Vinegar Joe, cartoonist

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:38 am

I did not know that Stillwell’s diaries were transcribed  and on-line at the Hoover. Vinegar Joe was the commander of U.S. forces in China during the first part of WWII who had a famously rocky relationship with Chiang Kai-shek. Stillwell  got the command in China in part because he knew some Chinese and had spent more time learning about China and Asia that the vast bulk of American officers. The early diaries are a mix of observations about everything from the state of the Chinese military to the state of Stillwell’s digestive tract, with an interesting mix of sharp observations and orientalist cliches.  He liked to draw, so if the words don’t get you the pictures may.  In 1927 he was watching warlord troops try to decide if they were advancing or retreating in the face of the Northern Expedition.


as one might expect there are plenty “technical” drawings, like the armed train above. In addition to obvious military things he also did pictures of silk reeling machines, tobacco presses, etc. Like other foreign observers he was interested in Chinese technology and/or the lack of it. The diaries also make it clear that whatever other problems he may have had during the war, getting over a deep-seated Japanophilia was not going to be one of them.


Even this early you can see some of the the Vinegar Joe personality. You can see his contempt for staff officers above, and his empathy for the common solider looking for a non-existent First Aid station below.

1st aid


The Chinese are topsy-turvy

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 3:31 am

3704522490_bd0b6cedde_zOne common theme that turns up a lot in older Western writings on China is the idea that China is the opposite of the West. Just take our, normal, rational way of doing things and flip it 180 degrees and you have China. Another common trope is that the Chinese are a paradox, rational yet superstitious, industrious yet improvident, civilized yet barbarous. Oh, and they are inscrutable too. If you are looking for a nice short quote to illustrate these sorts of attitudes here is one from Samuel Merwin in 1908

China is the land of paradox. If it is an absolute, despotic monarchy, it is also a very democratic country, with its self-made men, its powerful public opinion, and a “states’ rights” question of its own. It is one of the most corrupt of nations; on the other hand, the standard of personal and commercial honesty is probably higher in China than in any other country in the world. Woman, in China, is made to serve; her status is so low that it would be a discourtesy even to ask a man if he has a daughter: yet the ablest ruler China has had in many centuries is a woman. It is a land where the women wear socks and trousers, and the men wear stockings and robes; where a man shakes his own hand, not yours; where white, not black, is a sign of mourning; where the compass points south, not north; where books are read backward, not forward; where names and titles are put in reverse order, as in our directories—Theodore Roosevelt would be Roosevelt Theodore in China, Uncle Sam would be Sam Uncle; where fractions are written upside down, as 8⁄5, not 5⁄8; where a bride wails bitterly as she is carried to her wedding, and a man laughs when he tells you of his mother’s death.

Chinese life, or the phases of it that you see along the highroads of the northwest, would appear to be a very simple, honest life, industrious, methodical, patient in poverty. The men, even of the lowest classes, are courteous to a degree that would shame a Frenchman. I have seen my two soldiers, who earned ten or twenty cents, Mexican, a day, greet my cook with such grace and charm of manner that I felt like a crude barbarian as I watched them. The simplicity and industry of this life, as it presented itself to me, seemed directly opposed to any violence or outrage. Yet only seven years ago Shansi Province was the scene of one of the most atrocious massacres in history, modern or ancient. During a few weeks, in the summer of 1900, one hundred and fifty-nine white foreigners, men, women, and children, were killed within the province, forty-six of them in the city of T’ai Yuan-fu. The massacre completely wiped out the mission churches and schools and the opium refuges, the only missionaries who escaped being those who happened to be away on leave at the time. The attack was not directed at the missionaries as such, but at the foreigners in general. It was widely believed among the peasantry that the foreign devils made a practice of cutting out the eyes, tongues, and various other organs of children and women and shipping them, for some diabolical purpose, out of the country. The slaughter was directed, from beginning to end, by the rabid Manchu governor, Yü Hsien, and some of the butchering was done by soldiers under his personal command. But the interesting fact is that the docile, long-suffering people of Shansi did some butchering on their own account, as soon as the word was passed around that no questions would be asked by the officials.

Apparently, the Shansi peasant can be at one time simple, industrious, loyal, and at another time a slaying, ravishing maniac. The Chinaman himself is the greatest paradox of all. He is the product of a civilization which sprang from a germ and has developed in a soil and environment different from anything within our Western range of experience. Naturally he does not see human relations as we see them. His habits and customs are enough different from ours to appear bizarre to us; but they are no more than surface evidences of the difference between his mind and ours. Thanks to our strong racial instinct, we can be fairly certain of what an Anglo-Saxon, or even a European, will think in certain deeply human circumstances—in the presence of death, for instance. We cannot hope to understand the mental processes of a Chinaman. There is too great a difference in the shape of our heads, as there is in the texture of our traditions.


Samuel Merwin Drugging a Nation: The Story of China and the Opium Curse New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1908 p.70



Kids nowadays…

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:06 pm

Need to read more Marx.

Well, maybe they don’t, but it would make my job easier. I did a lot of Marx in my undergraduate days at Northern Illinois University. It was a pretty Marxist history department, which was great because you got a lot of deeply involved professors. It was quite an eye-opener for a kid from the suburbs of Chicago to meet people who were way more interesting than me, knew all sorts of cool stuff and also saw the world in a totally different way than I did. Plus Eric Hobsbawm came out to talk to us once. He was working on a new project on Nationalism.  Kids nowadays don’t do much Marx, as I found out when I gave them the passage below (way below)  from Jian Bozan, Shao Xunzheng and Hu Hua Zhongguo lishi gaiyao Beijing: Beijing daxue, 2009 on the Boxer event.



Mixing water with water

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:37 pm

Here is a dialogue (from the Zuozhuan) I used in class this week.

The Duke declares “It is Ju alone who is in harmony with me.”

Yanzi replied, “Ju is in fact the same [as you]. How can he attain to harmony?” The ruler said, “Are harmony and identity different?”

Yanzi said, ‘They are different. Harmony is like a stew. Water, fire, jerky, mincemeat, salt, and plum [vinegar] are used to cook fish and meat; they are cooked over firewood; the master chef harmonizes them, bringing them into equality with seasonings, compensating for what is insufficient and diminishing what is too strong. The gentleman eats it and thus calms his heart. With ruler and subject it is the same. When there is something unacceptable about what the ruler considers acceptable, the subject reports the unacceptable to perfect the acceptability. When there is something acceptable about what the ruler considers unacceptable, the subject reports the acceptable in order to eliminate the unacceptable. In this way administration is calm and without interference, and the people lack the desire to struggle. Thus the Shi says:

There is a harmonious stew.

We are careful and calm.

We advance silently;

There is no struggling.’

The former kings adjusting of the five flavors and harmonizing of the five tones was for the calming of hearts and the completion of administration. Sounds are just like flavors. The single breath, the two forms, the three genres, the four materials, the five tones, the six pitches, the seven notes, the eight airs, the nine songs: these are used to complete one another. The clear and the muddy, the small and the large, the short and the long, the presto and the adagio, the somber and the joyous, the hard and the soft, the delayed and the immediate, the high and the low, the going out and coming in, the united and separate: these are used complement one another. The gentleman listens to it and thus calms his heart. “When the heart is calm, the virtue is in harmony. Thus the Shi says:

The sound of his virtue is unblemished.’

“Now Ju is not like this. What you, the ruler, consider acceptable, Ju also says is acceptable. What you consider unacceptable, Ju also says is unacceptable. If you were to complement water with water, who could eat it? If the zithers and dulcimers were to hold to a single sound, who could listen to it? This is how identity is unacceptable1)

I like this quote a lot, because it gives you a nice introduction to the world of classical Chinese thought. It is in the form of a dialogue between a ruler and a philosopher. The ostensible point is that a virtuous advisor, Yanzi, is putting down a toadying suck-up (Ju). More importantly it goes well with the common idea of resonance; that the patterns that govern the natural world are the same as those that govern the human world. Thus the sage is like a great cook or a great conductor, (or a doctor) harmonizing everything and thus bringing about tranquillity. Tranquillity of course being the goal. We have quotes from the Book of Songs, a contrast between the small man and the gentleman, the former kings, a list of examples with numbers  This is one that I like well enough that I actually print it out and give it to them.

Original text

十二月,齊侯田于沛,招虞人以弓,不進,公使執之,辭曰,昔我先君之田也,旃以招大夫,弓以招士, 皮冠以招虞人,臣不見皮冠,故不敢進,乃舍之仲尼曰,守道不如守官,君子同之,齊侯至自田,晏子侍于遄臺,子猶馳而造焉,公曰,唯據與我和夫,晏子對曰, 據亦同也,焉得為和,公曰,和與同異乎,對曰異,和如羹焉,水火醯醢鹽梅,以烹魚肉,燀之以薪,宰夫和之,齊之以味,濟其不及,以洩其過,君子食之,以平 其心,君臣亦然,君所謂可,而有否焉,臣獻其否,以成其可,君所謂否,而有可焉,臣獻其可,以去其否,是以政平而不干民無爭心,故詩曰,亦有和羹,既戒既 平,鬷假無言,時靡有爭,先王之濟五味,和五聲也,以平其心,成其政也,聲亦如味,一氣,二體,三類,四物,五聲,六律,七音,八風,九歌,以相成也,清 濁大小,長短疾徐,哀樂剛柔,遲速高下,出入周疏,以相濟也,君子聽之,以平其心,心平德和,故詩曰,德音不瑕,今據不然,君所謂可,據亦曰可,君所謂 否,據亦曰否,若以水濟水,誰能食之,若琴瑟之專壹,誰能聽之,同之不可也如是 Original here



  1. Schaberg, David. A Patterned Past: Form and Thought in Early Chinese Historiography. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Asia Center, 2001. p.231 (from Zuo []


Commander Bradshaw goes to China

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:07 am

Lately I have been going through Project Guttenberg and reading old books set in China. Late at night when you are too tired to go to bed, or in the odd quarter of an hour before lunch there is nothing to touch a ripping yarn like

BlueDragon cover

You may not know the book,1 but you may be familiar with some of the author’s other work like the “Mates Series” the “Pacific Coast Series” “Forward March” etc. It may not be deathless prose, but if the action lags you can always think about what it shows about the people who read this stuff.

Our story is a about Joseph Lee (Li Ching Cheng, usually referred to in the story as Jo, or Chinese Jo) son of a progressive mandarin, and his friend Rob Hinckley, son of an American missionary. These two end up seeing most of the Boxer Uprising. Our Lads get to steal a locomotive (which blows up at just the right time in a chapter entitled The Timely Explosion of a Boiler), witness the death of the German Ambassador to China, and die and get wounded at just the right points to be dramatic without messing up the story. It is fun to read a story where the author does not worry too much about things like plausibility and can beam his characters around as he wishes. We get all the things you might expect, including plot convenient language ability or inability, disguises (Rob passes himself off as a Chinese monk), mocking of Chinese superstition, and a bad guy who is defeated through pulling him down by his pigtail.

One thing I found interesting about the book is how pro-Chinese it is. Missionaries die, but always offstage, and  most of the blame for the Uprising is placed on the poverty and desperation of the peasants of drought-stricken China and a handful of evil people like Cixi.The post-Boxer looting is not glossed over

So Pekin fell, almost without a struggle, and for a year afterwards the city was misruled and looted by foreign soldiers, who destroyed many of its most beautiful structures and carried away its most precious works of art. From it also they ravaged the surrounding country, sending out punishment expeditions to kill, burn, and destroy in every direction.

Jo is the most interesting character, and he

was not quite certain that he did not approve of the plan for driving all foreigners from China. Foreigners expelled Chinese from their countries, so why should not his people in turn expel foreigners from China? Still, he did not express any views on the subject at that time, but changed the topic of conversation

His antipathy towards foreigners is not surprising, as at the beginning of the book he was sent to Connecticut to study. Needless to say, he is assaulted by a mob on his first day, and while the mob are “Dageos” and “Imitation Americans” even the right sort, like his friend Rob and his missionary uncle point out that he was asking for it by going out in a skirt. Jo turns against the Boxers after they kill his father, of course, and dies before he might be called on to express an opinion on the outcome of the whole Uprising, but he is a remarkably sympathetic character for someone who never shows any interest in Christianity and is arguably anti-American.

Monroe did his homework pretty well, and there are surprisingly few howling errors for a book like this. Its a fun enough read, and worth every penny.


  1. published in 1904 []


Essays (with fewer than 8 legs)

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:33 pm

One book that most people here who teach the methods course for majors use is Benjamin’s A Student’s Guide to History. It covers most of the stuff you want them to learn (basic research, working with primary sources, bibliographies etc.) and since we all use it you can always recommend that students in other classes “Go look at Benjamin.” There are two things I don’t like about it.

1. The publisher brings out a new edition every few years, with minimal changes. This makes it impossible to order enough cheap used copies for an entire class, so you have to use the overpriced new edition. Or you can do what I did and just tell them to pick any recent edition, and work around the fact that everyone’s copy is paginated differently. I realize that lots of publishers do this, but it still annoys me.

2. Obviously there are limits to how far you can get in explaining historical research in 10 pages. Still, some parts of it are really not that good. Witness for example, the model essays in How to Write an Essay. This is something we work on a lot, as the exam-type historical essay is the most common product of the undergraduate historian. Below is sort of a draft of what I want to give them on what is wrong with Benjamin’s section on essays.

Here are Benjamin’s sample exam essays. They appear on pp. 63-64 of the 2001 8th edition pp. 53-54 of the 2007 10th edition and pp. 28-29 in the 2013 11th edition

QUESTION Explain the origins of the Chinese civil war of 1945- 1949. How did the differing political programs of the two contenders affect the outcome of that conflict?

POOR ANSWER The Guo Mindang (Kuomintang) had a stronger army than the Communists, but the Communists won the civil war and took over the country. Their political program, communism, was liked by the peasants because they didn’t own any land and paid high taxes.

China was based on the Confucian system, which was very rigid and led to the Manchu dynasty being overthrown. The Chinese didn’t like being dominated by foreigners, and Sun Zhongshan (Sun Yat-sen) founded the Guo Mindang to unite China. He believed in the Three People’s Principles. At first he cooperated with the Chinese Communists, but later Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) tried to destroy communism because he was against it. Communism was not in favor of the wealthy people.
The Communists wanted a revolution of the peasants and gave them land. They also killed the landlords. Jiang Jieshi worried more about the Communists than about the  Japanese invasion. The Japanese looked to conquer China and make it a part of their empire. Jiang  Jieshi wantcd to fight the Communists first. After World War II the Chinese Communists attacked Manchuria and took over a lot of weapons. They fought the Guo Mindang army. The Guo Mindang army lost the battles. and .Jiang Jieshi was chased to Taiwan, where he made a new government. The Communists set up their own country and their capital was Beijing ( Peking). That way the Communists won the Chinese civil war.


I think we can agree that this is not a very good answer. In fact, it is so awful it is a bad example, since to me the point of an exercise like this would be to show students the difference between a C answer and an A answer, and this is more of an F- answer.

It is also probably not a very good question. The text suggests that this is an essay for a take-home exam, but for what class? The question seems to imply that you are looking for an answer that focuses on the 1945-49 period and thus deals with the Marshall mission and Communist expansion into Manchuria and the problems the GMD (Guo Mindang) had with re-occupying Eastern China. Maybe you gave them Westad to read, or Pepper. If you are going to ask that focused a question you need to give them the tools to answer it. I sometimes ask students to come up with exam questions. They usually point out that they have no idea what the questions should be. I point out that they should be able to come up with some questions about whatever the major problems we have been dealing with are, and which topics they have read enough on to be able to answer something well. This sounds like it might be a question from some sort of general survey class, asking about the long-term struggle between the CCP and the GMD but then why point people at 1945-49? It strikes me as exactly the type of question that will get you a lot of bad answers, and you will realize that it is mostly because you asked a bad question.

GOOD ANSWER The origins of the 1945-1949 civil war can be traced back to the rise of Chinese nationalism in the late nineteenth century. Out of the confusion of the Warlord period that followed the overthrow of the Manchu dynasty in 1911 , two powerful nationalist movements arose- one reformist and the other revolutionary. The reformist movement was the Guo Mindang ( Kuomintang) , founded by Sun Zhongshan (Sun Yat-sen). It was based on a mixture of republican, Christian , and moderate socialist ideals and inspired by opposition to foreign domination. The revolutionary movement was that of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), founded in 1921, whose goal was a communist society but whose immediate program was to organize the working class to protect its interests and to work for the removal of foreign ”imperialist” control.

Although these two movements shared certain immediate goals (suppression of the Warlords and resistance to foreign influence). they eventually fell out over such questions as land reform, relations with the Soviet Union. the role of the working class and the internal structure of the Guo Mindang. (The CCP operated within the framework of the more powerful Guo Mindang during the 1920’s.)

By the 1930’s, when Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) succeeded Sun the CCP was forced out of the Guo Mindang. By that time the CCP had turned to a program of peasant revolution inspired by Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung)  A four year military struggle (1930- 1934) between the two movements for control of the peasantry of Jiangxi (Kiangsi) Province ended in the defeat but not destruction of thc CCP.

The Japanese invasion of Manchuria (1931) and central China (1936- 1938) helped salvage the fortunes of the CCP. By carrying out an active guerrilla resistance against the Japanese, in contrast to the more passive role of the Guo Mindang, which was saving its army for a future battle with the Communists. the CCP gained the leading position in the nationalist cause.

In the post-World War II period, the CCP’s land reform program won strong peasant support, whereas the landlord-backed Guo Mindang was faced with runaway corruption and inflation, which eroded its middle-class following. The military struggle between 1945 and 1949 led to the defeat of the demoralized Guo Mindang army and the coming to power of the Communists.

Well, this is better, but not much better. First romanization and dates. I try not to be too snotty about romanization, especially in the intro classes, but Guo Mindang? Did you not see the term Guomindang repeatedly in your reading? Was it not on the lecture outlines? Making a mistake like that is really not good gamesmanship. I usually just circle it and move on, but it does make me wonder. Likewise with the Japanese invasion of Central China in 1936-38. Well, the right year is in the middle there. I would probably not care too much about that either if the rest of the essay was any good, just figuring it was a minor mistake. (It does not help that this is supposed to be a take-home exam. Even Wikipedia gets these things right.)1

What really hurts are the serious factual and interpretive errors. The GMD was not a Christian party in any meaningful sense.2 The GMD were not reformist either, they were revolutionaries and they said so constantly. True, some have claimed that what they led was an Abortive Revolution, but still.

There is some stuff in here. We do get a vague reference to the CCP shift to a peasant strategy (although little on what that means), and something on how important the Japanese invasion was. Maybe I had them read Chalmers Johnson? Obviously the field has moved on a bit since then, and I probably talked about Chen Yung-fa in class, but maybe they were absent that day? Maybe I gave them a textbook old enough that it called the GMD a party of landlords? Or maybe they got that from some Mao stuff I gave them?

As you search for reasons to like this ‘essay’ you notice all the things that are not there at all. Terms like United Front or Third Revolutionary Civil War, Gold Yuan reform, places like Yennan and Canton,  the U.S. and the U.S.S.R for 1945-49, any people other than Chiang and Mao. I realize that these are not grad students, but there are very few specific events in here. Grading an essay is always somewhat subjective. It’s not just checking off what is there and what is not, it’s looking at the thing and trying to figure out how well the student understands the history they are trying to explain. Mentioning things that should be in there, even if you can’t explain them well, is good, unless you do it so badly it is obvious you don’t know what you are talking about. Saying that Chiang Kai-shek and Soong Mei-ling’s Christianity probably helped their relations with the U.S. is good3 Calling the GMD a Christian party is bad.

The idea of an essay in a history class is that the student should synthesize the readings, the lectures and the discussions. In a take-home exam they have even more time and resources to do a good job with that. I would like to think that a student who did none of the other readings and never come to class could do better than this just by summarizing the textbook. Yes, the prose is better in answer two, but the content is not much improved.4 But, I guess it’s an A, since it is a model essay. What do you think of it, and if you don’t think it is a good essay how would you explain that? Or is it a good essay and I am just expecting too much?5

  1. Plus you probably looked up those Wade-Giles romanizations in Wikipedia. I’m sure they were not in the text. []
  2. Where is that coming from? This is the type of thing makes me start flipping through the other papers, wondering if maybe somebody slipped me some acid before class the day I talked about this and I rambled incoherently and they took it all down. []
  3. although it sounds more like something that belongs in an essay on the GMD []
  4. This is an important lesson for students. If you write competently you can get away with a lot. []
  5. If this is an ideal essay that maybe computer essay grading is easier than I thought. []

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