Here we see Japanese soldiers and people being driven to disaster by a “warlord” 军阀.
Here we see Japanese soldiers and people being driven to disaster by a “warlord” 军阀.
Ang Lee‘s (李安) new movie Lust, Caution (色，戒) is apparently being released later this week in the United States. The movie won a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival (where it was labeled as coming from “USA/China/Taiwan, China“), received a full mix of reviews (1,2,3,4,RT), and may ultimately get an unusually limited showing due to its NC-17 rating. The version which eventually cleared censors in China supposedly had to cut some thirty minutes.
The movie is based on a novella by Eileen Chang (張愛玲）which in turn is inspired by an historical event: the attempted assassination of Ding Mocun (丁默邨 1903-1947) on December 21st, 1939 by the 22 year old half-Japanese spy Zheng Pingru (鄭苹如 1918-1940).
Ding Mocun was a leading figure in Chinese intelligence in the 1930s until his execution in 1947. He was a former Communist Party member who recanted and rose quickly to power in the Nationalist party with the support of the CC Clique and especially Chen Lifu (陳立夫). When he was squeezed out of power in a 1938 reorganization of the Nationalist intelligence services into the Zhongtong1 and Juntong2 and accused of corruption, he left unoccupied China and together with Li Shiqun (李士群 1905-1943) worked for the creation of a spy agency supporting Wang Jingwei‘s (汪精衛/汪兆銘 1883-1944) peace movement in Japanese occupied areas.3 The headquarters of the resulting organization, founded in April, 1939, was located on 76 Jessfield Road, Shanghai, and became a site of infamous torture and death often simply referred to in Chinese accounts as “#76” (七十六號). In its twenty or so holding cells Ding and Li’s operatives, along with Japanese officers, extracted what information they could from suspected Communists and supporters of the Nationalist government in Chongqing before dispatching them.
Ding is now usually listed among the dozen or so most famous Chinese traitors (hanjian 漢奸) for his collaboration with Wang’s government and the Japanese. He was arrested in September, 1945, convicted of treason in February 1947, and executed on July 5th.4 Like many of the leading collaborators put on trial after the war, however, Ding pleaded that he secretly cooperated with the Nationalist spymaster Dai Li (戴笠). Many of the other leaders in the Wang government, most famously Zhou Fohai (周佛海 1897-1948) also claimed be working closely with the Nationalists in great secret. This came to be referred as the argument of “saving the country through twisted means” (曲線救國, more on this at my personal blog, Muninn). With the arrival of a movie which is inspired by the story of Ding and the attempt on his life by Zheng Pingru, there has been renewed interest in his case.
Roland Soong, who runs the world’s best weblog covering the Chinese media, ESWN, recently posted a translation of an article by the famous writer and critic Lung Ying-tai (龍應台) discussing the new movie and the historical figure Ding Mocun: Lung Ying-tai on Lust, Caution
You can find the original Chinese version of her article here: 贪看湖上清风──侧写《色，戒》
In her essay Lung responds to criticism that Eileen Chang did not portray the character of Mr. Yi (who is inspired by Ding Mocun) as a sufficiently evil person. I certainly commend her for this, as I really don’t think Chang’s fictional character Yi needs to be everything that Ding Mocun was. However, many writers who try to counter efforts to portray the wartime collaborators as one-dimensional evil-dooers and malicious traitors, in my view, take the completely wrong approach: the reversal. Instead of restoring nuance, or at least moving beyond simple nationalist critiques to evaluate the legacy of these figures in terms of their acts while in positions of power (under whatever regime), Lung embraces a strategy I find frustrating, to say the least: the evil-dooer wasn’t evil at all, he was, in fact, a patriot.
“the novella and the film aside, the Mr. Yi in the history of the Republic of China was really not a very “bad” person.”5
Lung writes that she read through the archival materials related to Ding’s various positions in the regimes of occupied China and his trial records along with the memoirs of Chen Lifu.6 Lung argues that we should reevaluate the historical figure Ding because beginning in 1941 he 1) began to secretly work with Chiang Kai-shek’s government, 2) helped rescue some secret agents, 3) continued to serve the Nationalist government to repress bandits (read Communists) in the chaos of the immediate aftermath of the war and his work was highly valued both by Dai Li and Chen Lifu.
A blatant request for help1:
I’m teaching my 20th century China course in the Spring, and book order season is upon us already! Last time I taught it, I used Jung Chang’s Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, with some success. But I’m not sure if I want to use it again. The discussion of her biography of Mao raised questions about the reliability of her earlier work — some implicit, some explicit — and I haven’t seen much to sway me one way or the other since then.
I am going to have to think about how I’m going to address the Mao question, too, but first and foremost I’d like to know if there’s anything out there which I could use with my students to address the basic questions of family, women, gender and life experience over the course of the 20th century?
I’ve read through this bibliography of Chinese womens’ history, and done some other looking around, but I really can’t find anything remotely comparable. I’m OK with using monographs or edited collections — it wouldn’t kill my students to wrestle with a little scholarship now and then — but I’m not finding anything that looks right.
Yes, its sort of dumpster-diving, but there is a really dumb post on Chinese history up from John Derbyshire. In the process of explaining why he is not quite Islamophobic as some of the other writers on NRO he points out that Islamic civilization is no more stagnant and pointless than that of, say, China. To prove this he cites this from an 1882 history of China.
It might be more instructive to trace the growth of thought among the masses, or to indicate the progress of civil and political freedom; yet not only do the materials not exist for such a task, but those we possess all tend to show that there has been no growth to describe, no progress to be indicated during these comparatively recent centuries. It is the peculiar and distinguishing characteristic of Chinese history that the people and their institutions have remained practically unchanged … from a very early period. Even the introduction of a foreign element has not tended to disturb the established order of things. The supreme ruler preserves the same attributes and discharges the same functions; the governing classes are chosen in the same manner; the people are bound in the same state of servitude, and enjoy the same practical liberty; all is now as it was. Neither under the Tangs nor the Sungs, under the Yuans or the Mings [i.e. from the seventh to the seventeenth centuries — these are the names of Chinese dynasties] was there any change in national character or in political institutions to be noted or chronicled. … This condition of things may be disappointing to those who pride themselves in tracing the origin of constitutions and the growth of civil rights, and who would have a history of China the history of the Chinese people … the fact is undoubted that there is no history of the Chinese people, apart from that of their country, to be recorded. The national institutions and character were formed, and had attained in all essentials to their present state, more than 2,000 years ago.
O.k., its John Derbyshire, who is a nut, but he is not entirely ignorant about China. He has a Chinese wife, and apparently speaks some Chinese, and appeared in a Bruce Lee movie. Is there any way of getting the general public to realize that China has changed in the last 2000 years?
Jeremiah from Granite Studio has post about the debate in American universities about the relationship between education and training. Anthony Kronman claims that American universities spend far too little time teaching students about the meaning of life and far too much time doing research and teaching people how to have successfully careers. Kronman claims that our reluctance to teach students the meaning of life has weakened the humanities and made us subject to “being hijacked for political ends” He is particularly hard on how America’s humanities faculty have ceded their position to those in the university who value research and careerism (which is sort of rich coming from the dean of Yale Law School) and longs for the return of the pre-1870 university with its single, coherent curriculum, clear moral sense, and lack of interest in either the German innovation of research or the modern American consumerist idea of students choosing their own majors. Lots of people in America talk like this, but I find most of this sort of rhetoric to be faux-nostalgic blovating. I actually think education as opposed to training is important, and I’m glad places like St. John’s, Wheaton College and Northland exist, and I’m glad many students at other schools learn things beyond preparing for a career, even if they were not planning on it. but I can’t imagine a national Ministry of Higher Education forcing the current American higher-ed system in a pre-1870 direction.
Jeremiah claims that looking at China is worthwhile when thinking about this (which I agree with), and Chinese intellectuals spent an awful lot of time talking about the purposes of education and above all the relationship between education as moral cultivation and education as getting and doing a job. In fact Chinese scholars talked so much about this I am going to limit myself to one figure, Zeng Guofan.1 Zeng one of the most important provincial officials of the mid-19th century and responsible for putting down the Taiping Rebellion and restoring the fortunes of the Qing dynasty. As patriarch of his family he also left a lot of writings about proper education and its purposes. Of course many of the educational debates of the Late Imperial period seem to have little contact with ours. The debate on the role of philosophy vs. literary skill, learning of the mind vs. learning of the heart, etc. all of these seem rather distant to us. Like Anthony Kronman, however Zeng thought education had two purposes, to advance virtue and to prepare for a vocation. In his case the vocation was government service and the gateway to government service was the exams and the 8-legged essay. The 8-legged format could be and was criticized for encouraging students to strip-mine the classics for clever tidbits they could toss into their essays. Some would say it was possible to have a good career without really becoming a good person. Zeng, of course did not see it that way, as he did not draw a sharp divide between exam learning and moral learning. The exams really tested your worthiness, in his view. If you could write a good 8-legged essay you were a good person, and fit for government work.2 If you were successful at learning it would help you even if you were not lucky enough to pass the exams and instead had to work as a private secretary or a teacher.
If the farmer works hard at plowing, there may still be famines, but there will surely be years of good harvest. If the merchant adds to his stock of merchandise, there may be times when sales are slow, but there will surely be times when the market in unimpeded. If the scholar is excellent in his vocation, how could it be that he will never obtain a degree? Even if he never obtains one, are there not other paths to livelihood? Therefore, the problem lies in one’s not being excellent in work.
If you did not want an official career, like his son Qihong, study became even more important as the road to happiness.
Since you are not interested in degrees and positions with emolument, you must read more of the ancient books. You should frequently hum verses and practice calligraphy so as to foster character an sentiment; there will be enjoyment in store for you for your lifetime and to spare
Our modern attempts to make students value study as a road to joy have not seen much success, and I don’t think anyone today sees a direct connection between moral education and landing a job. Zeng certainly did, and would have seen little point to a division between Gen Ed and a major, or worse still a multiplicity of majors. He did recognize the importance of specialization, but in an almost religious sort of way. One should start a text, and read through it carefully, stopping and re-reading any sentences that puzzled you until you understood them and then moving on. On should read only one book at a time. This is entirely different from the way we encourage students to approach texts. We encourage them to mine them for the information they want, molding texts to their purposes rather than assuming that texts are things that they should mold themselves onto
Zeng admonished his family to study, but backed up his words by continuing his studies throughout his life. Like most literati he practiced his calligraphy daily, and throughout the war years he continued work on his Random selections from the Classics, history and various writers. He apparently though that liberal study was part a life-long process of self-cultivation, which is not usual with us. I rather doubt Anthony Kronman is showing up at the freshman seminars at Yale in hopes of becoming a better person and dean.3
This is just China, of course, but I think the Western model of education before 1870 has a lot in common with this. You really can’t have meaning of life education without a common agreement on what the good life is and a society which values those who have learned about it. We just don’t have that and are not going to any time soon. This is a capitalist society, and universities sell what people want to buy Student demand drives what is produced in American Higher Ed, and will for the foreseeable future. I’m glad almost every college in America has some sort of baseline Gen Ed program (our concession to the meaning of life), and while I may disagree with how some of them are run, I also realize that liberal education is a poor sister to the football team and the Law School and always will be. American students will always be able to choose a major, rather than having the proper course decreed for them,
Ours is also at least rhetorically an egalitarian society, and it’s hard to see where the teachers for meaning of life education would come from. For Zeng Guofan this was not a problem. He increasingly came to be free of doubts, and was quite willing to set himself up as a sage, and in fact this was the point of traditional education. As Confucius put it, only the ren can love or hate others, i.e. the point of education is to reach the level where you are a superior being who can judge others. I for one would feel quite reluctant to grade students in a Meaning Of Life class. I can certainly assess how well students can explain the Self-Strengthening movement, or how well they write, but to award someone a B- in Meaning of Life would seem to be antithetical to most of what I think a faculty member should be. Not everyone thinks like this, of course. Nabakov’s vision of a college with “murals displaying recognizable members of the faculty in the act of passing on the torch of knowledge from Aristotle, Shakespeare, and Pasteur” is popular it its way with a lot of faculty but most of them seem to be people like Ward Churchill. Churchill is criticized for politicized teaching, and Kronman claims to oppose that, but I don’t see how you can square non-politicized teaching with knowing the meaning of life. Zeng Guofan certainly thought students were learning how to be better people outside the classroom and would have had no problem judging them on how they behaved outside class.
I think liberal education is important, and I am happy that so many of our students seem to be getting it despite our repeated failures to figure out what it is or how to teach it. I don’t think that abstract wishing for the pre 1870 world is much help, however. While we may draw on old ideas about education and the Good Life we have to think seriously about the context these ideas came out of and how we have to adopt them.
In comments for the previous post Jonathan Dresner asked if Zelin’s new Merchants of Zigong would be a good book for an undergraduate class on the Qing. I would think not, as it is only in hardback at present and it is fairly technical. The only actual monograph I could think of to recomend was Kuhn’s Soulstealers. I would like to hear if anyone has any other suggestions. Here is what I think make a book something good to assign to a class
-Price. Pretty much has to be in paperback.
-Fitting into the course properly. Can’t be too early or late in the semester or go to far outside the period.
Here Jonathan is messing things up, since his is a Qing class rather than a Late Imperial class or a Modern China class, and thus things like Brook’s Confusions of Pleasure are too early and the many books that go into the 20th century are too late and something like Cochran’s Chinese Medicine Men is both too late and not China-centered enough.
-Length and Complexity
Peter Perdue’s China Marches West might work in some respects, but it’s over 500 pages. Zelin’s book is good, but it is also rather complex and deals with a number of debates that I would have to introduce.
-It has to balance with the other things I am doing in the class. Johnathan wanted something that was a bit more economic/commercial history. So no Manchu books and no Perdue
-It has to be a good book that the students can relate to on their own
Part of the reason I don’t really want to use something like Zelin, or Dunstan’s State or Merchant is that I’m lazy and don’t want to do all the work to set it up. More importantly, I am convinced that most of my students will forget my lectures in month, my exams in a year, and my name in a decade. A good book that you read for class will stick with you for life, or at least that’s what I’ve found. I used Harrison’s Man Awakened From Dreams in my Modern China class even though it is about a very odd man who does not fit into most of the narratives I want to talk about in the class, but it’s too good a read to pass up.
The only real reccomendations I can come up with are all in hardback, reach out of the period or are too complex to work well on their own.
Bello Opium and the Limits of Empire
Lin Man-Houng’s China Upside Down
Brokaw’s Commerce of Culture
I think Rowe’s Hankow is out of print, as is Yen P’ing Hao’s Commerical Revolution in Nineteenth Century China
Any suggestions? I’m afraid I’m being pretty worthless here.
One of the many, many cool things about Madeleine Zelin’s new book The Merchants of Zigong: Industrial Entrepreneurship in Early Modern China is its discussion of guanyun, or official shipping. The book as a whole is about the evolution of the salt trade in Zigong, Sichuan in the Late Qing and Republic. Salt was of course a major industry in Qing China, and as in many other places in the world of great interest to the state, as it was easily taxed. Therefore sources are abundant, and Zelin has written one of the best recent books on Chinese business history. Nobody working on the Chinese economy today still accepts the old position that the Chinese economy was run by glorified peddlers who lived in terror of offending the dreaded Mandarins, but at the same time there have been very few detailed studies of the development of Chinese economic organizations and businesses.
Of the many things that I like about this book the treatment of Ding Baozhen’s 1877 proposal for a system of state-run wholesale shipping of salt. Salt smuggling was an endemic problem for Chinese states, and of course those best placed to smuggle salt were the official salt merchants, who had the capital, transport, and knowledge of the market to be really effective at large-scale smuggling. The official transport system aimed at curbing smuggling by having wholesale salt shipments be made by the state, rather than licensing merchants to buy salt from the yards then trusting them to ship and sell it appropriately. This was a system with many annoying features for salt producers and merchants. The state preferred to deal with the larger producers and to buy salt evaporated with natural gas rather than coal, which tended to drive out small producers. Producers could no longer wrap and brand their own salt, and the state set prices. Vertically integrated salt firms became almost impossible to maintain.
The reason I find all this interesting, is that the Qing and Republican states followed almost the same pattern, for pretty much the same reasons, with the opium trade. Of course there the fact that state policy was retarding the growth of business would have been regarded as a plus. Still, it is interesting to see that the state was developing a set of policies that it applied to a multiple trades.
The generally excellent blog Jottings from the Granite Studio has an interesting post up on practical learning. The post is about the tendency of American universities to be too specialized, which I more or less agree with, but he uses a historical comparison I don’t much care for. Yes, it’s the Qianlong emperor’s reply to Lord Macartney, the most widely used quote from a pre-modern Chinese in Western writings on China, and perhaps the most often misused. Lord Macartney was sent to China in 1793 to negotiate the opening of more ports to British trade. The mission failed for any number of reasons, but it is constantly brought up as an example of the failure of the Chinese to comprehend the modern world. In particular Qianlong’s lack of interest in the clocks and mechanical devices the British presented them with is always presented as a repudiation of Science and Rationality in favor of Stasis and Tradition. Granite Studio
The Qianlong Emperor and his officials smirked at the pretty clocks the British kept presenting as gifts to the throne, dismissing them as mere toys, not realizing that the same precision instruments needed to make intricate clockworks are equally useful for making advanced artillery, rifles, and the instruments of war.
This is based on a couple of lines in the Qianlong emperor’s letter to George III, where he said.
The Celestial Empire, ruling all within the four seas, simply concentrates on carrying out the affairs of government properly, and does not value rare and precious things…[W]e have never valued ingenious articles, nor do we have the slightest need of your Country’s manufactures
I have a number of problems with this. I am not particularly interested in defending the honor of the Qianlong emperor, but the way this event is used, (and it is used a lot) is not very good history. For one thing, to expect anyone in 1793 to look at a mechanical clock and see the industrial revolution is wildly anachronistic. Clocks and clockwork go way back and nobody at the time even knew the industrial revolution was happening. Qianlong was in fact correct, there were few things that the British could sell in China at a profit (hence the opium trade.) Although Lord Macartney was proud of his nation’s manufactures and was in favor of an increase in Trade had you suggested to him that he represented the King of a nation of shopkeepers he probably would have had his servants give you a good thrashing. He was apparently much impressed with his hosts at the Qing court, and the whole mission is hard to fit into the modern stories we like to tell about the backward Chinese.
More importantly although the failure of the mission was later fit into narratives of Chinese backwardness and irrationality, that is not how the it was seen at the time. As Hevia p. 238 points out, this document was not even translated into English until 1896 and nobody at the time saw it as being of any importance. Quite a lot of interesting work has been done, by Hevia and others, on what the mission can tell us about the Qing, Empire, and such, but the old narrative still seems quite popular.
In my Intro to Asian Studies class this semester I am teaching Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s The Girl From the Coast The story is a fictionalized account of his Grandmother’s life and thus is set in Java around 1900 or so. One of the things I am finding interesting about it is that the book seems to me to have been heavily influenced by his time in China . Pramoedya was heavily influenced by the time he spent in China in the 50’s and he saw the Maoist model as a way of re-invigorating the Indonesian revolution. While in China he actually helped make “steel” in backyard furnaces, and when he returned to Indonesia he wanted to purge the literary world of those works and authors that did not advance the cause of revolution.
The Girl From the Coast has pretty clearly been influenced by Mao’s Yenan Talks. The protagonist , the nameless Girl from the Coast is so obviously representing the oppressed masses that in a movie version she would have to be played by Gong Li We get a few lengthy speeches about the class situation the characters find themselves in. The story is about the Girl’s life after she is trapped in an arranged marriage, but as Pramoedya had already rejected what he called Universal Humanism the solution is not Love, a concept that does not turn up much in this book.
On the other hand the solution is not Revolution either, which makes the book a more interesting than a lot of the Maoist stuff. Instead Pramoedya valorizes the life of the fishing village she came from. The village is -not- oppressed like the urban people are. They are too remote and poor for that. When they fake a pirate attack to cover up their killing of an aristocrat one of the villagers wonders who will believe that pirates would attack a village so poor that “even the jellyfish stay away.” They pay no taxes and the only oppression they get comes from the Sea, and the ultimate solution to problems seems to be a return to village life. It sound more like Shen Congwen than Mao Dun. The book is more similar to contemporary Chinese writing, which may criticize the feudal past but does not find the solution in the Red Sun of Chairman Mao. On the other hand is does seem to have a serious Maoist hangover, in that it is the story of the Girl’s growing class consciousness, and perhaps it is intended to encourage class consciousness in the reader. Or maybe I just see China everywhere.
China’s intellectual world needs to bundle up better, and wear its galoshes, since it tends to catch a lot of “fevers.” The current one is for Guoxue, usually translated as “national studies” and probably best thought of as parallel to the Western discipline of Classics. Guoxue, the study of early Chinese history, philosophy and culture all mixed together has a long history although it has not been a terribly lively field. I always remember the Guoxue sections in bookstores as being full of very detailed stuff on philology and whatever written by people whose interest in China petered out around 1368, if not long before. The May Fourth Movement was strongly anti-national studies and above all anti-Confucius, a position shared by Mao. This has started to change in the last few years and the biggest figure is Yu Dan professor of media studies, TV personality and, author of the best-selling 于丹论语心得, her rather idiosyncratic take on the Analects.1 The book promises to use the wisdom of Confucius to help you live in the modern world.
Needless to say as the author of a best-seller and a TV personality and a woman professor (of media studies!) she has come under some criticism by “real” scholars. Some of this seems spot on. She apparently thinks that that term 小人 means “child” which is just utterly wrong, as it means “small man” the opposite of “gentleman” 君子， one of the key concepts in the Analects. On the other hand it is hard not to think that some of the criticism is coming because her books are selling better than other people’s.
I find her popularity sort of interesting in lots of ways, but one of the most significant is her approach to the Classics. While she may not know much about Confucius or classical China, and the jibe that her book is “Chicken Soup for the Chinese Soul” is so sharp because it seems to be true, she does seem to have at least one thing right, in that she sees Analects as wisdom literature that is supposed to change your behavior rather than something for purely academic study, a point lots of classical Confucians would have agreed with.
In an interview on Sina.com she was asked about her book’s “respectful yet not awed” attitude towards the Analects. She replied that it was this just the point, people come to these stories with different experiences and get different things out of them for that reason. This is pretty close to Oprah territory, where all of human experience is grist for the mill of self-improvement and self-satisfaction. Of course this is why she sells, but suspect that Confucius might have agreed that the point is self-improvement, although he certainly would not have agreed that past models can be used in any way we want.
Her specific example here is also interesting. She mentions the story of Jing Ke as one that people have read many meanings into. One of the criticisms of her is that her paeans to “harmony” as the key thing modern societies can learn from Confucius are why she is so acceptable to Beijing. She is no Fang Xiaoru to be sure, but I found it significant that she picked the example of the righteous assassin as her example.
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