Taiwanese modernity

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:26 pm Print

One of my colleagues asked me a question about Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Three Times. For those of you who have not seen it, it is a set of three love stories all set on Taiwan with the same two actors, one in 1966, one in 1911 and one in 2005. She had a question about the middle story. In this segment the female lead (Shu Qi 舒淇) works in a fairly high class brothel, and the story revolves around the possibility that Chang Chen (張震) will buy out her contract. He is portrayed as an idealistic young man who is opposed to concubinage and is tied up with the idealistic Mr. Liang (I assume Liang Qichao).My colleague asked me how accurate the movie’s portrayal of Taiwanese politics was. I was a bit stumped by that.

Visually at least it was hard for me to see the middle segment as being Taiwan in 1911. It was all interior shots in the brothel, so I suppose you would not expect to see some of the signs of colonial rule. On the other hand.

-The male lead wears a queue. Would a follower of Liang Qichao outside China in 1911 have done that? I know that in some contexts on Taiwan keeping the queue was a sign of anti-japanese feeling, but obviously cutting it off was a sign of being a radical modernizer, which is what he seems to be. Is this a mistake or was Taiwan different?

-When one courtesan is sold the contract is in Chinese. Would a legal contract have been in Japanese by that point? (I did not see the date on it )

-The only signs of Japanese rule or of any change at all is that the money used to buy the one girl is Japanese-issued money.

I was just bothered by that fact that the whole segment (physically at least) could have been set in 1860 or 1720 for that matter. Both of the other segments had a strong sense of place and time, but not this one. It seemed to me like a timeless “traditional China” with the date of 1911 stuck on it. Did anyone else get this impression, or am I ignorant of the material culture of Colonial Taiwan? Or was there some point Hou was trying to make that I am missing?


Teaching Confucius

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:26 pm Print

Tomorrow I get to teach Confucius to my Rice Paddies class. This used to be a fairly easy thing to do, until the unspeakably annoying E. Bruce and A. Taeko Brooks published The Original Analects It is a very good book, but unfortunately it is based on the (correct) view that Analects as we have it is not the words of Confucius, a man who died in 479 BC, but rather the ideas of a school of thought that were written down over a long period of time and attributed to a semi-mythical founder.



How to get rich in Chinese business

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:15 am Print

This is from the Hawai’i Reader in Traditional Chinese Culture1 It is a wonderful reading to use in classes, as our hero Dou Yi manages to make dough in pretty much every way that you can imagine in the Tang-Song period. He is sponsored by a temple, does commercial agriculture, invents something new, (the ‘firewood’) creates personal connections with foreign merchants, swindles someone out of a piece of jade, reclaims land, gets involved in commercial entertainment, sucks up to powerful officials and sells offices. The only real question is if the essay’s emphasis on his frugality makes him more of a Confucian merchant or if his Zhuangzi-ian use of things at hand makes him more of a Daoist entrepreneur.

Dou Yi, a Mid-Tang Businessman

Dou Yi of Fufeng was thirteen years old. His various aunts on the paternal side had been royal relatives for several reign periods. His paternal uncle Dou Jiao was honorary president of the Board of Works, commissioner for the palace corrals and stables, and commissioner of palace halls and parks. [Dou Jiao] owned a temple yard in Jiahui Ward. Yi’s relative Zhang Jingli served as aide in An Prefecture. After he was relieved of his duty by his replacement, he returned to the city [of Chang'an]. An Prefecture produced silk shoes. Jingli brought with him more than a dozen pairs of those to give to his nephews and nieces. All except Yi fought for them. Soon only one slightly oversized pair was left behind by the nephews and nieces. Yi bowed twice before he accepted them. Jingli asked him why. He just kept quiet. Little did they know, Yi harbored great ambitions for business success like Duanmu. So he went to the market and sold them for 500 cash, which he stored away in a secret place.


  1. This is a wonderful book that includes translations of all sorts of things that do not ordinarily turn up in sourcebooks. The preface says that it is intended for use in classes on the “history, culture and society of China, both modern and premodern” How it could work for a Modern class I can’t guess, as there are only and handful of readings from the Qing and later. I’m also not sure how well it would work for a straight history class, as it seems more geared to a culture class. Still, there is a lot of cool stuff in here. []


Journals: European Journal Of East Asian Studies Vol 6 No 2

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:39 am Print

Below is the table of contents of the new issue of this journal:

European Journal Of East Asian Studies
2007 ; VOL 6 ; PART 2   (2007/12/01) 
EALA Wiki Entry for this journal

Article Title: N . F . S . Grundtvig , Niels Bukh and Other ‘Japanese’ Heroes . The Educators Obara Kuniyoshi and Matsumae Shigeyoshi and Their Lessons from the Past of a Foreign Country
Author(s): Margaret Meh
Page: 155 – 184

Article Title: When the Medium Is the Message : The Ideological Role of Yoshino Sakuzô ; Yoshino’s Minponshugi in Mobilising the Japanese Public
Author(s): Brett McCormic
Page: 185 – 215

Article Title: Regional Integration and Business Interests : A Comparative Study of Europe and Southeast Asia
Author(s): Hidetaka Yoshimatsu
Page: 217 – 243

Article Title: Constructing Relations with Hong Kong under ‘One Country , Two Systems’ . Prospects for the European Union
Author(s): Kenneth Ka – Lok Cha
Page: 245 – 273

Article Title: China Through Western Eyes . A Case Study of the BBC Television Documentary Roads to Xanadu
Author(s): Qing Ca
Page: 275 – 297

Fortune Cookie History

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:48 am Print

A grad student from Kanagawa University may have cracked the great riddle of Asian cuisine: the origin of the Fortune Cookie! As the NY Times reports, the original fortune cookies may have been produced by Kyoto-area confectioners in the late 1800s.1 The practice — and the distinctive iron grills used to make the sembei crackers, which are part of the historical puzzle — spread to Japanese-owned Chop Suey houses in San Francisco.2 From there, Chinese-owned restaurants began to offer them, and Chinese-owned bakeries supplied them.

Then came WWII, which changed everything.

Ms. Nakamachi is still unsure how exactly fortune cookies made the jump to Chinese restaurants. But during the 1920s and 1930s, many Japanese immigrants in California owned chop suey restaurants, which served Americanized Chinese cuisine. The Umeya bakery distributed fortune cookies to well over 100 such restaurants in southern and central California.

Early on, Chinese-owned restaurants discovered the cookies, too. Ms. Nakamachi speculates that Chinese-owned manufacturers began to take over fortune cookie production during World War II, when Japanese bakeries all over the West Coast closed as Japanese-Americans were rounded up and sent to internment camps.

Mr. Wong pointed out: “The Japanese may have invented the fortune cookie. But the Chinese people really explored the potential of the fortune cookie. It’s Chinese-American culture. It only happens here, not in China.”

The war also served to popularize the fortune cookie

they were encountered by military personnel on the way back from the Pacific Theater. When these veterans returned home, they would ask their local Chinese restaurants why they didn’t serve fortune cookies as the San Francisco restaurants did.

The cookies rapidly spread across the country. By the late 1950s, an estimated 250 million fortune cookies were being produced each year by dozens of small Chinese bakeries and fortune cookie companies. One of the larger outfits was Lotus Fortune in San Francisco, whose founder, Edward Louie, invented an automatic fortune cookie machine. By 1960, fortune cookies had become such a mainstay of American culture that they were used in two presidential campaigns: Adlai Stevenson’s and Stuart Symington’s.

It’s such an American tale. It’s all there: entrepreneurship, food, racism, migration, war, marketing, invention, industrialization and orientalism.3 I can’t wait to tell my students.

(Crossposted, of course)

  1. I’m immediately reminded of the rickshaw, which everyone associates with China but which was actually invented as the jinrikisha in Japan at the opening of the Meiji era. There is evidence in the Times article going back to the early 1800s, though. []
  2. Japanese in North America were much more likely to be from Kansai than Japanese in Hawai’i []
  3. Also the obsession with national origins, Japanese-Chinese competition, the value of open archives, the historiography of food culture and the power of media to shape a historical finding. []


It’s not history, but it’s not bad

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:31 am Print

Here at Frog in a Well we have always prided ourselves on being the best salientian group blog on Chinese history. While we are still the undisputed masters of our own small piece of sky, the new blog China Beat looks like it is also worth a few page views. Although the official focus of the blog seems to be more on contemporary China they have some heavy-hitting historians on the list like Jeremiah Jenne and others and one of the first posts is on Wang Mang


Germans and China

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:55 am Print

I have been reading Isabel Hull’s Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of Total War in Imperial Germany Cornell, 20051 I was mainly interested in the book for its treatment of the Boxer Expedition, but the book in general is about the evolution of ideas about war in German military culture. She sees the colonial wars in China, Southwest Africa and East Africa as being very important in the development of German concepts of war and above all treatment of civilians.

I found this interesting not only because there is stuff about the Boxers. Everyone knows that German military advisers were very important in China and that Chinese military culture was heavily influenced by Germany. Everyone also knows that Chinese troops, especially warlord troops, were notoriously brutal towards non-combatants and generally inept at dealing with the civilian population. I would have attributed the bad behavior of warlord troops to their poor training, inadequate supplies and lack of modern military professionalism. After reading Hull I think that much of the military professionalism that China would have been importing would not have done much to remedy these problems


  1. One of the great things about the modern, internet, age is that when you find an interesting book you look it up on Amazon to see if they have a table of contents. They often have a used copy, in this case for 8 bucks. []


Zhou Enlai and The Chinese Omelette

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 3:45 pm Print

The lively and informed blog, Jottings from the Granite Studio, January 8 has a well turned piece “This date in history: The Death of Zhou Enlai.” The piece shows that Zhou was a consummate statesman who perhaps snookered Nixon and Kissinger, with a reputation for countering Mao’s excesses and acting the suave statesman.

I remember the reporter Harrison Salisbury telling a story about the cosmopolitan Zhou. At the Geneva Conference of 1954 Zhou went around a reception greeting each delegate in his own language, showing up the less worldly Khrushchev, who knew only Russian. Khrushchev, according to another story, later struck back by observing to Zhou how strange it was that he, Khrushchev, came from a peasant background while Zhou was quite the aristocrat. Zhou is said to have thought for a moment and then replied, “true, but we each betrayed the class from which we came.”

For a long time, the story was that John Foster Dulles was so anti-communist that at this Geneva Conference he refused to shake Zhou’s hand. Problem is that when a spoil sport researcher went to check, there was no time at which the two were together. Still, when Nixon went to Beijing in 1972, he clearly had heard this story. He bounded down from Airforce One and the  first thing he did was to shake Zhou’s hand!

Another example of Zhou’s reputation is in a piece of urban folklore about Nixon’s visit to Beijing in 1972. At that time the small but famous Gansu Flying Horse was on display in one of the capital’s museums. Nixon, thinking we was alone, admired the horse so much that he stealthily put it in his pocket. A museum guard, according to the tale, secretly observed the deed, but hesitated to report the theft for fear of destroying the friendly atmosphere of the visit. What could he do but take the incident to Zhou? That night at the banquet, after the mao tai, Zhou introduced China’s leading magician. The magician performed several feats, then unveiled a reproduction of the Flying Horse which he then caused to disappear. Where was it? Well, he announced, reaching into Nixon’s pocket: “Voila!” So once again, the wily and humane Zhou saved the day.

But the Jottings piece also asks: “What sort of machinations and compromises were necessary to linger in power while those around him were being swept away?” What about allowing his long time comrade Liu Shaoqi to die of untreated pneumonia lying on the floor of an unheated jail cell?

Much of this enigma is spelled out in the recent book by Gao Wenqian, Zhou Enlai: The Last Perfect Revolutionary (NY: Public Affairs, 2007; translated by Peter Rand and Lawrence R. Sullivan). Gao was a researcher at China’s secret party archives where he had access to files, interviews, gossip, memos, and internal compilations. He smuggled out notes and documents with which he wrote an explosive Chinese language biography of Zhou, published in Hong Kong in 1999, which the translators have slightly supplemented for English language readers. This is not the cynical view presented in, say, Li Zhisui’s The Private Life of Chairman Mao: The Memoirs of Mao’s Personal Physician (New York: Random House, 1994), much less the unhinged portrait in Chang Jung and Jon Halliday’s Mao: The Unknown Story (New York: Knopf, 2005). Li chronicled Mao’s refusal to take baths or brush his teeth, his sexual use of young women, and his rapacity towards both enemies and old comrades. He doesn’t allow that Mao ever did anything which was not despicable, which may be a reasonable stance but not convincing if other arguments are not even considered. Likewise, Chang & Halliday’s argument is terribly weakened because it strays too far from evidence.

Gao, on the other hand, allows Zhou’s accomplishments, which are usefully sketched in the Jottings from the Granite Studio piece. Yet in spite of Zhou’s reputation as a balance to Mao’s extremism, Gao paints an ultimately damning portrait of a man who said yes to power. What would have happened if Zhou had stood up to Mao or at least advised him differently? Would he have lasted?

Would it make a difference if we accepted, as Zhou surely did, the legitimacy of the Revolution? After all, every nation or political cause accepts some form of the proposition that the ends justify the means. Was it legitimate to drop the Atomic Bomb? Stalin justified his slaughter of innocents by saying “you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.” But, asked somebody (presumably in a very quiet voice) “how many eggs do you have to break to make one omelette?” Or, we might add, when so many eggs are broken, shouldn’t we demand to see an omelette?

Journals: East Asia – An International Quarterly Vol 24 No 4

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:08 am Print

Below is the table of contents of the new issue of this journal:

East Asia – An International Quarterly
2008; Vol 24; PART 4 (2008-January)
EALA Wiki Entry for this journal

Article Title: Japan’s Quest for “Soft Power” : Attraction and Limitation
Author(s): Peng Lam
Page: 349 – 363

Article Title: Policy Response to Declining Birth Rate in Japan : Formation of a “Gender – Equal” Society
Author(s): Yuki Huen
Page: 365 – 379

Article Title: Is Taipei an Innovative City ? An Institutionalist Analysis
Author(s): Chia – Huang Wang
Page: 381 – 398

Article Title: China’s Oil Venture in Africa
Author(s): Hong Zhao
Page: 399 – 415

Article Title: Edmund Terence Gomez ( ed ) , Politics in Malaysia : The Malay Dimension
Author(s): Clive Kessler
Page: 417 – 419

Article Title: David Scott , China Stands Up : The PRC and the International System
Author(s): Justin Orenstein
Page: 421 – 424

Article Title: Steve Chan , China , the U . S . , and the Power – Transition Theory : A Critique
Author(s): Robert Sutter
Page: 425 – 427


Miss Taiwan?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:27 am Print

Going Hunting

A hunting parting in Xinzhu, 1935


A great new resource provided by Paul Barclay of Lafayette College. They have digitized a great collection of photos of colonial-era Taiwan. It is very well organized with clear and complete descriptions of each image. A wonderful resource for both research and teaching.


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