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Postings by Alan Baumler

Contact: alan [at] froginawell.net

Something new at the Old Summer Palace?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:32 am
I was at the Old Summer Palace in Beijing (Yuanmingyuan) There was something there I did not remember seeing before. ((I think I was last there in 2010? In any case they may have been there already and I just missed them))IMG_4340 They have replicas of the zodiac heads out for you to look at! Seen up close they look like a rather scary trial scene. IMG_4341 The heads were once in one of the main fountains, and were looted by the British and French in 1860. The return of the zodiac heads was big news a while back. Lillian Li gives a nice overview of the story of the burning of the Summer Palace and the subsequent history of the site. Particularly under the Communists it became a go-to site to explain the evils of foreign imperialism, and I can still remember listening to schoolkids get lectures about the evils of foreigners there. The site has been changing some of late though. Part of it is that the Qing emperors are starting to look better and better. They used to be feudal oppressors, now they are great Chinese rulers who happen to have come from a minority nationality. This makes it easier to play up the site a little more. Part of it also is the zodiac heads. As they came from the Summer Palace, are easily identified, and show up in the collections of rich foreigners and foreign museums they are a great symbol of China's stolen cultural patrimony. They make an even better symbol because the Chinese care about them more than foreigners do. They are really not very important as works of art, so foreigners are willing to give them up. The Elgin Marbles may be precious to Greece, but they are also among the crown jewels of the British Museum, so they are not going anywhere for now. With a bit of pressure, and cash, China can get the heads back. Also, China is not Greece. The two heads that China got back in 2013 were donated back by the head of Christie's, a luxury brand that of course sells a lot in China. I have not kept track of the exhibits at the Summer Palace and how and when they have changed, but my impression is that they are getting better. Better in the sense that the site is a place where China was despoiled by foreign imperialism, but also a site of cultural mixing of all sorts. There has been a lot of scholarship on this sort of thing, (see Lillian Li) and some of it is trickling into the exhibits. There is a lot more there than I remember on the Jesuits, and they have a series of before and after pictures showing the site in 1873, 13 years after the looting, and now, subtly making the point that a lot of what happened there happened after the looters left. A surprising number of things that have been restored to the site were found "on the campus of Beijing University." You really could make a marvellous museum out of all the things the site has been over the years, and it is nice to see that they are at least making baby steps in that direction.  

Orwell and China

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 3:44 pm
I have been meaning to blog about Ibisbill's post on George Orwell and China, but as I have not come up with anything to say, I suppose I should just toss the link out. As he points out, Orwell, talked a bit about China. This seems mostly (to me) to have been in reference to India. Orwell spent the war years broadcasting propaganda to India, trying to convince Indians that siding with the Japanese was a bad idea. He eventually became disgusted with what he was doing and quit, His final transmission to India ended with
Perhaps the best answer to the propaganda which the Japanese put out to India and other places is simple the three words LOOK AT CHINA. And since I am now bringing these weekly commentaries to an end I believe those three words LOOK AT CHINA are the best final message I can deliver to India.  (( W.J. West ed. Orwell: The War Commentaries New York: Pantheon, 1985 p.219))
The post also talks a bit about Orwell's enlightened ideas about the colonized as people. It is one of my regrets as a teacher that I can't really ask students to read "Not Counting Niggers" since they always give me a funny look when I suggest they read it. Ibisbill goes on to talk about Chinese translations of 1984, Despite what he says, I struggle to think about how this book might be relevant to China today.    

I would totally buy this, and so would you.

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:46 pm
Chinese Posters sells copies of some of its stuff, but not of this.

"To love the country one must first know its history" (( Ok.a better translation of would be "To love the country one must first know the country" History as such is only mentioned in the book title. ))

This would look perfect in the hallway of every History Department in the world. We may think  that historical study is more than just training in patriotism, but we know that a -lot- of the funding for historical stuff comes from just that. For a reminder of how important history is, and some of its implications you can't beat this. Would you buy a copy?

China’s first statue?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:49 am
I found this in 圖書日報, I think from 1910. It is a statue of Lin Zexu that may be China's first public statue. It is of course not the first statue to exist in China, but it may be the first time China had a proper Western-style Public Statue made of bronze. There was never much of a Chinese tradition of statuary and certainly none of public commemorative statues. Lin Zexu圖書日報 I assume that lots of Chinese visitors to Europe and the U.S. noted the statues of important public figures scattered all over foreign cities. The caption to this one is maddeningly unhelpful, but still interesting. The statue itself had been commissioned in Germany. ((Germany is interesting. Lin was famous for fighting with the British. I wonder if the Germans thought that emphasizing this was good politics.)) I wonder if it had been intended for some sort of public display.  It ended up being put in the 徐 family temple, which is not quite a public place, but reasonably close. The picture makes it look like it was facing out into the street, so it was in public view Before you get lots of public statues you need lots of public places, and public places were just starting to be created in China at this point. The interesting question is why Lin Zexu? A statue is a big deal, as it says you are well-deserved of the nation, and taking them down if you loose your status is a big thing. What makes you statue-worthy in the last years of the Qing? Well, he was an important statesman who was safely dead. He was well-known overseas, which is stressed in the caption, since in 1910 foreign impressions were important. Although the caption does not mention it, he was both someone who led the Qing resistance against imperialism and someone who was exiled by the Qing, so if you were pro or anti dynasty you could find something to like in him. Joyce Madancy pointed out that Lin got a statue in New York's Chinatown in part because he was from Fujian but became famous in Guangzhou, so he could appeal to different provincial groups. So he pushes a lot of buttons. The upper caption explains that China is now in the middle of successfully wiping out opium use. which probably helped. Before the successful Late Qing anti-opium campaigns, or after the campaign collapsed under the Republic Lin would not seem so statue-worthy, as he was connected with China's failure to deal with opium. After 1949 he was a feudal official, so no statues on the mainland at least. Today opium use is part of China's past, not present, and he is, I assume, a good statue candidate again.    

Confucius say….

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:32 am
For many years I have wanted to find a fortune cookie that actually had a piece of paper with "Confucius Say:..." followed by an actual quote from Confucius. I am not betting on it, one because the 'Confucius Say' thing is dead in U.S. fortune cookies ((Was it ever common? I don't remember ever seeing it.)) and, more importantly, because Confucius has still not become a historical figure in the West. By this I mean that quotes from the big C are usually the standard "You wantee eggwoll with that?" Eastern Wisdom stuff. Just like there are lots of people who think that the main take away from Socrates is "Like sands of the hourglass, so are the days of our lives." and that the central message of Buddhism is "Every man for himself." there are lots of people who are happy to quote Confucius without making any effort to find out what the text actually says, in a way they would never do with Emerson or Henry Kissinger. This came to mind while reading about the Confucius Institute in the Times Higher Education supplement. Here I learned that "The wheel of fortune turns round incessantly, the Chinese philosopher Confucius said." I didn't remember that from Analects, or anywhere else, and while it turns up on Google lists of quotes from Confucius the locus classicus seems to be Oliver Goldsmith who cites Confucius as saying "The wheel of fortune turns incessantly round; and who can say within himself I shall to-day be uppermost". I was actually pretty happy to find this, as it is an actual classical source for this quote ((Goldsmith counts)) I assume the author was using the quote to make some sort of subtle point about the differences between Confucius and foreign understandings of his ideas, but I am not quite sure what that point was. So, what are your favourite bits of Eastern Wisdom, and have you been able to figure out where they come from?  

The internet is awesome-Chinese history in film version

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:39 am
British Pathé  has put some 80,000 of their old newsreels on YouTube. This is a massive treasure trove of cool stuff, and the many hours I will spend looking at them are fully justified as "work". A lot the commentary is bland, foreigner-centered and uninformed, but the pictures are great. Civil War in China. (1922) Not much analysis, but a a nice funeral. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AUg3-aJs-g Some of these are listed as unknown material with no date. such as. World Faces Crisis As Japan And China Clash In Far East (1938) I suppose I should comment and tell them what this is. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AccRhQFNbbU Some of it might be quite useful for research. Would you like to see a film of the official parade at the inauguration of the Japanese puppet government of Canton? With street drama and everything? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lf-umw0Sw5k

Maybe Village Children Of South China (1951) is more your style? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RgF3QBL2kYk Or Nationalist troops in Nankin in 1927? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ryS5syi5y8 China Fish People (1930)? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttsgTmqM1sE An opium burning which I think is the one in 1919? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJ50bne1_WM Not only is all this great content searchable, it is also free! This is the type of thing that convinces me that inventing the internet may not have been a mistake after all. What are your favorites? You can go to the Pathe channel here https://www.youtube.com/user/britishpathe and click on the magnifying glass to search.

Socialism is good

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:14 am
Finally. Just in time for the end of the semester. I managed to find an on-line version of Socialism Is Good. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyVzHJUu9h8#t=40 Well, not just a version. There are lots of fairly standard ones out there. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwZV0vl7GiE but the first one is, I think, one that was recorded back in the 90's by the Beijing Modern Art Band or something like that. ((I swear that cassette is in one of my boxes downstairs. I really need to dig it out.)) It is a bit more....peppy that you might expect. I remember having a long argument with a Chinese friend over whether is was a bunch of cadre kids trying to make the CCP cool, or a bunch of anti-party types mocking one of the great red anthems. I took the later position, but I will have to see what the kids say about it. I found it, by the way, from an American right-wing site that suggests that thanks to Obama we may all be singing this pretty soon. Maybe you should learn the lyrics now, while it's still optional.  

Digital History and teaching

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:12 pm
Yoni Applebaum has apparently taken a break from filming The Matrix 4 to record a clip on The Historian in The Digital Age. For those of you don't know him, Yoni is a grad student in history who managed to parlay some blog comments into a gig at the Atlantic. In the clip he talks about Digital History as being able to work with the various digital sources that now exist, will exist in the future, and which will become obsolete. He talks more, however, about finding new places to put your stuff, and finding new audiences to talk about the past with. He stresses that most of what he he does for the Atlantic is the same type of thing he does in his academic work. "synthesize the existing scholarly literature, blend it with new primary research and come to a conclusion." On the other hand with his Atlantic audience he does not have to do a full-blown scholarly treatment of something. He also does not have to be a real expert in the sense you would need to be to publish academic stuff on these topics. I assume he is a fine academic historian, but pretty much anyone who knows the literature can add a lot to most American/internet discussions of...anything. Listening to this makes me think about a couple things. -Feedback. He mentions that you get quicker feedback doing digital history. That is true, but not really the most interesting point. How does an academic historian get feedback? Some of it is book reviews and snide footnotes and lack of job interviews, but all of that is very slow. I think it helps a bit to think of Digital History (which to me is mostly blogging) as a form of teaching. Thus feedback is reading the comment section, checking your website traffic, etc.  Or, of course, grading papers. Neither of these are normally listed among the joys of the job, but they really are important. Grading can be unpleasant, but it is far, far, far, more useful in helping you think about what you are doing than student evaluations or peer observations. Grading is better than a comment section because you have a captive audience that you have power over. ((Be as fun-loving and interesting as you want, but when you teach you are The Man.)) If students are not answering questions the way you would like maybe you are asking the wrong questions, giving them the wrong sources, or not teaching them how to think about the sources the way you would like. Everyone who teaches had gotten halfway though a pile of student writing and asked themselves what went wrong. With blogging, or any other forms of digital/public ((no, they are not the same)) history the feedback loop is a lot...loopier. Anyone can show up and say anything, and their agendas may not be yours. Heck, some of them may not even have done the reading!  Some of them are telling you that you are the cat's pyjamas, which is nice, but does not help much. The ones who have engaged with what you are teaching but are not entirely satisfied are the ones you think the most about. Who is your audience? What do you want them to come away with? Sadly, in order to get enough feedback to really think about, you have to ramp things up to the point where you are also getting a lot of crud. You could deploy some sort of moderation system (run by avid readers/TA's) but that turns it into a whole different sort of thing. Applebaum talks about all the places you can put things, but it might help to think more about who the audience is, and why were are doing this, and how we assess (that word!) how well we have done it. Is it just hit count? I know it is for the Atlantic, but I suspect Yoni cares about more than that. Getting some citations in paper? Kind e-mails? I would like to think that digital history, like teaching, is a craft that we practice in part because it satisfies us personally, besides pleasing the powers that be, but a blog needs to go beyond a personal intellectual diary if you want to claim that you are really doing history. I am really not sure to think about all the digital stuff people are doing. It it just the old model, only not on paper? Or something else? Why bother having a site like Frog In A Well? ((One nice thing about the new model is that if this were an article a nasty editor would tell me I have not yet figured out what to say about this. In the new digital world I can just hit post, and either people will help me figure this out, or it will just vanish)) -It's really sad how little historical awareness the historical profession has. Applebaum is, like all the digital history people, filled with the spirit and trying to convert people. But writing about the past actually goes farther back than the birth of the modern research university and the modern Great Wall dividing academic and popular history. ((I call it a Great Wall because it is supposed to be a sharp line, visible from space, that clearly divides the two, but in reality nobody is sure why it is there, it is often not there, and the people on each side are obsessed with what those on the other side are up to.)) In China, to choose just one place, there were all sorts of ways of writing and talking about the past (or other things) and even in the West and the gatekeeper role of modern academic credentialing/publishing is pretty recent. Obviously lots of people are aware of this, but I would like to imagine that historians would be -more- aware. Not happening, from what I can see. A historical change is happening, and historians as a group are less aware than others about how to deal with it. Via Coates

I made tea eggs today

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 4:29 pm
TeaEggsApparently this makes me both a multi-millionaire and part of cross-straits relations. I have not kept up as much as I should with the current Taiwan protests, but Offbeat China has. and they claim that tea eggs are one of the things that both sides are using as a symbol (both real and snarky) of Taiwan. Admittedly, mine are not real tea eggs, since 1. I did not meet Dr. Who, steal the Tardis, go back to the Shang dynasty and build a 7-11 and then put the eggs in a crockpot and let them simmer for 3,000 years. That would be a proper Taiwan tea egg. 2. I only made them because we had too many eggs and everyone I know likes tea eggs. No rhetorical points about China, Taiwan, democracy, identity, etc. Just eggs. And tea. 3. They taste good, but maybe I should have used one more star anise. Always hard to judge that. http://offbeatchina.com/what-a-humble-tea-egg-tells-about-the-gap-between-mainland-china-and-taiwan

Unearthing the Nation

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:56 pm
Grace Yen Shen's Unearthing the Nation: Modern Geology and Nationalism in Republican China is a really good book. Shen says that at first “it took a lot of explaining to convince people that the history of Chinese geology needed to be told.” That scepticism seems well-founded. What did Chinese geologists ever do? How does geology connect to anything else? Is this going to be one of those institutional studies where nothing seems to happen other than setting up institutions and then having the members do nothing but complain about lack of funding? Thankfully, geology is pretty easy to connect to other parts of China's transformation. Part of this is just dumb luck. The first work on China's geology written by a Chinese was “Brief outline of Chinese geology” published by former Jiangnan Military Academy School of Mines student Zhou Shuren, who would later go on to considerable fame under the name Lu Xun. It is not surprising that Zhou/Lu went on to become one of the most famous May 4th intellectuals, since
Chinese geologists rejected the Confucian values of the political and social order and associated them with parochialism and complacency. However, they not only accepted the deeply Confucian values of the intellectual as servitor-cum-guide to state and society, but they also managed to identify this role with progressivism and morality by taking it as a call to self-criticism and renewal. ….geologists' shared sense of Chineseness grew out of their admission of guilt and the dedication to self-transformation. Geology was a discipline that would reshape its practitioners and resuscitate the nation on the verge of extinction. Unearthing the Nation. p.10
You could use that as a nice summary of the May 4th project, and in fact I did so in class last week. Geology also matters because it ties in with wealth and power better than lots of other fields of study. Locating valuable rocks was something that both Chinese modernizers and foreign exploiters could get behind. Shen shows how Chinese geologists managed to replace foreigners and gradually they became the ones who surveyed an interpreted China's rocks for both foreign and domestic audiences. Geology had only fitful support from the Chinese state, but it was popular with young Chinese, in part because the emphasis on fieldwork helped distinguish geologists from traditional educated youth “with pale faces and slender waists, seductive as young ladies, timorous of cold and chary of heat, weak as invalids.” (( quote from Chen Duxiu. Were there any female geologists?)) Geologists also served the nation. They were the ones who found the Tungsten and other rare materials that wartime China exported. They also defined China as they Chinese would like. As Li Siguang put it.
at the time most people in western Europe invariably thought that Tibet was not fully part of China, and to correct this mistaken concept (whether intentional or unintentional) I purposely gave the Tibetan plateau first place among China's natural regions. p.136
Of course service to the nation came with a price. The geologists did a better job than you might think in balancing a desire to do pure science and to serve China.
 By training their sights on the overall development of geology in China and remaining flexible about details and timing Chinese geologists achieved many of their own goals while catering to the interests of both native philanthropists and foreign funding agencies. When the remains of Peking Man were first announced in 1926, for instance, the Chinese geological community quickly turned its attention to paleoanthropology. Though it had no experience in this field, the Geological Survey convinced the Rockefeller Foundation to fund a Cenozoic Research Laboratory to study both Peking Man and the “tertiary and quaternary deposits of northern China” more broadly. p.185
This fits it with a lot of other examples I can think of where scholars adjusted their research to funding. It would be nice to have unlimited money to study anything, but practice that is not how China, or anywhere else, actually works. If you want a nice, short, well-written book that explains the birth of a modern science in China and why it matters, this is a good choice.  

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