井底之蛙

12/20/2010

Boxers and history

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:07 pm

Via Jeremiah Jenne, a link to an Economist article on the legacy of the Boxers. It is without a doubt the best article on Chinese history I have ever seen in a mainstream magazine.

It made me think of one of my favorite scenes from Wang Shuo’s Please Don’t Call me Human Old man Tang, the last living Boxer, has been brought it for an interview because the powers that be are thinking of using his son to represent China in physical combat against a Western circus strongman. I think it’s a nice piece that sums up (and makes fun of) a lot of popular ideas about the Boxers, the past, and Chinese History. …

“Do you know why we brought you here?”
“Yes, you want to learn about my participation in the Boxer movement.”
In an otherwise empty, soundproof room, the bald, fat man sat behind a desk in the shadow of a desk lampshade. Light from the lamp shone directly into old man Tang’s face, whose hands rested in his lap as he sat respectfully on a stool fastened to the floor.

“Your name?”
“Tang Guotao.”
“Age?”
“One hundred and eleven.”
“Where did you live before you were taken into custody?”
“Number thirty-five, Tanzi Lane.”
“When did you join the troops?”
“In March 1899.”
“What were your ranks?”
“Team leader, guard leader, Second Elder -Apprentice, First Elder Apprentice, and First-rank Master.”
“Decorations or punishments?”
“I was sentenced to death in 1900”

“On that night eighty-eight years ago, that is, the night the Allied forces entered the city, where were you?”
“I was home,” old man Tang replied, looking perfectly calm in the lamplight.
“Why weren’t you out fighting? Big Sword Wang Five was, as was the father of the novelist Lao She.”
“I had a far more important duty.”
“What was that?”
“I ran home and strangled my parents, my wife, and my son. It was as dark then as it is tonight, and as cold, and I had no sooner eliminated my family than I heard a knock at the door. ‘Master’s wife, open the door, hurry.’ I opened the door, and the person rushed inside, carrying an infant in her left hand and a red lantern in the right. . .”
“Who was it?”
“My wife, the woman you saw at my house. At the time she was one of the Red Lanterns.”
“And the child in her arms?”
“Huo Yuanjia, the future martial-arts master.”
“My God, how come this is the first I’ve heard of that?”
“As soon as my wife saw me, she fell to her knees and mumbled, ‘Master, Master, the master’s wife, my sister-in-law, they’re all dead.’ And I said, ‘Yes, I killed them.’ And she said, still crying, ‘From today on, l am yours, and this child. . .’ I
interrupted her, ‘You take this child back where you found it ”
“Then what?” the fat man said as he wiped his tears.
“Then gunfire erupted and a Japanese soldier rushed, in shouting bakayaro [son of a bitch]! He asked me, ‘What you do?’ Everything happened faster than it takes to tell, but when he barged in, I’d already crawled into bed, and my new wife was still on her knees, facing the other way. She kowtowed to the Japanese. ‘Your honor,’ she said, ‘he’s a bean-curd maker, a common, law-abiding citizen.’ The Japanese smirked—heh heh heh—and nudged her with his bayonet. ‘Pretty lady’ he shouted. That’s when I threw back the covers and roared, ‘Let her go! I’m one of those Boxer leaders you’re looking for! This has nothing to do with the common folk!’ ”

“Elder Tang, you’re spreading it a bit thick, I’m afraid,” said the fat man with a frown. “To the best of my knowledge, the Boxers had no grassroots party organization.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, young man. A hundred years ago, we were already laying down our lives for the Cause.”

“That’s not what the book says. Let’s turn to page forty-four, fourth line from the bottom.”
In the interrogation room, the bald, fat man read aloud, “On that night, the city was ablaze, the sound of gunfire like thunder. The foreign soldiers advanced like a tiger attacking a herd of sheep, torching and killing. The soldiers and the Boxers scattered like birds and beasts, and all the first-rank masters fell into the hands of the French soldiers at Hadamen, who trussed them up, despite their ferocious resistance. Shortly after dawn, I was beheaded by the French in the marketplace, along with over a hundred Boxer bandits, including leaders like Big Sword Wang Five and Little Sword Zhao Six …”

The bald, fat man looked up and said to old man Tang, who was wearing a pair of reading glasses as he followed along, his finger stopping at each word, “Naturally, if you believed everything in books, we’d be better off without them. This Memoirs of the Green Tower is nothing but a collection of ghost stories and fantastic tales, but there’s no harm in keeping it around, since it represents one way of looking at things. We all understand that rumor is the twin sister of fact.”
“Are you saying I’m wrong?” old man Tang asked blankly, looking up from the page. “I clearly recall being taken into a blockhouse by the Japanese and shot.”
“You’ve read The Little Soldier Zhang Sha, haven’t you?”
“Yes,” old man Tang said with a nod.
“I’m not surprised. A few days ago, we interrogated the fat interpreter, and he couldn’t remember if he stood with the Japanese or against them.”
“Why couldn’t I have been executed once by the Japanese and again by the French? It’s already been settled that I came back from the dead.”
“I didn’t say you couldn’t. The question is whether or not you had time to be executed by the Japanese and then rush over to be executed again by the French.”
“Why not? There’s nothing illogical about it. When the bullet hit me, I fell to the ground and closed my eyes, pretending to be dead. Then, after the Japanese left, I crawled out of the execution pit, stood up and cleaned the blood off, filled with hate and a taste for vengeance against the imperialists. I ran off and rejoined the battle.”

Cocking his head, the bald, fat man pondered what old man Tang had told him. “I see nothing wrong so far.”
“I went down East Fourth Avenue, killing the enemy along the way as I headed to wherever the sounds of battle were the loudest. When my guts began spilling out, I stuffed them back in. When one of my eyes fell out, I picked it up and swallowed it. I was possessed by a single thought: Don’t fall, keep going. If you fall, China is done for!”

“Then what?”
“Eventually I did fall. I lay on the ground, seeing spots before my eyes. Then the world began to spin, and I blacked out. …”
“What do you recall about the beheadings at the marketplace?”
“That’s where I was when I came to. People were lined up to be beheaded. Before I could say a word, it was my turn. As to methods, it wasn’t much different than cutting up a rack of ribs—holding it down with one hand and chopping with the other.”

“You must have said something, a farewell to your comrades or last words before the executioner’s sword fell. That’s common sense.”
“I’m not sure, but I might have said, ‘Long Live World Revolution.’ ”

“Hardly.”

“Oh, now I remember. I shook hands with Wang Five, and we exchanged knowing looks. Then I turned and growled at the executioner, ‘China will be destroyed by the likes of you!’
“Now that sounds more like it. The executioner was Chinese?”
“No, he was French.”

China on the move

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:47 am

I found a nice paper on migration inside China from Vox 1 They look at migrations inside China, and find a lot of things that you would expect. Network effects are important, leading people from one place to tend to move to the same place and cluster in the same jobs. This is what a lot of sources tell us about historical migration in China, but it is nice to see it confirmed with hard data. One thing I find particularly interesting is the extent to which migrants keep a foot in the countryside. Sojourners under the Qing and Republic were less likely to visit the old sod, I would guess, unless they were rich. As the chart below shows, over a quarter of current migrants spend 2 months a year back home. That is either a very long Spring Festival, or maybe they are coming back regularly. It may just be that the data are capturing more recent migrants, and they might tend to visit home more. In any case, there is some interesting data and nice graphs in here.

  1. Actually, I think someone else found it. It was in my bookmarks, but I have no idea how it got there []

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