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 cookies1 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 quote2 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?


  1. Was it ever common? I don’t remember ever seeing it. []
  2. Goldsmith counts []


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.





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. []


The Chinese are topsy-turvy

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 3:31 am

3704522490_bd0b6cedde_zOne common theme that turns up a lot in older Western writings on China is the idea that China is the opposite of the West. Just take our, normal, rational way of doing things and flip it 180 degrees and you have China. Another common trope is that the Chinese are a paradox, rational yet superstitious, industrious yet improvident, civilized yet barbarous. Oh, and they are inscrutable too. If you are looking for a nice short quote to illustrate these sorts of attitudes here is one from Samuel Merwin in 1908

China is the land of paradox. If it is an absolute, despotic monarchy, it is also a very democratic country, with its self-made men, its powerful public opinion, and a “states’ rights” question of its own. It is one of the most corrupt of nations; on the other hand, the standard of personal and commercial honesty is probably higher in China than in any other country in the world. Woman, in China, is made to serve; her status is so low that it would be a discourtesy even to ask a man if he has a daughter: yet the ablest ruler China has had in many centuries is a woman. It is a land where the women wear socks and trousers, and the men wear stockings and robes; where a man shakes his own hand, not yours; where white, not black, is a sign of mourning; where the compass points south, not north; where books are read backward, not forward; where names and titles are put in reverse order, as in our directories—Theodore Roosevelt would be Roosevelt Theodore in China, Uncle Sam would be Sam Uncle; where fractions are written upside down, as 8⁄5, not 5⁄8; where a bride wails bitterly as she is carried to her wedding, and a man laughs when he tells you of his mother’s death.

Chinese life, or the phases of it that you see along the highroads of the northwest, would appear to be a very simple, honest life, industrious, methodical, patient in poverty. The men, even of the lowest classes, are courteous to a degree that would shame a Frenchman. I have seen my two soldiers, who earned ten or twenty cents, Mexican, a day, greet my cook with such grace and charm of manner that I felt like a crude barbarian as I watched them. The simplicity and industry of this life, as it presented itself to me, seemed directly opposed to any violence or outrage. Yet only seven years ago Shansi Province was the scene of one of the most atrocious massacres in history, modern or ancient. During a few weeks, in the summer of 1900, one hundred and fifty-nine white foreigners, men, women, and children, were killed within the province, forty-six of them in the city of T’ai Yuan-fu. The massacre completely wiped out the mission churches and schools and the opium refuges, the only missionaries who escaped being those who happened to be away on leave at the time. The attack was not directed at the missionaries as such, but at the foreigners in general. It was widely believed among the peasantry that the foreign devils made a practice of cutting out the eyes, tongues, and various other organs of children and women and shipping them, for some diabolical purpose, out of the country. The slaughter was directed, from beginning to end, by the rabid Manchu governor, Yü Hsien, and some of the butchering was done by soldiers under his personal command. But the interesting fact is that the docile, long-suffering people of Shansi did some butchering on their own account, as soon as the word was passed around that no questions would be asked by the officials.

Apparently, the Shansi peasant can be at one time simple, industrious, loyal, and at another time a slaying, ravishing maniac. The Chinaman himself is the greatest paradox of all. He is the product of a civilization which sprang from a germ and has developed in a soil and environment different from anything within our Western range of experience. Naturally he does not see human relations as we see them. His habits and customs are enough different from ours to appear bizarre to us; but they are no more than surface evidences of the difference between his mind and ours. Thanks to our strong racial instinct, we can be fairly certain of what an Anglo-Saxon, or even a European, will think in certain deeply human circumstances—in the presence of death, for instance. We cannot hope to understand the mental processes of a Chinaman. There is too great a difference in the shape of our heads, as there is in the texture of our traditions.


Samuel Merwin Drugging a Nation: The Story of China and the Opium Curse New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1908 p.70



Mixing water with water

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:37 pm

Here is a dialogue (from the Zuozhuan) I used in class this week.

The Duke declares “It is Ju alone who is in harmony with me.”

Yanzi replied, “Ju is in fact the same [as you]. How can he attain to harmony?” The ruler said, “Are harmony and identity different?”

Yanzi said, ‘They are different. Harmony is like a stew. Water, fire, jerky, mincemeat, salt, and plum [vinegar] are used to cook fish and meat; they are cooked over firewood; the master chef harmonizes them, bringing them into equality with seasonings, compensating for what is insufficient and diminishing what is too strong. The gentleman eats it and thus calms his heart. With ruler and subject it is the same. When there is something unacceptable about what the ruler considers acceptable, the subject reports the unacceptable to perfect the acceptability. When there is something acceptable about what the ruler considers unacceptable, the subject reports the acceptable in order to eliminate the unacceptable. In this way administration is calm and without interference, and the people lack the desire to struggle. Thus the Shi says:

There is a harmonious stew.

We are careful and calm.

We advance silently;

There is no struggling.’

The former kings adjusting of the five flavors and harmonizing of the five tones was for the calming of hearts and the completion of administration. Sounds are just like flavors. The single breath, the two forms, the three genres, the four materials, the five tones, the six pitches, the seven notes, the eight airs, the nine songs: these are used to complete one another. The clear and the muddy, the small and the large, the short and the long, the presto and the adagio, the somber and the joyous, the hard and the soft, the delayed and the immediate, the high and the low, the going out and coming in, the united and separate: these are used complement one another. The gentleman listens to it and thus calms his heart. “When the heart is calm, the virtue is in harmony. Thus the Shi says:

The sound of his virtue is unblemished.’

“Now Ju is not like this. What you, the ruler, consider acceptable, Ju also says is acceptable. What you consider unacceptable, Ju also says is unacceptable. If you were to complement water with water, who could eat it? If the zithers and dulcimers were to hold to a single sound, who could listen to it? This is how identity is unacceptable1)

I like this quote a lot, because it gives you a nice introduction to the world of classical Chinese thought. It is in the form of a dialogue between a ruler and a philosopher. The ostensible point is that a virtuous advisor, Yanzi, is putting down a toadying suck-up (Ju). More importantly it goes well with the common idea of resonance; that the patterns that govern the natural world are the same as those that govern the human world. Thus the sage is like a great cook or a great conductor, (or a doctor) harmonizing everything and thus bringing about tranquillity. Tranquillity of course being the goal. We have quotes from the Book of Songs, a contrast between the small man and the gentleman, the former kings, a list of examples with numbers  This is one that I like well enough that I actually print it out and give it to them.

Original text

十二月,齊侯田于沛,招虞人以弓,不進,公使執之,辭曰,昔我先君之田也,旃以招大夫,弓以招士, 皮冠以招虞人,臣不見皮冠,故不敢進,乃舍之仲尼曰,守道不如守官,君子同之,齊侯至自田,晏子侍于遄臺,子猶馳而造焉,公曰,唯據與我和夫,晏子對曰, 據亦同也,焉得為和,公曰,和與同異乎,對曰異,和如羹焉,水火醯醢鹽梅,以烹魚肉,燀之以薪,宰夫和之,齊之以味,濟其不及,以洩其過,君子食之,以平 其心,君臣亦然,君所謂可,而有否焉,臣獻其否,以成其可,君所謂否,而有可焉,臣獻其可,以去其否,是以政平而不干民無爭心,故詩曰,亦有和羹,既戒既 平,鬷假無言,時靡有爭,先王之濟五味,和五聲也,以平其心,成其政也,聲亦如味,一氣,二體,三類,四物,五聲,六律,七音,八風,九歌,以相成也,清 濁大小,長短疾徐,哀樂剛柔,遲速高下,出入周疏,以相濟也,君子聽之,以平其心,心平德和,故詩曰,德音不瑕,今據不然,君所謂可,據亦曰可,君所謂 否,據亦曰否,若以水濟水,誰能食之,若琴瑟之專壹,誰能聽之,同之不可也如是 Original here



  1. Schaberg, David. A Patterned Past: Form and Thought in Early Chinese Historiography. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Asia Center, 2001. p.231 (from Zuo []


A clash of symbols

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:42 pm

In the introduction of Julia Lovell’s The Opium War she discusses an incident from November, 2010. David Cameron had gone to China, and it being November he and his team were all wearing poppies. For the British the poppy is a symbol of the war dead of the Great War. It is not really a symbol in China, although of course a British PM with a poppy on did bring up memories of the Opium Wars. Cameron was asked to take his poppy of, and of course refused. Despite the possible hurt feelings of the Chinese people the Chinese government allowed him to keep his poppy.


As the link above shows, even Daily Mail readers were sometimes understanding of the Chinese position, and the Chinese were willing to let Cameron run around with a poppy, so everyone behaved very well. I’m actually glad to see that when there is a deal to be made the ancient hatreds of the past can be set aside.

For those of our readers who are Chinese, the association of poppies with wartime sacrifice is more important in Britain, but is also known elsewhere.




History and hats

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:42 am

One book that I use in my classes is Bickers’ Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai. The book is the story of William Tinkler, an Englishman who served in the Shanghai Municipal Police. Students sometimes find it hard to warm up to the book because Tinkler is not easy to identify with.1 Bickers is interested in him because he is a good example of the lower parts of Empire and how they were experienced and also, I would guess, because Tinkler manages to go down the tubes at about the same pace as the Empire.  I like the book because it is a ripping yarn and Bickers talks a good deal about historical method and how historians go about figuring things out. One thing that struck them last time was the discussion of Tinkler’s headgear. In a chapter called “What We Can’t Know”, where Bickers discusses the ways historians deal with a lack of evidence he  mentions that when Tinkler died2 he was the owner of five berets. Bickers suggests that he had a taste for wearing them. This seems really hard to believe. Could you see  Tinkler the dashing SMP detective


Or Tinkler the Empire hobo


in a beret? There is a really good story here, but Ranke only knows what it is.  He was sort of out at elbow after leaving the SMC, maybe he got hold of a shipment of berets and these were the final ones he had not sold? Maybe he was an anti-Obelix, going around beating up Frenchmen and taking their hats to keep score? Maybe my understanding of the history of treaty port fashion its too limited for me to make sense of Tinkler’s hats?   Anyone who has ever done historical research remembers finding facts that were amazing and obviously could be used to make some important point. Bickers describes the process of finding a lot of things like this and slowly finding a context for them. Most authors don’t clue you in to the the bits that they could never find anything to do with, but Bickers does. It’s a nice book for China, but also for historical method.





  1. And, of course, the book is soooo boooring []
  2. Stabbed by a Japanese Marine in 1939 []


Going Native

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:11 am

Here is something from Edward V. Gulick Teaching in Wartime China: A Photo-Memoir, 1937-1939. ((University of Massachusetts, 1995)) When Gulick came to China he was a young, idealistic part of the wealthy, idealistic Yale in China program. He went on to have a career as a historian of international relations and of China, but at this point he was a young  Christian from a missionary family (although he ‘disliked old-fashioned missionary evangelism’1 ) who knew no Chinese and little about China. Still, he took to the place, and he learned a lot, much of it through meeting up with various missionaries, China hands and others. The one who interested me most was Gerald.

The exotic qualities of the hotel were enhanced by our linking up with someone I will call Gerald, a young English Buddhist who was on his way to Kunming and who had also come on the S.S. Canton from Hong Kong. Gerald identified himself as a dropout from Cambridge University and as a member of a prominent English family. He had lived several years in South China and several more in Peiping, attaining fluency in both Cantonese and Mandarin, and becoming a Buddhist convert. That was interesting enough, but I was astonished to learn that this tall, handsome and self-assured man had an opium habit, and then fascinated  to be invited to watch him smoke. He was articulate, loved to talk, and relished having an interested audience as he lay on his side and prepared his opium for smoking. That ritual consisted of dipping a blunt needle into a viscous fluid like molasses; the tip of the needle with its adhering drop was held briefly over the concentrated heat of a squat opium lamp. He turned the drop as it bubbled and then shaped it on the flat surface near the bowl of the pipe, before dipping the needle tip wth its cooled droplet into the “molasses” once again, the cycle being repeated slowly and peacefully six or eight times. The finished pellet was finally pushed off the needle into the tiny bowl of the opium pipe which was turned to the heat of the lamp so the smoker could ignite the pellet with several big puffs followed by a gigantic long inhale. The whole procedure was known as a “mouth.” Since this took place thirty years before the prevalence of drugs in middle-class America, it seemed incredibly exotic
and offbeat to me.
Dr. Liebenthal and I visited Gerald a number of times in opium dens to watch and listen. He talked of northern and southern differences in preparation, of the gentleness of the habit, of how he had smoked socially off and on for a year, and even regularly for a month in order to cope with an intestinal ailment, before he realized he had a habit. By the time I knew him he was compelled to smoke two or three “mouths” both morning and evening. He was eager to show us how benign and peaceful the dens were, how civilized smoking was, how unrelated the whole process was to the ill-informed and prejudiced ways in which it was usually perceived by Westerners.
Gerald possessed a romantic image of a perfect and purified Chinese culture that led him to an obsessive conviction that the Chinese way of
doing anything- in art, in language, in manners, in dress, in architecture, in agriculture and organization, in religion- was demonstrably the
best. Initially, I found this view of life sympathetic, but it risked slipping from novelty and stimulation to tedium and aggravation.

Eventually he sours on Gerald, but for me the opium smoking was the most interesting part. Apparently for Gerald opium smoking was a vital part of connecting to China. Liu Wendian seems to have felt the same way. Needless to say that is not true now, but it was part of the package as recently as the 1930s

  1. p.16 []


A memory stirs..

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:17 am

Reading Emily Whewell’s review of this new book on the Chinese and Japanese treaty port systems and extraterritoriality brought back a long-ago scholarly memory.

My first seminar paper in graduate school — that small snippet of scholarship which is supposed to prepare callow youth (intellectually speaking) for greater things, and scout a path through the existing forests of scholarship — was a comparison of the Chinese and Japanese treaty port systems. I remember very little about the paper, except embarassment.

I titled the paper something like “The Treaty Port Systems of Japan and China: A Fruitful Comparison” — and Cassell’s work, cited above, confirms my sense of topic, if not my other judgements — and in the end I came to the conclusion that the systems were, in fact, too different to be considered quite the same thing. In fact, I concluded, it was like “apples and oranges”….

It’s a wonder that I survived graduate school. I try to remember that when I’m evaluating my own students.


China, the Hobgoblin of Small Minds

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:34 pm

I had a student ask me in class, recently, about whether China, among other countries, was planning to take advantage of our coming collapse to move into a position of world domination, that they had operational plans and expected the collapse to come momentarily. I responded by pointing out that most advanced nations develop contingency plans for a wide variety of possible future scenarios, so that the existence of a plan is no guarantee of it’s probability.

Then, today, I read about this 2006 Delaware Senate debate:

Republican Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell of Delaware said in a 2006 debate that China was plotting to take over America and claimed to have classified information about the country that she couldn’t divulge.

O’Donnell’s comments came as she and two other Republican candidates debated U.S. policy on China during Delaware’s 2006 Senate primary, which O’Donnell ultimately lost.

She said China had a “carefully thought out and strategic plan to take over America” and accused one opponent of appeasement for suggesting that the two countries were economically dependent and should find a way to be allies.

“There’s much I want to say,” she said at the time. “I wish I wasn’t privy to some of the classified information that I am privy to.”

This is four years old, now: have we seen considerable progress in the takeover of the US by China? Seems to me that we’ve been holding steady, mostly. My immediate thought is that a US economic/political collapse would leave China in a strong short-term position, but an extremely weak long-term one, given the interdependence of our economies and technology sectors. But I’m not privy to classified information.

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