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Postings by Scott Relyea

Contact: scott [at] froginawell.net
URL: http://home.uchicago.edu/~scottr

Following Younghusband to Lhasa

Filed under: — Scott Relyea @ 5:50 pm
Just a quick post of a wonderful website I stumbled upon doing a bit of background research for a point I needed to make in the chapter I'm currently working on (yes, Googling a dissertation!) Field Force to Lhasa 1903-04 These are the letters of Captain Cecil Mainprise, who ventured to Lhasa in 1903-4 as part of the Younghusband Expedition. In another example of 'history-as-it-happens' (similar sites have been highlighted in past Frog posts) a relative of the captain is posting the letters throughout this year, 105 years later, on the day that they were written. Now that I've found him at the Phari Fort today, it's a journey I plan to follow until they reach Lhasa in August, and beyond. For a bit of background, this is the text of the editor's note from the first post on the blog: This book of letters remained unread in my father's book case for many years. I dont think anyone had read them because they were so difficult to decipher and perhaps also because no-one quite realised what an exciting escapade Uncle Cecil had been involved in and what a charismatic and remarkable character Younghusband was. I decided to have a go at reading them after my father died. I would spend evenings reading the letters and dictating what I had learnt into a cassette recorder. This process continued over a period of months. It helped that I had a period of jury service when I could press on. It was a wonderful experience. As if time had doubled back on itself and Cecil was even then on his way to Lahssa. It was a tough journey but in those days they tended to just get on with things. And of course writing to Delia he would not have wanted to worry her.

Used books online in China

Filed under: — Scott Relyea @ 7:36 am
The book markets and used bookstores of Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, and pretty much everywhere in between; their dusty piles of colourful, frayed cultural revolution cartoon books interspersed with old dictonaries, Mao buttons, and piles of post-liberation 檔案 or pre-liberation photos... This is undoubtedly a scene those of us researching or studying in China have passed through numerous times. Sometimes on these hunts we've also found more than simple kitsch or interesting trinkets to disperse as gifts to friends and family on our return, sometimes even come across the odd Republican era textbook or early PRC atlas (one of which lies at the origin of my own dissertation project). The amount of particularly CR materials for sale at these markets may seem endless, but then again so too may the stacks of unsorted books in the more permanent, neighbouring bookshops seem almost limitless. It could take countless days of scrutinising, sneezing visits, though, to even begin to be aware of what's available, and to find what's related to your research... So after getting consumed in the twice weekly book market near 杜甫草堂 Du Fu's Cottage soon after arriving in Chengdu earlier this year, I was pleasantly surprised that some random, non-linear meandering online brought me to a web resource that has been absolutely invaluable for discovering just what lies within those dusty piles. 孔夫子旧书网 Kongfz (http://www.kongfz.com/index.php) is a bit like Biblio with which many of you might be more familiar. The site claims to be: 全球最大的中文旧书网站 Its constantly growing database renders easily searchable the holdings of literally thousands of bookshops in all corners of the PRC, large and perhaps surprisingly minuscule. Indeed, what I found when I went looking for one of these 'shops' in Chengdu was the owner and his brother having a quiet lunch in their sparsely furnished flat, while each room in the flat across the landing was overflowing with the books they had for sale. The booksellers themselves maintain their own online databases and many seem to add new books daily, as well as sell books daily, so there's a bit of urgency sometimes to reserve what interests you the moment you see it as the next day it may already have been sold. Most of the books on offer are out of print, published over the last two decades or so, (as print runs were generally quite small), but what's available goes well beyond such more purely secondary sources. Many published collections of archival materials as well as 地方誌 both old and new and other collections of original materials are available for sometimes widely varying prices, as well as reprints of Qing or Republican era books. Among the items I've purchased was a 油印本 version of a book which original a certain library in Chengdu was only grudgingly willing to let me see, but certainly not photocopy or even photograph. Original copies of some Republican and even Qing books also are listed on Kongfz, though the prices tend to be a bit high. Overall, the cost of most books is quite reasonable, but purchases can only be made in China as Kongfz has no online purchase facility; rather you must first make a deposit into the bookseller's bank account and then wait for the books to arrive. Through quite a few orders, I've only had one small problem, and the ratings for each shop are quite high, so it seems overall quite a reliable service. And indeed extremely helpful for research. Check it out once in a while and you might just find that book that all your Chinese colleagues and friends have referred to but until now has been maddeningly elusive...

A Guokui for the contemporary masses

Filed under: — Scott Relyea @ 9:28 am
I was checking through CDT the other day (as I do when I'm in the mood to circumvent certain walls that surround my current location) and came across the following translation from 東南西北 (EastSouthWestNorth), an excellent blog out of Hong Kong with translations into English of news articles and blog entries from the PRC. It's apparently often the first source for many New York Times correspondents in Asia... 满城尽带黄金假 (at ESWN, original Chinese here) accompanied by photos perfectly depicts what we could say is the flip side of the economic miracle that continues to attract the blind rush to market of corporations across the globe, the flip side of society in the aftermath of a revolution of sorts. Indeed, with the apparent growth in income disparity across China, particularly evident within cities where those with power and money continue to amass but more, I was reminded of one of the illustrations I ran across in 通俗畫報 (Popular Pictorial), published in Chengdu in 1912, to the left; click on the image for a larger version. Though there's no specific indication of what city is the setting for the blog tale, I'm quite certain that the grey tile and glass in the first photo is the east corner of Chengdu Railway Station. In Chengdu, like many other cities across China, the municipal government and its 'plan' for growth and prosperity is the gospel of development, though this development seems to favour the welcoming of Armani and Sofitel along vast faux marble and concrete pedestrian shopping areas glittering with the fountains and neon of apparent prosperity. There was no neon in 1912, but as is apparent from this image, and as I've read in a few works on Chengdu, the viewpoint of these ancestors of many of today's powerful elite wasn't too different... The story originally published on Wenxue City is apparently written by a university student who helps an old woman collect plastic bottles, etc. from outside the train station then accompanies her home; the student writes: 终于到了婆婆居住的小区。冗长的小巷里,家家户户门口都堆满了各式各样的垃圾。曾经以为《功夫》里的猪笼城寨是完全虚构的地方,然而比起这里,那根本就不算什么! 'Finally, we reached the district in which the old lady lived. In this long lane, each family had stacks of garbage in front of their entrances. I used to think that Pig Sty City in the movie Kung Fu Hustle was fictional, but that was nothing compared to the reality here!' It's an interesting read, but the visuals are equally telling of this contrast which many of us likely have witnessed in China. Just after the Republican Revolution, certainly those with influence and money tended to hold the ear of the new political or military governments in Chengdu, as depicted in yet another illustration from 通俗畫報 on the right (click for a larger image), perhaps helping themselves in the rapidly changing and developing urban society a bit more than the poor of their city. From a different perspective, a July article in 经济观察报 The Economic Observer, (in Chinese here; English summary here) suggests that the urban-rural income gap is a much greater concern than income disparity within any given city. From my limited, predominately urban-based perspective, it would seem that the struggles of people such as the old woman and her neighbours, the people rummaging in trash bins for newspaper and plastic bottles whom we see every day might be greater, but I'm uncertain of this. The concern for the editors of 通俗畫報 was quite clearly the urban dwellers and their struggles comparative with the rich and powerful, perhaps less so those in the countryside, but is this still the case today? Considerations of this kind of income gap or the 'gini coefficient' (基尼系数) quoted in the EO article were absent in 1912, but it seems the problems at least within the city might be quite similar; and sadly the policies of those with influence quite similar as well. The market economy and crony capitalism was quite influential on policy in the Republican era, as presaged by the two illustrations from 1912, as it is in contemporary China as well.

Self-introduction: Scott Relyea 李皓同

Filed under: — Scott Relyea @ 5:59 am
Hi everyone at 井底之蛙, First of all, I'd like to thank Konrad for the invitation to join the Frog in a Well community. I'm happy to become part of what I think is quite an exciting web project and look forward to adding comments and posts to what's already a collection of quite interesting and enlightening discussions. So, the introduction, I'm a Ph.D. candidate in Chinese History at Chicago and am currently based in Chengdu for most of this year conducting research on 'Sichuan Khams', the western part of Sichuan Province on the 青藏高原, made famous in song throughout the southwest. My route to history began at much lower altitude, with a degree in Journalism at Northwestern before moving on to a Master's degree in International Affairs from GW, followed by another MA at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. While at GW my research in IR focused particularly on contemporary sovereignty issues and trans-boundary interactions among neighbouring sub-state political, economic, or social entities, an interest which remains at the near-periphery of my current dissertation project. In between the various degrees, I was a research assistant at the U.S. Institute for Peace in D.C. and did stints in web administration and design in various cities. (I guess that's a bit of an academic meander!) My interest in East Asia and the regions of historical or contemporary China originally began during my years at GW, spurring me to spend the requisite summer at Middlebury. But my shift into the field of history, and particularly the late Qing period came while at SOAS. Since 2001 I've been at Chicago with research or language trips to Taipei, Darjeeling, Dharamshala, London, and various points between. For a little non-academic diversion, a link to some photos from some of these trips can be found on my admittedly quite dull website (http://home.uchicago.edu/~scottr/), long overdue for an update... Currently titled Pacifying Khams: Qing Imperialism and the Bureaucratisation of Colonial Space, the dissertation project essentially encompasses the 15-year period from 1904, the arrival of Younghusband in Lhasa, to 1919, when the last significant negotiations on the international status of Tibet took place between Great Britain and the ROC government in Beijing. While this may seem that the British efforts in Tibet are central to the thesis, indeed they're not, although most histories, in Chinese as well, would tend to place them at the centre as at least catalyst of certain events. This period encompasses the two major military campaigns sent from Chengdu to Khams, that of 趙爾豐 Zhao Erfeng from 1907-1911, and 尹昌衡 Yin Changheng from 1912-1913, as well as the Simla Conference and lesser-known negotiations carried out directly between the military government of Sichuan Province and representatives of the Dalai Lama during 1912. The central focus of the dissertation is on the political and economic importance of Sichuan Khams to both the central and provincial governments during the years 1904 to 1919 and its consequent effect on the state-building and province-building policies of each respectively. As I've been spending much of the last few months in libraries and archives in Sichuan going through memorials and especially 報刊 produced both by organs of the provincial government and by local literati, I expect at least my initial posts will come from or relate to some of what I've been finding. I suppose that's a rambling enough intro, so I'll leave it at that and post something more substantive soon. BTW, that's not me on the right, just one of my fellow researchers these days at the 四川省圖書館

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