Wukan as history

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:11 am

Ho-fung Hong has an interesting post up on the Wukan protests and the history of popular protest in Imperial China.1 While in the Western media protests like Wukun are usually presented as signs of the impending crack-up of China, Hong argues, correctly I think, that they need to be read as part of the history of Chinese forms of protest. Protests of any sort are culturally constructed, meaning that different actions have different meanings in different cultures. Wukan involved some violence.

which in many western cultures is the red line between protest and rebellion, but for Hong it was at its heart a petition movement.2 Petitions, no matter how presented, acknowledge the legitimacy of state power (in this case the central government rather than local) and the supposed benevolence of the rulers is assumed, otherwise why petition? As a bit of confirmation of these different ways of viewing things the Financial Times seems surprised that protest leader Lin Zuluan has been appointed Party secretary “capping a potential breakthrough in the way Beijing deals with dissent.” But of course bringing protest leaders into the fold is very much part of the Chinese tradition for dealing with dissent.  It’s too bad Hong skips over the Republican period, (He implies you can draw a straight line from the Qing to the present) but it’s only a blog post.



  1. I have not yet read his book. It was a good Christmas, but I did not get everything I wanted. []
  2. Which is also what Tiananmen was, to start with. []


Dragons, Dragons Everywhere! But They Don’t Shake the World

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 3:00 pm

This week you run across dragons just about everywhere.

President Obama welcomed the Year of the Dragon from the White House (here), while Paul French did likewise from his lively blog,  China RhymingWelcome to the Year of the Dragon.  He has a particularly cool dragon from the cover of his real life murder mystery, Midnight in Peking on the Australian version, though the US version doesn’t have one. Maybe Americans are afraid of dragons?

If you think that Dragons will “shake the world,” just a reminder that there’s no evidence that Napoleon ever said “beware of China, for when the Dragon wakes it will shake the world.” I talked about this in China Rises, China Wakes? (February 12, 2010).

The release of the film, Girl With the Dragon Tatoo, inspired a bunch of people to get tatoos, some of them on body parts I didn’t want to know about.. Google images for “Chinese Dragon Tatoo”  gets pictures and pictures and pictures.

I can’t resist — the restaurant chain P.F. Chang’s didn’t use dragons in its decor, but decided to welcome the New Year with the old Chinese custom of handing out “red envelopes” which contain a surprise, maybe a free desert on the next visit. Of course, the chain sells food that’s defined as Chinese, but there are no Chinese  in the top management. The “Chang” was chosen because it would fit on the signboards and sounded Chinese. The “P.F.” is for “Paul Fleming,” one of the creators of the Outback Steakhouse and the entrepreneur behind the chain.1

Send in the dragons.

  1. Jennifer 8. Lee, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles (New York: Twelve, 2008), p. 18) []


Syllabus blogging

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:52 pm

There is something of a tradition here of posting draft syllabi and asking for advice. It’s too late for advice to do me any good (although criticism always helps) So here is what I am doing for Modern China this semester.

Dragons in the News: Is a Long a Dragon?

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 2:22 am

The Year of the Dragon is upon us – should we be afraid?

Around the English speaking world, magazine covers and editorial writers rely on the dragon as a colorful shorthand for “China”:  “the dragon is coming,” the “dragon is waking,” or  “the eagle and the dragon.” In the PRC, Xinhua, the official news agency, reports “Year of Dragon Stamp Arouses Debate among Public.” One writer complained: “The moment I saw the design of the dragon stamp on newspaper, I was almost scared to death.”

Relax. We will not need a St. George the Dragon Slayer to come to our rescue. The Chinese long is a different creature from a dragon.

Wolfram Eberhard reassures us that in “sharp contrast to Western ideas on this subject, the Chinese dragon is a good natured and benign creature: a symbol of natural male vigor and fertility,” a primordial representative of the yang side of things. 1.

Eberhard warns that “combining as it does all sorts of mythological and cosmological notions, the dragon is one of China’s most complex and multi-tiered symbols.” In the cosmology which was systematized under the Han dynasty, the dragon  stood in the east, which came pretty naturally, since the east was the region of sunrise and rain, as opposed to the west, land of the cold, dry yin, where the white tiger ruled over death. A “tiger and dragon” fight, whether in martial arts or in Ang Lee’s 2000 movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” is the clash of opposite styles.

In the Book of Changes (Yijing), says Edward Shaugnessy, University of Chicago specialist on early China, the “Heavenly Dragon” is an “organizing image.”  As the creature associated with spring and dawn, “first hidden in watery depths beneath the horizon, the dragon then appears in the fields before suddenly jumping up to fly through the summer sky. However, even the dragon cannot fly forever. When it gets too high – and too arrogant – it is cut off at the neck to descend once more into the watery depths.”2

Dragons come in all shapes and sizes, and they have the handy ability to expand to fill up all space or shrink as small as a silkworm. For starters there are “heavenly dragons (tian long),” “spirit dragons (shen long),” earth-dragons (di long),” “dragons which guard treasure (fu-cang long),” and Flying Dragons (feilong). And this is before we even get to the other dragon-like creatures, such as the qilin, fenghuang, and pixie. (If you want to know what a qilin looks like, you’ll find one on a bottle of Kirin Beer, since “kirin” is the Japanese pronunciation of qilin).

So “dragon” isn’t a great translation for the Chinese long. “A long is a long,” says Thorsten Pattberg, a scholar at Peking University’s Institute of World Literature, in a good humored column with a serious point in China Daily (January 16, 2012) (here).  He says it’s “maybe even a tianlong, but please, please do not use ‘dragon.’ That kind of linguistic imperialism happened to your unique Sichuan xiongmao once, remember? Now it’s a Western ‘panda.’” If Westerners used the correct word, long, it would remind them that they are facing something culturally new,” not a “dragon.”


  1. Wolfram Eberhard, A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols: Hidden Symbols in Chinese Life and Thought (London; New York: Routledge, 1986), pp. 83-86 []
  2. Edward Shaugnessy, China: Empire and Civilization (Oxford 2000) p. 6. []

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