井底之蛙

Postings by Alan Baumler

Contact: alan [at] froginawell.net

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.”1

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.

 

  1. quote from Chen Duxiu. Were there any female geologists? []

Chairman Xi serves the people

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:12 am

Offbeat China has some official cartoons showing Xi Jinping as an ordinary guy who can sit cross-legged just like folks.

7I guess now that Gary Locke has officially left the building there is an opening for someone to take on the role of high official who is one with the common people. The style of the drawings is pretty obviously intended to make him look like an ordinary person. They remind me in part of some of the old shots of Chiang Ching-kuo, who never tried to pull off his Dad’s spartan military style

Kai-shek.

Nor did he try to pull off Wei-guo’s full-on Nazi look.Chiang_Wei-kuo_wehrmacht_LQ

Rather, while democratizing Taiwan, he chose to look like a man of the people.

Picture2

What the Xi Jinping cartoons remind me most of though is Hua Guofeng. As Mao’s chosen successor Hua had some big shoes to fill.

HuaGuofeng6

And he did this in part through a massive propaganda campaign, which you can learn about at Chinese Posters.

Here we have Hua cleaning a counter and Xi getting his own food. Hua is serving the people, and Xi is being served by them, but times do change, and waiting in line will get you credit as being a man of the people as a Chinese official today.

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There are plenty of shots of Hua holding a shovel and such like, but China’s leadership has changed so much that that would just look ridiculous with Xi. Instead, he meets with college students (the future elite) and encourages them to be concerned with the common people. Hua probably would have done that by leading the students out for some vigorous physical labor alongside workers and peasants, but this is 2014.

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Both of them mingle with the common folk, and you can see some of the differences in revolutionary charisma. Part of it is the cellphones, but also it is hard to imagine Hua greeting a member of the masses who happened to be female with “Hello Beautiful.”

10  e13-947

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hua had the disadvantage that he was following Mao, and so he had to either put himself in Mao’s place in the picture, or sort of abandon Maoism, neither of them a good strategy. Hua was followed by a guy named Deng Xiaoping, who shied away from the leader-cult thing, and when he did turn up in posters they would focus on him as an individual, someone passing through revolutionary history, not dominating it.

e13-449e16-78

The way everyone gushes over Xi in these pictures (and laugh at his jokes) is the most leader-cult thing in the set, and given that Xi is the leader of the great and successful Communist party of China that is to be expected. Hua could be pretty informal and push the leader-worship off on Mao or the Party. Xi has to be both a symbol of Chinese greatness and an ordinary Jiu. It’s a hard act to pull off, and it will be interesting to see how well he does at it. God forbid he ever ends up in a picture like this.

obamafeet

 

 

Digital resources

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:16 am

I have been looking through two really useful digital resources lately. One is the Hathi Trust website. They have been digitizing stuff for some time, and the site is now really useful. You can find all sorts of out of print stuff from the 20′s and 30′s (and beyond) and the search features work much better than in Google Books itself. There are also lots of people coming up with collections like Records of the American Colonies that will give you a huge mass of stuff without you having to look for it. Sadly, nobody has done the a collection on the League of Nations stuff that I am interested in.

It is more or less a better front end for Google Books, and it works quite well. This is partially because it is easier to search, has a better interface for reading, and is better integrated with World Cat. It’s still geared more towards English language stuff, but it is a really helpful source.

The other source are the various bibliographies in Oxford Bibliographies. If you are interested in Classical Confucianism would you not want to know what Paul Goldin thinks is the most valuable stuff in the field? John Chaffee on Middle Period China? Kristin Stapleton on Urban Change and Modernity? Alan Baumler on opium?1 This is a type of scholarship that strikes me as being particularly appropriate for the web, since these are supposed to be updated every year.

Sadly, both of these are subscription sites, meaning that you can get some of the functionality just by logging in, but you need to be associated with a major institution to look at things for free. The world of scholarship is changing, but less slowly than one might wish.

 

 

  1. Maybe the last one not so much. []

Contradictions among the critics

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 2:12 pm

The Maoist International Movement’s movie archives are on-line. They are really fun. You feel kind of silly when you realize that you have never thought of the opening bit of Conan the Destroyer as an example of the Hegelian master/slave dialectic, although of course it is. I think their review of A Bug’s Life could have done more to emphasize the film’s Maoist roots. Yes the ants are the oppressed peasantry, (and thus Flick is Mao) but MLM don’t point out that the ants succeed only when they realize the iron necessity of creating a untied front with the urban proletariat represented, obviously, by the the circus bugs. Maybe they see this as Li Lisan-ism? One can also quibble with them aesthetically on occasion. They claim that the film should make it more clear that the grasshoppers represent U.S. imperialism, but that seems so obvious as to go without saying.

Its an enjoyable read that in general reminds me of being an undergraduate. We had a lot of Marxist history professors, and you actually can get a lot from listening to people who think totally differently from you.

via LGM who link this to Jonah Goldberg, who I find is someone who thinks differently than me but is never interesting and never makes me look at anything differently.

Exemplary Women

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 2:13 am

A new translation of the Lienu zhuan is out, under the title Exemplary Women of Early China The book was compiled by Liu Xiang, mostly from older sources, so it is both an anthology of Pre-Han stories about women and one of the most important influences on post-Han women’s education.

The translator, Anne Behnke Kinney, says that the organizing principle of the book is dynastics, “an ideology for reinforcing habits of deference to a family-based hierarchy for the sake of its ongoing continuity and prestige.” It is thus broader than the usual understanding of filial piety and is not the same as patriarchy, although it often overlaps with it. Most of the stories portray women dealing with some sort of crisis that threatens the family or dynasty.

Sometimes of course women -are- a threat to the family and dynasty, as in this story from the section on the Depraved and the Favored.

The Songstress Queen of King Dao of Zhao

The Songstress Queen was a singer from Handan and the queen of King Daoxiang of Zhao. At an earlier time, she had brought disorder to an entire clan. When she became widowed, King Daoxiang was struck by her beauty and married her. Li Mu remonstrated with him, saying, “This won’t do. A woman’s impropriety is the means by which state and family are turned upside down and made unstable. This woman has brought disorder to her clan. Shouldn’t Your Majesty be alarmed ?”- The king said, “Whether there is disorder or not depends on how I govern.” He then proceeded to marry her.

Earlier, King Daoxiang’s queen had given birth to a son named Jia who became heir apparent. After the Songstress Queen entered the court at the rank of consort, she gave birth to a son named Qian. The Songstress Queen then became a great favorite of the king and secretly slandered the queen and the heir apparent to the king. She [also] arranged for someone to offend the heir apparent and thus provoke him into committing a crime. The king thereupon dismissed Jia and set up Qian [in his place], and deposed the queen and established the songstress as queen. When King Daoxiang died, Qian was enthroned as King Youmin.

The Songstress Queen was dissolute and immoral. She developed an illicit connection with the Lord of Chunping and frequently received bribes from Qin. She made the king execute his great general, the Lord of Wuan, Li Mu. Afterward, when Qin troops marched in, no one could stop them. Qian was then taken prisoner by Qin, and Zhao was destroyed. The grandees, resentful that th eSongstress Queen had slandered the heir apparent and killed Li Mu had her killed and exterminated her family. Together they enthroned Jia at Dai. After seven years they could not defeat Qin. Zhao was then annihilated and became a commandery [of Qin].

The Odes says, “If a man have not dignity of demeanor /What should he do but die. These words apply well to her.

The Verse Summary says,

The Songstress Queen of King Daoxiang of Zhao

Was insatiably covetous.

She destroyed the true queen and heir,

Working her deceit with guile.

She was debauched with Lord Chunping,

And ruthlessly pursued what she desired.

She received bribes, ravaged Zhao,

And died in the kingdom she destroyed

This story gives a nice sample of both court politics in the Warring States and pretty traditional views about the dangers of marrying beautiful women. It also reflects one of the reasons the book was complied, since Liu Xiang seems to have been worried that too many Han emperors were marrying low-born women who did not understand proper family behaviour. These women needed to be either avoided or educated, and this book could help with either. We also get a sample of one of the verse summaries that one can memorize to keep the lessons of the story in mind.

Much different is this story, from the section on Accomplished Rhetoricians

The Wife of the Bow Maker of Jin

The bow maker’s wife was the daughter of an armor craftsman of Jin. In the time of Duke Ping, the duke ordered her husband to make a bow. After three years it was finished. When the duke drew the bow and shot, the arrow did not pierce even one layer of armor. The duke was angry and was about to execute the bow maker.

The bow maker’s wife thereupon begged for an audience, saying, “I am the daughter of an armor craftsman and the wife of the bow maker. I would like to be granted an audience.” When Duke Ping met with her she said, “Have you heard of Gong Liu’s conduct in former times ? Whenever the sheep and oxen trampled their rushes and reeds, he felt great pity for the common people, and his concern even extended to plants and trees. Would he have countenanced the killing of an innocent person? Duke Mu of Qin encountered bandits who ate the meat of his fine steed, but he gave them wine to drink. When an officer of King Zhuang of Chu tugged at his consort’s robe, she tore off his hat tassel. But the king later drank with him quite happily. As for these three rulers, their benevolence became known to the entire world. Eventually each one was requited [for their kindness], and their names have been passed down to present times.

“Formerly, Yao did not trim the thatch of his roof or carve its mottled beams. He had earthen steps of only three levels.Even so, he felt that his workmen had toiled hard and that he was living in great comfort. Now, when my husband made this bow, his efforts were also laborious. The bow’s shaft came from wood grown on the slopes of Mount Tai, and each day he would examine it three times in both the sunlight and the shade. It is decorated with the horn of oxen from Yan, bound with the tendons of deer from Jing, and glued together with adhesive derived from Yellow River fish. Since these four things are among the most select and extraordinary materials in the world, your inability to pierce even one layer of armor must be due to your inability to shoot. Yet you want to kill my husband. Isn’t this mistaken?

“I have heard that in the Way of Archery, one’s left hand should be held as firm as a rock, while the right hand should be held like a diagonal support beam. When the right hand releases the arrow, the left hand should not be aware of it. This is the Way of Archery.”

When Duke Ping did what she said and shot, the arrow pierced seven layers of armor. The woman’s husband was immediately set free and given three yi in cash. A man of discernment would say, “The bow maker’s wife was able to offer assistance in difficulty.” The Odes says, “The ornamented bows are strong;’ and “They discharge the arrows and all hit.”This phrase describes the methods of archery.

The Verse Summary says,

Duke Ping Jin commissioned a bow,

Which took three years to complete.

But he became angry with the bow maker

And was on the verge of punishing him.

The wife went and spoke tothe duke,

And explained what materials were used in the bow.

She set forth the labor and difficulty involved,

And the duke thereupon released him.

So we have another commoner woman, but this one is an expert on bows, archery, rare materials and persuading rulers. She also has the courage to tell the Duke he is lousy at one of the Six Arts (Archery) and is eloquent enough to both get away with it and improve him. Even men could take her as an example!

As a result this is a really useful book to use when teaching about Chinese women. Students come in with a lot of ideas about women in traditional China being powerless and oppressed. That’s not wrong, but getting them to go beyond that is often pretty hard. These stories mostly deal with female agency, but always in a family or dynastic context, so we are getting neither Passive Lady Plum Blossom nor Disney’s Mulan. It is also a good book for Early China. It’s always had to find something to do for the early part of a China class, given that a lot of the secondary stuff is pretty technical and the translated primary sources tend to be philosophical texts that are hard for undergrads to deal with. This seems just about perfect.

Of course, even if you are not going to teach with it, you could still read it. Its a good book.

When China was a Great Power

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:05 am

Recently I was Google-ing to find a picture of the statue of Liang Qichao that is, I think, in his hometown.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

No better way to show that someone made it big than to show a shot of their statue. I found the picture as part of an essay entitled “Superpower Empire” which looks at the fall of the Qing Dynasty and its replacement by the Qian Dynasty, tracing the history of China down to the outbreak of war with Japan in 1933. It’s a well-sourced essay that draws on such important works as

-“A Revisionist Assessment of China’s Modern Political Myths” by Geraldine Brandt, Journal of Asian Studies, Volume 55:3, 1995
-The Accidental Revolution: The Collapse of the Qing Dynasty and its Aftermath by Jonathan Spence, 1979 -Lucian Bianco’s 1967 book Revolution and Reform in China 1895-1947

As you might have guessed, it is an alternative history, where Kang Youwei became the emperor Jianguo in 1912, Liang Qichao was his wily Prime Minister, Xu Jinqin, instead of being known only as the first Chinese woman to give a political speech was also the head of the Society of the Daughters of the Yellow Emperor, the intelligence agents/prostitutes who held the empire together (see Gail Hershatter’s work for details) and T.V. Soong had to content himself with being the Shanghai businessman who created China’s first airship line.

It is a lot of fun to read because it is quite good. It is written by David Hendryk, a civil servant from France who has read a lot of Chinese history. Given how plausible much of it is, I am somewhat surprised that nothing from this has turned up in my student’s work.

China’s Museums

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:57 am

I have been reading China’s Museums, part of the Cambridge University Press series Introductions to Chinese Culture. I am finding the table of contents particularly interesting,1 as it reflects on how you categorize things. The authors, Li Xianyao and Luo Zhewen, are both major figures in the museum world, so the book gives you a reasonably up-to date2 official view of China’s 5,000 years of history and what matters in it.

It is interesting to try and figure out why things were included in what category and why they are there at all. The first category is Chinese Treasures, which starts with the Palace Museum in Beijing, but follows that with the Palace Museum in Taipei (and they call it Taipei) as well as the Shaanxi History Museum, (birthplace of Chinese culture). The Shanghai Museum is included because of “The scope, depth and quality of its collection, and its striking architecture and use of modern technology” I’m guessing that Liaoning Provincial3 is included because of the Qing stuff they have. Something good on China’s last Emperors, and thus emperors in general, is worth including. Three Gorges in Chongqing has a “glass dome [that] resembles a huge magnifying glass, reminding us to pass on the inheritance we have received from our forebears to the next generation, to use culture to nourish the earth.” So I am guessing that some combination of quality of your collection, excellence of your presentation, and importance of what you do in the narrative of Chinese history will get your museum in this book.

The second section, is, of course, The Contribution of China’s Ethnic Minorities. Eventually we get to Huaxia civilization, and these two reflect the problems of defining China. This is particularly acute for museums, since it is easier for them to slip into Han chauvinism. If all of China’s 56 nationalities are part of the great tapestry of Chinese civilization, then why is almost everything in the book Han, other than a single section on minorities?

They get around this a bit, with their definition of Huaxia 華夏, a sort of cosmic Han category that includes everything.

The term huaxia, however, is broader in meaning that “China” It indicates more of a cultural space than a geographic designation, and also implies a historical lineage. Xia is the name of the first-known dynasty of what later came to be “China.” dating to some three millennia ago.  The term hua includes both overseas Chinese as well as non-ethnic Chinese under the overarching umbrella of what today is known as China. Cultural aspects of huaxia, such as silk, tea, ceramics and Chinese medicine, have all made great contributions to mankind.

Some of the rest of the book is trying to categorize the stuff you are stuck with. Not many other countries would have a category on Treasures of China’s Grottoes, but when you have Dunhuang and Yungang and Longmen in your cultural past you probably should. Should we include archeological sites? Well, if we don’t Peking Man and Banpo will be left out, so I would guess we should.

One thing I noticed was that there is very little modern history here. Once upon a time Chinese history was revolutionary history, the story of how the Chinese people rose up and destroyed the old feudal society. There is very little of that story here.  No sites associated with Sun Yat-sen or even Mao Zedong, and little reference to the modern period at all.4 You can see this most clearly in the discussion of the National Museum of China5 The Museum has an area of 192,000 square meters, but only 2,000 square meters are dedicated to the Road to Resurgence and China’s modern history.

 

 

  1. Why, yes, I am a load of fun at parties. Why do you ask? []
  2. This seems to be the same book that was published in 2004 by China Intercontinental Press, so I’m not sure when the text was written []
  3. Which I have not been to []
  4. Zigong Salt Industry Museum does manage to slip into Natural History. []
  5. There is a great dissertation in how the China Revolutionary Museum and the China History Museum merged to form this. []

History and tourism in China

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:28 pm

China File has been following the attempts of the town of Bishan  to make itself into a tourist destination. Tourism is a rapidly growing industry in China, and lots of localities are trying to find ways to draw in the crowds. Bishan is in the Huizhou region of Anhui, which was a very prosperous region in the Qing. Some of the other towns in the area have parlayed their local architecture into UNESCO World Heritage site status and big tourist money. In fact, beyond just tourists coming in, Huizhou architecture is being appropriated by shipped out, both by cultural institutions with impeccable pedigrees like the Peabody Essex Museum and by tacky zillionaires like Jackie Chan. Bishan is a little different. They don’t have much of the classic Huizhou architecture, and have been sort of left behind.  The attempt to draw in people is headed by the Wangs, the long-time leading family of the district. While private museums and preservation efforts are not unknown in China the state usually takes the lead, and the interpretation of the site, if any, is usually up to them.  For the Wangs, rebuilding ancestral halls and re-creating genealogies has its own value outside cash, so this is a very local, grass-roots sort of project. The thing that makes it really interesting to me is the clientele they are aiming at. Below is a picture of one the inns that have been built in the town (this one in an old rapeseed oil factory) to “cater to an international clientele who eschew the region’s more popular modes of tourism”

Historical Value_ A Chinese Town Appraises Its Past _ ChinaFileI find this interesting because I am always struck by the different versions of China different tourists get to see. I’m usually particularly aware of this since I prefer going on the Chinese tours since they are cheaper and are more likely to include places connected with bits of Chinese history most foreigners have never heard of. Chinese tourists are also more likely to ask interesting questions like “what happened to all the villagers who lived here before you built this historic site?”((See that guy emptying a trash can? That’s where.)) Of course they also spit melon seeds everywhere, so you can see why foreigners would not want to be near them.

It’s pretty obvious from the photo essay that China is starting to develop different tourist trails for different customers, and they will go to different places, be told different things, read different things and see different things even when they are seeing the same things. In the picture there is some beautiful old Chinese writing which might be taken differently by Chinese and foreigners, since if you don’t know Chinese and nobody bothers to explain it you might think these are imperial inscriptions or something.1

It’s not just foreigners who want a different tourist experience of course. Rich and poor Chinese are bifurcating  more and more. Here is a picture I took while visiting the historic town of Pingyao   P2 Ok, Chinese people selling vegetables in the street. Big deal. Why would a middle-aged China hand like me waste film on that?

IMG_2157Ok, a customer on a bike. I really did not get enough pictures of daily life in bicycle China back in the day, maybe I wanted to capture that? (more…)

  1. the top one is THE PEOPLE’S COMMUNES ARE GOOD []

Boxers and Saints

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:56 am

I did a class that focused on the Boxers last semester, and one of the things I talked about was Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers and Saints.

gly_bs1This is a two volume graphic novel that looks at the Boxer event. How good is it? Well he has done his research. Cohen’s History in Three Keys was our main text and it is in Yang’s bibliography, as is Esherick’s Origins of the Boxer Uprising. It shows in the text. If you want to show your students pictures of Chinese peasants being flooded out of their homes

Flood

Or foreign missionaries being obnoxious (more…)

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