A sinologist in Iraq

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:32 am

Graham Peck’s Two Kinds of Time has been re-issued. This is good news for everyone, and especially for those of us who got a copy for Christmas. (Thanks Sis!) For a number of years all that one was likely to find even in used bookstores was the Sentry edition (1967), which re-printed only the first half of the book. The two parts of the book are the same in that they are both the stories and pictures of Peck’s wanderings in Western China during the War of Resistance. The first volume ends on December 10th, 1941, when a group of local officials come to visit him. Peck has been fairly contemptuous of Kuomintang officials throughout the book, since he regards most of them as corrupt feudal remnants with at best a thin layer of modern jargon spread over them. They in turn are convinced he must be some sort of crypto-Communist. On this occasion however they are happy to inform him that 500 American planes have bombed Tokyo and that they are now allies.




Pinyin or bust

Filed under: — gina @ 11:21 am

A recent obituary of John DeFrancis emphasized his personal desire to see the Chinese overhaul its writing system, claiming that the failure of the Communist government to move into a complete romanization of the system did not make Chinese as accessible to the masses as it could have been, an idea he also mentions in his books. Little did he know (although he probably did know) that the Communists realized the shortcomings of the character system as well. A publication from the Chinese language reform committee (中国文字改革委员会) in 1956, a small 50 page booklet about new legislation concerning language reform (both spoken and written) and the reasons behind it, the institutions it will affect, easy methods for making the switch from simplified to traditional, etc, explains the disadvantages of the character system. The booklet reads:

In today’s developing China, it [the character system] does not meet the demands of our new modern lifestyle, and it doesn’t satisfy the needs of the people.  In our language, each character has a unique form, but if you know the form you cannot necessarily read it’s pronunciation, and if you can read it’s pronunciation, you cannot necessarily write it’s form, and if you can read, write, and pronounce it, you don’t necessarily know it’s meaning, and only when you exhaustedly memorize each character’s form, sound, and meaning can you truly say that you know the character. Also, the strokes of characters are quite complicated. In 6 years of schooling, students can only study about 3000 characters, and they must be reinforced. Therefore, studying the character system, as compared to a romanized system, takes much more time, nearly 12 years of language study are necessary for a basic education, which is two years longer than most school systems around the world. Also, characters are used in the areas of writing books, copying, using technology, typing, searching words, and others, all of which use a lot of labor. This makes all of these areas that much harder to do, as it requires that we raise the basic level of education and culture, and all of this us done to preserve the character system. This gives the realization of our socialist country and the creation of our new ideals a much larger job to do.[1]

In the end, the booklet determines that because of historic precedent, cultural preservation, and continuity that the character system must be maintained, but all of the arguments against the character system seem quite interesting, implying that that is the next logical step. Perhaps that is why DeFrancis had such high hopes.

[1] 吴玉章。”为促进文字改革而努力.” 文字改革和汉字简化是什么回事?北京:中国文字改革委员会编印, 1956。


Liveblogging, slowblogging, Mammoth Blogging?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:36 pm

John McKay, at Archy, is publishing excerpts from his work on the natural history and historiography of wooly mammoths. The latest installment is about China, particularly the Kangxi Emperor’s (r. 1661-1722) collection of mammoth-related materials and, surprisingly, personal contributions to the field. It seems that under Kangxi’s tutelage, the Chinese realized that the mammoth was most likely related to the elephant, after centuries of referring to it as a giant but uncategorized rodent. (Also, he’s looking for some help with consistent Romanizations.)

Just for fun, it inspired me to pull my copy of Elvin’s Retreat of the Elephants off my “wanna read” shelf and go through the introduction and first few chapters, including “Humans v. Elephants: The Three Thousand Years War.” The charts and diagrams in the introduction are nearly worth the price of admission. I’m not sure if I’m going to have time to get through much more of it this semester, but the overlap with my Early China class (especially using Hansen as the text, who does take environmental issues seriously) is significant, and I’m going to try to make the time.

I’ve been known to assign absurdly long books before; has anyone used Elvin in class?


Like mixing water with water

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:35 am

Students often come to classes on China looking for the Timeless Wisdom of the Easttm As a historian I tend to dislike giving it to them, since the point of history is not to take wisdom out of historical context and apply it to your life.1 Still, I do like providing timeless wisdom when I can, and as we are talking about the origins of bureaucracy in China today I will be using this quote from the Zuo2 to talk about the difference between a minister and a toady. I suspect this will be one of the things that they can actually apply in their lives, if only as a great put-down.

Yan Ying on harmony and conformity

“Only [Liangqiu] Ju is harmonious (he) with me.”

[Yan Ying] answered: “Ju conforms (tong) with you; how can he be harmonious?”

The lord asked: “Are harmony and conformity different?”

[Yan Ying] answered: “They are different. Harmony is like a stew. Water, fire, jerky, mincemeat, salt, and plum [vinegar] are used to cook fish and meat; they are cooked over firewood. Then the master chef harmonizes them, mixes them according to taste, compensating for what is insufficient and diminishing what is too strong. The superior man (junzi) eats it to calm (ping) his heart.

It is the same with the ruler and minister. When there is something unacceptable about what the ruler considers acceptable, the minister points out the unacceptable in order to perfect the acceptability [of the ruler’s plan]. When there is something acceptable in what the ruler considers unacceptable, the minister points out the acceptable in order to eliminate the unacceptable. In this way the government is equalized (ping) and without transgressions, and the people have no contending (zheng) heart. …

As for Ju, he is not like this. Whatever you consider acceptable, Ju also says it is acceptable, whatever you consider unacceptable, Ju also says it is unacceptable. This is like complementing water with more water: who will be able to drink it? If the zithers and dulcimers were to hold a single tone, who could listen to it? This is how conformity (tong) is unacceptable.”

Zuo Zhao 20, cited in Pines 160-161

  1. Well, not the only point anyway []
  2. via Pines, Yuri. Foundations of Confucian Thought: Intellectual Life in the Chunqiu Period, 722-453 B.C.E. University of Hawaii Press, 2002.


Weird pictures

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 2:53 pm
Sumo Guys?

Sumo Guys?

BibliOdyssey has a post up on European images of 17th century Japan. Yes, I know. Who cares about Japan? There is also a link to an older post on Athanasius Kircher and his images of “China” with a nice set of links.


Making China democratic

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:04 am

Over at A Ku Indeed people have been discussing Bell’s East and West, which is an attempt to create a dialogue between Western and Eastern concepts of rights. I have not been that impressed with the book, but Chris had an interesting post on Bell’s final suggestion, that the way to democracy in China is to protect the nation from the dangers of giving the vote to the uneducated masses by creating a “House of Scholars”  to balance the passions of the masses. I found this idea unsatisfying at first glance, but I have been struggling with why.



Liveblogging the Boxers

Military historian David Silbey is going to be blogging through the Boxer Uprising as seen through the New York Times. Though this is a little more of a distant view than Brett Holman’s Sudenten Crisis, I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve used Paul Cohen’s History in Three Keys and read a few other things that touch on the Boxers, but the one perspective I’ve never really mastered is the Western one. And the Boxer Uprising was a critical one for the image of China in the 20th century, one of the few events in Chinese history about which people know something. The first post in the series just went up; if you fall behind, you can survey all of Silbey’s posts here.

A Dictionary that Could Change your Life

Filed under: — gina @ 1:12 am

I see a lot of passing on of digital tools, and a fellow Fulbrighter sent along this link, a Chinese dictionary where you can write in the characters and it looks them up for you. I find it especially helpful for looking up strange characters in names while writing bibliographies. So for those too lazy/poor (like me) to buy a pocket dictionary that has the features, this will save you the trouble of ever having to look up a radical again.


The Relaunching of Sino-Japanese Studies

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 8:08 am

I wanted to post a plug for a project that I have been involved with recently:

Announcing the relaunch of Sino-Japanese Studies online

For fifteen years Sino-Japanese Studies (1988-2003) was published in hard form and distributed throughout the world. It was the only journal of its kind in content, bringing together Chinese and Japanese studies—irrespective of discipline or time period. The relaunched journal will be available open access online and will continue to be the only journal of its kind. It will contain original, refereed articles, translations, reviews, and news from the field. Interested readers and contributors may find further details on making submissions to the journal as well as access the full online archive of back-issues at:


They may also contact the editor directly.

Joshua Fogel (fogel at yorku.ca), editor (傅佛果, ジョシュア・フォーゲル)
Konrad M. Lawson (konrad at lawson.net), web technician (林蜀道, コンラッド・ローソン)

Note: I have announced the availability of the full archive of back-issues here before, but now we are restarting the journal and accepting new submissions.


Starting a new year

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:40 pm

As is something of a tradition here, these are my syllabai for the upcoming semester.

East Asia

Early China

Honors College Unit C on bronzes and classical China

Nothing here is terribly new, other than the bronzes thing.  The Early China thing may change a bit as the Chinese Text Project continues to develop, and it becomes easier to give them chunks of primary sources that you pick out without having to make them spend a lot of money.

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