Chinese philosophy: The wild goose gradually draws near the tree

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:53 pm

Update-The wild goose is getting closer to the tree

Apparently we are experiencing a Chinese Philosophy Fever. The Atlantic has an article up on Michael Puett’s Harvard class on Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory, as described at Warp, Weft, and Way.

In general I would agree with WWW commenter Bill Haines that “I think it makes sense that a course taught this way would be taught by a historian rather than a philosophy prof.” In part this is because I am a historian, but also because I think it fits better with reasons for kids to come to a class like this. A while back I read something (Chronicle?) about a Renaissance history guy who was ordered to come up with some sort of mass-market class that drew on his period. He came up with something like “How to be a corporate toady and suck-up: Kissing the asses of the rich and powerful in a profoundly unequal society” drawing primarily on Michel de Montaigne

Needless to say the class was a huge hit, and he was horrified by both how many students wanted to take it and how many sections of it the administration wanted him to teach and how useful the class was for student who wanted to find a place in our society.

I don’t think Puett created this class out of spite, but I do think  a historian is in a good place to help students understand how philosophical or self-help texts1 help those who are reading them figure out how they fit into society. The society of Warring States China is a good analogue for ours today, where we like to talk about how the old rules no longer apply, but are still worth thinking about.2 Harvard students in particular are shi, members of the elite who can’t go wrong (in the sense of starving) whatever they do. Plus there are books like Finnegrete’s Secular as Sacred that may not be very strong as sinology or philosophy,3 but do help you make the connection.

So my point here is that if you want to teach a class like Puett’s, which uses examples from the past to explain how you should fit into society now (i.e. get a liberal education) then Warring States China is a good place to look, and a historian is an excellent guide.


Old post

I may eventually post more on this, but better than anything I might add, you should go read this article on Chinese Philosophy in the U.S. (from the Chronicle)

The thing that struck me is that the academic study of Philosophy seems to be broadening out in a way that Religious Studies (which they mention) did a long time ago, as did History. I don’t know of any nice short introductions to the struggle to get Chinese history accepted as history in American colleges, but maybe someone else does. The process seems somewhat different in Philosophy, but there are a lot of parallels.

Via Warp, Weft, and Way

  1. Analects, Zhuangzi, and most of the classical texts are self-help books that really belong on the shelf with Dr. Phil []
  2. I’m not sure how unique this really is, but  undergrads like believing that we live in an unprecedented age of change. []
  3. I am neither a philosopher or a ancient China person, so I can’t say for sure []


China on the move

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:47 am

I found a nice paper on migration inside China from Vox 1 They look at migrations inside China, and find a lot of things that you would expect. Network effects are important, leading people from one place to tend to move to the same place and cluster in the same jobs. This is what a lot of sources tell us about historical migration in China, but it is nice to see it confirmed with hard data. One thing I find particularly interesting is the extent to which migrants keep a foot in the countryside. Sojourners under the Qing and Republic were less likely to visit the old sod, I would guess, unless they were rich. As the chart below shows, over a quarter of current migrants spend 2 months a year back home. That is either a very long Spring Festival, or maybe they are coming back regularly. It may just be that the data are capturing more recent migrants, and they might tend to visit home more. In any case, there is some interesting data and nice graphs in here.

  1. Actually, I think someone else found it. It was in my bookmarks, but I have no idea how it got there []


Revising history: Brief notes

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 9:51 pm

Quick hits:

  • It’s one of the most difficult periods of modern history to teach, and I love using primary sources for the tough times, so I’m always glad to see new oral histories of the Maoist era. In some ways, the flaws the reviewer cites — wandering in particular — could be really useful for students.
  • A new revisionist history of Chiang Kaishek raises the possiblity of teaching 20th century China in a much more balanced and complete way. I’m not entirely convinced, though: the portrait of Chiang as a political visionary is still in great tension with his heavy-handed methods and questionable associates and administrative skills; the idea that Taiwan’s development was charted by Chiang has to contend with both the Japanese legacies and the favorable international environment for Taiwan’s economic development during the Cold War. I want to see some real academic reviews.
  • The NYT “Room for Debate” about Chinese Character Simplification would be a lot more interesting if they discussed anything other than the first-wave simplification carried out by the Communists — the association of language control with early empire, the natural evolution of languages (i.e. the instability of “traditional” characters), the realities of technology and language. I’ve read a couple of their “Room for Debate” pieces, and I don’t see the point.


Pigs Again: Li Shizhen’s Ming Dynasty Map

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 1:45 pm


After my posting last year of “Pigs. Shit, and Chinese History,” Sigrid Schmalzer was kind enough to share this map which she drew based on the works of the Ming dynasty scholar Li Shizhen (李時珍; 1518-1593) mostly widely known for his Bencao Gangmu (本草綱目).

It looks to me as if Li was as much concerned with how the meat would taste as with other qualities!


Learning about Tibet III

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:27 am

Zhang daren

Having learned any number of things about Tibet recently I thought I would learn some more, and thankfully the new Modern China (34.2) arrived with an interesting article by Daphon David Ho “The Men Who Would Not Be Amban and the One who Would: Four Frontline Officials and Qing Tibet Policy, 1905-1911” The article looks at the New Policies period attempts of the Qing court to establish control over Tibet, at the same time that the British were trying to do the same thing. In 1905 most Tibetans did not see themselves as citizens of a modern Chinese nation, or of a modern Tibetan nation, or as subjects of the British Empire and various people wanted to resolve this problem

Ho agrees with much of existing scholarship that one of the main events that split off Tibetan identity from Chinese identity was the brutality of the Chinese occupation of Lhasa in 1910, where Chinese behavior was, according to one Tibetan “worse than dogs and wild beasts.” Ho is mostly interested in showing how this mess was created by rivalries among Qing officials, but he also shows that there was at least the possibility that Tibet might have become China. The best hope for this came in the person of Zhang Yingtang, who served briefly as the Qing high commissioner for Tibet 1906-1907. Zhang promoted a peaceful version of Chinese-Tibetan reconciliation, and if you go to Lhasa today1 you will be shown Zhang Daren flowers, a symbol of the Tibetan people’s love for China.

As Ho points out, Zhang is a lot more interesting than modern Chinese propaganda makes him. He had been minister to the U.S., Mexico and Peru, and was very much a part of attempts to construct a new Chinese nation, and while in Tibet he tried to create a Tibet that was part of this new China.

In April 1907, [Zhang] published a treatise, “Improving Tibetan
Customs” (Banfa Zang su gailiang), in both Tibetan and Chinese. Zhang’s
plan can best be described as a peculiar blend of Confucian moral virtues,
modern hygiene, and military spirit. He began by admonishing Tibetans
about polyandry and sexual promiscuity, fretting about everything from
extramarital affairs to siblings, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, and even in-
laws sleeping in the same bed (QDZY: 1355-56). Zhang continued with a list
of recommendations that included bathing regularly, trimming down the
length of clothes (so as not to impede work), and studying Chinese, and a list
of injunctions that criticized Tibetan customs such as sky burial.

All of this is fairly typical Confucian nagging that could have just as well been directed at the Miao in 1740. Zhang goes on to urge a new level of militarism in Tibetan society.

1. When a boy turns eighteen, he should learn martial arts and the use of the
Mauser gun (Maose qiang) so that he can defend his hometown.

2. The Mauser is an essential piece of equipment for protecting yourselves
and your homes. Without it, you will surely be bullied. A Mauser costs
37 rupees, and 1,000 bullets costs 7 rupees. They are sold everywhere in
India and Sichuan. Everyone, man or woman, should spend 44 rupees to
buy a gun and bullets. When you are free, go hunting. Proceeds from the
sale of several white foxes, lynxes, or tigers will repay the cost of the gun
and bullets. After that, gains from hunting will be extra income. When
foreign enemies or robbers come, you can fight them with your guns, for
the sake of the Buddha.

later he said that

Today, the world is one of guns and cannons. There is no right
or wrong, only weak and strong. If we cannot achieve self-strengthening, we
will become prey. If people have the courage and uprightness to fight to the
death for the country, then foreign enemies will not dare to insult us. …
Military preparedness is something we cannot go a single day without deliberating.
Train troops every day; everyone discuss military affairs (riri lianbing, renrenjiangwu).
This is a vital eight-word formula.

This emphasis on arming the people would have seemed a bit radical in China proper, although the militarism itself was pretty standard New Policies stuff. Unfortunately for Zhang, if he had managed to militarize Tibetan society to the extent he wanted my guess is this would have led to more conflict with the Han rather than a single Han-Tibetan culture.

  1. I’ve never been []


How many times can we lose China?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:29 pm

via James Fallows a link to James C. Thomson’s “How Could Vietnam Happen?” a 1968 piece that The Atlantic has lifted from their archive. Thomson was a China scholar, the son of China missionaries and that point newly resigned from the government over the direction of policy in Vietnam. One point Thomson made (really for the first time) was that Vietnam policy had a serious China hangover. The Kennedy administration had inherited, and largely accepted, old ideas from the 50’s, including both geopolitical ideas, such as that the Red Chinese were on the march and that American policy must contain this new peril, and more practical points, such as the cautionary example of what had happened to the careers of the China experts in the U.S. government who had made the crucial error of being right about the outcome of the Chinese civil war. Thomson laments the limited number of Asianists with real authority in government, but I was struck by how many there were and how much influence they had in comparison with present policy towards East Asia and above all towards Iraq. One of Thompson’s points is that many of the experts were hamstrung by their concern for their “effectiveness” i.e. as people of only limited power in the hierarchy they had to pick the points were they were willing to dissent. As points where knowledge and rationality could turn Vietnam policy in a good direction were pretty few, they ended up immobilized. Still, there were at least there to be immobilized and were writing pieces like this by 1968.

One of the things that struck me was how much less contact their is between the scholarly world and American foreign policy today. Assuming that you count the “loss” of China, there have been three disastrous failures in U.S. foreign policy since my dad was born, and they were all in Asia. The Thomson essay seems to be about an important turning point in American Asia policy, the point where things went from bad to worse. Within a year of its publication the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars was created1 and the divorce between state power and academia proceeded apace. While this was probably good for the academic world, I think it was pretty bad for America. Today I get the impression that a MESA member would be about likely to get a job making Iraq policy as a reporter from Al-Jazeera.2 The China hangover seems to be going on for a long time.

  1. I think Charles Hayford was one of the original members []
  2. Of course to some extent advice and knowledge are no good if powerholders don’t care. John Dower would no doubt have been quite happy to give President Bush a briefing on why the occupation of Iraq was not likely to be like that of Japan, but nobody wanted to listen. []


China’s Traditional, right?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:04 am

Cultural Revolution? Yan’an Purge?

It’s an ugly campaign season, a mix of talent show, debate, old-fashioned politicking and dirty tricks. It’s part “American Idol,” part “Survivor.” Cheng Cheng urges his supporters to mock Xiaofei so unmercifully she can hardly make it through her first speech. Then, in an appalling act of hypocrisy, he denounces his own thugs, who are brought weeping to justice. The battle is quickly reduced to a contest between the boys, Luo Lei and Cheng Cheng, whose debate is an eerily scripted exchange of Orwellian platitudes. Luo Lei must resort to graft …



Accumulated History: A miscellany

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:35 am

As always, stuff for which I don’t give a tip of the hat mostly came from HNN

Until next time!


Pigs, Shit, and Chinese History, Or Happy Year of the Pig

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 12:55 am

The intriguing pig map in Alan Baumler’s post, “Pigs” (January 11) reminds us that 2007 is the Year of the Pig. Wikipedia informs us that a person born in the year of the Pig (or Boar) is “usually an honest, straightforward and patient person,” someone who is a “modest, shy character who prefers to work quietly behind the scenes.” The article’s list of famous people born in the Year of the Pig includes Chiang Kaishek, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lee Kuan Yew, Ronald Reagan, and Woody Allen. Does this increase your respect for astrology?

I have known some pigs. Well, maybe not exactly “known” – I’m a city kid – but at least had feelings for them. We won’t count Charlotte’s Web or the Three Little Pigs, and I probably shouldn’t even mention the pig jokes (“I haven’t had so much fun since the day the pig ate my little brother”).

If you deal with China, pigs are part of the deal, but they play a different role from elsewhere. Anthropologists duel over why peoples in the ancient Middle East (not just the Jewish pastoralists) avoided the “abominable pig.” This is a puzzle. Pigs are supremely efficient at converting their feed to meat, sows farrow quickly, and the meat is quite tasty. So what’s not to like? Mary Douglas argued that pigs were impure because they defied proper categories (Douglas 1966). Marvin Harris, in his classic Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches, makes an ecological argument: pigs were not suited to the hot, arid climate (they don’t sweat, so they wallow in mud); goats and sheep eat grass, but pigs don’t; pigs were a cultural marker of difference from the settled agriculturalists; in short, they were too expensive. Richard Lobban, Jr. followed up with a comparative study which found a correlation between pig ecology and prohibition; cool, moist conditions, such as those in Europe and China, correlated with eating pork. (Lobban, 1994; p. 71).

In China no supreme being commanded “eat not this flesh,” whether of pig, dog, or cow; still, from early on the main role of the pig was not at dinner. Economically, pigs were a great deal for farmers. They recycled waste which nobody else would touch, produced fertilizer, and at the end of the year this “piggy bank” could be carted to market to realize a cash profit. One scholar counted the fluctuation in pig skulls in neolithic tombs and concluded that pigs were important not only to eat and in religious ceremonies but to build political power (Kim 1994). Han Dynasty funerary models found in tombs included combination pig sty-latrines – when we say pigs “recycle waste” we’re not fooling! Ch’u T’ung-tsu and Hsu Cho-yun describe Han dynasty herders whose pigs rummaged through the swamps and forests.

By early modern times, the forests which fed herds were gone. The human population was so intensive that it didn’t make sense to feed animals on grain since a given piece of land could support many more people if they ate what they grew rather than feeding it to animals. But pigs fit into a niche where cows or other grain eaters could not; the disgusting eating habits of the pig came from the power of its gut to get nutrition from what had already passed through an inefficient human’s. (The fascinating subject of nightsoil will have to wait for another day). The value of this pig fertilizer was low, but the cost was almost nothing.

A knowledgeable American who lived in China in the 1930s related the “biography of a Shantung pig.” It was a “rare thing,” he observed, “for a hog to be raised from piglet to pork chop by a single farmer, and equally rare for a Chinese farmer to raise more than a single hog at a time.” The piglet was sold at market by a breeder (after being castrated to prevent competitive breeding); raised in a private pig pen-latrine; fattened by still a third owner for the meat market; then “betrayed to the butcher.” None of these farmers could afford to eat the meat, which the butcher sold by the ounce. (Winfield, 1948 pp. 64-66)

The cultural overtones of pigs in Chinese society were quite different from the Middle Eastern ones. Who could forget “Pigsie ,” Arthur Waley’s name for Zhu Bajie, the half pig, half human character in Journey to the West? Farmers are not sentimental about what they raise to be butchered, but one of my first Chinese teachers in Taiwan explained that the Chinese character jia (often translated as “home” or “family”) shows a pig under a roof. I had long wondered if this was reliable or just a folk etymology, and am thankful to Alan Baumler for sending me a solid reference which clears up the question:

Mark Lewis, in his Construction of Space in Early China, p. 92, says (following Xu Shen) that the character , home, is not a pig under a roof, but a child under a roof, as the seal-script hai looked a lot like shi . In his notes he has a quote from Lu shi chun qiu that illustrates the possible confusion:

Zi Xia was going to Jin and passed through Wei. Someone reading a historical chronicle said “The Jin army, three pigs, forded the Yellow River.” Zi Xia said, “That is wrong. This says ji hai”[己亥, one of the sexagenary cycle used to indicate the day] The character “ji ”is close to three [san ] and the character pig [shi ] resembles child [hai ]

But the folk etymology reflects a truth. Pigs often lived under the same roof with the family (I have seen this myself in the Sichuan countryside). This human/ livestock cohabitation is the reason viruses pass back and forth between humans and animals more easily in China than in places with the luxury of grain fed meat. One hypothesis is that the virus pandemic of 1918 started in Chinese pigs, while the transmission of SARS from domestic fowls to humans is well established.

What can pigs tell us about China’s modernity? Sigrid Schmalzer shows us in an eye-opening article, “Breeding a Better China: Pigs, Practices, and Place,” (Schmalzer, 2002), about agrarian reform and modernization in Ding Xian in the 1930s. I had thought I knew something about this. After all, I had written a book (Hayford, 1990) which told the story of the Ding Xian [Ting Hsien] Experiment. James Yen [Yan Yangchu] and his colleagues set out to demonstrate that Maoist revolution was not needed in order to transform the Chinese village; they also rejected the wholesale, uncritical adoption of Western models. They aimed to produce Sinified scientific techniques which fit Chinese realities. Including pigs.

So Sigrid’s article took me by surprise. By looking at what “science” actually meant to these agrarian reformers, not just their intentions, she dissects what goes astray when social experiences are not taken into account in defining “science.” The article challenges the universality of modernity based only on Western practice.

A little background: In the late 19th and early 20th century, Chinese farmers actually did pretty well. Imperialist depredations damaged China politically but many farmers benefitted from new technology, expanded transportation, growing urban markets, and even exports. Alan’s map suggests to me that the number of pigs in North China grew because farmers, long skilled at responding to the market, used these old friends on a new scale. The Rural Reconstruction reformers correctly saw that the key to improving village life was not to destroy some unchanging “feudal” system but to take advantage of the long standing commercial mentality of the small farmer. Among other things, they introduced better breeds of pigs.

Schmalzer argues that the reformers nonetheless made several mistakes. One was to assume that Chinese pigs served the same function as American ones. American farmers wanted pigs to convert their abundant corn into bacon, not scraps into fertilizer. American pigs were “scientifically” bred to produce more meat and therefore less fertilizer. Second, the reformers left out gender: Chinese pigs were domestic partners, raised mostly by women. What’s more, the Chinese system prized sows, and over the years bred selectively for sows which produced large, frequent, litters of admittedly smaller piglets; American breeders valued boars and bred for size and fashionable looks to compete at the county fair. The reformers introduced American boars so huge that they had to build special support platforms for mating.

When the Japanese invasion of 1937 ended the Ding Xian experiment, the imported pigs disappeared into the chaos of war. James Yen and agricultural scientists had no time to produce modern, scientific techniques based in Chinese practice. So in the end the difference was not between “scientific” (i.e. Western) pig breeding and Chinese folkways but between American and Chinese needs and situations.

An afterword. When my wife and I visited Yen’s Philippines Rural Reconstruction Movement in the late 1960s, local workers showed us the air conditioned pens housing the pigs introduced from the States; the new pigs, they explained, couldn’t stand the heat, were sensitive to sun burn, and demanded special treatment – not unlike, the local workers slyly added, most of the other Americans they knew.

And you thought pigs were pigs! If so, you should read Richard P. Horwitz, Hog Ties: What Pigs Tell Us About America (1998). Rich, a friend who teaches American Studies at University of Iowa, worked on a pig farm and knows his… fertilizer. Pigs are more like people than most animals, so Rich demonstrates that the way we treat them says a lot about our values and practices.



Japanese War Related Survey and its Results

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 11:13 am

Sasaki Kei, one of our contributors at the Japanese history blog here at Frog in a Well pointed out some results of a survey recently released in the Japanese press (Mainichi article here). I’m cross-posting an English summary of the questions and results here that he discusses as they may be of interest to readers of the Korean and Chinese history weblogs as well as those who don’t read Japanese.

Below are the responses of the population at large (as opposed to to those in government):

Question 1: What do you think about the government’s apologies and expressions of regret for actions during World War II: They are sufficient (36%) Insufficient (42%) There is no need (11%) No response etc. (11%)

Question 2: Evaluation of the war against the United States (in World War II): It was a reckless choice (59%) It was an unavoidable choice (33%)

Question 3: Do you think the war against China was an act of invasion? One Can’t Really Say (45%) It was a war of invasion/aggression (40%)

Question 4: Evaluation of the Tokyo War Crimes Trials: It was an unjust trial but having lost the war it was inevitable (59%) It was a just trial of those bearing responsibility for the war (17%) It was unjust and one-sided trial by the victors of the war (17%)

Mr. Sasaki feels, and I think I agree, that the number of those who say the war was inevitable or who could not come to any kind of opinion on the issue is unusually high. He adds some results from a 2000 NHK survey:

Question: The war was a war of aggression against our Asian neighbors: I agree (51%) I don’t agree (15%) It is all in the past and so has nothing to do with me (7%) I don’t know, no response (28%)

Question: The war was an inevitable conflict that a resource deprived Japan waged in order to survive: I agree (30%) I don’t agree (35%) It is all in the past and so has nothing to do with me (4%) I don’t know, no response (31%)

While it shows that there is significant diversity in opinion in Japan (though I have issues with the way the survey is done, its questions, and the options everyone can choose between) it also shows a significantly high number of those who seem to lack enough confidence to say much about the nature of the wars of the mid-century in either direction.

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