John Judis has a nice peice up at TNR that uses Obama’s trip to Asia to illustrate why American newspapers are so worthless for the non bird-owning segment of the population. Not really Chinese history, but if you have wondered why you spend so much time reading blogs this is nice.
With Obama in China lots of websites want to say something about China and What It All Means. For example, The Atlantic has a post by Patrick Chovanic that describes the Nine Nations of China, dividing China into nine separate regions, rather than viewing it as a monolithic whole. As Jeremiah Jenne points out this is such a good idea that William Skinner published a similar map back in 1977. Skinner’s macro-regions have become one of the old standbys of China studies (since before I was in school.)
I think Jeremiah is being a bit too kind here in praising Chovanic for popularizing Skinner’s work, and Chovanic is a bit off-base in claiming that Skinner’s work “reached similar conclusions” to his. If you read Chovanic’s descriptions of the regions he is trying, I think, to present the idea that each of these different areas has its own “animating force or character that defines each region.” This sound very fuzzy, and it is not fair to Skinner to compare his methodical work on economic and cultural patterns with data from “personal experience traveling, living, and doing business in those places.” More importantly, Skinner did not see his regions as necessarily having different characters.1 As Esherick and Little pointed out in the Journal of Asian Studies in 1986 this is exactly what Skinner’s model does not do. 2 Skinner was interested in, among other things, in relations between core and peripheral counties inside the individual regions. Beijing -should- seem a lot like Shanghai in some respects because they are both top-level urban areas in their region. Chovanic seems to be suggesting that the only important distinctions are between individual regions. I’m not really sure this is helful at all. Skinner’s work had flaws, but it was remarkably robust, yeilding insights into what happened in China from well back into imperial times and forward to the present. Chovanic’s descriptions don’t even go back past 1980. Was the Northeast a “a Rust Belt of decaying industries with no future.” in the Qing or the Republic? Although the maps look similar, there is really not much in common between the two projects.
- Skinner argues that the economic geography of traditional China is best understood as a set of relatively distinct regions: nine “macroregions” defined by physiography and marketing hierarchies. Each macroregion is a functionally integrated rural-urban system with a relatively densely populated lowland core and a peripheral hinterland. The functional organization of each macroregion is constituted by the marketing hierarchies that link villages, market towns, and cities. Macroregions are distinct from one another; they are separated by relatively sharp boundaries defined by the orientation of local marketing systems. The factors that influence the shape and identity of each macroregion are economic-largely the constraints of transport cost. Thus Skinner provides a framework in terms of which to analyze the distribution of cities, transportation networks, trade networks, and so forth. This framework constitutes Skinner’s central thesis about the economic geography of China. He offers this thesis, however, in the context of a larger research hypothesis: that noneconomic phenomena (such as the spread of heterodox movements and rebellions, the structure of the imperial bureaucracy and the cultural horizon of the peasant) are better understood when placed within the spatial framework of macroregions. This research hypothesis is of necessity less specific than the central thesis, for Skinner is fully aware of the many diverse factors that influence these noneconomic phenomena. Nonetheless the extended research hypothesis has stimulated much fruitful work on a wide range of phenomena. [summary from Esherick and Little] [↩]
- Daniel Little and Joseph W. Esherick “Testing the Testers: A Reply to Barbara Sands and Ramon Myers’s Critique of G. William Skinner’s Regional Systems Approach to China” The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Feb., 1989), pp. 90-99 [↩]
I’m a bit late on this, but apparent Tiger Woods lost a golf tournament in China. The article from ESPN is more about the reception of Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods among the Chinese fans. This actually makes sense, since the point of holding an event like this in Asia is not really to hold an event, it is to attract the attention of customers who might buy Nike golf shoes or whatever.1 Woods apparently was not in a good mood at the event and did not endear himself to the Chinese fans. Apparently Phil Mickelson is starting to challenge Tiger for the status of world’s greatest golfer.2 Even more important, he now has a Chinese nickname, meaning that he is catching up to Tiger in the even more important penetration of the Chinese market category. As a rule, if you small in China they just transliterate your name. If you are big you get a Chinese nickname.3 You would think Tiger would have that sewn up, being part Chinese and having an easy (if uncreative) nickname like “Lao Hu” (Tiger). But Mickleson is right behind him with the equally lame “Lao Mi” (Old Mi.) So apparently golf is getting some mindshare in China, but in a rather pedestrian way.
This seems to prove that golf is dull, since I can remember being in Taiwan in the 90’s and following 天飛牛 ( Heavenly Flying Cow) and his sidekick 小飛牛 (Little Flying Cow) as they battled for roundball supremacy against the 惡漢 (Loathsome Hero) and the Suns. Those were the only three guys in the association with real Chinese nicknames back then. Not sure if any of the current crop can match those.
China Gateway has some pictures, with translation, from The Dianshizhai Pictorial the famous late 19th century Shanghai illustrated paper. I say famous because it is rapidly becoming one of the most reproduced and re-packaged parts of Chinese culture. WorldCat shows 69 hits for the keywords 點石齋畫報 which includes full editions, selections (stories about Suzhou or whatever) translations into baihua, and some of the scholarly studies. I assume there is a lot more about it that you could dig up with other keywords. Googleing yields lots of pictures like the above and even more commentary. It is a very Web-friendly sort of souce, since it is in short chunks, has pictures and a bit of text and above all is out of copyright. In time the public image of the Late Qing may come to be tied as specifically to this bit of art as the T’ang is to poets or the European middle ages are to the Arthur stories.
Via China Beat