If you are tired of reading about the past, you could read about the future instead. Gina Russo has a great pair of posts up at China Beat on Shanghai’s preparations for the upcoming Expo. Once again, Shanghai is trying to convince others (and itself) that it is the face of modern China.
The behavior of the people, the cosmic order, and the stability of the state were all linked in traditional Chinese political theory. Disorder in one would lead to disorder in the others. This cosmology had been pretty much worked out by the Han Dynasty. A good illustration of this principle comes from Commands and Admonitions for the Families of the Great Dao dating from 2551
Formerly, during the latter generations of the Han house, strong men began to carve up the empire. The mighty encroached upon the weak, and the people became deceitful and shrewd. Male and female lightly engaged in erotic excess. The government could not relieve the situation and families did not impose prohibitions. Cities were plundered and the common people were victims of injustice, even to the extent of being made slaves. The people were being devoured )ust as mulberry leaves are consumed by silkworms, and because of their grievances they began to consider revolt.
The pneumas [emanating from) their resistance blocked the heavens. This caused the five planets to depart from their measured movements, aphelial and parhelial comets to sweep the skies, and the fire star to depart from its position as adjunct. Then powerful ministers began to fight among themselves and hosts of treacherous people led one another [in rebellion].
After more than a hundred years, the Wei house received the mandate of Heaven and eradicated all of these evils. Calendrical signs showed that this was so. Their ascension was-recorded in the River [Chart} and the Luo [River Writings} and in other portents suspended in the heavens. Conforming to the celestial dispensation and the propitious times, I received the mandate to be Master of the Kingdom. The Martial Thearch [Cao Cao] launched the empire.
If anyone is wondering, the reason I keep posting all these little quotes and stuff for use in class is so that future teachers of Chinese history will know where to find them. The main future person I want to be able to find them is me, since the web seems a better place to keep ones notes than a hard drive.
- translated Stephen Bokenkamp in Early Daoist Scriptures, p.179 [↩]
For all those keeping track, behind youtube, the most recent site to be blocked by the firewall is blogspot. This means, for our readers in China, that China Beat is no longer available.
Silver lining: China Beat fans in China without a VPN will have to read Frog in a Well instead.
 And perhaps even more devastating, my personal research blog is no longer available.
Zhao Ziyang’s memoir will be out soon. Some special people got advance copies, and you can see their reactions at CDT. Fillial children will remember that Father’s Day is right around the corner.
Something cool via Wikipedia. A film of a naval engagement in the First Sino-Japanese war. It comes from a Japanese site, and I’m not sure of the provenance, and it’s not as clear as you might like, but it is still cool. To avoid overtaxing your browsers (and my technical abilities) I will just include it as a link.
So supposedly they are going to tear down my office building and replace it with a new one. This may end up not happening, and it will probably not happen real soon, but this time it is apparently coming. Besides the hassles of being in a temporary office for a year, what is going to happen with all my books? I took a weird shaped interior office specifically so I would have room for them all1 and now they are going to spend a year in limbo and then what? Will they all fit in the new office? What will happen to my careful system of disorganization? Could they maybe just cut my arm off and leave it an that?
I was going to write a poem about all this, but Bai Juyi already did it for me
Bai Juyi, On the Cabinet for My Literary Collection
I broke up cypress to make a book cabinet,
the cabinet sturdy and the cypress strong.
Whose collection is stored there?-
the heading says “Bai Ledan.”
My lifetime’s capital is in writing
from childhood on to old age.
Seventy scrolls from beginning to end,
in size, three thousand pieces.
I know well that at last they will be scattered,
but I cannot bear to rashly throw them away.
I open it up, I lock it tight,
placing it by my study curtain.
I am childless Deng You,
and there is no Wang Can in this age.2
I can only entrust it to my daughter
to keep and pass on to my grandchild.3
In teaching the Tang dynasty one thing I like to talk about is the Princess of Pingyang, d. 623 who assisted her father the Tang founder Gaozu in setting up the empire by recruiting an army of 70, 00o bandits (the Lady’s Army 娘子軍) who assisted in the overthrow of the Sui and the establishment of the new dynasty. One reason to talk about this is that an imperial princess leading an army of 70,000 bandits is a cool story. Unfortunately we don’t know much about her other than that. The Tang Shu (scroll down) biography is quite short, but it does bring up the other event that makes her good to talk about in class. By the Song the old system of aristocratic family-based politics was replaced by a new, more bureaucratic and exclusively male political world. In the early Tang we are still back in the period of disunion in that women were still political actors in their own right. When the princess died some officials pointed out that as a woman she should not have drums at her funeral. 以礼，妇以礼，妇人无鼓吹. Implicitly they are saying that drums are male music. The emperor disagreed saying that drums were martial music 高祖曰：“鼓吹，军乐也1 Given that she had herself used drums to command troops in battle it was quite appropriate to have drums at her funeral. The categories of male and female, general and bandit would be a lot less permiable later in the dynasty
- i.e. not necessarily male or female, just associated with the military [↩]
As I was flipping through the People’s Daily from the 1950s recently, something completely unrelated to my research caught my attention: political cartoons regarding foreign policy. Ironically, unlike most American political cartoons, People’s Daily cartoons (at least from this time period) are almost exclusively about foreign policy, specifically the West’s interference in the non-Western world.
I’ve reproduced a few of my favorites below. I think what I find most striking about these cartoons is how incredibly astute they are. I guess reading through the People’s Daily, one would expect to find nothing but propaganda, and while these views are a bit biased, they are not really incorrect, or even necessarily unbalanced.
If three times is a trend then there is now a trend of historical liveblogging about China. CDT is doing a liveblog of the Tiananmen demonstrations for the 20th anniversary. Liveblogs of the Younghusband Expedition and the Boxer Uprising are still going on. What will be next?
- It’s one of the most difficult periods of modern history to teach, and I love using primary sources for the tough times, so I’m always glad to see new oral histories of the Maoist era. In some ways, the flaws the reviewer cites — wandering in particular — could be really useful for students.
- A new revisionist history of Chiang Kaishek raises the possiblity of teaching 20th century China in a much more balanced and complete way. I’m not entirely convinced, though: the portrait of Chiang as a political visionary is still in great tension with his heavy-handed methods and questionable associates and administrative skills; the idea that Taiwan’s development was charted by Chiang has to contend with both the Japanese legacies and the favorable international environment for Taiwan’s economic development during the Cold War. I want to see some real academic reviews.
- The NYT “Room for Debate” about Chinese Character Simplification would be a lot more interesting if they discussed anything other than the first-wave simplification carried out by the Communists — the association of language control with early empire, the natural evolution of languages (i.e. the instability of “traditional” characters), the realities of technology and language. I’ve read a couple of their “Room for Debate” pieces, and I don’t see the point.