Yellow Kid

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:00 pm

So, there I was, looking for pictures of Li Hongzhang, and I found this Apparently Li met the Yellow Kid.


For those of our readers who may be American, Li Hongzhang was perhaps the most important Chinese statesman of the 19th century, and did in fact visit the U.S. For those of our readers who may be Chinese, the Yellow Kid was America’s first comic strip character, and he and his street urchin buddies were very big in the 1890’s.

I found a few things interesting about this. The calligraphy in Li’s name is actually quite good, which surprises me a lot. Even much later Chinese writing might be gobbledegook or just badly written. This is pretty good. The Yellow Kid usually had humorous ads in the background, and in this case they are for Li Hongzhang corsets. Maybe a reference to footbinding and ways of controlling female bodies? Of course one should not think the artist R.F. Outcault was too modern in his thinking. The main gag is that the Kid and Li are both Yellow. Later he would describe the Kid as

this same infantile terror who falls of tenement roofs, plays with matches, chases Chinamen, gets nearly drowned twice a day, breaks windows, keeps his mother’s heart beating like a trip-hammer, and generally makes so much trouble and excitement that we wonder how there can be any left for us other mortals.1

So maybe not a real modern view, but a pretty interesting view of the Chinese in American popular culture.

  1. Outcault, Richard Felton. R.F. Outcault’s the Yellow Kid: A Centennial Celebration of the Kid Who Started the Comics. First Edition. Kitchen Sink Pr (Nrt), 1995. p.146 []


Are Japanese people evil?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:24 am

There has been some commentary, both on well-known blogs and obscure ones on Robert Farley’s Diplomat article on Japan’s WWII Counter-Insurgency planning and implementation Farley discusses an article by retired Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) Lieutenant General Noboru Yamaguchi and Farley suggests that

Long story short, the history of Japanese operations in China was more complicated in process, if not in effect, than the “Kill All, Loot All, Destroy All” that has come to characterize the war*.

*Standard caveat: I trust that readers are bright enough to understand that this does not constitute an apology for the Japanese Imperial Army.

As my co-blogger Jonathan Dresner points out, this caveat seems not to have worked, as the comments at the Diplomat are mostly from (presumably) Chinese who want to make it clear that the Japanese are eternally evil.

Having violated Internet protocol and actually read the article I can report that it is interesting in an odd way. Noboru calls what went on the China Incident, and points out, correctly enough, that this was not the a war Japan wanted or planned for. He is not defending Japanese aggression, however. He is mostly interested in laying out how the Japanese Army in North China tried to deal with Chinese insurgency in addition to all their other tasks it had. North China was considered to be a sideshow to the coming war with Russia and then a sideshow to the current war with the U.S., and so they were expected to defeat the Chinese Communists while also preparing troops for battle at Guadalcanal or maybe Siberia. The North China army was also expected to send resources (iron, coal, salt, and cotton) home, making it quite different from the situation of, say, the American army in Iraq, which is the main comparison of the volume.1

That Japanese war aims were confused at best is not news, but Noboru is drawing from high-level Japanese documents and the Japanese scholarship that flows from them, things that have not been much used by Western or Chinese scholars. A lot of what he says will not be wildly shocking to anyone who has read Lincoln Li2 or Tim Brook3 The article gives a nice Japanese Army-centric view of dealing with Chinese insurgents.

Farley is looking at the Japanese experience in China as an example of counter-insurgency, and I guess you can take lessons from it for that purpose. Heck, the Americans in Vietnam took lessons from the suppression of the Jiangxi Soviet in the 1930’s. It may seem odd to be taking lessons from Chiang Kai-shek on fighting Communists, but the suppression of the Jiangxi Soviet was actually a success. It helps to split things up in order to make sense of them. The Japanese Empire was a failure, but that does not mean that parts of it are not things people interested in counter-insurgency can learn from.

More to the point for this blog, the Japanese experience in China was not all of a piece. When I was in grad school4 the whole war period was pretty much a black hole. Communists and Nationalists were fighting in 1936. Then stuff happens and they are fighting in 1946. The last couple of decades have seen a lot of scholarship on what happened in China during the war. Our view of the Japanese is still pretty primitive, however. Unless you are Konrad Lawson or some type of hyper-smart person like that you still see the Japanese invaders as evil people who came to China for the chance to twirl their moustaches and cackle as they killed Chinese. There were plenty of those, but allowing the overall evil of the Japanese presence to dominate everything that happened obscures history. Lots of Japanese sincerely wanted to help China even while serving the Japanese war effort. The modern attempt to make a radical distinction between Japan and China just does not work. Are Lu Xun, Liang Qichao, Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek all collaborators?  Were Japanese who thought they could get Chinese to contribute to their empire all idiots? They did it in Taiwan and to some extent in Manchuria. Wang Jing-wei may have been a traitor, but it is hard to say he was not also a figure in the history of Chinese nationalism. Bose’s Indian National Army contributed a lot of men to the Japanese war effort. 5 The radical anti-Japanese view ignores even Chinese wartime propaganda which could be quite solicitous of the sufferings of ordinary Japanese. While we can’t ignore the evil the Japanese people did in China, we also don’t want to oversimplify things, and the article helps with this.



  1. The whole point of the volume, based on an 2010 conference at Ohio State, is to provide American policymakers with ideas about how to deal with Hybrid Warfare, situations where you are dealing with both a formal army and an insurgency, Thus, one would be dealing with a threat that would ‘blend the lethality of state conflict with the fanatical and protracted fervor of irregular warfare. []
  2. who he cites []
  3. who he does not []
  4. We spent a lot of time on the ‘Opposable Thumb — Fad or the Future’ question. (I was also the first history student to decide I needed an ‘electronic mail’ account despite not being a comp-sci student)  ‘ []
  5. One place where I disagree with Farley is when he cites Bayly and Harper to suggest that the Japanese occupation of S.E. Asia was completely infective. The Japanese made many errors, but  Bayly and Harper seem, to me. to suggest that they got more buy-in than the standard popular interpretation would suggest []


Ungraded Love or Double Standards? Stanley Fish, Stephen Asma, and Confucius

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 8:10 am

Stanley Fish, no stranger to controversy, has a piece on the New York Times online blog, Opinionator, Favoritism Is Good (January 9, 2013). Fish is known for such books as There’s No Such Thing As Free Speech: And a Good Thing Too,  He vigorously responds to the critics of his March 2012 Two Cheers for Double Standards, published during the early phases of the presidential campaign when Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher both made colorful and offensive remarks. Many said that we had to condemn both the right and the left in order to be fair.

“Enlightenment liberalism!”  cried Fish, and proceeded to explain why even-handed treatment of friend and foe was wrong.  The classic liberal stance was “the transposition into the political realm of the Golden Rule: do unto others what you would have them do unto you. Don’t give your friends a pass you wouldn’t give to your enemies.” That is, “fairness is the great liberal virtue.” Dangerous, says Fish: “Limbaugh is the bad guy… why should he get an even break?” If you treat the good guys and the bad guys the same way, you are withdrawing from moral judgment.

That argument outraged more readers than any column he had written. An avalanche of comments asserted that merit and a single standard should rule. Fish responds by defending the double standard: “it’s not only O.K. but positively good to favor those on your side, members of your tribe. These are the people who look out for you, who have your back, who share your history, who stand for the same things you do. Why would you not prefer them to strangers?”

Giving preference is not prejudice but morally grounded, he continued. The classic liberal sees the individual as “what remains after race, gender, ethnicity and filial relationships have been discounted.” This is wrong:  “personhood is the sum of all these, and it makes no sense to disregard everything that connects you to someone and to treat him or her as if the two of you had never met.”

Pop quiz: Does this remind you of anyone? Confucius called for “graded love.” You don’t treat your family the same way you treat a stranger. (more…)


Japanese Counter-Insurgency: Strategy or Tactic?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:45 pm

Robert Farley’s article on Japan’s WWII Counter-Insurgency planning and implementation begs the question of whether COIN, as it’s called now, was a strategy or a tactic. (Though it also illustrates something I’d like to see more of: blogging on journal articles and book chapters. Yes, I should do more of that, too.) Farley says

[retired Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) Lieutenant General Noboru] Yamaguchi suggests that elements of the Japanese Army and a variety of hybrid civil-military organizations took the problem of COIN quite seriously from a strategic point of view, appreciating that the only way to victory in China was the establishment of a self-sustaining, pro-Japanese Chinese government.

Farley goes on to cite some examples, but he also notes some of the atrocities associated with the Japanese military in China (and elsewhere), and also that resources for “hearts and minds” operations were decidedly lacking. Comfort Women are notably missing, which is too bad: it’s a fantastic example of an attempt to solve the “hearts and minds” problem that goes horribly wrong.

But what struck me about the discussion is the use of the term “strategy”, which suggests a substantial goal, guiding tactics and training. I don’t doubt that there were Japanese who saw the necessity of developing real ties with China, building relationships, any more than I doubt that some Japanese authentically believed the pan-Asianism which underlay the rhetoric of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. What I don’t believe is that Japanese military, political or economic leaders were at all serious about the GEACPS, or that pan-Asianism was more than a theoretical and rhetorical fig leaf for aggressive imperialism. And I don’t believe that “hearts and minds” COIN really rose to the level of “strategy”: military training and tactics routinely ignored priorities beyond raw domination and control. Farley’s right that resource issues and circumstances mitigated against long-term relationship-building, and our colleague Konrad Lawson has been doing fascinating work on Chinese who did develop strategic alliances with Japanese occupiers. But just as Manchukuo illustrates the hollowness of Japanese claims to support Chinese autonomy, the realities of the battlefield and occupation make it clear that winning over Chinese support was far from a serious strategic consideration.

That said, I was also struck by a comment on the article from one “John Chan”

Japan is an unapologetic war criminal; Yamaguchi’s quote is the tip of iceberg of how Japanese systematically white wash their war crimes and gloss over their atrocities.

Thru history Japanese are pirates; barbarism, deceitfulness, and brutality are their way of life. Using atrocity to overcome any resistance is their default choice of action; the conformity nature of the Japanese makes them particular wicked, they will compete in cruelty as an honour, it makes Yamaguchi’s quote about Japanese COIN theory an outright shameless lie and evidence of Japanese has no remorse about its war crimes.

This is not, as I understand it, an uncommon view of Japan from a Chinese mainland perspective. The historiographical accusation is a familiar one — Japan has a long history of denying, downplaying, ignoring, and justifying modern atrocities which is rivaled only by a few other countries1 — but the idea of wartime Japan as an authentic representation of Japan’s essential historical character is something I hadn’t seen before.2 Connecting the wako pirates (I assume that’s what he means) to WWII is an historical and cultural stretch that boggles the historical imagination. But if you’re looking at Japan solely through the lens of Chinese victimization, perhaps it’s not as much of a leap as all that.

  1. China’s official amnesia regarding the Great Leap Forward Famine and Cultural Revolution purges; America’s denial that westward expansion was imperialist and effectively genocidal; the rehabilitation of Stalin in Russian historical memory; etc. []
  2. and obviously, not something I think is historically or culturally supportable as a thesis []


Teaching (about Japan)

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:57 am

Update Here is the final version

As is the tradition here at the Frog, I am posting an early draft of a syllabus, in hopes of getting some suggestions. This is my Modern Japan class, and the way I have designed it reflects how I have been changing my teaching of late in response to changes in technology.

The idea behind this class is that studying history is mostly about reading. This is even more true about topics like Modern Japan where I am less well informed, but in any class getting students to read, think about and talk about interesting writings by all sorts of people is the central point of it. The lecture format, of course, does not encourage that.

When I was an undergrad reading meant books. Books were easy to find, assign, and buy. Yes, you could make a course reader, but that was a pain and an expense. For students today articles on JSTOR or wherever are easy to find, and through things like ebrary or a PDF scanner you can also give them book chapters. You don’t even need to print out a course reader. Just tell them that all the readings are on the computer in the classroom and anyone with a thumb drive can come up and get them.1 So I could give them a whole graduate seminar of readings, but that would not work, in part because undergraduates mostly need the ‘lecture’ part of lecture-discussion: someone leading them through the major themes of the period rather than assuming they already know them.

The way I have been approaching this is giving them a set of “optional” readings. Each week they need to do whatever common readings we have, and also at least one of the optional readings, usually an article or a book chapter. The idea here is that they can tailor the class to their own interest. More interested in economics, or women? Then pick the optional readings that fit your interests.

Needless to say, if you don’t make them write about the readings (i.e. give them points for reading) not as many students will do them, so I have asked them to turn in a brief summary of the optional reading they have done 10 times in the semester, and a longer analysis of the readings five times in the semester. This semester, for the first time, I am requiring them to turn in a contract listing what readings they will be writing an analysis on at the beginning of the semester, in hopes that they will actually look over the list of possible readings and pick things that interest them, rather than procrastinating.

How well does this work? Well, I have tried things like this for a few semesters now. When it works it works pretty well. If you know what they have read ahead of time you can adjust your lectures or what you do in class accordingly. You can get good discussions pretty regularly.

Of course there are trade-offs. No time for a research paper, or book reviews. Allowing students lots of freedom also means that things can turn into quite a mess if they don’t do the reading or if they all put it off till the end.

Note that this is a draft syllabus. Both the 1912-1937 and the postwar period need to be re-organized somehow, but I wanted to put this up and see if I got any suggestions before I went final. I would love any suggestions from Japan people about specific readings, periodization, etc., but also more general comments about how my approach might work.I am stuck with the books, as I have already ordered them.

So, without further ado, the current version is here

  1. I used to burn readings to a disk, but this seems pointless now []

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