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(A Little) Chinese History at ASPAC

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:14 am

There was, I'll admit, a lot of Chinese content at ASPAC which I didn't see. Such is life. I did see two papers which I want to discuss here briefly, though, from the "Globalization and Cultural Links" panel: on Qing "Dragon Robes" and transnational adoption.

Shu Hwa Lin, from the UH-Manoa Department of Family & Consumer Sciences (( I had to check. The UH-Manoa department shows up on the third page of results. I guess it's a Land-Grant thing, from what I'm seeing. Lin seems to be from the Apparel Product Design And Merchandising side of the program, which includes a "History of Western Fashion" and several "ethnic" and regional fashion courses. )) reported on Manoa's own collection, particularly on early 20th century "Dragon Robe" exemplars and the iconography and numerology of elite fabrics. I suppose it's no surprise to our readers here that Chinese elites used elaborate patterns and multiple symbols to indicate status and rank. There were twelve symbols for sovereignty (( Sun, moon, mountains, dragons, a constellation of three stars, pheasants, flame, a pair of bronze sacrificial cups, seaweed, grain, an axe, and "fu" )) , accumulated over the years, as well as eight symbols of good fortune from Buddhist sources. (( canopy, conch shell, vase, royal umbrella, the Wheel of the Law, endless knot, lotus, a pair of fish. )) The importance of the numbers 9 and 5 came up repeatedly: on the highest ranked nine-dragon robe, for example, five were visible from all angles. The robes represented about 2.5 years worth of work. (( This site says eight years, which sounds about right for six million stitches )) What was a surprise, to me, was that UH-Manoa has a textile archive with over eighty thousand items, including five dragon robes and a number of other items from the Qing dynasty. (( What wasn't a surprise was that the archive isn't adequately funded to properly store and preserve all those artifacts. Lin mentioned their search for a donor to provide "a cabinet" for the Qing exemplars several times during the talk. ))

Alexander Yamato, Asian-American Studies coordinator at SJSU, talked about "Transnational Adoption of Asian Children by Americans," a topic near and dear to a lot of hearts. It was a very good survey of the issues, emphasizing the way in which a lot of them centered around issues of identity: identity of the children, of the adopting parents, and of ethnic immigrant groups, etc. Even what he described as the "political economy" of overseas adoption was closely tied up with issues of national identity: he talked about the black eye Korea took in the late '80s when they hosted the Olympics and Asia Games but were best known in the West for their export of poor children and GI orphans; similarly, Chinese adoption policy has sometimes reacted to foreign reportage or their perception of reputation. There was a period when adoption was heavily promoted by the Chinese government, and even extended to "non-traditional" families -- singles, homosexual couples -- but policy has shifted in the last ten years to include not only heterosexual stability but health (height, weight, age) and wealth as requirements for would-be adoptive parents. This is in response to the perception of China's population and poverty problems -- unwanted girls, lots of poor rural families. (( I can't imagine where that perception's come from. I only know three adoptive families with Chinese girls among my immediate circle of acquaintances off the top of my head. My wife and I have been speculating that the deep gender imbalance in China under the one-child policy combined with the exodus of adopted girls is going to produce some odd pressures over the next decade or so. ))

On the adoptive side, the identity issues are pretty substantial, starting with the cognitive dissonance of growing up racially Asian in America with a Caucasian family: at what point does the family address the issue, if at all? Are these children considered "immigrants"? Would travel to the country of origin be considered a "return"? Is their identity as Asian American a racial or cultural one? How to negotiate the relationship with the country/culture of origin, particularly given the reputation many of these countries have of "unwanted babies"? There's no answers to most of these questions: the impression I got is that there are a wide variety of individual approaches and responses, but no consensus on what results these produce or what might be a "best" approach. There is a growing economy associated with these children (( According to Yamato's numbers, there were over sixty thousand adoptees from China over the last fifteen years, and over two hundred thousand from Korea )) : not just the commodification of adoption on the "front end" but also the rise of a sort of "heritage industry" which includes cultural camps and classes in the US, and tours and travel to the country of origin (often subsidized by the state).

The adoption issue connects to the "Diaspora?" issue, which is something I'll talk about over here later.


The Chinese brand

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:56 pm
Daniel Drezner has a post up about the troubles that the Chinese brand name is facing at present. (Dan is thinking about China this week) From tires that kill you to dog food that kills your dog, China is getting in the news a lot as the source of lots of shoddy dangerous crap. Drezner suggest that it is a bit odd that China is not moving up the ladder of quality in the same way S. Korea and Japan did, but I am not sure this is so odd. The image of a China "brand" is of course a metaphor, and in some respects a bad one. China is bigger even than Microsoft and "brand management" is pretty much impossible. Actually, China is really big. One of my professors used to be fond of pointing out that China is big, meaning not just that China is big, but that it is so big that thinking about it creates problems that thinking about, say, France or Canada does not. I was in Taiwan in the late 80's when the Taiwanese government rolled out the "It's Made Well in Taiwan" campaign, aimed at changing Taiwan's image as a producer of cheap crap and also as a haven for patent pirates. This campaign was strongly supported by the Taiwanese corporate elite in part because they wanted to start selling more high-margin goods and also because they had found out that getting a reputation for piracy made foreign firms reluctant to license their really good technology. As the Taiwanese economy was dominated by firms with a fairly common set of interests at this point it was easy to convince them that this campaign was worth supporting. China is different. China has both low-wage companies that make things like bricks and does high-end manufacturing like I-pods. Thus there are producers with very different interests in China, and it is hard to see how Beijing could identify one as "the" China and push it. Of course getting Americans to keep -two- ideas of China in their heads at the same time would be even harder. I feel sorry for China's brand managers.


Drop and give me twenty

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:41 am

While here in Shanghai I have been doing a bit of research. My new project is on 训练 and military training during the War of Resistance Against Japan, and in particular in the activities of Hu Zongnan. Turning ordinary Chinese into soldiers was a big deal during the war, and Hu was in charge of a number of institutions that were supposed to deal with this. Here are a couple of cartoons. ((both from 王曲, the official journal of Hu’s #7 military school outside Xian)) This first is about joining the army.

Join the army

You will note that the guy in the first frame (upper right) is wearing a tie, and seems to be a modern-educated middle class type of person. One of the issues for the Nationalist was convincing 青年, which technically means youth, but really means educated youth to join the army. Hu Zongnan’s schools wanted only Upper Middle school grads as cadets, and their goal was to turn idealistic intellectuals into soldiers ((Of course they often had to settle for those of a lesser “cultural level”)) In the lower right the cadets are seen “graduating” and getting a diploma, just like military academy was a proper goal for an educated youth. I am particularly interested in why frame 2 (upper right, the training they got) so seldom led to frame 4 (Lower left, kicking the snot out of the Japanese.)

Some of the problems trainers faced are displayed in this cartoon.

Eating too much

Here a cadet is invited by a comrade to go out to eat, and by frame three (middle right) he is exclaiming that he has eaten twelve bowls of rice. In the next frame he is complaining that his tummy is bothering him, but his friend just orders more soup. Needless to say this causes problems for our hero on the march the next day, and he gets a well-deserved dressing down. This is quite typical of how quite a lot of cadets viewed military training. The point was to do it and get the status of a party cadre and then stuff yourself with food on the nation’s dime. Even the Communists had huge problems with cadres and the banquet culture. You can almost see the Cultural Revolution and Mao’s attempts to turn his party members back to service as a goal rather than banquets and “using the back door.”



Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:51 am
I'm not sure why some people think that posting pictures of the books you just got is blog-worthy, but as I am in Shanghai I have also been testing my weight allowance.


I finished up my research in Nanjing, now I'm back in Shanghai for a couple days till I head home. In between I spent a few days in Suzhou. This is a very apt sign from Tiger Hill



Taiwan gained and lost

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 10:54 pm
Japan (ahem) Focus has a great excerpt from MIT's Emma J. Teng's Taiwan’s Imagined Geography: Chinese Colonial Travel Writing, 1683–1895 up this week. To be fair, there is a Japan connection towards the end
In 1895, only a short time after Taiwan had become an official province of China, the Qing were forced by their defeat in the Sino-Japanese war to cede the island to Japan. The reaction of Chinese elites to the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki demonstrates how far Chinese ideas about Taiwan had come since annexation. Officials and students in China vigorously protested the Treaty, signing declarations condemning what they called the “selling of national territory,” and the “severing of the nation.” Whereas Chinese officials two centuries earlier had protested the annexation of Taiwan as a waste of money, these protesters now declared that Taiwan should not be sold for any price. Pessimists predicted that once this piece of China was lost, the rest would soon fall like dominoes to imperial aggressors.
I'm going to be teaching the Qing portion of the China sequence next semester, so this is currently of great interest to me. I heard a great talk on Korean Buddhist travel literature at ASPAC, too: it's a theme!


“President” Chiang Kai-shek

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:57 am

So, what is the current status of Chiang Kai-shek in China? He is the most troublesome of the Republican era-figures for the mainland to figure out. Anyone who can possibly be called a “democratic personage” i.e. vaguely leftist or progressive or something can be praised. Even warlords can be rehabilitated if they went over to the Communist side. Chiang was for a long time –the- bad guy of the CCP demonology, but as the Nationalist regime has been re-appraised so has he. This is not really surprising. He was not a Communist. But then economically neither are the current rulers of China. He was not a democrat. Ditto. He ran a fairly corrupt developmental party state, which should not be too difficult to justify. And he fought the Japanese. There is a nice exhibit up on the Nationalist government at the old Presidential Palace in Nanjing. It lays out the structure of the Nationalist government quite well and is pretty non-committal about his anti-communism, although it does point out that he helped defeat the warlords and such. They only really get down on him when they get to 1948. Under Sun Yat-sen’s Fundamentals of National Reconstruction China was to go through a series of phases of government. First was military dictatorship. Then a period of political tutelage, where under the direction of the wise party-state the Chinese people would be made ready for the third phase, which was constitutional government. Sun was well aware that just declaring a Republic did not make one happen.

In the age of autocracy, the masses of the people were fettered in spirit and body so that emancipation seemed impossible Those who worked for the welfare of the people and were willing to sacrifice themselves for the success of revolution not only did not receive assistance from the people but were also ridiculed and disparaged. Much as they desired to be the guides of the people, they proceeded without followers. Much as they desired to be the vanguards, they advanced without reinforcement. It becomes necessary that., apart from destroying enemy influence, those engaged in revolution should take care to develop the constructive ability of the people. A revolutionary program is therefore indispensable.
The displays at the Presidential palace seem quite respectful of Sun’s 5-power constitution, although they don’t talk much about the transition to constitutional rule. Chiang himself kept China in the stage of political tutelage for most of his time in power. As his critics pointed out this amounted to a dictatorship with vague promises of future democracy. At last, in 1947, Chiang moved China into constitutional government. He became President of China on May 20, 1948. This is often seen as the last act of a desperate man, trying to shore up support for a foundering regime. Here on the mainland, however, they seem to take it pretty seriously. The museum here in Nanjing calls him “President” Chiang after this point, with the title in scare quotes. All the institutions of the post-48 government are in quotes. Scare quotes are pretty common in CCP histories. ((they can be quite postmodern, those commies)) Institutions of Wang Jingwei’s puppet government are always put into quotes or just called false (wei ) Always very important to let people know that someone else’s “democracy” is not the real people’s democracy. What I find interesting is that the museum is willing to grant Chiang legitimacy right up to 1948, apparently. It almost makes him seem like an old dynasty that is presented as having had the Mandate and then, right at the end, having lost it, rather than someone who was always an enemy of the people. Or maybe they just don’t want to say that the '48 government was China's first democracy, which I would probably agree with, although not for the same reasons the CCP would not want to say that.

Of course to some extent this is a moot point. I don’t think there is as rigid a central “line” on most historical topics as there used to be, and here in Nanjing in particular you might expect more favorable treatment. Still, I find it interesting to watch the changing reputations of historical figures.


China’s Traditional, right?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:04 am
Cultural Revolution? Yan'an Purge?
It's an ugly campaign season, a mix of talent show, debate, old-fashioned politicking and dirty tricks. It's part "American Idol," part "Survivor." Cheng Cheng urges his supporters to mock Xiaofei so unmercifully she can hardly make it through her first speech. Then, in an appalling act of hypocrisy, he denounces his own thugs, who are brought weeping to justice. The battle is quickly reduced to a contest between the boys, Luo Lei and Cheng Cheng, whose debate is an eerily scripted exchange of Orwellian platitudes. Luo Lei must resort to graft ...
No, it's a new documentary about a third-grade class election. Post writer Kennicott goes on to point out that
A cynical reading of this film, and the reading that director Weijun Chen clearly invites, would see dark days ahead for any kind of nascent democracy in China. It is not about empowerment or meritocracy but a contest between the old communist elites and the new capitalist managerial class. The children are drawn to power and privilege, not to reform or the exchange of ideas. Democracy emerges merely as a tool for choosing new autocratic leaders. The entire function of the class monitor, we learn at the end of the film, is to ensure conformity. The teachers and parents who manipulate this supposedly pedagogical lesson in democracy are simply underscoring the age-old attractions of realpolitik. But hey, these are third-graders. Kids can be ugly, vicious little beasts, which is why adults are needed to teach and constrain them. There's a good reason we don't set the age of majority at 9 or 10. Would third-graders in this country behave any differently? And would parents in this country, parents intent on getting their little ones into the best pre-kindergarten program as the first step on a relentless march to Harvard, behave much differently from the cynical schemers of "Please Vote for Me"?
Finally the reviewer reaches a shockingly supportable conclusion
But this film has the strength and weakness of so much narrative journalism: A good story, richly detailed, doesn't necessarily yield objective or even representative data, just as a documentarian's "experiment" in democracy shouldn't be confused with a sociologist's. The conclusions drawn should be modest and provisional.
I suppose I wouldn't have been so pleasantly surprised by that if I hadn't just seen this NPR report:
Philanthropy in China is still in its infancy. Take the case of Nanjing-based philanthropist Shao Jianbo. He has used his profits from his business to help other Chinese start their own businesses, giving them both start-up money and training. But many locals who did not share his work ethic started harassing Shao for handouts. His experience demonstrates why Chinese have traditionally been careful to conceal their wealth.
Are there philanthropists anywhere -- anyone with wealth, philanthropic or not -- who don't have to deal with unworthy applicants, people trying to get support for harebrained schemes or to support their bad habits based on a familial or personal connection? My understanding of Chinese "tradition" is that wealthy members of the community were supposed to be philanthropists, that everyone knew who was wealthy and who wasn't, and a certain amount of pointless local and family charity was the price of being wealthy. How many "traditions" are there in China these days?


Accumulated History: A miscellany

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:35 am
As always, stuff for which I don't give a tip of the hat mostly came from HNN Until next time!


China reconstructs

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:25 pm
One thing about China is that they are always re-building historical sites. Here are some guys building a new...something.... at the old Ming palace in Nanjing.

Building at ming palace

The thing they are making is made out of concrete, and just a generic "traditional" decoration, nothing particularly to do with the site. Much more common in the U.S. is the idea of public history that produces things like this


This is also at the old Ming Palace. Just a bunch of rocks found there and set out for you to look at. Just what history has left us and as as "authentic" as possible. This is not to say that things are not re-built, in the West but there is a bias towards leaving things the way they were found, especially at "real" (state-run) historic sites. Complete reconstruction, especially if you don't know what the old building looked like and are just making it up, is a no-no among public historians. If something is re-built it is always clearly labeled as such, and even regular visitors are disappointed (Aww, it's just a fake) Colonial Williamsburg is not the goal most sites aim for. The Parthenon still has that big hole in it and probably always will. How are things different in China? Well, for one thing they seem a bit more daring at re-building. In lots of places things will be patched up, but here, at the Ming Tombs in Nanjing you can see pretty clearly that the entire archway has been re-built from almost nothing. Just the little bit at the bottom is "real" and the rest is modern concrete

re-built arch

This is the ceremonial arch (Pai lou) outside the Confucian temple in Nanjing.

Pai Lou

As anyone who has read Craig Clunas or Tobie Myer-Fong knows, many Chinese scenic spots have been re-built over and over again, in may cases hundreds of years after they fell in disrepair. Thus the relationship between the thing you are seeing and the thing that was on the site in the past can be very problematic. Historic sites associated with Buddhism or literati culture or whatever are really just sites on which various people have built various things over the years but the supposed continuity of the site is a myth. Given how much of Chinese architecture is in wood this is not surprising. "This" arch was first built by the Wanli emperor in 1586. It was destroyed and eventually re-built by the Tongzhi emperor in 1869. Tongzhi's had calligraphy by the famous Cai Duanmu (I assume the first one had calligraphy, but who knows who did it) and it was flanked by two gates. The arch and gates were "removed because of structural decay years later" ((which probably means they were destroyed in the Cultural Revolution)) and the current arch was built in 1988 by the People's government, although it is a little south of the original location, which is now a shopping mall. But still the "same" arch Another thing that makes historic sites problematic is that lots of things get re-used. Given that the basic design (connected courtyards) of a lot of traditional architecture is the same it was always easy to turn a house into a temple (Like the Lama Temple in Beijing) or a temple into a government office or school. Which of the many uses of the site do you memorialize?

Beamless Hall

This is the Beamless Hall, again in Nanjing. Originaly it was a Buddhist worship hall for Amitabha, but as they did with so many other Buddhist sites the Nationalists put it to a less feudal use, as a memorial hall to fallen soldiers. Which use is remembered? Well, the plaque outside tells you about the Buddhists, but inside there are dioramas of the Nationalist revolution and of course the names of the fallen. (Hard to remove those.) And of course many of buildings are sort of composite sites from the start. Many people who built sites seem to have been jackdaws, grabbing elements from all over. This is from the tomb of Tang Yankai, a Nationalist official who died in 1930 and has a large tomb outside Nanjing. It is a peony planter, but it was originally in the Summer Palace at Beijing. Tang seems to have swiped it.


Of course Tang should be careful. This is also at his tomb


It originally came from the tomb of the Qing official Su Shun, but then some how ended up in the hands of an antique dealer. It was recovered by a Nationalist official, and then presented to Tang's tomb. If Tang does not watch out bits and pieces of his own tomb might end up in someone else's. Even as I type there are construction workers there doing something with the site. Not sure what.


The Chairman is pleased

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 3:20 pm

Mao Smoking

How is the cult of Mao doing? Well, this is a statue of the Great Helmsman at Yuhuashan in Nanjing. It is part of a rather temporary-looking exhibit on his life under the revolutionary memorial. The exhibit itself is not much of a plug for his continued importance. There is a barker outside urging you to come in, and the signs all emphasize that it's free, unlike special areas at a lot of Chinese monuments. There are a bunch of pictures and text and stuff like that and this statue. As you can see, the Chairman is smoking, as he often was. He has a real cigarette in his hand and on the table in front of him are a bunch more, which I think are offerings. They are all different brands, and there is a break in the chain that surrounds that statue so you can go up and offer him one, not that I saw anyone do that. So, Chinese people may no longer be willing to offer their red, red hearts to Chairman Mao, but some of them will at least bum him a smoke.

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