Following Younghusband to Lhasa

Filed under: — Scott Relyea @ 5:50 pm

Just a quick post of a wonderful website I stumbled upon doing a bit of background research for a point I needed to make in the chapter I’m currently working on (yes, Googling a dissertation!)

Field Force to Lhasa 1903-04

These are the letters of Captain Cecil Mainprise, who ventured to Lhasa in 1903-4 as part of the Younghusband Expedition. In another example of ‘history-as-it-happens’ (similar sites have been highlighted in past Frog posts) a relative of the captain is posting the letters throughout this year, 105 years later, on the day that they were written.

Now that I’ve found him at the Phari Fort today, it’s a journey I plan to follow until they reach Lhasa in August, and beyond.



Bad Daoism

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:35 pm

Calling Sam Crane. Apparently Laozi is the best way to understand modern American Conservatism.  Original here. Favorable notice here. It is nice to know that Laozi’s praise of water which does not strive is very much like those who praise capitalist competition, and that those who willinging take the lower position are much like those who want to “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran.” I suppose I could do a long snarky post on what a silly comparison this is but I guess I will in part leave it to Master Crane.1 I will say however that this seems to be an example of how while a good application of Ancient Knowledge to the present can be enlightening, a really bad one can go beyond being wrong to being utterly pointless.

  1. Who I hope also has better things to do. []

Fields and Periodization (yes, again)

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 7:40 pm

Jeff Vanke, now blogging at The Historical Society’s THS Blog, was looking for some guidance on how to properly divide up the history of the world into fields of study. He laid out a very ambitious world-wide agenda, including Japan and China fields, and asked for feedback. His original China fields were:

  • to 907 (through Tang)
  • 907-1644 (Song, Yuan, Ming)
  • 1644-1911 (Qing)
  • 1911-

My comment (on the China stuff; you can read the whole thing or just the Japan stuff at Frog:J) was

On China, I’m not as familiar with the historiography, but my impression is that there is a lot more scholarship crossing the Ming-Qing boundary than there used to be, and that the Tang isn’t really separable from the Warring States/Five Dynasties/Northern Wei period. I’d probably break between Tang and Song, or possibly after Song. That latter might work, because then you can take the Yuan-Ming-Qing as a unit, which actually works pretty well. (If you’re thinking that the Qing is the Early Modern in China, because it’s chronologically contiguous with the Early Modern in Europe, you have to give that up. this discussion is as good a starting place as any….)

Jeff noticed that I’d collapsed his system into three fields, among other issues:

For China, if I include Song in the ancient / classical field, do I stop in 1129 when the Jin push the Song across the Yangtze, or do I take the classical China field to 1215, when the Mongols take Yanjing?

That leaves me with only three Chinese fields, which seems paltry. If I put Song in a field before Yuan, is there enough from China’s prehistory to the Song to break that into two fields, and if so, where should I draw the temporal line?

I regrouped — apparently I can’t count — and tried again

For a four-part China sequence, I think I’d do a really Early field (up to the fall of the Han), an “Open Empire” field (Three Kingdoms to Mongol; see Valerie Hansen’s excellent textbook), an Early Modern (Ming-Qing) and a 20th century field.

Alternately, since I’m pushing the third field back to the Ming, you could start the fourth field with the Opium Wars — I have more or less the same historiographical qualms about that that I do about the 1853 break in Japan, but there are a lot of courses and texts which do just that, still. (I can’t recommend highly enough Paul Cohen’s Discovering History in China for a good argument against the Opium War break point, among other historiographical insights; many of the theories he engages were very active in the Japanese historiography as well.)

Jeff wisely ignored my last bit of thinking out loud but seems to think that my four-field sequence makes some sense. If you think I’m barking up the wrong tree or if you want to see how the rest of the world gets subdivided, join the discussion.


Battle for the blogosphere

Filed under: — gina @ 7:29 am

The anniversary for the June 4th movement in China is just about here, once again shining a light on China’s progress in the human rights area in the last 20 years. While the New York Times publish weekly articles about China’s impending doom from censorship, and others continue to focus on China’s brainwashed population which doesn’t understand the concept of human rights or democracy (nor do they care), I think the picture is obviously more complicated, and in fact, a lot of China’s current protest and the government’s baby steps in freedom of speech can be seen online.

I read an article in the 苹果日报 (one of Hong Kong’s more politically driven newspapers) about Zhang Shijun, a former member of the PLA who was one of the “oppressors” in the June 4th movement.  After his experiences on June 4th, 1989, he  tried to retire from the PLA, but was refused and was labeled a “capitalist.” He was then further persecuted in the 1990s for being an anti-socialist and working against the party. He then tried to demand compensation from the army and further inquiry into his treatment. Now, in light of the 20th anniversary, he decided to use a different arena to demand “justice,” and on his own blog he explained his horror and disgust at the sight of students laying in their own blood, and others’ participation in the process. More than that, he encouraged other members of the PLA to step forward and admit their wrongdoings, and has even put his own name, identification number, and phone number on his blog, thus encouraging debate and frank discussion.

While his blog is currently blocked by the firewall, the fact that he is posting it shows some of the cracks in the firewall, and also shows that his case may not be a priority (it also may show incompetence, see for example China’s current battle with the grass mud horse). Similarly, another blog frequented by China’s intellectuals, Tienyi, has not been shut down, though it would seem that a lot of the discussion on the blog could possibly hit a nerve. A friend of mine discussed on his Huffington Post blog that, in reference to the Yang Shiqun incident (see, for other opinions concerning this issue, this other post), that we can see real differences in the way that the Chinese are using the blogosphere to have really frank discussions about human rights, the government, and other “taboo” issues.

I heard a lecture once that says that we need to look at China’s human rights record as a “movie rather than a picture,” meaning that we have to look at progress rather than just criticizing the current situation. China continues to do things that stir up local and international frustration about China’s censorship, but that is not the whole picture. We also cannot continue to compare China to other countries in the world. And while we have to perhaps search for such examples, there is a fair amount of discussion and criticism going on, even under the eye of sometimes reactionary Chinese censors. Perhaps the internet will be the new public sphere, where an online community (rather than a print community) will work towards progress in China.


I may never have to teach again

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:02 pm

As the Chinese movie industry gears up for a biopic on Confucius I get closer and closer to my goal of never having to do any work.  Soon I will be able to just show movies.  Given that they have cast Chow Yun-fat in the lead I hope they end up doing a gritty Behind the Music type of thing. That would actually make some sense.  Chinese netizens are already unhappy that this will distort the “true story of Confucius” but given that we have almost no reliable information on his life I suppose they will just be making things up. A life of idealism, with brief and limited fame slowly being drowned in long, bitter dissapointment (without drugs, in his case) would seem about right. Maybe they will do a Han-type uncrowned King version of Big C? Get E. Bruce Brooks to consult? Who will play Yen Hui? Does Gong Li have to be in this one, and if so what does she play?


Management by Hard Liquor

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:33 pm

A description of the administrative methods of the Han Dynasty chancellor Cao Shen

Day and night he drank strong liquor. Everyone from the aristocratic high officials to his own lowly clerks and retainers saw that Shen did not carry out his. duties. Everyone who came wanted to speak with him about it, but when they arrived Shen always offered them a cup of strong liquor. When, after a short while, they said they had something to say, he offered them more. Only once they were drunk did they leave, having spent the whole time unable to bring up the subject.” 日夜飲醇酒。卿大夫已下吏及賓客見參不事事,來者皆欲有言。至者,參輒飲以醇酒,閒之,欲有所言,復飲之,醉而後去,終莫得開說為常

This is a nice illustration1 of Early Han ideas of government by non-action (無為). It is a nice story one because it makes it easy to tell if students have done their reading. (Class, does anyone remember the story about Cao Shen?) It is also about the ultimate example of how a bureaucratic government should work. As Cao Shen put it. “Since someone who had virtue and was well-respected made
the rules and put the entire kingdom in such a good shape, if we just follow the rules and do not alter the principles, then the kingdom is easy to manage and everyone can relax and enjoy life.” The only people who can goof it up are the busybodies who keep messing with things. Fortunately a bottle in the filing cabinet can deal with them.

  1. from Csikszentmihalyi, Mark. Readings in Han Chinese Thought. Hackett Publishing Company, 2006.


Zhou Confucianism? Ming Quality Control?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:26 pm

In an absolutely fascinating article on the modern petition redress system1 focusing on attempts by regional officials to prevent petitions from reaching a national office, the Financial Times sidebar, “Confucian Accountability” says

China’s petition system dates back to the Zhou dynasty 3,000 years ago. It embodies a Confucian tradition that idealises an authoritarian yet benevolent ruler who puts the concerns of his subjects above the interests of corrupt officials.

There’s the obvious point, that the Zhou dynasty predates Confucianism by a half-millenium or more. Confucius never dealt with the issue of petitions2, nor can I recall any pre-Han thinker postulating such an active (and literate) role for commoners. All of them, though, put the welfare of the people and the state above that of individual (especially dishonest) officials. One of the principle concerns of the more institutionally-minded figures (Mozi, Xunzi, Hanfeizi) is how to pick honest officials, and root out (or work around) dishonest ones, but none of them argue for violating the chain of command, even in extraordinary circumstances. They want a monitoring system which works well in normal circumstances, not something which encourages disorder.

The sidebar continues

After the 1911 republican revolution, petitioning was abolished by the Nationalist government. The Communists reinstated it soon after their 1949 revolution.

Experts say petitioning remains basically unchanged from the system in place 500 years ago in the Ming dynasty, when the formal evaluation of government officials began to take into account the number of petitioners who travelled to the capital from their region.

Since the Nationalist government was a democratic/republican system, presumably petitioning wouldn’t be necessary. I’m a bit surprised that the article didn’t take a slightly more critical approach to the idea that petitioning was a normal process over the last sixty years and only recently has started to break down. I can’t imagine that petitioning for redress in the era of Mao or Deng wasn’t fraught with danger for the petitioner, from the problem of unauthorized travel to the assumption that Party officials are always in the right. The responses that the article describes — detention, harassment, false imprisonment under the guise of mental illness — are classic Communist party tools for handling dissension, used widely in the Soviet Union as well as in China.

The last point in the sidebar — the use of petitions as a metric of administrative quality — is central to the article: the extralegal attempts by local officials to suppress petitions and petitioners is rooted in systemic self-protection, the avoidance of the appearance of trouble. Modern transportation technology, as the article notes, makes travel easier for petitioners, and has contributed to the rise in numbers. But, of course, the nature of modern society is such that it is also much easier to identify, track, monitor petitioners now than it was even fifty years ago, much less five hundred. The problem of danson minpi (“honoring officials, despising the people” as the Japanese put it) was intense during the latter half of the 20th century in China: the scaling up of suppression efforts to match the scaling up of petitions is pretty much par for the course, but the information environment is very different now, and the question of government legitimacy more intense.

  1. via, where the discussion quickly veered into the surreal, with participants unsure whether China’s petition system made it a more responsive and fair political system than the republicanism of the US. []
  2. One of the many issues Confucius never dealt with. []


Heartland Mandala

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 7:01 pm

I was surprised to learn, about ten days ago, that PSU was going to be hosting a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks creating a sand mandala. This is a touring company, but somehow they ended up in Pittsburg, Kansas in the run-up to the fiftieth anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s uprising. There was no political commentary around it, as near as I can tell. The school newspaper and city paper reported on it, but didn’t make a big deal about the anniversary. It wasn’t entirely apolitical: The Pittsburg Morning Sun did quote the monks on the subject of the Chinese takeover and subsequent Tibetan cultural endangerment. But the opening invocation, which I attended, included no mention of that; there was a prominent altar with a picture of the Dalai Lama, though.

Unfortunately, I fell ill a few hours after the opening ceremony on Monday1 so I only got pictures of the very first moments of creation — I love the traditional-style plumb-line — and of the nearly-completed mandala on Thursday. I haven’t seen these up close before, and if I’d been healthier I would have gotten more pictures, but I was struck by the texture of the mandala. I’m used to seeing these as two-dimensional images, but the sand is actually laid out in little piles and walls (see here for a detail shot), in a very intricate fashion.

It was, apparently, a variation on the Amitayus Mandala (see also), centered on Amitabha (aka Amida), and emphasizing healing and wisdom. Here are some of the better pictures I did manage under the fold:

  1. I hope my students don’t make the connection between the “driving out of evil forces” and my absence! []

Mysteries of History (transportation division)

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 4:53 pm

Here is a bit of a puzzle for our readers to clear up. A while back I pointed at a nice collection of 17th Century Dutch pictures of Japan. Jonathan Dresner was rather surprised by this one

What is this? It’s not a rickshaw, since it’s backwards and too early. An update at BibliOdyssey pointed me to a version of this from a site in Kyoto that gives the English title of the plate as Mandocorosama’s Maid of Honor, carry’d in little two-Wheel’d Chariots. Not much help, although it does seem to connect the cart to the elite. Fortunately, I came across some evidence while doing research recently. Specifically, I was headed into the kitchen to do a bit of research on the state of the leftovers in the fridge and I saw this hanging on the wall…

What’s that in the lower left?

This is from a Meiji-era Japanese book I bought on E-Bay entitled “A New Guide to Chinese Painting” and I’m guessing it was intended for Japanese who wanted to be able to paint scenes of China.1 So what is this vehicle? If we assume that the top character is 御  things get a little clearer. Gyo in Japanese or ya in Chinese means of or pertaining to the emperor, although it can also mean to govern (or drive) a cart according to Nelson. Neither Nelson nor 漢語大詞典 have a specific entry for  御車, although they have lots of things like 御手﹐and  御衣 which makes me think it is -not- an “imperial carriage” although I suppose it could be. It does seem to be something that the Japanese associate with China, however, so maybe it was reserved for the elite. Anyone have any ideas?

  1. I’m pretty sure it is actually an authentic Meiji book, since it has the silverfish holes that are hard to fake and the nice thin paper. Plus it was only 10 bucks, so if anyone put work into faking it they are sure letting it go cheap. []

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