Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:38 am

Now is the time in my Early China class when I get to the Three Kingdoms. This is usually a time some of the students have been waiting for, since they know the Three Kingdoms, having reunified China themselves, playing on hard level, as the ruler of Shu, Wei, AND Wu

68You might think that I don’t like having lots of kids come to my classes because of a video game,1 but you would be wrong. Part of it is that I like anyone who is interested in history to come to my classes and help feed my kids. A bigger part is that the Three Kingdoms types are usually pretty good. One thing that stinks about teaching Asian History is that there is not that much popular history in English that is any good.  There are a few exceptions. Next semester I will be using Toni Andrade’s The Lost Colony: The Untold Story of China’s First Great Victory over the West which is a good book written by a fine scholar who realized that in addition to being an important part of Chinese and Asian history the story of Koxinga is also a ripping yarn that people would like to read. My Americanist colleagues have lots of stuff like this to draw on, plus some pretty serious stuff written by non-academics, plus lots of primary sources on-line. We Asianists mostly have to teach with academic stuff or rubbish about ninjas.

I bring this up because as I was looking around for an English-language translation of the biography of Cao Cao for a student I found Kongming Archives They have lots of video game stuff, but also English-language translations of the biographies from 三國志! They don’t look too bad either. I suspect that as Americans get more interested in China (and the internet makes this stuff easier to find) there will be more and more of these type of things.

For an explanation of the post title go here




  1. yes, the card is not from the video game []


Syllabus blogging 3 –Modern China

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 3:54 pm

Syllabus blogging 3 –Modern China

Not as much to say about this. This is an upper-division course for majors and non-majors, and one I teach every few semesters.

The books are

-Schoppa, R. Keith. Revolution and Its Past: Identities and Change in Modern Chinese History. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall/Pearson, 2011.

If you are going to use a textbook this is a good one. I go back and forth on using one,  but this one has a nice theme (identities) and does not cost too much.

-Edgerton-Tarpley, Kathryn. Tears from Iron: Cultural Responses to Famine in Nineteenth-century China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.

I am really glad that some stuff is starting to come out that helps with the 19th century. For a long time I put Soulstealers in here, which is a fine book for this slot. Two slots really. An early in the course book and a serious monograph. (I always like at least one of those in an upper-division course.) There are probably a few other things that would fit here.

-Qian, Zhongshu, Jeanne Kelly, and Nathan K Mao. Fortress Besieged]. New York: New Directions, 2004.

I also like using a novel in a class like this. This one is both funny (to what extent the students will see it that way is an interesting question) and important and a good window into at least part of the society of the Republic. I have used Rickshaw here (which was o.k.) and Family, (which did not work as well.) I have high hopes for this

-King, Richard, and Zhun Li. Heroes of China’s Great Leap Forward: Two Stories ; [“ A Brief Biography of Li Shuangshuang”, “The Story of the Criminal Li Tongzhong”]. Honolulu, Hawaii: Univ. of Hawaiʻi Press, 2010.

And some primary sources and something from the Communist period. I’ve used this before and it worked well.



Drugs and Empires in Asia -More syllabus blogging

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:41 pm

So, as I got some help last time I asked for advice on what to teach next semester, here is what I have for HIST 403 Drugs and Empires in Asia. This is a senior-level topics class, meaning that everyone in it should be more or less a senior history major, and that they will each be producing a 15 or so page research paper on a topic related to the class. Here is the blurb..  picker

Tea, Opium, Sugar. All three of these were wildly profitable goods in Early Modern and Modern Asia. All of them also caused radical social change and sometimes violent political disputes. In this class we will be looking at these three substances and their role in Asian history from the heyday of the British East India Company through the 20th century with its anti-opium campaigns and industrial sugar production. Students will write a major research paper based on the bountiful (primary and secondary) sources on these topics.



Xi’an Walls

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:52 am

The city of Xi’an is in the process of re-building the city wall and adding four new museums, one each for the Zhou, Qin, Han and Tang dynasties. I was not surprised by the museums. Xi’an has a lot of history, and they have pretty obviously been trying to preserve/cash in on it for years. I did wonder a bit about the walls, since last time I was there they looked fine. What is going to happen with them? According to Xinhua

The rebuilding work will not damage any of the walls’ relics. “Experts will monitor the whole process of the rebuilding project,” said Yao Lijun, deputy director of the city’s ancient walls management committee.

This makes me wonder who this Yao Lijun is, and how much he knows about historic preservation. Anyone can slap on some new bricks, but are they re-building the Ming version of the wall? Might it not be better to leave parts of it as is? What will they do with the bomb shelters that were dug into the wall during the War of Resistance? Any physical object has changed a lot over time, and to “restore” it you need to figure out not only the technical details of restoration, but which of the several versions you want to restore.1

A colleague recently asked me to suggest some names of public historians in China for a joint U.S.-China project. I was completely stumped, and I am pretty sure it is as much the state of history in China as my ignorance of what Chinese scholars are up to that is responsible.

First, for the benefit of our non-U.S. readers, what is Public History?  A quick definition might be that it is a field that has grown up in the U.S. since the 1970’s and includes all the people who are professional historians but not teaching at a university. Archivists, museum people, historic preservationists, monument builders, oral history folk, they are all Public Historians, and increasingly they need a degree it Public History to do this.2 I have blogged quite a bit about Public History in China, but I thought it might be worth thinking a bit more about it.

I think the rise of public history is an altogether good trend. Historians today (the teaching and monograph-writing tribe) are more and more interested in artifacts, visual images, how the public understands the past etc. but we are mostly winging it. How do you “read” a popular print, or restore a building to its ‘original’ form? What does it mean to declare someplace a historic site, and what should you do after you declare it? If the point of public history is to teach someone something, who is supposed be learning and how does that work? Most of us have no clue unless we have talked to and studied with some Public Historians.

This is particularly important for China, as so many Chinese places (mostly cities) are trying to ‘restore’ old sites and explain what they mean, both as a way of attracting tourists and as a way of establishing their importance in China’s 5000 years of history. (See here here and here.)

There are a few of major differences I can see between the U.S and Chinese traditions of public history.

-What to memorialize and who gets to do it? Both in China and in the U.S there are both public and private museums, although the governments (central and federal, state and provincial) dominate the action. Everywhere in the world what counts as a historic site is part of what a society (and a government) decide needs to be remembered. China has been less successful than some other places in historicizing some parts of the past. Thus there is a New York Tenement Museum but very little in China dealing with the Cultural Revolution. In part this is because the Chinese state feels the need to avoid certain topics. China’s central government seems to favor a public history that either connects to China’s glorious 5,000 years of history (ideally as sanctioned by a UNESCO world heritage site designation) or things that will lead to an appropriate form of patriotism. Things that don’t fit get left out, and you are not sure what to say about the rest. What sort of plaque do you put on the Great Wall once you decide that was built not to keep out evil foreigners but to divide some of China’s 57 harmonious nationalities from each other? This is the same sort of problem Americans face with sites like the Little Bighorn. American academic historians sometimes complain that they are marginalized in the process of making public history, but I think they have more influence than historians in China.

-A very different public face. One aspect of public history is that there are no captive audiences off campus. Thus if you build some sort of historic thing you have to find ways to attract people to it. In China a lot of these places seem more commercial than they would be in the U.S. This is not actually entirely bad. I don’t think that something that people like and enjoy is by definition non-scholarly, nor is there any harm in things that are just fun. Everywhere in the world historic sites have to struggle with how to put bums in seats without Disnifying too much. This is still in its infancy in China One example of this are the dressed up people. In the U.S they might be called interpreters or docents or living history. They dress up in costume and explain what the site would have meant to people at the time. The basic idea is to trick people into learning something about history. At times they can reach a pretty high level of both performance and commentary on the meaning of American History in the present. Ask A Slave is a interesting example, where a woman (with a performing arts degree) uses her experience as a living history slave at Mount Vernon to discuss America, race, and history. I can’t imagine any of the people who work at a site like this in China doing a website like Ask A Slave. In China you are more likely to get minimum wage workers dressed up in vaguely period costumes. At best you get drama. When I took my daughter to the historic city of Pingyao there was a dramatic performance that roamed through the city and you could watch various parts of the story of the magistrate investigating a wronged widow and …something.

PingyaoDrama1It was plenty of fun, but I’m not sure what anyone learned from it. While we are at it, the general quality of guides and interpreters at Chinese sites is often pretty poor. Lots of dates, figures (the pagoda contains over 100.000 bricks!) and not much interpretation. Likewise the texts that go along with various sites and buildings are often pretty poor. Again my point here is not just to be an annoying foreigner but to point out that the face of public history has made enormous strides in the U.S and Europe over the last decades, and that China still has a ways to go.

-Ideas about re-construction. I have talked about this before, but basically in China there is much more of a tradition of totally re-building sites (sometimes with a few bits of old-timey stuff tacked on after) rather than what elsewhere would be called careful historical reconstruction.

Still there are many parts of what is called Public History in China that are well-established. There is a lot to work with here.

-Oral History This is well-established in China, going back to the Maoist period, although it seems less popular now.

-Archives Very well established. There are lots of archivist, they have their own publications and everything. Admittedly they do not always function the way they do elsewhere. I remember going to one Chinese archive and being greeted with huge calligraphy scroll that urged the archivists to 保护档案(Protect the Archives) Protect them from what? It turned out to be protecting them from having anyone look at the documents. Still there is an archival community

-Collectors, connoisseurs and physical culture types. While academic historians may sometimes make fun of antiquarians, public historians can get a lot from building restorers, antique collectors and such. Antique collecting was one of the proper obsessions for a gentleman in the Late Imperial period, and there was an one time quite a culture of connoisseurship in China. More modern events, especially the Cultural Revolution, did not help this culture, but it is certainly back now. The Wuhan museum of the 1911 revolution collected a lot of artifacts from this type of people. In Jiangsu Qin Tongqian is trying to build an entire hotel out of architectural elements he has saved from buildings all over China. China does not yet have the hordes of Taiping Rebellion reenactors, military history buffs and blue-haired county historical society ladies it deserves, but one would guess they are coming.

-Popular interest and state support Here I am a bit at sea. While Americans and their governments and their rich people are interested in history it is mostly U.S. History. I assume that some of this influence is good, and some bad, but I can’t really assess how much of each, as there is a pretty minimal interest in Chinese history in the U.S. Regardless, the Chinese public and state are really into Chinese history. If you want state funding or public attention for Chinese history China is the place to go, so there is a real potential to create something here.

Well, this post keeps growing, and at this point I think I need to either delete it, put another month of thinking into it, or just post it as is.


Apparently some people in China are unhappy with a temple restoration that turned this



into this




  1. When Troy was dug up they actually dug through the Trojan War Troy because they were not interested in the history of the site, just finding the one “real” Troy and they got it wrong.  (not sure where I remember this from) []
  2. Popular history really should be linked to this too, but I am going to leave it out for now. []


1911 in 2013

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:44 am

I was going to do a post on how the Chinese world is remembering 1911, the overthrow of the Qing, and founding of the Chinese Republic. The answer seems to be that there is not much up. A couple years ago, for the 100th anniversary there were quite a few publications. This year the big story seems to be that very few people are visiting the museum of the revolution in Canton, although private collectors are donating artifacts to the museum of the Revolution in Wuhan Taipei does not seem to be up to much, although Ma Ying-jeou did use the occasion to call for closer cross-straits ties, but the general coverage is pretty downbeat. The mainland seems to be continuing its tradition of not paying much attention to the occasion. The Santa Fe Opera is doing an opera on Sun’s life which, from the description, sounds like it is not very historical.


Syllabus blogging for Spring 2014-1

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:39 pm

Today is October 10, which is both an important day in Chinese history and also means that I am late in getting in my book orders for Spring. In the past I have always been way too late with syllabus blogging, so that while I get some useful suggestions it is too late to act on them. So while it may  be too late to get my book orders in on time, I am going to ask if anyone has some advice on

1. Using (or replacing) these books

2. Things to go with them

This class is ASIA 200, Introduction to Asian Studies a class required for all of our 50-odd Asian Studies majors and one of our recruiting tools. The class is built around a series of readings that expose students to different disciplinary traditions and parts of Asia. The point is not to teach them the entire History, Anthropology,Literature etc. of China, Japan, Iran, Indonesia etc.1 but to expose them to a lot of stuff they they would enjoy reading2 and I would like teaching.

My current ideas are


Boo, Katherine. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. Waterville, ME: Thorndike Press, 2013.

I always do a journalism book to start with, in part because they are supposed to be approachable and easy to get into, but also because as budding Asianists the students need to learn why they should be sceptical of books written by people who parachute into a society AND how much they can learn from a good journalist/travel book. I will probably pair this with some stuff from Luyendijk, Joris. People Like Us: Misrepresenting the Middle East. New York: Soft Skull Press, 2009. Or maybe dump this and go back to Speed Tribes?


Toer, Pramoedya Ananta, and Max Lane. This Earth of Mankind. New York: Penguin, 1996.
I always include a least one novel, as they are easy for students to get into, and this one (a classic colonialism novel) seems to fit.
Andrade, Tonio. Lost Colony: The Untold Story of China’s First Great Victory over the West. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2011.
China is always the easiest for me, since I can always think of lots of thing that would fit in History/Anthro, etc. As a(n) historian I always insist on including at least one book that deals with the pre-modern world. This one is both a Ripping Yarn and something were there is enough other stuff to give them -including Andrade’s other work and also primary stuff- that you can do a lot with it. Still, China is a place where I can think of lots of other things. Maybe instead use

Harrison, Henrietta. The Missionary’s Curse and Other Tales from a Chinese Catholic Village University of California Press, 2013? Mann, Susan. The Talented Women of the Zhang Family. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. was a hit in this slot last time.
Oppenheim, Robert. Kyǒngju Things: Assembling Place. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008.
This worries me a bit. I always include one really hard-core academic monograph, and this certainly counts, although I am a bit scared about leading them through it. Not sure at all what to do along with it. The book itself deals with creating a city of historic culture in Korea, and I would need some stuff on, I guess, modern Korean cultural politics to go with it.
We always do some films, and the students each do a presentation on an Asian film of their choosing. We usually do two as a group and I am thinking of Abu-Assad, Hany. Paradise Now, 2005, since it deals with Islamic radicalism, which they are always interested in (especially the vets.) and… a comedy. I always include one, since they all come in with the idea that Asia films are all about suffering peasants and star Gong Li. Last time I used Jiang, Wen. Let the Bullets Fly,  2010, which worked well, but I think ideally I would like a funny yet insightful film on being middle class in… I guess Thailand?
Barefoot Gen? It works, and there is a lot to go with it, (Maybe I will put Grave of the Fireflies in the movie section. It’s animated, it must be funny!) but I would like something more pre-modern, although I can’t think of anything.
The last book out was Suleri, Sara. Meatless Days. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991. which is a good memoir on Pakistan that includes gender more explicitly than anything else on the list, (which is the most important gap at present)  and I guess would replace the Toer.
So, any suggestions?
  1. although I did have one student walk out on the first day when I explained we would not be doing that []
  2. Honestly, if you read and though about 4 good books in each undergraduate class, how well educated would you be? []


Chinese philosophy: The wild goose gradually draws near the tree

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:53 pm

Update-The wild goose is getting closer to the tree

Apparently we are experiencing a Chinese Philosophy Fever. The Atlantic has an article up on Michael Puett’s Harvard class on Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory, as described at Warp, Weft, and Way.

In general I would agree with WWW commenter Bill Haines that “I think it makes sense that a course taught this way would be taught by a historian rather than a philosophy prof.” In part this is because I am a historian, but also because I think it fits better with reasons for kids to come to a class like this. A while back I read something (Chronicle?) about a Renaissance history guy who was ordered to come up with some sort of mass-market class that drew on his period. He came up with something like “How to be a corporate toady and suck-up: Kissing the asses of the rich and powerful in a profoundly unequal society” drawing primarily on Michel de Montaigne

Needless to say the class was a huge hit, and he was horrified by both how many students wanted to take it and how many sections of it the administration wanted him to teach and how useful the class was for student who wanted to find a place in our society.

I don’t think Puett created this class out of spite, but I do think  a historian is in a good place to help students understand how philosophical or self-help texts1 help those who are reading them figure out how they fit into society. The society of Warring States China is a good analogue for ours today, where we like to talk about how the old rules no longer apply, but are still worth thinking about.2 Harvard students in particular are shi, members of the elite who can’t go wrong (in the sense of starving) whatever they do. Plus there are books like Finnegrete’s Secular as Sacred that may not be very strong as sinology or philosophy,3 but do help you make the connection.

So my point here is that if you want to teach a class like Puett’s, which uses examples from the past to explain how you should fit into society now (i.e. get a liberal education) then Warring States China is a good place to look, and a historian is an excellent guide.


Old post

I may eventually post more on this, but better than anything I might add, you should go read this article on Chinese Philosophy in the U.S. (from the Chronicle)

The thing that struck me is that the academic study of Philosophy seems to be broadening out in a way that Religious Studies (which they mention) did a long time ago, as did History. I don’t know of any nice short introductions to the struggle to get Chinese history accepted as history in American colleges, but maybe someone else does. The process seems somewhat different in Philosophy, but there are a lot of parallels.

Via Warp, Weft, and Way

  1. Analects, Zhuangzi, and most of the classical texts are self-help books that really belong on the shelf with Dr. Phil []
  2. I’m not sure how unique this really is, but  undergrads like believing that we live in an unprecedented age of change. []
  3. I am neither a philosopher or a ancient China person, so I can’t say for sure []


Ancient Music in the Academy

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:28 pm
Han DrummerConfucius liked to talk about Rites and Music. Thus I have to spend a lot of time explaining to students why. Most Americans are more like Mozi
Mozi asked a Confucian, saying ‘What is the reason for music (樂)?’ The reply was: “Music is performed for the sake of joy ()1 Mozi said: ‘You have not answered me. Suppose I asked: Why build houses? And you answered: It is to keep off cold in winter, and the heat in summer, and to separate men from women. They you would have told me the reason for building houses. Now I am asking: Why perform music? And you answer: Music is performed for music’s sake. This is like saying : Why build houses? And answering Houses are built for houses’ sake.” Mozi 43
So Mozi can see no point in music, just like most most American parents can’t see the point in being a music major.
I won’t get into the whole modern defence of Music (and Art), but in early China music was magic. All my evidence here comes from the Lushi Chunqiu, which is basically a philosophical encyclopedia compiled at the very end of the Warring States period.
Music is a way to keep track of the state of the world

Thus, the tones of an orderly age are peaceful and joyous because its policies are stable. The tones of a chaotic age are resentful and angry because its policies are perverse. The tones of a doomed state are sad and mournful because its policies are dangerous. It is a general principle that music is influenced by government and affected by customs. When customs are fixed, music adjusts itself to them. Thus, in an age that possesses the Dao one has only to observe its music to know its customs, to observe its customs to know its government, and observe its government to know its ruler. The First Kings were, therefore, certain to rely on music as a means of professing their teachings. LSCQ 5/4.4B

O.k., this is not too hard to grasp. Just like “Rap Music is Black America’s CNN” you can learn about a society by listening to its music. I particularly like this quote because I remember reading something along the lines of “Thus, the tones of an orderly age are peaceful and joyous because its policies are stable. The tones of a chaotic age are resentful and angry because its policies are perverse.” on the liner notes of a Jefferson Airplane album2
Here is another

   When Yu ascended the throne he toiled and laboured on behalf of the world. He rested neither day nor night, opening up the great streams, cutting through obstructions and blockages, boring out the Dragon Gate, and circulating the flowing waters by guiding them to the Yellow River. He dredged the Three Rivers and the Five Lakes and made their waters flow to the Eastern Sea, to benefit the black-headed people. At this, Yu commanded Gaoyao to compose all nine movements of the Xia Flute” in order to celebrate his achievement. LSCQ 5/5.10

O.k., so you can use music as political propaganda, so that people will never forget Yu taming the flood or the bombs bursting in air. Also not too complex. The next two are a little harder.

In the past, at the inception of the Yinkang clan, the Yin had coagulated in great amounts and accumulated excessively. The watercourses were blocked and obstructed, and water could not flow out from springs. The ethers of the people became thick and clogged up, and their muscles and bones tight and constricted. They therefore invented a dance with which to spread and guide the Yin .LSCQ 5/ 5.4

In the past, when the ancient Zhuxiang clan ruled the world, there was an excess of wind that caused the Yang ether to gather and accumulate, the myriad things to disperse and scatter, and the fruits and nuts not to ripen. Knight Da therefore invented a five-string zither with which to attract the Yin ether and arrange the survival of the various living things. LSCQ 5/ 5.2

These two are a  lot more magical. Music actually changes the world. In the first one we can see it changing people, which makes a bit of sense. Then in the second one it changes the universe. There are actually a bunch of passages in here about how inventing new instruments gave humans new ways to control the world. This is not our idea of music at all (unless you are a follower of the Church of Les Paul), but it does help a bit with Early China.


  1. same word! []
  2. not sure which album or if I am remembering this right. My memories of the 60’s are mostly a blur. Still, it fits pretty well. []


Why go to college?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 4:32 am

Tea Leaf Nation has a post up on a micro-trend of Chinese kids not going to college, or at least one parent not being willing to pay for it, on the grounds that “Today, even peddlers who collect garbage…make more money than many graduates.” This is also something of a trend in the U.S., where some rich people also think that college may be a waste of time.

College is of course not a universal of all human societies. Even in America lots of people have happy, productive lives without ever going there. Most of the Americans saying that you should not go to college seem to be among the 1% who are extremely wealthy, and for them there is a point in not going. Why beat your brains out getting a degree if all it gets you is a shot at a $100,000 a year job? Great, that will keep you in toilet paper, but as a child of privilege why bother?1 College used to be one of the tickets to the middle class, but as the U.S. abandons the model of the universal middle class society college attainment may shrink. A lot. If the only life choices are Wal-mart greeter vs. Wal-mart greeter with college debt, OR idle rich vs. idle rich who used to write term papers and shared a bathroom why go to college?

China is trying to create a universal middle class society 小康,2 but college there has, until recently, been something to mark out an elite, not define a middle class. As Tea Leaf Nation points out, Chinese colleges have been expanding exponentially in recent years, and there is no way that you can fully maintain standards which that much expansion. Nor does just going to college make you a member of an elite nowadays, as much as the hordes of entrance-exam takers may hope it will.

In the last years of the Qing, when Western-style education was expanding far more rapidly than you could find qualified teachers, everybody who could get it wanted a degree, since it marked you as a member of an elite, even if you had not learned much. By the 1920’s the figure of the semi-employed college grad became more common. Just having been to college no longer guaranteed a job or elite status.

I suspect China is going through a similar transition now. The Chengdu dad in the TLN story may well be right about college. If Dad has pulled in enough cash to be one of China’s new rich,and the kid did not get into Beida or Oxford, (which would give her elite status) what exactly does she need to go to college for? You can start your own business or get on the corporate ladder in China without a degree, so it is not an entry ticket for the middle class. It’s not as subsidized by the state as it used to be either. You can spend some serious money on college. If your career goal is to or schmooze your Daddy’s rich friends, China does not have a proper set of ‘playground for rich kids’ schools as of yet.

Jimmy Stewart, the famous actor, grew up in the town my college is in. He went to Princeton, which was a school for the wealthy, or like him the well-off. My school was here then, but it was called a Normal school because it was intended to educate teachers, one of the few classes of people besides rich kids who were felt to need to go to college. The vast middle range of modern American higher ed did not exist then, and I suspect the U.S. is moving back towards that model. In China the process of sorting out universities into different categories is a lot less advanced, but I suspect the trend will continue (it did in the 1930’s) They even have a bit of anti-intellectualism, Red in the Chinese case rather than Red, White and Blue, to push the trend along.


  1. Yes, beer and sex, but what else? []
  2. They apparently don’t realize that public education and free health care will lead to ..Socialism! []

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