井底之蛙

10/13/2009

Japan’s Embassies to the Tang and Ming

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 6:24 pm

Hop over to Frog in a Well Japan to read about the new resources page at the Sino-Japanese Studies journal.

Harvard to Digitize Chinese Rare Book Collection

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 6:02 pm

I just read on H-Asia that Harvard has announced last week that, in cooperation with the National Library of China, it will be scanning its 51,500 volumes of Chinese rare books. Early next year it will begin with its collection of Song to Ming dynasty works, and then move on to its collection of Qing dynasty works in 2013.

They also noted, importantly, that after digitization they will continue to allow scholars access to the works.

Read more about the announcement here.

10/7/2009

What do you really think Mr. Jiang?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 2:50 am

Chinese museums are one of the best places to look at the changing interpretation of historical figures and events. Last weekend I went to Famen temple outside Xian. This was a fairly major temple in the Tang, being much visited by emperors, but by the Song they were supporting themselves by offering baths in a pool that seated up to 1000 and holding tea parties. The main pagoda was rebuilt in the early Ming, but the place seems to have declined a lot by then.

That all changed in 1981,when half of the Ming pagoda collapsed.Collapse

When digging out the foundation to re-build the pagoda they found the relic the temple was originally built around, a bone of the Buddha, inside a series of ornate caskets and accompanied by a bunch of other neat stuff. It is a really magnificent find, and it was nice to see some of these things in person.

Rel1

Of course this changed the temple’s position in the Buddhist world radically. In addition to re-building the pagoda a huge new Buddhist center was built next to it. You need a better camera than mine to do it justice. You come in through a massive golden gateway, which makes you expect to see Cecil B. DeMille around somewhere.

Gate1

It is a long walk to the main hall, and most people take the trolley. You whiz past a series of 3-story tall golden fiberglass1 Buddhas that represent the different sects of world Buddhism, and get to the main hall, which is in the shape of a pair of praying hands, and was designed by a Taiwanese architect. I suspect a lot of Taiwanese and Japanese money went into this place. They bought out an entire village to get the land, and the villagers mostly work in the temple cleaning up or whatever. The one I talked to got 600 yuan and 3 days off a month. The place is not entirely finished yet, and when it is done there will be a Buddhist retreat center and they hope to rival the Terracotta Warriors as the biggest tourist draw in the province.

Hands

What really interested me, of course, were the relics and the museum. The presentation was a little schizophrenic, perhaps because current policy is a little schizophrenic. On the one hand China is still officially more or less atheist. On the other hand, Buddhism is part of China’s 5000 glorious years of glorious culture. How to deal with this?

Not all the relics were there, but those that were were mostly presented as examples of the exquisite craftsmanship and high technology of China. There is also a fair amount about Buddhism. In discussing the Tang emperor’s worship of the bone the text mentions that it had the beneficial effects of solidifying state power, (always an unalloyed good), 凝聚人心 (which they translate as “increasing the cohesive force of the Chinese nation”) and spreading culture. On the other hand it also led to a great waste of society’s resources, and also increased the people’s religious fanaticism. These critiques sound eerily similar to Han Yu’s criticism of the finger bone when it was first brought to Chang-an. As a good Neo-Confucian Han Yu thought Buddhism complete nonsense that deluded the people

Of course Han Yu was not reckoning with the power of the tourist dollar, and he also had a somewhat different view of what is worth preserving in Chinese culture than the current government does. The Nationalist general who restored the temple in 1939 is praised in the exhibit, as is the monk who burned himself to death to protect it during the Cultural Revolution. The monk probably had a religious view of the place, and the general a cultural one. The latter seems more of a fit with the current interpretation. There is, of course, an inscription by Jiang Zemin, done when he came here in 1993. He encourages them to use the cultural relics that have been unearthed to expand Chinese culture and strengthen the spirit of patriotism. Apparently as long as religion is subsumed in culture and culture is put in the service of the nation, the Buddha is just alright.Jiang

  1. I assume []

10/2/2009

Happy Birthday PRC

Filed under: — gina @ 10:21 pm

Chinabeat has put together some pretty good links that outline many of the festivities going on for the big 60th anniversary. The following link outlines 10 of the biggest and strangest festivities. Personally, I am most surprised by New York’s decision to illuminate the Empire State Building with red and yellow. I especially found this interesting considering the New York Times’ coverage of this event; typical for the New York Times, the coverage was less than exuberant. Another piece on Chinabeat argues that the festivities in Beijing are meant to showcase the military might of the current regime; the piece also goes on to talk about the future of Sino-US relations in light of China’s growing influence. Most of the pictures about the event certainly seem to imply that most of the events, parades, and even dance routines are performed by or about the military. Then again, I believe that the festivities are more than that: it seems that the 60th anniversary celebrations are meant to be an interim display of China’s ability to host and create large scale events between the Beijing Olympics and the upcoming 2010 Shanghai World’s Fair. In a recent lecture about his new book Global Shanghai: 1850-2010 , Jeff Wasserstrom tied the Beijing opening ceremonies and the Shanghai World’s Fair fervor to the energy and seemingly limitless expense the PRC currently put towards the 60th anniversary (Wasserstrom has written a lot about the Olympics and 2010 Expo connection; one that slightly also mentions the 60th anniversary can be read here). In general, what Wasserstrom argued was that the Olympics weren’t the pinnacle of China’s ability to top the rest of the world in hosting world events, it was just one example of many to come. And considering the importance of 2009 to the PRC’s legitimacy, it makes sense that this national event (as opposed to the other international events) would serve as another example of China’s growth, power, and national fervor.

Other than Chinabeat, I also found a few other articles about the 60th anniversary celebration worth looking at. The following pictoral essays from the Boston Globe seen here and from the New York Times, seen here. Both of course have fantastic pictoral representations of the event, though I find the one at the Boston Globe more creative. Similarly, the New York Times have a series of articles meant to put the 60th anniversary into perspective, such as this piece on the civil war in Changchun and this more interesting editorial compilation about China’s economic future.

Speaking of big events, Rio de Janeiro recently won the bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics. It will be the first South American city to host the Olympics, making its significance to Brazil similar to that of China in 2008. I look forward to seeing Brazil’s approach to the Olympics (and the world’s approach to Brazil) develop over the next few years.

If anyone has any other interesting links or information about the 60th anniversary, please post them!

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