Upcoming Asian History Carnival

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:43 am

Jeremiah Jenne over at Jottings from the Granite Studio1 will be hosting an Asian history carnival sometime during the week of May 5th. If you have postings you would like to nominate for the carnival, please send them directly to Jeremiah. You can reach him at jgjenne at ucdavis.edu. Another way to submit nominations is to tag it on del.icio.us with the tags ahcarnival for regular blog postings or ahresources for Asian history related online resources.

  1. The site is currently down, but Jeremiah will work to get it back up for next week []

You can’t say that

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:12 am

CDT has a list of the keywords that Chinese internet censors are looking for and banning. This is an old list from 2004,1 but some new words have been added lately, like 家乐福 (Carrefour) Most of it is stuff you would expect, anything about Mao or the party or Tiananmen or TI or the other TI. Lots and lots of words having to do with sex. I found a few of them puzzling. 东北独立|东 (northeastern independence)? 四川独立|四 (sichuan independence)? Were they just looking ahead, or are there actual SI and DI movements to worry about?

  1. and only for QQ []


Qing China’s modern economy

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:28 am

Shanghaist among others reports on Asia’s growing rice crisis. Well, actually it’s only a crisis if you are trying to live on less than a dollar a day. Much of the world is trying to do this of course, which has led to rice riots. For historians rice riots call up lots of associations. Although the modern neo-liberal state does not much concern itself with guaranteeing the food security of its people lots of pre-modern states did, and the Chinese Late Imperial state in particular was obsessed with stabilizing the price of grain, hence the ever-normal granaries. A lot of Asian states are currently trying to find ways to up grain production for next year, banning exports of grain, fixing prices and scrounging around for extra supplies. There has been a fair amount of popular violence, in the long tradition of food riots, which are usually focused on forcing sales at a “fair” price or preventing exports of local supplies. In America Sam’s Club is limiting rice purchases. No doubt this will make the W.T.O. grumpy, since we should be entering the glorious era of the universal free market.

Free markets vs. paternalism/meddling is often presented as one of the big traditional/modern dichotomies. Actually, even in China officials have a long history of relying on market mechanisms to deal with food problems. Although Confucian officials have long had a reputation in the West for being anti-commercial this not very accurate. According to Rowe1

Qing provisioning policy might be divided into the following five strategies (listed
in roughly ascending order of controversiality): (1) attacking extravagance and encouraging frugality, on the part of both government and society; (2) encouraging increased food production; (3) promoting maximum commercial circulation of grain;(4) attempting to meet sporadic and localized food crises through administrative means; and (5) maintaining large permanent stocks of grain in government hands as leverage to control local availability of grain on a routine basis. …

Chen Hongmu did not see encouraging commerce as betraying the classical tradition as he showed in his letter to Fang Bao

“The pervasive dilemma today is that the price of rice is high and the people are too
poor to afford it. But if those who seek to deal with this lack an overall conception of
the problem, they will never be able to come up with a comprehensive policy approach
to resolve it. This overall concept is none other than the Way of Producing Wealth
[shengcai], identified in the Great Learning and repeated by Mencius: “Open the well-
spring and restrict its flow [kaiyuan jieliu}” [i.e., produce more and consume less].”

Chen Hongmu was Qing China’s chief provincial-level troubleshooter felt that the most important method of dealing with famine was “relief through commercial circulation”. One of his main concerns was avoiding any state or private action that would cut off the flow of grain. Rowe emphasizes his reliance on market forces. For instance in 1743 when dearth occurred in Jiangxi he dealt with the situation by loaning a large sum of state money to pawnshops, in other words pumping more liquidity into the commercial economy, much as the American Federal Reserve would do today. As Rowe points out “however ‘liberal’ such promarket policies might appear, there were by no means laissez-faire. The objective was less one of letting the market accomplish its task than of making it do so” (p.162) He was certainly a moralizer and willing to nag (or force) people to stop wasting land on tobacco or grain on alcohol. He was also very big on encouraging increased production and such. Chen did not share the modern world’s market idolatry, nor was he willing to question the Confucian imperative to care for the poor.

So how would Asia’s current responses to the rice crisis rate with Chen Hongmu? Any comments from readers would be welcome as I am not following this as closely as some, but it seems that China is taking a pretty free-market approach, not doing anything radical2 and assuming that they have enough cash on hand to maintain a low price on rice. China, at least, seems to have moved a bit beyond the historical phase where states worried about grain supplies.


Here is an angle I had not thought of. Sexy Beijing has been interviewing Chinese consumers about increasing prices. They also talk to some shopkeepers who are finding business off. One woman then interviewed at the end of the clip below said that if the dofu-selling business keeps getting worse she may go back home and return to farming. Chen Hongmu was alway worried about famine causing peasants to flee the land, but this price increase may have the opposite effect.

  1. Rowe, William. Saving the World: Chen Hongmou and Elite Consciousness in Eighteenth-Century China. Stanford University Press, 2001. []
  2. China has not restricted rice exports, but they were not a top exporter anyway []


Delicious Asia

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:39 pm

China Beat has a nice post up linking to some teaching resources. Although they list some really good resources that you should all go look at they leave out the the best part of the Asia Society page, which is AsiaFood. Besides being a good on-line cookbook it lets you search based on what ingredients you happen to have on hand and recommends things.


East Meets West

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 11:09 am

Yang Liu , a Beijing artist trained in Germany, comments in a series of banners on the differences between Chinese and German culture. Ms. Yang’s Website is here: http://www.yangliudesign.com/

The German is in blue, on the left, the Chinese in red, on the right, continued beyond the “more” marker!




Blasts from the Past

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:14 am

If you have not seen it already, UCSD has put a lot of reviews of classic works on Chinese history on-line. They look to me like the type of things grad students in a reading circle for their comps would be passing around, which makes them handy if you are studying for yours or if you just want to know more about Chinese history. They are more useful that reviews from journals, particularly for the older books, as they tend to try and figure how how valuable some of these things are given developments in scholarship since they were written.



Review of the Museum of Chinese in the Americas

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:13 pm

I just found the wonderful open access journal Museum Anthropology Review. There are a few reviews available there that will be of interest to Frog readers.

See for example this review of the Museum of Chinese in the Americas.

It looks like the museum raises some interesting questions about the material objects on display, for example:

As you begin a clockwise tour of the room, the introduction on the wall asks, “When Does an Object Become an Artifact?,” beginning a passage that is unfortunately obscured by the very artifacts that it goes on to describe. For those who succeed in reading between the legs of a wooden stool, however, a series of questions challenge their understanding of everyday objects: “Why are certain objects selected and labeled as meaningful? What do the objects say about their owners, their abandoners, their salvagers? Do they merely fulfill a useful function or do they also contain our longings, our identities, our imagination?” These rhetorical questions linger in viewers’ minds as they begin their round.


Freedom of speech in China

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:17 am


Danwei has some links on the current war over free speech in China. The whole thing was sparked by an April 3 editorial in Southern Metropolis Daily. The author, Chang Ping, was critical of some of the Chinese responses to western media coverage of Tibet. I have not read every single post at Anti-CNN, but the main issue that was making people angry was that some media outlets were publishing pictures of Tibetans being arrested in Nepal and claiming that they were pictures of what was happening in Tibet.

<>According to information compiled by netizens, certain media in countries such as Germany, United States, United Kingdom and India made clear factual errors in their reporting. From the viewpoint of journalistic professionalism, these errors were very wrong, even deliberately misleading. Although some media outlets have issued apologies and corrections, the damage from the inaccurate news was already done and the Chinese people find it hard to forgive. Like any kind of fake news, the damage is first and foremost on the public trust in the media themselves, because ten thousand truths cannot undo one lie. If in the reporting of the incident (as well as other major incidents), the Chinese media are not allowed to report freely and the overseas media are suspect, then where is the truth going to come from?

I was not too surprised by this mix-up, nor by the fact that the Western media did not make a big deal about the correction. Hey, it’s some Asian cops, who really cares if they are Chinese or not. More to the point, CNN would probably claim that the basic story (unrest in Tibet violently suppressed by Chinese security) was correct, so no harm no foul. Even the liberal Chang Ping however would not buy that. He goes from an “error” to “deliberately misleading” in just one sentence. Then it becomes “fake news” which “the Chinese people find hard to forgive.” Not quite Milton on free speech. Still, Chang Ping was to some extent criticizing Chinese nationalist criticism of the West, and this set off a firestorm, triggered in part by an editorial in Beijing Evening News

I took a look at the so-called speech of this Southern Metropolis Chang Ping. I noticed immediately that this individual had brought “free speech” to an appalling or even “terrifying” degree. The heart of the matter for which he was criticized was this: “Free speech intrinsically includes the freedom of mistaken speech and particularly the freedom to question authority. More frightening than rumors is the removal of free speech.” And he openly held this up as a universal value. According to his logic, “free speech” means that you can muddy the truth, fabricate facts, indiscriminately distort history, speak irresponsibly, “freely” rumor-monger, “freely” smear, “freely” toss about labels. Just like the western media’s hysterical performance on the issue of China’s Tıbet. Was that free speech? That was violent speech. I have never seen the western media enjoy that kind of freedom of speech in their own country, because that would be an infringement on the rights of others, and it would trample social justice and betray fundamental ethical principles.1 If this is the “universal value” that Southern Metropolis Chang Ping wants to protect, then honor is the price he pays in return.

There are lots of more temperate voices out there, but the one I found most interesting was 十年砍柴 who compares the whole thing to the Evening Chats at Yanshan incident during the Cultural Revolution. A number of his comments pick up on this theme 大家快跑,文革又来了! I actually think this is a pretty good point. One problem with the Deng years was that that it was not certain what the sacred cows of the New China were. It is not news that nationalism quickly became one of them, and that the Olympics and Tibet are currently flashpoints for Chinese nationalism. What I find interesting is how the old CR political culture is coming back. Orthodoxy as the key political value.2 Battles in the newspapers over words that can be read as anti-Mao/anti-China. Key essays that will end up in a future Modern China class. The state is not actively doing much about these cases, but what I would call New Red Guards are taking (or at least talking about) direct action. Apparently the Maoist political culture is proving to be more resilient than one would have hoped.

  1. Are Chinese media people really this ignorant of the western press or is he just lying? []
  2. You get some of this everywhere, of course. Not that I’m bitter []


Look at this blog

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:18 pm

Sorry, no Chinese history content here. I stumbled across a couple of cool blog tools and thought I would try them out. One of them is Touch Graph


The applet generates the image above, which shows where this blog fits in the general blogosphere.1 Apparently we are somewhere between the China blogs and the history blogs, which sounds about right.

HTML graph

This image is generated by http://www.forreststevens.com/htmlgraph/ and shows the link structure of the blog. If I were more tech-savvy I could probably learn something from this, but as it is it is a pretty picture and it is cool to watch it generate itself.

  1. It’s not just who links to who, but is based on mutual references []


Battle of Qufu

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:44 pm

I am somewhat fond of public history despite knowing nothing about it. So, one of the things I am assigning to my Modern China students is Dahpon David Ho‘s “To Protect and Preserve: Resisting the Destroy the Four Olds Campaign, 1966-1967”1 Ho looks at the Cultural revolution history of the Confucius Temple Qufu, Shandong. I’m not sure if anyone knows if Confucius actually lived there, but it has been the home of his descendants the Kongs and a central part of the Confucian cult throughout the imperial period. Thus it would be a place that the Red Guards would very much have wanted to destroy. They were not able to do so because the place was ably defended by locals, and why and how they did it is the topic of Ho’s essay.

One thing that Ho makes pretty clear is that lots of people thought destroying cultural relics was wrong from the get-go. Zhou Enlai gets a lot of credit here but there were plenty of others, and most of them used revolutionary rhetoric to defend these relics, confiscating things and then claiming that destroying them would be destroying state property, closing museums and temples to the public or, as in the case of three memorial steles for Jesuit missionaries, having the Red Guards help bury them. One could also praise the workmanship of ancient peasant craftsmen, or point out that the Japanese had also tried to destroy these relics. Calling something “old” is just one way of attaching history to an object, and of course there are others.

In the case of Qufu, Ho shows that local pride was a major factor. Qufu county secretary Li Xiu had begun organizing supporters even before the Red Guards arrived. He claimed later that he felt he was “defending our country’s cultural relics.” Local youth had smashed a lot of “four olds” but they had ignored the Confucian sites, which were “built with the blood and sweat of countless generations of laboring masses.” Chairman Mao had toured the site in 1952, and while he had not said anything nice about it (as he had at other sights)  he had not called for its destruction either. It was not until August of 1966 when the sites were attacked by students from Qufu Normal Institute (mostly not local people). They were driven back by locals, but they soon began to find allies among students in Beijing. Eventually a fair amount of damage was done, but the buildings themselves were preserved as a reminder of the “Kong family landlords.”

What I found most interesting about the article is how spot-on it shows the Anti-Four Olds campaign to have been. A lot of Western accounts treat it as a silly/stupid thing that may have caused a lot of destruction but had little “real” importance.  Actually, there seem to have been few signs of “feudal” society that meant more to those destroying them and those protecting them than relics. Ken Ling, one of the Red Guards was moved by the willingness of (mostly old) people to risk their lives to defend these relics. “The stubbornness of these people angered me, but it also moved me.” And, one presumes, made him think.

  1. in Esherick et al eds. The Chinese Cultural Revolution as History Stanford 2006. []

Next Page »

Powered by WordPress