(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.



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.1 This first is about joining the army.

Join the army


  1. both from 王曲, the official journal of Hu’s #7 military school outside Xian []



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.1 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.

  1. they can be quite postmodern, those commies []


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 …



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




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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