Qin Shao refined the question by pointing out that Mainland Chinese scholars who got Ph.D.s in the US have often found work at smaller schools but almost none of them are in the Ivies. Andrew Field tenatively suggested that this might be the impact of the Cold War origins of China studies in the U.S., i.e. that “Mainland Chinese historians, schooled in the rigors of Marxist (Maoist?) historicism and sympathetic to the Chinese revolution of 1949, might constitute a threat to the anti-Communist agenda of the US government.” (I think he is trying to make the point less crudely than that.)

Most of the people involved in this discussion are quick to deny that they are interested in casting aspersions on anyone or creating flaky conspiracy theories. In reading all this stuff not quite implying that there is something wrong with the field I am reminded of Orwell’s observation that if the British Trotskyites really -were- in the pay of Hitler, or anyone else, they would at least occasionally have some money. Sadly, I suspect that nobody in Washington cares enough about China scholarship to do much about it.

Even more sadly I suspect that there is some truth to the suggestion that Western academics are so timid they would avoid topics for fear of annoying Beijing, even if Beijing is not actually saying anything. As China becomes a more and more ‘normal’ state and is less and less interested in controlling scholarship on a lot of topics this may not matter.

In part I think there is no problem to be explained. As Robert Hymes pointed out in the H-Asia discussion, most of the people who teach history in American universities in any field are Americans. Still, I think it is likely that part of the reason is that there really is a national, or at least regional character to academia. (I’m a native speaker of English and I find the British university system incomprehensible.) Chinese and American academics in China and America are quite different, ask different question and answer them in different ways, value different sorts of publications, teach differently and are supported by the state and society differently. Thus it seems unlikely that it would be easy to move back and forth between the two worlds, and in fact few people do. (The Japan/Non-Japan Japanese studies gap is a good example I think, as there you have two different worlds and there is no reason to think it is temporary.)

Is this parochialism? Is it good or acceptable if it is? Is it fixable or worth fixing? Is focusing on the Ivies a good way to ask this quesiton?


How Taiwan Became Chinese

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:26 am

Salon.com is having an interesting little discussion of Tonio Andrade’s new book How Taiwan Became Chinese. I have not yet read the book, but I am familiar with Andrade’s earlier, excellent, work on the Dutch period in Taiwanese history. As one might expect, despite the fact that the book ends before 1700 and Andrade denies that his work should be read in light of current debates about the status of Taiwan, that is exactly what is happening. One of the main contentions of his book seems to be the not very controversial position that the Chinese settlement of Taiwan began under Dutch rule and that the early history of Chinese settlement should be understood in the context of the globalizing world of trade in East Asia. He also says that “Taiwan today is culturally Chinese.” This has needless to say led to some criticism, given that any statement you can make about the nature of Taiwan will lead to someone taking offense.

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