Meet the meat

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:39 am

Foreigners have two contradictory images of “Chinese men”. One is the effeminate scholar with long fingernails and the other is the kung fu dude. This actually parallels real Chinese culture pretty well, where there has long been a tension between literati culture and the world of rivers and lakes.
Lu Buwei11 4/4 has a nice story to illustrate both literati fascination and contempt with the heroic redressers of wrongs..

Among those fond of bravery in Qi, there was one man who lived in the eastern part of the city and another who lived in the western part. Eventually they met on the road and said, “Shall we have a drink together?” After several rounds, they said, “Shall we look for some meat?” One of them said, “You are meat and I am meat. Why should we go seek meat elsewhere?” They thereupon soaked each other in sauce, then pulled out their knives and ate one another, stopping only when they had fallen over dead. It would be better to lack bravery than to practice this sort of bravery.

not much else to say, really.


A crack in the firewall?

Filed under: — gina @ 3:54 am

The Chinese firewall seems to be acting up. On Saturday, authors of the New York Times, Washington Post, CBS and other newspapers I’m sure noted that the Times have once again been blocked by the Great Firewall. Some posited guesses as to why, perhaps it was a “controversial” article published in the International Herald Tribune about China’s impending economic problems. Perhaps it was the Chinese government reasserting control after they loosened up for the Olympics. No one knew. Ironically, this happened at the 30 year anniversary of the gaige kaifang, which editorial writer Nicholas Kristof pointed out

For some reason, now, it is unblocked, which the Times celebrated today. The article claims that no one in China knew why it was blocked for a few days. I know that China makes mistakes, but this seems a bit too sloppy for the government and their firewall. I admit, I don’t know a whole lot about the firewall, but this seems like a pretty big goof up to just “happen” for nearly 4 days. Not that a whole lot of people in China read the New York Times, but a lot of expats do, and I assume that the government knows how much it would irritate the Western powers who want to see more human rights in China, not fewer. Maybe it was all these Western papers getting upset about it that caused them to reverse their decision. Or maybe it really was a mistake. I’m not sure.


I like sex better than bear paws

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:17 pm

Over at A Ku Indeed people, including myself, have been discussing Daniel Bell’s East Meets West which looks at the importation of foreign concepts of human rights into East Asia. So far I have not been that impressed with the book and one of the reasons became clearer to me when I found a review of Bell’s more recent book “China’s New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society.” via CDT

One thing that bothered me is that he seems to be using the word “Confucianism” to mean “traditional Chinese culture”, which I find to be sloppy. More importantly, I find his reading of Confucianism to be…odd. Apparently  part of the book is about Karaoke bars as part of the modern Confucian culture, since Confucians saw music as having a vital role in creating a proper society. From the review.

It is within the karaoke bar that the bonding properties of music – so beloved of Confucians – become manifest. If the hostesses offer sex as well as harmonious conversation, that too is as the Sage Master might wish. “I never met anyone,” he told his 5th-century BC students approvingly, “who values virtue more than physical beauty.”

Wow. Chinese Text Project translates it (9.18) differently 子曰:“吾未見好德如好色者也. The Master said, “I have not seen one who loves virtue as he loves beauty.” Almost all the translators I have looked at either read this as Confucius criticizing people for liking sex over virtue, or as recomending you to pursue virtue with the same eagerness you pursue sex (Brooks). Where is Bell’s reading coming from? I suppose if you totally ignored the Confucian dislike of sexual licentiousness you might be able to come up with this. You would also have to ignore all the Confucian stuff about how music is not -good- but –powerful– and that music can both inspire virute and inspire bad behavior. (Such as sex and excessive drinking). There are lots of ways of explaining the sex culture of China, but I would not think of Confucius as being one of them. Has anyone read this book? Is it really as bad as the review makes it look?


Flithy Asians

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 4:14 pm

One of my colleagues recently passed on his copy of The Far East by James H. Maurer Sentinel Printing, 1912.

The author says that the book is not the product of extensive research, and that is is mostly a compilation from other sources. At the time it was written Maurer, formerly a member of the Knights of Labor was a Socialist member of the Pennsylvania Legislature. In 1912 he became  President of the Pennsylvania Federation of Labor and in 1928 Socialist candidate for Vice President of the U.S.

The book itself is fascinating, as its main purpose seems to be creating a left-wing understanding of East Asia (mostly China). Thus there is a lot about opium and foreign capital’s attempts to exploit the Chinese, making the book radically more pro-asian than anything that would be published in the West for a long time. You also get a lot of zombie errors and  standard orientalism. Thus it is worth reading if you are interesting in attempts to create a left-wing understanding of the world or if you are interested in understanding foreign images of Asia from outside the standard elite sources.

One of the thing that jumped out at me was a quote from William Bancker of Springfield Mass., writing to the head of the Cigar Makers’ Union. Mr. Bancker is worried about the competition to American labor from cheap Asian cigars, and thus, in a very modern way, sees himself as in competition with Asian labor rather than in sympathy with it. Apparently the elite/labor split over relations with the non-white world goes back aways.

“I served two years in the Philippines in the army, mostly around Manila, and out of curiosity I visited a number of shops there. Now every solider knows the uncleanliness of the average Filippino, and if you ask him he will tell you that many a poor fellow came home in a box by too close association with them as they are poison to the white man. They are affected with a skin disease, and a large majority of them are covered with open sores or scars. Leprosy, beri-beri, cholera, beubonic plague and other infectious diseases, are, as everyone knows, prevalent there. They sit half naked and work and scratch, while the air is rank with the smell of decayed fish and rank cocoanut oil which the women use on their hair.  Now, imagine one of these natives, whose teeth have rotted black by the constant chewing of the betel-nut, biting out heads, which I took particular notice to see if they did, and using their spittle to help past the heads on their work, and you can form some idea of what the American smoker will get when the trust dumps these far-famed Manila cigars on the market. The United States government spends thousands of dollars to quarantine against these Asiatic diseases and when one leaves the island for this country, himself and all his effects are thoroughtly disinfected, and in the face of all this our law makers propose to put their seal of approval on this bill which will put in the mouths of thousands of citizens, a most prolific contagion, and if as I fimrly believe, it will be the means of infecting those filthy Asiatic diseases into the blood of the American people the present administration can thank itself for that. “


Confucian liberalism

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 3:03 pm

CDT has some information on Yang Shiqun, the Chinese professor who has been accused by two of his students of saying counterrevolutionary things in class and is now in big trouble. It is a very interesting case. As China Daily points out, counter-revolution has not even been a crime in China since 1997. So it is not entirely clear what the charges against him might be. Of course this is China, so he can easily get in trouble even if it is not clear what he is charged with. Dr. Yang himself blames two of his female students for denouncing him1 and has apparently been somewhat unnerved by the attacks of the 五毛党 on the internet.

But what did he do wrong? Apparently the students were unhappy with his criticism of Chinese culture and government, which they seem to be conflating. CDT has a copy of what is apparently one set of his class lecture notes. It is somewhat ironic that he is being turned in in part because of his attempts to turn students into real intellectuals. As he puts it.

An intellectual is not someone who has read lots of books. He must possess the spirit of independent thinking and originality.

An intellectual is a critic of the society he lives in, and an opponent of the established value system. Like Socrates, he takes it as his mission to criticize his contemporary society and its values.

It’s not rare that an intellectual goes against his era for the truth he believes in. He even dies for it sometimes.

He sounds quite the modern liberal, and in fact he is and I hope all comes out well for him.

On the other hand, the rest of his lecture seems to indicate that he has more in common with his students than he may think, and this makes it a nice window into modern Chinese liberalism. His students were apparently complaining about his Ancient Chinese literature class, and they seemed to be conflating criticism of traditional Chinese culture with criticism of the government. There is an Asian term for the idea that the culture, people and government form a unitary and timeless whole, but that word is koukutai and it is not something one would expect either Chinese liberals or Chinese nationalists to be big on. (Yes, there were various versions of National Essence thinking in China in the 30’s, but given that the Thought Police are getting involved I think Kokutai is a better term)

Professor Yang seems to share the idea that there is a timeless Chinese culture, and that Chinese students of today cannot be true intellectuals unless they understand it, which you learn from studying ancient Chinese literature. You can learn various lessons about the Chinese from this study, such as..

“Peace and stability are valued above all in Chinese culture”
“The Chinese are a practical people”
“We Chinese people don’t have profound spiritual pursuits”
“The Chinese and the Jews are two tragic peoples. The former has a body without a soul. The latter has a soul without a body.” — Quoted from a Jewish writer.

Yang wants students to “analyze in-depth the cultural genes of the Chinese society”(深入解剖中国文化基因) This actually -is- counter-revolutionary, in that he thinks there is a timeless essence of Chinese society that can’t be changed, which is in direct opposition to what the Communist revolution was all about and, for that matter, the May 4th movement.2He is I think, in a Western sense, anti-liberal, in that Liberalism is built around the idea that politics and culture are made by people and can be changed by them more or less at will. (When in the course of human events, etc.) He certainly does not see culture as constructed. I find it sort of odd that in his powerpoint he uses examples of Western intellectuals like Socrates and Sándor Petõfi rather than Chinese dissenters like Fang Xiaoru or somebody who would seem to fit better with his type of Confucian liberalism.

UPDATE: He’s no liberal, but here’s something on Guo Quan, who is also in trouble with the authorities in Nanjing.

  1. and if he thinks pointing out they are female will make lots of people on the net assume that they are spoiled brats whose opinions are not worth taking seriously, it’s working. []
  2. Yes, to some extent he is calling on students to help challange this ancient and unchanging culture, and in that he does sound like a May 4ther, but what little I have seen of his thought makes him seem very National Essence for a modern liberal. []


Conference in Japan on Media in the Foreign Concessions

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 1:55 pm

If you understand Japanese, are in Tokyo, and interested in the history of the foreign concessions of China, you may find a conference being held at Waseda of interest that has a panel of talks on media in the foreign concessions. See this posting over at Frog in a Well Japan for more.

A Gweilo’s culinary opinion

Filed under: — gina @ 10:36 am

A somewhat humorous article from Hong Kong cites a recent restaurant review from Michelin Guide and a complaint against it by a prominent Macau chef. The chef challenges the fairness of the review because the reviewers were mostly foreigners and, by nature, foreigners can’t be accurate in their review of Chinese restaurants. The chef argued: “如外國人愛吃臭芝士,香港人未必喜歡;我們的腐乳,外國人不會喜歡!四川 的麻辣,他們更受不了which roughly translates as “while foreigners love stinky cheeses, Hong Kong people do not particularly care for them; as for our fermented tofu, foreigners could not possibly like it! And as for Sichuan’s spices, they can’t handle it!” Their arguments also continued with claims that foreigners care more about environment and service, and that foreigners could not understand the Hong Kong concept of , which values small side street restaurants that may not necessarily have a famous name attached.

I was reading this with another Hong Kong friend, and we both agreed there they do have a point. If Chinese people attempted to review restaurants in France, I believe the French culinary community would make a similar argument. And when I read the part about preserved tofu, I made a face that gave away my disgust, and my friend argued “see! There isn’t a Hong Kong person who doesn’t love that stuff!” Similarly, part of a restaurant review, at least in America, has to consider service, and those of us who have spent a lot of time in China know that service means quick, impersonal, and as 热闹as possible.

In some ways this argument reminds me of the former Japanese argument that they can’t eat American beef because their bodies are fundamentally different from everyone else. Language points to this. While foreigners could not possibly like preserved tofu (不會喜歡) Hong Kong people just plain don’t particularly care for stinky cheeses (未必喜歡). Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but I believe that the latter represents a measured dislike that still maintains the ability to be objective while the former sounds like a child being forced to eat broccoli. This stems from a larger sense of laowai (or in this case gweilo) inability to fully understand and appreciate Chinese culture (just like American beef can’t possibly work well with Japanese bodies). Apparently this stereotype has now made a pass at our tastebuds as well.


Great Expectorations: Puke, Spitting, and Face

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 7:20 pm

What’s the difference between puking and spitting? Is one involuntary and the other on purpose? Joel, at China Hope Live reports that maybe you see the difference differently if you’re Chinese or if you’re not.

His nicely argued piece,  Thinking Behind the Spitting takes off from an interchange between a Chinese language teacher and a class of North American students. The teacher explained:  “ means both ‘to spit’ and ‘to vomit,’ but if you change the tone — — you can say ‘to spit’ with a third meaning: spitting to show your contempt for someone.” The big distinction in her mind was voluntary vs. involuntary actions. Spitting is involuntary.

She was quite taken aback when her students explained that in their little culture, people controlled their spitting — what did they do, she asked, swallow it?

Spitting goes way back in the cross cultural dialogue. I recall hearing a friend of my parents retailing what I later found was a classic 19th century story:

An American to Chinese: “I hear that in your country you eat dogs.”

Chinese to an American: “I hear that in your country you blow your nose on a piece of cloth and put it in your pocket.”

Responsible authorities in China have long worried about losing “face” in front of the world community. In the 1930s the Nationalist government’s New Life Movement aimed, among other goals, to eliminate public spitting. Evidently they didn’t succeed in wiping out the habit as the following governments had a series of campaigns right down to the Olympics. Yet every meeting room that I went into in China had a large spittoon and people used them.

Someone should have warned the Chinese 1970s factory that made decks of playing cards intended for Americans to use in playing “poker.” They labeled the package with two pinyin syllables that most closely represented the Chinese pronunciation: “Puke.”

I wish that I had known about China Hope Live when I wrote my piece  “The Truth About Lies,” a review of Arthur Smith’s Chinese Characteristics and Susan Blum’s Lies That Bind: Chinese Truth, Other Truths which looked at “face” and “lies.”

Joel has a bunch of insightful pieces, for instance “Chinese People Like it When You Lie to Them.”

Another sharp piece talks about Chinese national face and the Olympics, which includes a genial definition of “face” from Lin Yutang’s My Country and My People:

Face cannot be translated or defined. It is like honor and is not honor…. It is amenable, not to reason but to social convention. It protracts lawsuits, breaks up family fortunes, causes murders and suicides….  It is more powerful than fate or favor, and more respected than the constitution. It often decides a military victory or defeat, and can demolish a whole government ministry. It is that hollow thing which men in China live by. (195-196)

Shakespeare’s Falstaff asks “What is honour? a word. What is in that word honour? what is that honour? air.

Who’s right?

I’m not too worried, but maybe I’m too phlegmatic,


Charter 08 and reading about human rights

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:29 am

The big news from China is the release of Charter 08 The charter is being released now because it is the 60th anniversary of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and, perhaps in part because A Ku Indeed and Tang Dynasty Times are starting a reading group on Daniel Bell’s East Meets West: Human Rights and Democracy in East Asia. So if you are in the mood to talk democracy and human rights, now is the time.


Teaching about Chinese Bronzes

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:37 am

As the semester is winding down, our academic readers are no doubt very busy doing their work. If you would like to do my work, however, we have something of a tradition here of posting our syllabi and asking for advice from older and wiser heads.

This is a rough syllabus for a class segment to be called “A Gu indeed” which I will be teaching in the Spring. This is ½ of an Honors college thing for freshmen and this is for the segment on Art. I am supposed to be looking at art like a historian would. I chose to do bronzes and this is the reading list. I tried to cover all of the major ways you can get meaning out of old bronzes. Any tips on what to add, subtract, or substitute are very welcome. These are supposed to be smart kids, but not history majors, so I am using some fairly high-level stuff and counting on them to be able to deal with chapters pulled out of books.

1 Introduction

Background Just enough Chinese history to be dangerous.

-Lu Liancheng and Yan Wenming “Society during the Three Dynasties” from Kwang-chih Chang et. al. The Formation of Chinese Civilization: An Archeological Perspective Yale, 2005
-Wyatt, James “The Bronze Age and the First Empires” From Wen Fong, et. al. Possessing the Past: Treasures from the National Palace Museum. Taipei 1996

Art and Authority
4,5 Chang, K. C. Art, Myth and Ritual: The Path to Political Authority in Ancient China. Harvard University Press, 1988. (A bit of a golden oldie, but I want them to read a book and this one brings in a lot of different themes. Plus it is more or less before all the recent changes, so if we want to look at the development of the historiography this is good.)

6 ”The Shang Kings at Anyang” from Thorp, Robert L. China in the Early Bronze Age: Shang Civilization. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005. (More recent than Chang, and has more history of archeology)

How they (Ancient Chinese) understood Bronzes

7-Keightley, David “The Science of the Ancestors: Divination, Curing and Bronze-Casting in Late Shang China”
-Selections from the Book of Songs. Maybe something from Lewis’s Sanctioned Violence

8-Rites and music
-Xunzi 19 & 10 and Lu Buwei (transitioning into the end of the bronze age and other ways to interact with heaven)

9 -Puett, Michael “Humans and Gods: The Theme of Self-Divination in Early China and Early Greece” From Ancient China Early Greece
-“The Natural Philosophy of Writing” from Lewis, Mark Edward. Writing and Authority in Early China. SUNY Press, 2007.

Bronzes as art
10 Allen vs. Bagley (Sets up the major debates on how to look at these things)
-Sarah Allan “Art and Meaning” and Robert Bagley “Meaning and Explanation” both from Whitfield, Roderick. The Problem of Meaning in Early Chinese Ritual Bronzes. Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, 1993.

11 Taotie .(a specific question on getting meaning out of bronzes )
-Li, Rawson, Xiong and Wang, all from Whitfield, Roderick. The Problem of Meaning in Early Chinese Ritual Bronzes. Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, 1993
– Kesner, Ladislav. “The Taotie Reconsidered: Meanings and Functions of the Shang Theriomorphic Imagery.” Artibus Asiae 51, no. 1/2 (1991): 29-53.

12 Wu Hung “The Nine Tripods and Traditional Chinese Concepts of Monumentality” from Monumentality in Early Chinese Art and Architecture. Stanford University Press, 1997. (Cause you can’t do a class like this without some Chicago stuff)

13 Picture day. Slide lecture on bronzes and how to classify them (Not sure if this should be moved up, but I like the idea of doing it now when they will have some clue what is going on. I may just split them into groups and have them come up with presentations.)

Bronzes as technology
14-Li Liu “The Products of Minds as Well as of Hands”: Production of Prestige Goods in the Neolithic and Early State Periods of China
-“Casting Bronze the Complicated Way” Ledderose, Lothar. Ten Thousand Things: Module and Mass Production in Chinese Art. Princeton University Press, 2001.

How bronzes show social change

15,16 Stuff from -Falkenhausen, Lothar Von. Chinese Society in the Age of Confucius (Monumenta Archaeologica). Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, 2006.
-Rawson from CHAC (Ritual Revolution and the debates about it)

17 “The Household” from Lewis, Mark Edward. The Construction of Space in Early China. State University of New York Press, 2006.

18 “Things of the past” from Clunas, Craig. Superfluous Things: Material Culture and Social Status in Early Modern China. University of Hawaii Press, 2004. (A ncie bit on how Chinese collectors understood these things. Could use something on modern collectors)

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