Appel de Blois

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:32 pm

European historians are appealing for support in resisting laws that will criminalize historical inquiry. You can find the text of their appeal and a link to an article by Timothy Garton Ash giving some of the context here. From Ash:

Among the ways in which freedom is being chipped away in Europe, one of the less obvious is the legislation of memory. More and more countries have laws saying you must remember and describe this or that historical event in a certain way, sometimes on pain of criminal prosecution if you give the wrong answer. What the wrong answer is depends on where you are. In Switzerland, you get prosecuted for saying that the terrible thing that happened to the Armenians in the last years of the Ottoman empire was not a genocide. In Turkey, you get prosecuted for saying it was. What is state-ordained truth in the Alps is state-ordained falsehood in Anatolia.

I have some quibbles with some of what Ash says elsewhere in his article, which I will discuss in a later post, but I urge our readers to read and sign the appeal, which I reproduce below in English and in  Chinese translation.1


为批准布卢瓦呼吁书(Appel de Blois) ,敦请阁下发送电子邮件至contact@lph-asso.fr,署上您的姓名,并写上“read and approved”( 已阅,同意) 。所有人都有权签署呼吁书。学者们请注明所任教的大学,其他人请注明本人住址。

2005年起,争取历史研究自由(Liberté pour l’Histoire) 一直致力于反对各立法机关采取的将过去治罪的动议,这些立法行动为历史研究设置了愈来愈多的障碍。20074月,欧州部长会议采纳的一个框架性决定将这个原本仅限于法国国内的问题变成了一个具有国际影响的问题。这个决定使用无可争议的和必要的反对种族主义和反犹主义的名义,在整个欧盟范围内设置了一些新的罪行,对历史学家设定了与他们的职业要求相违背的禁令。在2008年布卢瓦历史学大会(Historical Encounters) 召开之际,争取历史研究自由邀请阁下批准下列决议:




In order to approve the “Appel de Blois”, send an e-mail to contact@lph-asso.fr, give your first and last names and write “read and approved”. Everyone is entitled to give its signature. Academics should add their university and others their residency.

Since 2005 Liberté pour l’Histoire has fought against the initiatives of legislative authorities to criminalize the past, thus putting more and more obstacles in the way of historical research. In April 2007, a framework decision of the European Council of Ministers has given an international dimension to a problem that had until then been exclusively French. In the name of the indisputable and necessary suppression of racism and anti-Semitism, this decision established throughout the European Union new crimes that threaten to place on historians prohibitions that are incompatible with their profession. In the context of the Historical Encounters of Blois in 2008 dedicated to “The Europeans”, Liberté pour l’Histoire invites the approval of the following resolution :

Concerned about the retrospective moralization of history and intellectual censure, we call for the mobilization of European historians and for the wisdom of politicians.
History must not be a slave to contemporary politics nor can it be written on the command of competing memories. In a free state, no political authority has the right to define historical truth and to restrain the freedom of the historian with the threat of penal sanctions.
We call on historians to marshal their forces within each of their countries and to create structures similar to our own, and, for the time being, to individually sign the present appeal, to put a stop to this movement toward laws aimed at controlling history memory.
We ask government authorities to recognize that, while they are responsible for the maintenance of the collective memory, they must not establish, by law and for the past, an official truth whose legal application can carry serious consequences for the profession of history and for intellectual liberty in general.
In a democracy, liberty for history is liberty for all.

  1. Thanks to Wang Xi for his assistance with the translation []


What to do with temples?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:05 pm

Another in our occasional series on teaching aids. One aspect of Chinese modernization that most teachers mention is the modernizing state’s need for buildings to house schools, government offices and such. They also had a need to get rid of temples and other aspects of the backwards old society. Given that the basic architectural structure of all these was the same (connected courtyards) it was easy to toss out the Buddhas and turn buildings into something useful. Here is a nice picture to illustrate this.

This is a cool picture for two reasons. First, this temple has been converted into an industrial cooperative by Rewi Alley’s Gong Ho (Work Together) organization. I always like Gong Ho, since it is one of the few Chinese phrases to have come into English. It is a common phrase in the Marines, and there used to be a gun nut magazine called Gong Ho. I’m going to guess that the people who read Gong Ho did not know that the phrase came from a homosexual New Zealand Communist.

Second, this image is from Graham Peck’s Two Kinds of Time, which I am happy to see is coming out in a new edition. The book is a travelogue of Peck’s trips through West China in 1939-40, and I highly recomend it. Peck, Graham. 2008. Two Kinds of Time. University of Washington Press.


Invisible Books – Might Have Been Written But Never Were

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 8:38 pm

The Italian writer Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities is a dreamy fabulation on cities that Marco Polo might have visited – if only they had existed. Of course, Marco calmly reported in detail to Kublai Khan on these “invisible” cities.
Last year we speculated about Five Things That Didn’t Happen (But Might Have), so in the same vein, let’s look at books that somehow never appeared.
Apologies for the quite different natures of these books, but maybe this will get you all thinking of nominations of your own.

1. Zhou Enlai’s Memoirs.

Mao’s thoughts might seem more alluring, but I doubt that he was as self-aware as his #2. Zhou, who I wrote briefly about last year, was in a dependent position, requiring him to watch and react rather than simply striking out without fear of consequence. And you thought that the memoirs of Mao’s doctor were a bombshell!
The memoirs of second level figures are sometimes more observant, partly because they had more time and had to observe and explain things to themselves. But beware the forged memoir. In 1913 China experts welcomed the Memoirs of Li Hung-chang, “edited” by William Mannix, which soon were exposed as complete forgeries (we could devote a separate post to this genre).

2. Archeological Report on Qin Shihuang’s Tomb.

There will be multiple volumes. Most of us realize that the “underground army” is guarding the approaches to the tomb rather than being in it, and that the tomb itself has not been opened. The reason for not opening the actual tomb is, we are told, that the authorities want to wait until the technology is available which will preserve the contents, and I have not seen a schedule. But this will be big.

3. Lloyd Eastman’s biography of Jiang Jieshi.

This is the saddest of my nominations. Lloyd was a friend and most helpful colleague, and it happens that I was his leave replacement the year he was diagnosed with the brain tumor which killed him (this was the year I met Alan Baumler). Lloyd’s project that year was to push forward his work on the biography he had been preparing for more than a decade. His honesty was obvious to archivists and scholars in both Taiwan and the PRC, and he had earned their confidence to the point where he could get access to documents and records which other scholars had not seen and perhaps still have not seen. He decided to use his remaining time to edit the memoirs of Jiang’s second wife, Chen Jieru: Chiang Kai-Shek’s Secret Past : The Memoir of His Second Wife (Boulder: Westview Press, 1993).

Jiang is in many ways harder to place historically than any other important modern political figure and more caught in political jousting. Jonathan Fenby’s Chiang Kai Shek: China’s Generalissimo and the Nation He Lost (Da Capo Press, 2005) is well done indeed, but Lloyd’s full bore political biography would have been a major change in the field.

4. The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge.

In “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins,” Jorge Luis Borges describes “a certain Chinese Encyclopedia,” in which it is written that animals are divided into:
1. those that belong to the Emperor, 2. embalmed ones, 3. those that are trained, 4. suckling pigs, 5. mermaids, 6. fabulous ones, 7. stray dogs, 8. those included in the present classification, 9. those that tremble as if they were mad, 10. innumerable ones, 11. those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, 12. others, 13. those that have just broken a flower vase, 14. those that from a long way off look like flies.

5. Everything I Know About China.

It is told that the wisest of the early twentieth century British China Hands, long time China resident and diplomat, had on his desk, bound in exquisite red Moroccan leather, a thickish volume entitled “Everything I Know About China.”
When the visitor opened it, of course, every page was blank.


A Blog Post Upon Roast Pig

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:04 pm

I was reading a discussion of progressive economics at Progressive Historians and was stopped dead in my tracks by a quote from Henry George

There is a delusion resulting from the tendency to confound the accidental with the essential—a delusion which the law writers have done their best to extend, and political economists generally have acquiesced in, rather than endeavored to expose—that private property in land is necessary to the proper use of land, and that to make land common property would be to destroy civilization and revert to barbarism.

This delusion may be likened to the idea which, according to Charles Lamb, so long prevailed among the Chinese after the savor of roast pork had been accidentally discovered by the burning down of Ho-ti’s hut—that to cook a pig it was necessary to set fire to a house.

I love the analogy, but the reference to it being a long-standing Chinese belief seemed absurd, the kind of offhand “aren’t these exotic people a useful way to demonstrate irrationality” storytelling which was so popular at one time.

It wasn’t too hard to find the original essay by Charles Lamb, a critical figure in English letters who I’m fairly sure I’ve never heard of: “A Dissertation Upon Roast Pork.” The essay begins


Living With Wikipedia (China Beat) and Social Bookmarking

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 1:08 pm

China Beat asked me to pull together some thoughts on “WIKIPEDIA, the Free Encyclopedia.”

With help from several friends, including Alan Baumler and Konrad Lawson, I posted “Living With Wikipedia: It’s Here to Stay” (October 7, 2008). I invited comments here at Frog, though, and we would welcome tricks, thoughts, or indignant denuncations.

If I have set this link right (which is a big “if”), Chayford Wikipedia bookmarks will take you to my Delicious bookmarks. This is better than searching Delicious for “Wikipedia,” which gives you 529,036 hits. I don’t want to think about how many hits you would get Googling “Wikipedia.”

Speaking of Delicious (formerly Del.icio.us), it’s one of the social bookmarking sites (the link is to the Wikpedia article). Delicious describes itself as “a social bookmarking service that allows you to tag, save, manage and share Web pages all in one place. With emphasis on the power of the community, Delicious greatly improves how people discover, remember and share on the Internet.”

In other words, it’s a cousin of Wikipedia. Whether Delicious too is “here to stay” is another question. By now, searching Delicious generally gives you an overwhelming number of hits. Maybe there’s a better way of handling the problem of sorting and classifying websites.


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