Bruce Willis and Harvard Yenching

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 11:57 pm

I dropped by Harvard-Yenching library this afternoon to pick up some books requested from the depository and look up a few more from my todo list. I noted down book locations to find on the shelves in three different columns on a scrap piece of paper:

1) English language books with library of congress numbers
2) Japanese books with library of congress numbers
3) Japanese books with a special Harvard-Yenching lookup number in the format of J xxxx[.xx] xxxx format.

Soon enough, I had a pile of books I just have to look at stacked about half a meter tall. Having brought my camera with me and not wanting to wait in line for the PDF scanners downstairs I snapped some photos of the few relevant pages from most of the books, using someone’s study carrel as my temporary workstation. The H-Y library is fantastic and filled with wonders, but the little tables that pass for carrels in those narrow book aisles offer only cramped working quarters.

It was Friday night and after dinner I decided to go see a bad action movie to unwind: the new movie “Red” with Bruce Willis. It was pretty bad, and there was hardly anyone in the theater. In fact, it was so bad I started checking my email while the movie was still going and debating on walking out.1

Suddenly, retired CIA agent Bruce Willis was in Chinatown, investigating the death of a Chinese-American New York Times writer who left behind a mysterious postcard with only a single number on the back.

Was it a phone number? No.
Was it a book in a library? Perhaps, but wait…it doesn’t look like a library of congress call number.

Suddenly Bruce hits on the solution! Obviously the number doesn’t look like an LOC call number because it is from the Harvard-Yenching classification system and refers to an Asian book!2

In order to provide the obligatory movie proof that “all spies are super polyglots” Bruce Willis then made his entry for the “2010 Worst Chinese spoken by a Hollywood Actor” award. I can’t remember what he said (was it, “I live in Wuhan?” Anyone catch it? This year I think he might actually beat Shia LaBeouf’s Chinese in the “Wall Street” movie sequel.)

Together with his completely useless kidnapped sidekick, a former weed dealer who left California to work in a pensions department in Kansas City, the protagonists made their way to the library to look up the mysterious book. Though the Harvard-Yenching classification is used by some other libraries, I assumed they made the drive up from NYC to Boston and was dazzled by the huge bright library they ended up in. The massive multi-floor monstrosity in which they found the Chinese book they were looking for with its supposed Harvard-Yenching classification call number was certainly a big contrast to the humble and cozy H-Y library. Was anyone else who has suffered through the movie been able to identify what library it is?

  1. Please don’t do this when at the movies if anyone is nearby who can see the bright glow of your smartphone…it is very annoying []
  2. I don’t remember the number looking anything like an H-Y number but, trust me, this is not a movie you want waste time on picking out inaccuracies. []


Yellow Peril Mk 3.

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:06 am

Lots of people have already commented on the Chinese professor video, which is getting a lot of play in the US. If you have not seen it, it is  set in the year 2030, and shows a Chinese professor (an updated Fu Manchu) laughing at the Americans whose empire has fallen because (unlike China) they have allowed the government to interfere with the free market.

Fallows and others have pointed out how absurd the content is, and he suggests that we will see more like this. I suppose so, but I don’t predict ads claiming that Chinese Baozi are made with the blood of American babies till at least 2016.  Actually some of these anti-China ads are coming out already.

What I find most interesting about the Chinese professor ad though is the iconography. There are lots of administrators in my school who would no doubt laugh till they choked at the idea that in 2030 an advanced country would still be delivering educational products through the appallingly old-fashioned method of putting tuition-generating units and an instructional employee  in a room and having them talk.

Even more interesting are the Mao-period posters on the walls of the classroom. Are they predicting a resurgence of Maoism in China? Yes, the old guy gets some face time even now, but I have never seen anything like these in a Chinese lecture hall. Or maybe they wanted pictures that would say “”China” to an American audience. I presume the decision went something like this.

Pandas  -Say China, but are too cute to be a threat.

Yao Ming -Says China, but can’t stay healthy. Sick Man of Asia is not what we need here.

Ichiro Suzuki- Says China to Americans, still healthy and still hitting well, but Seattle stank last season. No threat.

Great Wall. Possible, but not scary enough. Just sits there. Sure you can see it from space, but how many Americans go into space nowadays?

So Mao is pretty much all that is left. I could actually imagine a world where by 2030 Chinese nationalists were recycling Maoist imagery as sort of a we Chinese are bad-asses type of thing. (Maybe not the Mao as bald guy pics, but certainly some of the heroic poses from the C-R stuff. )


Korean ethno-nationalism and sappy TV dramas

Filed under: — gina @ 5:11 pm

I’m currently TAing for a class on Modern Korean history, and we just finished discussing the concept of minjok (民族 or minzu in Chinese) as it related to Korean nationalism and the creation of a national history.  Andre Schmid discussed the creation of the minjok paradigm in the early twentieth century among Korean nationalist historians, outlining the various ways they conceptualized a Korean history based on ethnicity. To me, the most interesting story of the Korean ethnic genealogy involved tracing the descendants of the mythical ancestor Tan’gun to lineages and tribes that inhabited land off the peninsula, allowing this particular historian, Kim Kyohon, to claim the tribes in the North and their dynasties, the Liao, Jin, and Qing, as Korean. In other words, the 1644 defeat of the Ming by the Qing marked the beginning of the “Choson-Qing” period, or the Southern Choson and the Northern Qing. The Qing, in this narrative, is Korean (this can be found in Korea Between Empires, pages 195-196).

Unfortunately, my students did not find this nearly as awesome as I did, so I post it here. And, not surprisingly, the battle is not over. This post by Martin Lewis takes us to today, when arguments between China and Korea over Korean melodramas continue the historical battle over ethnicity, nationalism, and legitimate claims to history.

A new resource

Filed under: — gina @ 4:42 pm

For those who would like to read about new research in Chinese history without having to drudge through proquest, please check out a new website, Chinese History Dissertation Reviews. It’s a series of reviews of recently defended doctoral dissertations in Chinese history, offering a summary of the main arguments, the historiographical genealogy to which the author responds, and a list of the major archives/sources used in the dissertation. We would love to hear all of your feedback!



Delicious spam

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:35 am

I got an e-mail from Online Colleges. It seems to be a semi-scam site that offers to connect you to on-line colleges without actually, from what I can tell, providing any real service. Needless to say, it would probably help them if they could give the site some veneer of academic content, and thus they have a list of 101 lectures on China. The page just links to lectures (academic and popular) already available on I-tunes and elsewhere, but some of them look pretty interesting. So if you are looking for something to listen too this is a good place to start.



China, the Hobgoblin of Small Minds

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:34 pm

I had a student ask me in class, recently, about whether China, among other countries, was planning to take advantage of our coming collapse to move into a position of world domination, that they had operational plans and expected the collapse to come momentarily. I responded by pointing out that most advanced nations develop contingency plans for a wide variety of possible future scenarios, so that the existence of a plan is no guarantee of it’s probability.

Then, today, I read about this 2006 Delaware Senate debate:

Republican Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell of Delaware said in a 2006 debate that China was plotting to take over America and claimed to have classified information about the country that she couldn’t divulge.

O’Donnell’s comments came as she and two other Republican candidates debated U.S. policy on China during Delaware’s 2006 Senate primary, which O’Donnell ultimately lost.

She said China had a “carefully thought out and strategic plan to take over America” and accused one opponent of appeasement for suggesting that the two countries were economically dependent and should find a way to be allies.

“There’s much I want to say,” she said at the time. “I wish I wasn’t privy to some of the classified information that I am privy to.”

This is four years old, now: have we seen considerable progress in the takeover of the US by China? Seems to me that we’ve been holding steady, mostly. My immediate thought is that a US economic/political collapse would leave China in a strong short-term position, but an extremely weak long-term one, given the interdependence of our economies and technology sectors. But I’m not privy to classified information.


Hoping for charity, without getting faith involved

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:57 am

The New Republic has an article by Gordon Chang on the lack of philanthropy among China’s rich. As he points out, one of the things blocking the emergence of charity organizations is China is the Party, which is very reluctant to approve the creation of any sort of organization outside itself, so it is hard even for the ideologically approved very rich to get permission to do so. Of course they could just donate to organizations they don’t control, but Chinese rich people (like all people everywhere) are at least partially motivated to do good by the praise they can win for doing so publicly.1

This is too bad, in part because lots of people who could use help are not getting it, and in part because China could really use an active civil society that would feed the hungry, cloth the naked and heal the sick. The problem with that is that that sort of thing can shade off into comforting the afflicted, and that is getting into political criticism. The Chang article was a response to Bill Gates and Warren Buffett visiting China to try and encourage more charitable giving. Gates and Buffett come from a society where it is unthinkable that the state would prevent the very rich from doing whatever they want, but also from a society where the state has long since made its peace with charity. Actually, Western states did relatively little charity, leaving most of it to the church for a long time, and of course this has led to conflict, possibly most noticeably over control of education in a lot of Catholic countries.

In Late Imperial China, at least, providing benevolence to the people was always one of the duties of the state, and even when it was provided by the local elite (and they did a lot of it) they did so a surrogates of the state, not as representatives of a rival organization.2 This actually changed some in the Late Qing. Katheryn Edgerton-Tarpley discusses this in her book about the response to the great famine in Shanxi in the 1870s. Chinese charity, from orphanages and soup kitchens to providing education and sponsoring public improvements was always localized and particular. In response to the famine, however, elites in Shanghai began to take action on a national level, despite the fact that Shanxi was a long way away. Tarpley discusses how the newspaper Shenbao and its writers both organized charity on a new level and were implicitly critical of the government’s unwillingness to adopt new, Western methods to deal with this and other crises. For a government that accepts nurturing the people as one of its duties almost any form of organized charity outside the structure of the state is an implicit criticism. I’m not sure that the CCP really accepts nurturing the people as one of its duties at present, but I am not surprised that they are reluctant to see organizations doing this job for them and thus criticizing either their ability or their will. I’m not sure how this contradiction could be resolved, but it is depressing that the state can’t even work out some sort of arrangement with Jet Li, who I would not really call an oppositional figure.

  1. Even when you give money anonymously you are motivated in part by the warm glow you feel and only in part by the desire to do good for others. Since you can’t entirely untangle these motives in yourself I don’t find it all that helpful to try and do so when looking at others. []
  2. I’m leaving out the Buddhists here, who were separate organizations and did charity but were not oppositional to the state. []

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