Why is Obama winning?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 4:09 pm

There are few things I enjoy more than following American elections in the Chinese press. Zaobao (from Singapore) had something recently on Obama and why he is doing so well. Like many foreigners I think they were mystified by this unknown becoming known, but they put some thought into it. They rejected the Clinton camp’s suggestion that his success is entirely attributable to his 花言 (flowery words). After all, many prominent officials and movie stars are supporting him. I get the impression that they think American voters are sheep (which I might be inclined to agree with) but that they also think that American elites are significantly harder to fool (which I really doubt, but then I’m an American not a Confucian). They do point out that as a young man Obama can deal with the grind of the campaign trail, and that he has been successful in raising small amounts of money from lots of people. The one I found most interesting is that they claim that people are worried about American becoming a banana republic if we end up with a Clinton to follow a Bush who followed a Clinton who followed a Bush. I have heard Americans mention that, but I doubt many Democratic primary voters will switch to McCain on that basis. I guess from an Asian perspective that problem jumps out at you more. It’s a nice piece that explains things pretty well. As much as I find some of their thinking odd I wish the American press ran articles on foreign elections that were half as informative.

Strawberry Cake

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 3:48 pm

One of my students is doing an honors thesis on kissing. Specifically she is looking at a series of articles from Ling Long that explain what kissing is and why Shanghai women of the 1930’s should be doing more of it if they want to be modern women. One of the interesting things about Ling Long is that there are lots of pictures of scantily clad women (usually foreigners) in it. She suggests that the pictures (like the text of most of the issues) was intended to present modern, western ideas about sexuality and the role of women to Chinese people in a way that was both intimate and at the same time foreign enough to not be threatening. Thus foreign movie stars were great subjects.

It is an interesting thesis1 in part because it is interesting and in part because I think it offers an insight that helps us to understand some aspects the modern Chinese press. Even fairly serious Chinese papers tend to have a lot of cheesecake shots (almost always women. sorry) like this set of photos of Jessica Alba2 Part of it is just the idea that this will sell papers, but I find the text fascinating, as they seem to be dressing it up as something that will help us (Chinese readers) to understand the West. Here is the caption

中国日报网环球在线消息:Jessica Alba在出演电影《甜心辣舞》中,用热辣的舞姿,加上漂亮的脸蛋,赢取了“美国甜心”的称号。一组Jessica Alba的内衣泳装照,甜蜜诱人好似草莓蛋糕,解释了秀色可餐一词。

An overly literal translation might be: Jessica Alba in the film Honey? used her hot and spicy dancing and  and a beautiful face to win the title of “America’s Sweetheart”3 In this set of photos of Jessica Alba in her underwear and swimwear she is as sweet and tempting as a strawberry cake, looking both sexy and tasty?

Very weird, in part because it is always hard to really translate some types of language, but also because the ‘serious’ American press does not dress up its pictures of movie stars this way. But as long as it helps you to understand Americans I guess it is o.k.

  1. Which she explains much better than this []
  2. No, I have not done a comparative study of the frequency of scantily clad women in the Western and Chinese press []
  3. This is the hook for the ‘story’ and it seems quite wrong []


Perennial Question: Martial Arts in Chinese Militaries?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 9:42 pm

I got a query from a reader which echoes a question I’ve gotten in class1 many times:

With China’s long history of martial arts, how prominent can it be said such arts were (if at all) in actual military affairs outside the realm of legends?

My immediate thought is that there’s almost no connection whatsoever: what little I have read of pre-modern Chinese military theory places most of the emphasis on strategy (e.g. Sunzi) and unit organization (e.g. Huang, 1597). In massed combat, individual fighting skills mostly take a backseat to numbers, tactics, technology and discipline. There are times when smaller numbers of skilled warriors can overcome a disadvantage of numbers — the Mongols come to mind — but their combat style isn’t really part of any conventional martial art tradition. Chinese culture being largely Confucian, there isn’t as much of a warrior literature, either2 in which individual soldiers might be valorized for bravery, strength and skill. There is some of that which comes out of the operatic/dramatic tradition, and Ming literature like the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but it’s a late development with almost no connection to actual military practices.

In fact, about the only place I’ve run across a connection between martial arts and combat is in histories of the Boxer Uprising like Paul Cohen’s History in Three Keys, in which he actually argues that most of the “fighting style” of the Fists United in Righteousness, etc., was based on imitation of stage fighting. Anyone know of other examples, or major sources that I’ve missed?

  1. Actually, the question is usually much less carefully phrased, and I hear it at least as often in Japanese history []
  2. Again, I’m think of Japanese examples like the Heike monogatari, etc. []


Cool Taiwan election stuff

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:46 pm

From Michael Turton.



Chinese tools

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:25 pm

Here are a few cool tools for those of you (like my students) who are learning Chinese.

Beijing sounds is a cool blog about how Chinese is spoken in Beijing, with soundclips to help you learn the true Beijing hua

Pinyin News Thrilling updates from the world of Pinyin This is connected to PinyinInfo, which has cool tools

Chinese Pera-Kun Dictionary. This will let you mouse-over Chinese text and see an English translation. (works with Firefox)

And of course, the Asian Studies Toolbar 

Ming Imperialism

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:40 am

I just found something interesting about the early Ming. It appears from the Ming Shi-lu that the Ming founder at first just sent envoys to various tributary states to inform them of the founding of the new dynasty. Within the next couple of years, however, new envoys were sent out.

Envoys were sent to Annam, Korea and Champa to carry out sacrifices to the mountains and rivers of those countries. Previously, the Emperor had observed abstinence in various respects and had personally compiled the sacrificial text. On this day, the Emperor held an audience and provided the envoys with incense and silks. The incense was contained in gold boxes. The silks comprised one length of silk and two pennants of patterned fine silk. All were in the colours of the four directions (方色). The sacrificial tablets were personally signed by the Emperor with his Imperial name.

The Ming emperor was doing as much of the sacrifice as possible without leaving home, (with his envoys doing the rest) so that he was personally making the sacrifice and he was really the ruler in those places. I think this is new, and the impression I get is that the Ming were at least initially thinking about a much closer relationship with their tributary states, possibly under the influence of the Yuan example.

Have I been doing translations from the Ming Shi-lu in my spare time? No. Geoff Wade has been putting his translations of those parts of the Shi-lu dealing with Southeast Asia on-line. The search function works quite well and makes it a real research tool. It is a very cool resource, and much worth looking at.



Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 4:30 pm

早报有好奇怪的文件关于中国得婚姻制度。 作者 叶鹏飞谈到中国的离婚率上升。在一部分时一个建立在史学研究基础上的观点。 他说道国外婚姻制度的改变,特别斯泰芬尼·库茨(Stephanie Coontz) 的书。对我来说这是很有意思,因为在美国的报纸如果有一事可以说有”永恒精神“就是我们的婚姻制度。

但是,他也说道中国文化的最基本的特色。一个 是余英时的“一生为故国招魂”,和“回家过年”的文化精神。


有一部分”日本人論 “的味道。在国外他可以分析历史变成,但在国内(或者文化内)他要识别中华的永恒精神。最有意思是他的文化特点是回家过年。美国的文化是一样。以前我们没有火鸡节,但是在二十世纪我们越来越多“在冰天雪地中艰难跋涉,坚持回家 ”. 是非常现代的文化传统


Shanghai and Modernity

Filed under: — katrina @ 4:55 am

I am currently working on a paper about Shanghai and modernity – obviously a lot of work has been done on that from the perspective of Chinese modernity but I am trying to understand the ways in which to Westerners it was perceived (in the interwar period) as a ‘modern’ city (or not). Noel Coward wrote Private Lives while staying at the Cathay Hotel, for instance, and I am intrigued by the sudden rush of interest in Shanghai of that period in Western culture (cf.The White Countess, Lust Caution, etc). Anyone here have any opinions/suggestions?

On a side note, I just defended my PhD thesis on Thursday so am finally done!! Apologies for my absence from the site while I was finishing.


Racial harmony in China’s North-East

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:31 am

In honor of Black History Month I thought I would post something on W.E.B. Dubois and China. I knew that DuBois had dabbled in almost every radical movement imaginable during his long life but I had not known that he was also for a while much enamored of Japanese Pan-Asianism. I knew that the Japanese made considerable efforts to convince intellectuals from around the world that Manchoukuo was a heaven on earth, but I had not known that they got him.1 in 1936 Dubois toured Manchoukou as part of a Japanese-sponsored tour of East Asia. One result was the article below, which was published in the Pittsburgh Courier in February of 1937.


  1. Although given that he managed to praise both Stalinist Russia and Mao’s China at various points in his life he was not the most discerning chooser of allies []


Asian History Carnival #19 is Online

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 7:03 am

The Asian History Carnival #19 is now online! Thanks to everyone who submitted links for nomination!

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