The December History Carnival is up, and it includes a few China bits. Even a few from elsewhere! Also lots of other neat stuff.
China Daily has a nice article on attempts to import the American/Canadian holiday Thanksgiving into China. Some foreign holidays fit well with Chinese culture, like Father’s Day. Christmas of course is starting to become a world holiday in part because it celebrates the modern religion of consumption and in part because people in China know exactly what Christmas looks like, since all the decorations come from China. Maybe the Chinese should have Christmas in August, and then when kids get bored with their new toys by September they can return them and they can be re-sold in the West.
Thanksgiving would seem to be a harder sell, and in fact those suggesting the holiday emphasize the need to thank parents and family as good training in filial piety. American Thanksgiving is supposedly a chance to thank God for the harvest, and God is not a big figure for Chinese officialdom. In fact, however, Thanksgiving is really a family holiday, where the only real celebration is getting together with family and eating a home cooked meal. Not surprisingly, this only became a big American holiday in the 20th century, when seeing family and eating food you had actually cooked were becoming more and more rare. The family re-unification aspect of the holiday might make it something the more mobile contemporary Chinese would like, although of course they already have Spring Festival for that.1 Thanksgiving is also the most anti-commercial of American holidays, and that might also be popular in China today.
The real challenge of course is the food. Some of those interviewed by China Daily are worried that a new holiday would not have “Chinese Characteristics” and would be “blindly following Western concepts” How to make a Chinese Thanksgiving feast? Lots of Americans complain that it is impossible to cook a turkey well.2 Should the Chinese version replace the turkey? With what? What would be the iconic Chinese festive dish that would be accepted among all regions and ethnic groups? Or should the masters of Chinese cuisine take up the challenge and make some sort of Chinese turkey that would taste good and have the all important Chinese characteristics? Recipe suggestions welcomed in comments.
Via China Beat
A recent article in the NYT (link at bottom) showed that China is now the 5th most popular destination for American study abroad students, after Britain, Italy, France and Spain. Apparently, over 11,000 students from the US studied in China last year, which is a 10 fold increase from 10 years ago. The article very clearly states that this is due to increased interest in economics and politics rather than a growing interest in culture or history, but this drastic increase is still quite surprising.
I will say I am happy to know that many more students are studying abroad in China, but one things does bother me a bit. From my understanding, to study abroad in France, Spain, or Italy, a high level of that language is required, whereas (as this article points out) most of the study abroad programs in China are all taught in English. Shouldn’t there be similar standards for language for China? I studied in Hong Kong, which is actually probably even worse; I think maybe 10 percent of the people I studied with made any attempt to learn any Cantonese or Mandarin, other than various curse words…
Anyhow, good to know that China is no longer such a far away destination; interest is starting to grow!
Lewin, Tamar. “Study Abroad Flourishes, With China a Hot Spot.” New York Times. 17 Nov. 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/17/education/17exchange.html?ex=1384664400&en=1b4a93e8cf96321d&ei=5124&partner=facebook&exprod=facebook
I recently came across a book called Some of Us[i], recommended to me by one of the contributing authors, Dr. Jiang Jin. The book is a collection of memoirs and stories put together by 9 women who lived through China’s Cultural Revolution and subsequently got their Ph.D.s and now are teaching (or in Jiang Jin’s case, was teaching) in the states. What brought them together was a discussion among 3 of them about such Memoirs as Wild Swans and Red Azalea, and the subsequent discovery that these memoirs do not accurately represent their feelings and experiences during the Cultural Revolution. Furthermore, what these memoirs had done was create a specific image of Maoist era people in the West, almost an Orientalizing process, if you will. Everyone was either a victim or a victimizer, and everyone’s families had either been killed, torn apart, or driven to insanity during the Cultural Revolution.
I personally have always loved the book Wild Swans. My high school history teacher made us read it, and it had originally sparked my interest in Chinese history. But is there a problem with teaching books like this in the classroom? Chen Xiaomei points out the problems with teaching Wild Swans, in that she was “unwittingly contributing to a discourse of China bashing occurring in America and the rest of the West.”[ii] Chen then tried to show different points of view by talking about her own childhood, and she claims in her narrative that she was “honestly happy.” I had always taken these kinds of memoirs for granted, and I admit, I am still shocked when Chinese people talk to me about their experiences as zhiqing and how they were truly positive experiences that helped to shape their own personas, unlike the way it is painted in Wild Swans. It also made me think of other historical events and how we imagine everyone to have lived the lives of the few whose lives we read about. Do we think of the Japanese army in such a holistic way in World War II because of the Rape of Nanjing? We probably make similar assessments about American history; even though I know it is not true, I can’t help but think of all Americans in the Great Depression as the Joad family from the Grapes of Wrath. Historians claim to know that their are too many narratives to possibly record, and there are millions of interpretations of one similar event; but how do we effectively, especially in a class, show the plethora of interpretations of one 10 year period?
Another issue that is broached in this book which I find important in the study of history is the concept of being “brainwashed,” and the negative connotations that carried. My favorite line in this book is from Wang Zheng’s memoir. She talked about an encounter with an American woman who told her with “apparent pride that her daughter was a cheerleader.” After discovering what a cheerleader was, Wang claimed “I just hoped that my eyes would not betray my disdain as I thought to myself, ‘I guess this American woman has never dreamed of her daughter being a leader cheered by men.’ I felt fortunate that I was ‘brainwashed’ to want to be a revolutionary instead of a cheerleader.”[iii] I couldn’t help but laugh at this because, as a woman growing up in the United States, I went through this phase of wanting to be a cheerleader which most, if not all, girls go through; and not once did it dawn on me to be a leader being cheered by men. I think that when we use the term “brainwash” we don’t think about our own experiences, and we certainly don’t think that perhaps we have been “brainwashed” as well. We, in America, I think often tend to think of the Maoist era as the “dark ages,” (which this book points out), but many of these memoirs very directly show how gender equality was actually far more advanced in Maoist China than in China (or America) today. In our discussions in a class I audit, Professor Jiang pointed out to us that Chinese women have actually taken a huge step backwards since the 1970s. Similarly, these 9 women show in their memoirs, most obviously in Wang Zheng’s memoir, that gender consciousness was something they didn’t experience until their 20s or 30s, where in America our teenage culture constantly drums it into our heads while still maintaining that women have the same opportunities as men.
As a student just exiting her undergraduate education, I think that more books like these should be taught if only to show the plurality of historical interpretation for a specific event. I came across this book auditing a class called “Women in Chinese history” at East China Normal, and many of the students in the class admitted that before reading this book, they all assumed the Wild Swans narrative worked for all people during the cultural revolution. Furthermore, part of history (I feel) is self exploration, and I think this book challenges a lot of assumptions we make about the contrast between China and the West concerning education, “brain washing,” and women’s rights (I believe most Americans still think that China is 20 years behind us). Since I’m not a professor yet, I can’t decide what to teach, but I found this book an effective means of getting across points that most historians want students to grasp, forcing them to challenge assumptions about historical events, personal experiences, and their own experiences.
[i] Xueping Zhong, Wang Zheng, and Bai Di, Ed. Some of Us: Chinese Women Growing Up in the Mao Era. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2001).
[ii] Xiaomei Chen. “From ‘Lighthouse’ to the Northeast Wilderness: Growing Up among the Ordinary Stars,” in Some of Us, ed. Xueping Zhong, Wang Zheng, Bai Di, 55–57.
[iii] Wang Zheng. “Call me Qingnian and not Funü: A Maoist Youth in Retrospect,” in Some of Us, ed. Xueping Zhong, Wang Zheng, and Bai Di, 36.
My name is Gina, I just recently graduated from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a BA in history and Asian studies. I’m between schools right now, and I am currently doing research in Shanghai on a Fulbright scholarship. After this year, I will begin my Ph.D. at Stanford university in modern Chinese history.
The research I am currently conducting in Shanghai is about education and nation building in Republican China, specifically during the Nanjing decade. I am looking primarily at primary school hygiene and everyday knowledge textbooks (卫生 and 常识) in order to look at how the government and textbook authors attempted to create citizenship based upon ritual and a specific creation of time and space. However, I’m still exploring other possible ideas; this is just the one that has most recently jumped out at me. While my primary interest is education, I am also interested in women’s history (especially in the modern era) and cultural history.
I am very much looking forward to being a part of this!
I found a couple of cool language tools. Both are hosted by the Russian site Tower of Babel, which appears to be run by some serious linguists who have complied a huge number of etymologies.
One site will give you the pronuciation of Chinese words in any of the archaic pronuciations. Want to know how to pronounce a word in Eastern Han Chinese, or what the Shuowen gloss is, this site is for you. It only has about 4000 entries, but a lot of the basic words seem to be there.
They also have a dialect version, so if you want to know how to say something in Fuzhou or Jinan dialect this is the place to go.
For both of these you need to know the wierd linguist romanizations, [UPDATE I think it is IPA] and I’m not sure I have any practical uses for this, but it is still pretty cool
Google now has a lot of old pictures from the archives of Life magazine. Lots and lots of cool China stuff, like this skater from 1946. They seem, not surprisingly, to have a lot of pictures from the war years.
I am currently spending my days at a microfilm machine in the basement of Shandong Provincial library, looking through old wartime newspapers from occupied and civil war period Shandong.1 The publications I’m looking at are often put out of more remotely located areas not fully under Japanese control such as Yishui（沂水）.
To be given access to the old newspapers, I have to pay a fee of about $5 per reel and a few cents per photograph I snap of the microfilm machine screen, but I guess that is just the cost of doing research here (at least I’m allowed to use my camera, which one cannot assume in Asia). Their old microfilm machines aren’t the best, with usually only half of any given page fully in focus and no zoom capabilities but the lamp is brighter and the quality of the microfilm is significantly better than some of the late 1940s newspapers I have looked through in Korea’s national library. Generally, what is left of Korea’s published materials from the postwar late 40s are, as far as I can tell, in far worse condition than what I have come across here in Shandong among the Communist newspapers and documents coming out of nominally occupied zones of wartime China, with some exceptions.2
There is a much better and more powerful machine behind me, however, being used all day by a library employee. I do interrupt her at the end of each reel I look through to have her print out a few selected pages that I want a clearer image of than my camera is currently providing me with by taking pictures of the microfilm machine’s screen. Otherwise, she is slowly making her way through some of the old newspapers in their collection and taking a snapshot of each page that is then saved in the form of a TIFF image of about 200-300kb in size each. We have a similar machine (perhaps the same model) in the microfilm rooms back in the US but it is the first time I have seen it used for a full scale digitization project. Judging from her rate of coverage from the last week, she can probably go through somewhere between 1 to 3 years of issues for a newspaper per day, depending on the completeness of the collection. I estimate that she can probably go through all of the old newspapers the library has in perhaps two years or so, even if she is the only one working on this project.
Many of the newspapers and old magazines they have only exist for a few years and are missing many issues, but are really wonderful sources to have access to. She explained that when she is done the files then have to be processed and indexed by two other sections at the library but she says the eventual goal is to put these online in some form. She is currently making her way through the same newspaper I’m looking at, the Communist controlled 大众日报, and I only wish I could intercept those TIFF files before they get swallowed into the bureaucracy of the library. My experience with the Korean national library and oral history documents available here in digital form is that these wonderfully crisp and simple image files often get horribly mangled on their way to final public access by being transformed into proprietary formats that require dreadful downloaded plug-ins, Internet Explorer Active-X, special reader applications, and the like. God forbid we provide everyone with simple downloads of PDF or image files like some of the better archives and museums out there do. Sometimes issues of copyright are at fault, but that is no excuse for Japanese colonial period documents in Korea or these old wartime newspapers. I look forward to see what happens in this case and hope for the best.
In the meantime, for anyone doing research on Shandong, below are just a few picks from among just the newspapers you can currently view in their microfilm department, selected from periods I’m interested in, including some from occupied territory (often with 新民 in the title). As far as I could tell, these cannot be found listed their library’s search engine and I found a list in an old book that emerged from the drawer of the head of the microfilm division, who has been very friendly and helpful. I’m lucky I ended up in the right place. I was told by a woman working in the newspaper section at the library back in March that, “We have no newspapers from before 1949.” Since I had seen this library listed under various important entries in a master index (name escapes me for this important book) of where old publications are supposed to be located in the libraries and archives of China, I’m glad I was more stubborn this time about tracking down someone who knew what a gold mine there in fact was in their microfilm collection. The microfilm is located deep in the labyrinth of offices in the basement floor. If you wait a few years, perhaps some of these will be viewable online without, I hope, too much hassle. Ok, here is the small sampling, mostly from ’30s and ’40s offerings:
- For more information on the library in English, see our EALA entry for this library here. [↩]
- 1943-1945 大众日报, for example, is of noticeably worse quality than preceding years and even has some handwritten characters. I can only assume that the Japanese came across and destroyed or confiscated their printing press in one of their many mopping up campaigns in the province. [↩]
Charles had a nice post a while back on Wikipedia and the changing world of scholarship. He deals pretty well with what wikipedia is (an on-line, collectively edited encyclopedia) and what the pluses and minuses of that are. I use Wikipedia all the time, and it is the first thing I talk to the majors about in the methods class, since I know it is their first choice for research. Still, while some people call it revolutionary, at its heart it is still an encyclopedia. The really significant thing about it is not that it is a better encyclopedia than others, but that it is on-line. To coin a phrase, the medium is the message.
As it is 11/11 Blood and Treasure has a nice post up on Chinese laborers along with a link with lots of great pics. B&T suggests that Chinese laborers in the War are getting more attention in Europe. There has actually been less written on actuall Chinese laborers than you might think, although of course there is a lot about the Chinese intellectuals who were in France for the war.