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.


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…


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!)


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