井底之蛙

2/28/2012

War cartoons

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 2:58 pm

I’ve been doing a class that deals with cartoons, and Feng Zikai is a major part of it

One problem with teaching popular art is that a lot of the work of someone like Feng has never been collected or is hard to find. I was therefore very happy to see that Hong Kong Baptist has put Feng’s 1945 book of wartime cartoons on-line, and thus I was able to show my students two of my favourites of his which I have not seen re-printed elsewhere.

The first is entitled Yesterday’s Hero

The second is Battlefield Dog

One thing I find interesting is that Yesterday’s Hero is from 1933 and Battlefield Dog is from 1938. So I would guess that the Hero was someone who had fought the Japanese in 1932 or so and has now been forgotten. I would guess that in 1933 Feng had not thought much about where his foot ended up, but after a few years as a refugee being bombed (and encountering wild dogs) made him think more about these things. In 1945 he put them facing each other on two pages, so I would guess he would see them as a matched pair the same way I do.

2/23/2012

History in pictures (includes pigs)

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:30 pm

I recently got Understanding China Through Comics which is Liu Jing’s cartoon history of China. The first volume goes to the end of the Han, then the next two will take the story up to 1911, 1911 being apparently the year History Stopped in China. Is it any good? Sort of. Is it an interesting project? Yes. My natural comparison for this book is the first bit of Larry Gonick’s A Cartoon History of the Universe. This is not very fair, since it is possible to not be Jimi Hendrix and still be a pretty good guitarist.

One difference is the Gonick is just a better artist. Compare these two panels on the Fall of Ur and the Fall of Wang Mang.

Gonick obviously draws better, the panel is laid out better, and it is much more dramatic. I particularly like the guy at the bottom who is apparently about to shoot the lamenter. Gonick does action well.

(more…)

2/14/2012

Who’s Afraid of Chop Suey? Or, The Politics of Authenticity

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 3:47 pm

 

I humbly report that I have a piece –  “Who’s Afraid of Chop Suey?” — in the most recent Education About Asia (Winter 2011). The journal has generously made it available online for free (click here).

Chop Suey offers a convenient way to talk about the fate of Chinese food and cooking in the US before recent times, when the level of care and appreciation rose tremendously. The piece also argues that it is a mistake to dismiss the dish for not being “authentic.”

It is fair to say that Chop Suey in most restaurants is very likely to be a gooey mess — too salty, too sweet, too mushy — but it is dangerous to say that it’s not authentic. “Authenticity” is  too often used to police the cultural borders against intruders, cosmopolitans, hybrids, and mongrels, and  assumes that “authentic” means pure and unspoiled, “true to itself.” Good enough. I”m all for it. But who gets to decide what’s authentic? The House Un-Authentic Activities Committee?

Years ago I got a lesson in the ironies of authenticity angst. I had just come back from Taiwan, where I had spent a lot of time in restaurants and street stalls which had cooks and customers who were trained in the old ways on the mainland. I thought I knew something about authentic Chinese food.

I searched up and down the streets of Boston Chinatown for the place with the dimmest lights and the most Chinese customers. I found just the spot and ordered  the Special Lunch or ke fan. This was a cup of soup and a mound of rice with your meat or veggies on top, served on a flat plate. I politely turned down the spoon they brought and demanded  chopsticks. Only after a few minutes of chasing the rice around the plate did I look around to see that all the old Chinese men, the ones whose authentic presence had drawn me in, were eating with spoons.

I had demanded chopsticks because I was worried about authenticity. What was I thinking? I was a six foot blue eyed blond. Did I think that if I used chopsticks nobody would notice that I wasn’t Chinese? The actual Chinese in that restaurant didn’t worry about authenticity: All they wanted to do was to get the food into their mouths. No matter what they did they were still “Chinese.”  They were sensible; I got rice all over my shirt.

By the same authenticity test, I would never have ordered Chop Suey. Somehow Chop Suey wasn’t “Chinese,” or at least not authentic Chinese. In the following years I came to realize that just as there are regional cuisines inside China, there are regional Chinese cuisines outside China. American Chinese cuisine is one of them, and it’s just as authentic as can be. I’ve had dreary Peking Duck in China and excellent sweet and sour pork in the US.

A few years ago, I came back to Chop Suey, or at least to the idea of it. For a book about how Americans thought about China, I wanted to write a biography of a food item that started in the 19th century and came down to the present.  The ups and downs of Chop Suey show a great deal about Americans, some of them of Chinese ancestry, many of them not.

Some recent good books beat me to the punch. Jennifer 8. Lee,  a New York Times reporter, got out into the field to talk to people about how the Chinese restaurant business actually works, and combined this with some pretty good library research. Her  The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food (New York, NY: Twelve, 2008) is lively and full of smart points. She argues that the close-knit world of Chinese restaurants set them up for the same type of  “cloud sourcing,” or “group entrepreneurship” that fueled the take off in Silicon Valley computer industry. She tells a lively story of creativity and constant innovation.

Andrew Coe’s  Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States (Oxford University Press, 2009) also tells a good story based on delving into historical records. J. A. G. Roberts, China to Chinatown: Chinese Food in the West (London: Reaktion, 2002) follows Western reactions to Chinese food over the last few centuries.

On a more theoretical but still accessible level, Daniel Little’s Understanding Society blog piece,  “Cultural Authenticity and the Market” (here) shows us how to use the idea of authenticity without spilling philosophical rice on our philosophical shirts.

Besides, everything is an authentic something or other. The touts on downtown Nathan Road in Hong Kong used to offer “genuine” ROLEX watches. Smart tourists wouldn’t bite when they noticed the RALEX or ROLOX logo, so a few years ago the touts began to ask “do you want to buy a fake Rolex?” People bought them so they could have a cute story to tell their friends.  These watches were “authentic,” that is, “authentic fakes.”

So let’s not get all authenticer than thou.

2/9/2012

Life imitates The Office

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 4:11 pm

As someone who is a member of an academic department and of two University-wide committees I think a lot about bureaucracy. Since I am teaching Modern China this semester I am also thinking about the history of bureaucracy. Actually, I’m not sure it -has- a history, since the basic principles seem to be timeless and unchanging. The example below comes from Huang Liu-hung’s A Complete Book Concerning Happiness and Benevolence Written in 1694 this is a manual for district magistrates; the men who, having passed the civil service exams, were now to be sent out to run a county, the basic building block of the Chinese administrative system. Just like recent graduates everywhere, they found that their education did not fully prepare them for the world of work. This sample is an informal report that Huang sent. He is complaining about two military officials who are in his district but not under his command. He is complaining to their superior, (who is not his superior) about their performance in office. This missive is sent on the occasion of Huang starting his mourning leave (unplanned) so it is not clear if he was warming up to send this in any case and wants to get it in before he goes, or if he just figures this is a good time for a parting shot. As it is an informal complaint he does not have to prove anything or track down the source of any rumours, but since he is an official and sent this letter it has the potential to put Commander Yang in a bad spot if things blow up in the future and it is clear that he has not looked into this warning. If you want to understand perfect bureaucratic trouble-making, this is it.

 

An Informal Report Presented to Provincial Military Commander Yang
Since your humble subordinate arrived at the post, he has paid special attention to the organisation of the pao-chia system and ordered patrolling duties day and night because T’an-cheng, being close to the wooded hills of I-chou, I-hsien, and the Western Hills, and bordering P’ei-hsien and Su-ch’ien in Kiangsu province,  is a convenient refuge for lawbreakers from these places.1 Your humble subordinate has also made frequent night inspections himself to insure the peace of the district and relieve Your Excellency’s anxiety.2 As to the garrison officers stationed in the district, your humble subordinate has tried to cultivate their friendship. The soldiers of the two military posts have also been entertained frequently. Since the civil and military personnel are colleagues, their cooperation is needed in times of emergency. Your humble subordinate has been the magistrate of T’an-ch’eng for two years. Fortunately, the unlawful elements have not attempted to create trouble during this period. This is mainly due to Your Excellency’s authority which has been acknowledged far and wide, and also to the cooperation of the garrison officers, who have carried out the good intentions of their commander.

Unfortunately, your humble subordinate has lost his father and while in deep grief is awaiting the arrival of the succeeding magistrate. Recent news from intelligence sources indicates that outlaw groups in P’ei-hsien and Su-ch’ien are preparing to take some action.3 The safety of the whole district will depend upon the garrison officers. Traditionally two officers are stationed in this district: one in the city, responsible for protecting the district seat, granaries, and treasuries; and the other in Hung-hua-pu, responsible for control of the main thoroughfare of the district. Only people with ability, courage, experience, and determination can discharge these heavy duties with success.
Lieutenant X, who is now stationed in the city, is good natured but too easygoing and lackadaisical.4 Lieutenant Y, stationed in Hung-hua-pu, is young and arrogant and maintains no discipline over his soldiers. The two officers, therefore, are less than perfect. Your humble subordinate has enjoyed the confidence of Your Excellency for a long time. He cannot keep silent when it is his duty to report what he has heard-hence this  confidential report.

The deployment of soldiers in the various townships should be frequently reviewed, yet Lieutenant X has never ventured outside the city gate to check their performance. He is not known to have fulfilled any night patrol duty for months on end, which proves that he is rather negligent of his duties. One of the squad leaders, Chang San, allowed his wife to gather wheat from neighbor Shao Chiin-ai’s field on the tenth day of the fifth month. Two soldiers, Chang Chin and Shih Erh, forcibly sickled the grain of
the village elder Chang Mao-te on the twenty-third day of the sixth month.5 When Chang Mao-te went to question ,them, they assembled their comrades and beat him brutally. The chief warden examined the victim and declared that “the wounds covered his whole body like fish scales:’ The people of the whole district are uneasy about the incidents.6 When soldiers are allowed to beat people at will, what discipline is there? Chang San also manacled the night-watchman Wang Chia-ying; another soldier, Chen Yu, knifed the tax prompter Li Ying-yang; and a squad leader named Wang let his son Yuan-chen and others hit the runner Wang Chin-li until the latter’s face was covered with blood. These victims were all employees of the district yamen.7 Another soldier, Tai Chin, entered the house of constable Chao Ying-chi, demanded drinks and raped his wife. These incidents illustrate the way the yamen staff are mistreated by the garrison soldiers. However, the said lieutenant was guilty only of lack of discipline, not knowing how to control his men; there was no intentional malice involved.8

The other lieutenant’s performance has been even more outrageous. He has led his men in committing all kinds of atrocities. For instance, when he was making a call at the time of his arrival at the post, he met a courier of the office of the Director General of Grain Transport, Yang Shou-fu, on the road. When the courier did not dismount to let him have the right-of-way, the lieutenant was incensed. He had the courier manacled and brought to his garrison headquarters and did not release the latter until after dark. The courier was detained for a whole day just because he failed to dismount. Only express documents marked with time limits are carried by mounted couriers. Who but the courier would be blamed if delivery was delayed?
The market of Hung-hua-pu is a strategic point on the north-south communication line. The key to the gate of the stockade of the town has traditionally been kept by the village headman. When a messenger from the post station had to pass through, theheadman would open the gate for him at any time. Since the arrival of the lieutenant, the key has been kept at garrison headquarters. Sometimes when messengers are held up at the gate they try to run the blockade or beat the grooms. If a memorial or
an imperial order must be delivered urgently, who bears the responsibility for such a delay?

By tradition there has been an annual festival celebrated at the Hung-hua-pu market in honor of the horse deity. During one such festival a stage play was in progress when the lieutenant arrived. The female impersonator did not stand up to show respect for a dignitary. The lieutenant had him flogged. Not until all spectators knelt before him and begged for clemency did the flogging stop; the actor had already received three heavy blows. The lieutenant had walked into the theater unannounced. How
could he punish the female impersonator for insolence? This is only one instance of his arrogance.
One time garrison soldier Chang Wen-teng and other soldiers went to sleep while on duty, having ordered night watchmen Chang Yin-shan and T’ang Hsiao-shih to make their rounds. When the latter wandered too far from the garrison, the soldiers had them suspended in the air and beaten. The people of the market sympathized but made no protest. When Chancellor Kuo of the Grand Secretariat passed through Hung-hua-pu, a squad leader named Lu and others went to the post station and commandeered
four horses to perform some military transportation duty. The horses were not sent back until the next day at sunset and were almost dead of exhaustion. This shows how reckless Lieutenant Y’s soldiers were.
The most startling incident of all happened on the eighth day.9
The most starling incident of all happened on the eighth day of the seventh month, when there was an altercation between a Hung-hua-pu post station groom named Chang T’iao-yuan and an egg seller, Wang T’ai-p’ing. A garrison soldier named Chiang Te-sheng suddenly intervened and beat the groom with a heavy object. When the groom reported the incident to the lieutenant, the latter not only did not discipline his soldier, he ordered squad leader Lu to beat the groom to the brink of death. From then on
the garrison soldiers turned on the grooms at every opportunity. The result was that the entire group of grooms left the post for several days during which urgent documents could not be delivered. All these incidents were witnessed by the people of the market.
The intent of the government in establishing local garrisons is to protect the people. These garrison soldiers are committing all kinds of atrocities, and their officers not only fail to keep them in bounds but encourage them by taking part in their outrageous activities. The relationship between the people and the military is threatened, not to speak of the protection supposedly afforded by the military.
Battalion Commander Chu Cheng-ming and Lieutenant Shih Ying-pei, who were formerly in command of garrison headquarters in T’an-ch’eng, were respected by the soldiers and loved by the people.10 When on night patrol they always went before their
soldiers. Both could be labeled officers with ability, courage, experience and determination. When Battalion Commander Chu was ordered transferred to another post in the winter of the ninth
year of K’ang-hsi, your humble subordinate sent a petition, based on an appeal from the people, to retain him at the post. However, Your Excellency refused to approve the request on the ground that the established regulation should not be interfered with. Now, may your humble subordinate repeat his request to have Chu Ch’eng-ming and Shih Ying-p’ei replace the incumbents, so that the soldiers will once more be disciplined and the peace of the district protected?

Your humble subordinate has never offended the garrison officers during his tour of duty at T’an-cheng. Why should he bring wrath upon himself now that he is about to leave the post? It is prompted by his concern for the future safety of the district which has nothing to do with his personal feelings toward either the former or the incumbent officers. It is urgently hoped that Your Excellency will kindly consider his request for the benefit of the people of the district. Your humble subordinate will feel
forever grateful.
A Follow-Up Report
With regard to the case of Shao Chun-ai, your humble subordinate had already sent a petition which must have reached the attention of Your Excellency.

Your humble subordinate harbored no acrimony against the two officers. He did not expect Your Excellency to order a thorough investigation. It was your humble subordinate’s concern for the future welfare of the district that prompted him to request a change of the garrison officers. Since your humble subordinate had enjoyed Your Excellency’s trust for a long time, he had no reservations about what he thought should be made known to Your Excellency. It was not his intention to make these incidents
into a big case. Now, not only is the future of these two officers hanging in the balance, your humble subordinate also feels remorseful for taking such a blundering action.
Your humble subordinate has received your instruction to summon the important witnesses Chung San and others, some thirty odd people. The order will, of course, be carried out. However, those summoned are mostly artisans or laborers who support themselves by manual work. The distance between the
provincial capital and the district is over 700 li. They cannot earn a livelihood while traveling such a long distance back and forth. When they heard about the summonses, they were scared and
came very near running away. Your Excellency’s order was intended for the preservation of peace of the district, but it resulted in the creation of alarm and loss of livelihood for these poor people. This is not what your humble subordinate had expected from Your Excellency’s benevolent decision.

Accordingly, your humble subordinate sincerely implores that the cases be dismissed without further investigation.11 Not only will the future careers of these two officers be preserved, the conscience of your humble subordinate can rest at ease. The summoned witnesses, Shao Chun-ai, Chung San, and others
will also receive the benefit of Your Excellency’s wise decision, which will symbolise both mercy and authority. Your humble subordinate dares to present this irrational request because he has continuously enjoyed Your Excellency’s favor and hopes that the request will be granted.

  1. The border of two administrative regions was always a popular location for bandits. []
  2. I have gone above and beyond my responsibilities. []
  3. So nothing has happened yet, but I have reason to think it may soon. []
  4. A bit of praise makes it clear that the criticism is not just personal []
  5. Lots of very damming specifics, yet oddly no reports on the the criminal prosecution of these malefactors. []
  6. Always good to add some customer reaction []
  7. If they will attack other officials they must really be out of control. Just like a cop-killer is worse than a regular killer. []
  8. What will you bet that the next officer will be outright malicious? []
  9. They also seem very likely to get Y’s boss in trouble with higher-ups []
  10. so the problem does not lay in the soldiers or the district []
  11. Not sure if this is a final bit of CYA, or if the response from above was more potent than expected. []

2/5/2012

From all the junks, the one I need more is music

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:57 am

Slate has a piece up on the Asian-ization of Western classical music. It’s more historically informed than you might think for a Slate piece, although it seems to be lurking in the author’s mind that Classical Music is a universal component of Western Culture. In fact  a lot of it was created for the aristocracy, and there was only a fairly brief period1 when major cities were supposed to have a symphony orchestra supported by bourgeois ticket-buyers. Paarlberg points out that Jews dominated violin performance for years, so its not surprising that the torch is being passed to a new subgroup.

I mostly wanted to mention this as a great way to plug Richard Kraus’s fine book Pianos and Politics in China: Middle-Class Ambitions and the Struggle over Western Music in China. Kraus deals with the role of Western music in defining (and denouncing) China’s new middle class. Although other forms of Western music were important in creating modernity in Asia ‘classical’ music was an important class signal, just as it was in the West. Under the Communists the music of the urban elite had to be swept away along with the elite.

This Cultural Revolution piano announces that Art should serve the workers, peasants, and soldiers, but its still a piano.2 During the CR, of course, any sort of Western music was problematic. The big bold quote from Chairman Mao saved this piano from being smashed, but lots of its brethren. were not so lucky.

This dates from the early 80′s I think,3 and is one of the oddest Chinese propaganda posters I have ever seen. Yes, things changes fast during the Reform era, but a housewife whose kid is learning the violin? Less then a decade after the fall of the Gang of Four? The class symbolism of music may have made the quickest comeback of anything during the reforms. And apparently, its one thing that it pretty similar in Asia and among Asian Americans.

 

 



  1. o.k. a century or so []
  2. This actually made me wonder how ‘classical’ a piano would have been in China, as for me a piano would not necessarily bring up thoughts of a classical orchestra. []
  3. via Landesberger []

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