井底之蛙

8/27/2014

Chiang Yee and understanding China

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:00 pm

I have been reading a bit about Chiang Yee lately. If any of our readers know him it is probably as the author of Chinese Calligraphy: An Introduction to Its Aesthetic and Technique  which he wrote as a professor at Columbia, which was his third or fourth life. He’s one of those people where its hard to count how many careers he actually had. He was born in China in 1903 and worked as a soldier, journalist, teacher and government official.  At one point he was probably best known for his Silent Traveler series of books which he wrote/painted after moving to England in 1933. The combination of Chinese-style paintings of English sights

fig4_umbrellas

along with wry observations of the foibles of the foreigners proved to be very popular and he became one of the best-known interpreters of China in the West.  Yee is credited with the translation 可口可乐    for Coca-Cola1 The Silent Traveller books are  written in a style that sometimes seems like interwar faux-oriental stuff and sometimes like a real Chinese literati writing about his travels.  The latter is not surprising, given that his first published work was an account of a trip to Hainan that he published in 东方杂志.

Not surprisingly, what I found most interesting was Chiang’s problematic relationship with modern Chinese nationalism. On the one hand he had a fairly rosy view of the Old China, and spent much of his life in self-imposed exile from Chinese corruption, working as a guide to China’s timeless tradition to foreigners. On the other hand, he was a chemist, regretted his arranged marriage, served in the Northern Expedition, strongly supported China in the War of Resistance and returned to spend the last days of his life in China.

He appears quite May-4th-y in Men of the Burma Road, (羅鐵民) a book he published in 1943 to tell the stirring story of the building of the Road by the Chinese masses. He of course did the illustrations, and while they are good.

Burma1 Burma2 Burma3

I can’t help but think that something more along the line of a woodcut might show the toil and suffering better.img2645vhd

The story is quite interesting, since with only a very few changes it could be a Mao-period story about building communes or something. The main figure is Old Lo, a Chinese peasant who is attached to his land. That is in fact the only thing he cares about, like a stereotypical Chinese peasant. He sees no point in education for the likes of himself, and he objected to his son joining the army and to his neighbour’s children getting educated. Like a good Pearl Buck peasant he respects learning but thinks it is not for him.

All this changes with the Japanese invasion. At first, he is unwilling to give up his land to allow the Burma Road to be built to help the war effort. His neighbours and family members, who are up to date and members of a rural co-0p urge him to change, but he is immovable as….well, an old Chinese peasant.  Even his best friend’s daughter is is giving speeches in public to support the war effort as the society around him is transformed.

The Japanese kill most of his family, however. His daughter “did not fall into the tiger’s mouth and bring the black spot on our family” because she drowned herself rather than being raped by Japanese soldiers.2 All this causes him to give up his land and work heroically to build the Road, which is, of course, made (and illustrated) with traditional Chinese methods. Chinese workers

Using only their hands, they erected 289 bridges, including two big suspension bridges with a load bearing capacity of 10 to 15 tons, and 1,959 culverts. The road-bed is sixteen feet wide, has a maximum grade of eight in a hundred and a minimum curve radius of fifty feet.3

As if that’s not enough, we also get pictures of Natives in Native dress and a scathing portrait of Mr. Wood and Mr. Coward, an English and American journalist who make up stories about Old Lo that will better fit the ideas westerners already have about China. The pictures of natives seem to be the author buying into stereotypes about minority nationalities, and the journalist parts seem like a sophisticated critique of just those sorts of stereotypes. I doubt there will ever be a critical edition of this book, but if it ever goes up on Google books, you could cover almost everything you need to cover in a Modern China class through this.

 

 

  1. Zheng Da p.78 []
  2. p.40 []
  3. p.85 []

8/23/2014

Early Medieval China

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:35 am

Just for fun I have been reading Early Medieval China: A Sourcebook.1 It is a very good book, written by a collection of the superheros of the field. The advertising blurb from Columbia calls it “innovative” and it indeed is. Normally a sourcebook is a collection of primary sources aimed, mostly, at undergraduates. This book is rather more ambitious. There are probably a few places where undergraduates take courses specialized enough to merit assigning a book like this, but not many. Mostly it is aimed at scholars, being intended to summarize some of the most important recent work and suggest what might be done in the future. Thus we get Yang Lu explains and translates some of the wooden slips dealing with local administration found at Changsha in 1996, and we also get various tomb texts that have never been translated into English. The introductions to the volume and to the individual sections are the best short introductions to these topics2 available in English. The introductions and notes matter a lot. In a more traditional sourcebook editors often look for readings that an undergraduate would be able to get something out of without too much of an introduction or too many footnotes. Sometimes this is not too hard. Confucius talking about being a good person and Xunzi talking about good government are things that most students should be able to pick up on without too much hand-holding.  This period is different, however, and while the editors are at pains to point out that there was more going on in the culture of the period than “insect carving”, i.e. the incredibly recondite, allusive writing that the era is notorious for (although they do include Pei Ziye’s ‘Discourse on Insect Carving.’) they have put a lot of work into introducing the otherwise obscure readings and glossing everything that needs to be glossed.

There are, for instance, a whole set of texts that deal with topics that most people who teach the field talk about a lot. There is a nice reading from Ge Hong on the cultural differences between North and South, which is, of course one of the traditional themes of the period. The reading also gives something of the importance of Philology (and Phonology) in the scholarship of the time, as well as the importance of language, a theme that runs throughout the book.

Ge Hong
“ON PRONUNCIATION AND SPEECH”
(YINCI) (EXCERPT)
People of the Nine Provinces speak in different dialects. This has been the norm since the beginning of mankind. [ ... ] The land and waters of the South are mild and gentle; [thus] the sound [of Southern speech] is bright and crisp. The shortcoming is its shallowness. Its expressions are mostly vulgar. The mountains and rivers in the North are solemn and deep; [thus] the sound (of Northern speech] is baritone and rotund, taking after the simplicity and ruggedness [of the landscape]. The expressions contain many ancient terms. However, Southern [speech] is finer when spoken by nobles and gentlemen; Northern [speech] is better when spoken by villagers and peasants. One could distinguish in a few words a Southern gentleman from a commoner, even if they exchanged clothes. One would have difficulty differentiating between a Northern courtier and a countryman even after listening [to them] all day from behind a wall. Moreover, Southern speech has been influenced by [the dialects of] Wu and Yue; Northern speech has [the languages of] barbarians and captives mixed into it. Both have deep flaws that cannot be discussed in detail here.[ ... ] Since I arrived at Ye, I find only Cui Ziyue and his nephew Cui Zhan Li Zuren and his younger brother, Li Wei to be knowledgeable in speech and slightly more accurate [in pronunciation]. Resolving Doubts About Sounds and Rhymes composed by Li Jijie [lived during Northern Qi], contains many mistakes. The Classification of Rhymes, devised by Yang Xiuzhi is perfunctory. The [pronunciation of the] children of my house, since their childhood, has been watched and corrected. I take any mispronunciation of a character as my own fault. When determining what an object should be called, I dare not utter its name without first consulting books and records-this you know well.
[Yanshi jiaxun jijie, 529-45]

On the other hand they also have all sorts of things that don’t fit the traditional picture of the period as well. Shu Xi’s “Rhapsody on Pasta” is a good example.

…At the beginning of the three spring months
When yin and yang begin to converge,
And the chilly air has dispersed,
When it is warm but not sweltering,
At this time for feasts and banquets
It is best to serve mantou. 32

When Wu Hui governs the land,33
And the pure yang spreads and diffuses,
We dress in ramie and drink water,
Cool ourselves in the shade.
If in this season we make pasta,
There is nothing better than bozhuang. 34

When the autumn wind blows fierce, 35
And the great Fire Star moves west,36
When sleek down appears on birds and beasts,
And barren branches appear on trees,
Dainties and delicacies must be eaten warm.
Thus, leavened bread may be served.37

In dark winter’s savage cold,
At early-morning gatherings,
Snot freezes in the nose,
Frost forms around the mouth,
For filling empty stomachs and relieving chills,
Boiled noodles are best.

Thus, each kind is used in a particular season,
Depending on what is apt and suitable for the time.
If one errs in the proper sequence,
The result will not be good.

Ok, so just like in the ancient texts, you need to adopt your foods to the season. Obviously if one does not the results for your health and the balance of the universe will not be good. Is there anything that, like chicken soup with rice, is good all times of the year? Yes, there is.

That which Through winter, into summer,
Can be served all year round,

And in all four seasons freely used,
In no respect unsuitable,
Can only be the boiled dumpling. 38

And then, twice-sifted flour, 39
Flying like dust, white as snow,
Sticky as glue, stringy as tendons,
Becomes moist and glistening, soft and lustrous.

For meat There are mutton shoulders and pork ribs,
Half fat, half skin. It is chopped fine as fly heads,
And strung together like pearls, strewn like pebbles.
Ginger stalks and onion bulbs,
Into azure threads are sliced and split.
Pungent cinnamon is ground into powder,
Fagara and thoroughwort are sprinkled on.
Blending in salt, steeping black beans,
They stir and mix all into a gluey mash.

And then, when the fire is blazing and the hot water is bubbling,
Savage fumes rise as steam.
Pushing up his sleeves, dusting off his coat,
The cook grasps and presses, pats and pounds.
Flour is webbed to his finger tips,
And his hands whirl and twirl, crossing back and forth.
In a flurrying frenzy, in a motley mixture,
The dumplings scatter like stars, pelt like hail.
Meat does not burst into the steamer,
And there is no loose flour on the dumplings.
Lovely and pleasing, mouthwatering,
The wrapper is thin, but it does not burst.
Rich flavors are blended within,
A plump aspect appears without.
They are as tender as spring floss,
As white as autumn silk.
Steam, swirling and swelling, wafts upward,
The aroma swiftly spreads far and wide.

So now you have a recipe to try. Thoroughwort is, I think, Bone-set, and I would not use it in food, but the rest should be easy enough to find.
There are also readings on topics that have always been aspects of the Great Tradition, but have gotten less attention in the past. Thus we have a whole section on Auto-cremation. If you have been wondering how immolation fits into the Buddhist tradition there are readings here for you.

THE SONG MONK HUIYI (D. 463)
OF ZHULIN SI IN THE CAPITAL

Huiyi was from Guangling. When he was young, he left home and followed his master to Shouchun During the Xiaojian period of the Song [454-456] he arrived in the capital [Jiankang] and resided at Zhulin si. He diligently practiced austerities, and he vowed to burn his body. When his fellow monks heard of this, some castigated him while others praised him. In the fourth year of Daming [460], he began by abstaining from cereals and ate only sesame and wheat. In the sixth year, he stopped eating wheat and consumed only oil of thyme.17 Sometimes he also cut out the oil and ate only pills made of incense. Although the four gross elements [of his body] became feeble, his spirit was clear and his judgment was sound.

Emperor Xiaowu [r. 454-464] had a profound regard for Huiyi and respectfully inquired [as to his intentions]. He dispatched his Chief Minister Yigong, Prince of Jiangxia. [413-465], to the monastery to reason with him. But [Hui] yi would not go back on his vow. On the eighth day of the
fourth month of the seventh year of the Darning reign period [May 11, 463], he prepared to burn himself.

He set up a cauldron full of oil on the southern slope of Zhong shan That morning, he mounted an oxcart drawn by humans and was going from the monastery to the mountain. But then he realized that the emperor was not only the foundation of the people but also the patron of the three jewels
He wanted to enter the palace under his own strength, but when he reached the Yunlong gate he could no longer proceed on foot. He sent a messenger to say, “The man of the Way, Huiyi, who is about to abandon his body, is at the gate and presents his farewells. He profoundly hopes that the
Buddha dharma may be entrusted [to his majesty].” When the emperor heard his message, he was upset and immediately came out to meet him at the Yunlong gate. When [Hui]yi saw the emperor, he earnestly entrusted the Buddha dharma to his care, then he took his leave. The emperor followed him. Princes, concubines, empresses, religious, laity, and officials flooded into the valley. The robes that they offered and the treasures that they donated were incalculable.

Huiyi now entered the cauldron, lay down on a little bed within it, and wrapped himself in cloth. On his head he added a long cap, which he saturated with oil. As he was about to apply the flame to it, the emperor ordered his chief minister to approach the cauldron and to try to dissuade him. (Yigong pleaded], “There are many ways to practice the path; why must you end your life? I wish you would think again and try a different track.” But Huiyi’s resolve was unshakable and he showed no remorse. He replied, “This feeble body and this wretched life, how do they deserve to be retained? If the mind of Heaven and the compassion of the sage [i.e., the emperor] are infinite, then my wish is merely that twenty people [be allowed to] leave home.” An edict ordering these ordinations was immediately issued. [Hui]yi took up the torch in his own hand and ignited the cap. With the cap ablaze, he cast away the torch, put his palms together, and chanted the “Chapter on the Medicine King.” As the flames reached his eyebrows, the sound of his recitation could still be clearly discerned. Reaching his eyes, it became indistinct. The cries of pity from the rich and poor echoed in the dark valley. They all clicked their fingers [in approval]; they intoned the name of the Buddha and cried, full of sorrow.

The fire did not die down until the next morning. At that moment, the emperor heard the sound of pipes in the air and smelled a strange perfume that was remarkably fragrant. He did not return to the palace until the end of that day. In the night he dreamed that he saw Huiyi, who came striking a bell. Again [the monk] entrusted to him the Buddha dharma. The next day, the emperor held an ordination ceremony. He ordered the Master of Ceremonies to give a eulogy for the funeral service. At the place of the autocremation was built Yaowang si in an allusion to [Huiyi's recitation of] the “Original Acts.”

As I said above, I can’t imagine teaching a class where I would be able to assign this to students, but it is a great beach read.

  1. Swartz, Wendy, Robert Ford Campany, Yang Lu, and Jessey J. C. Choo. Early Medieval China: A Sourcebook. Columbia University Press, 2013. []
  2. “Relations with the Unseen World, Everyday Life, Imaging Self and Other, Cultural Capital, Governing Mechanisms and Social Reality, The North and the South” []

8/22/2014

Understanding China Through Comics

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:46 am

The third volume of Understanding China Through Comics is out, and it is good. In my previous reviews I talked about how well the books explained Chinese history and how well they worked visually. As before, the answer to both is pretty well, and they are getting better.

This volume goes from 907-1368, so we get the Song and the Yuan. This is a tricky period to deal with visually. There are a lot of foreigners around, and it is hard to distinguish them. Different hats will help.

Hats

Unlike western writers, Liu is committed to explaining all the political ins and outs of this period, and he does a pretty good job of sorting out the constant political shifts, although reading this also helps explain why so may other authors don’t bother with all this.

As in the earlier volumes there is a lot of stuff explaining the past in terms of the present, so Song commercialization/technical advances is done through by having Malcom Gladwell drop by to discuss rice paddies. Gladwell

The Song is actually a pretty interesting test case for Liu’s central thesis, that Chinese history is a 5,000 year quest to create a middle-class society, given that this is the time of the birth of an early modern commercial society and a time of great technological advance. SongTreadSongTechMost importantly, this was the time of Wang Anshi. Wang’s reforms have garnered a lot of attention in the 20th century, since he is the Chinese official who’s policies can be most easily linked to the present. If you want to find signs of modern administration, the welfare state, democracy, or incipient Communists totalitarianism in traditional China, Wang’s reforms are where you look. Liu is clearly a member of Team Wang, presenting him as an upright technocrat who should have been listened to. WangAnshi The Song is also portrayed as the age when the “scholar-officials” came fully into power, and the idea that these upright technocrats were admirable and sacrosanct came from here. No more executing those who speak truth to power!ScholarsWhile all the above is both pretty good history and also clearly has modern resonances, Liu does point out that you can’t read Chinese nationalism back into the past. Here we have peasants telling each other that it does not much matter who they are paying taxes to. This makes the books quite different from a lot of the Chinese history you see in China, where all of China’s 56 ethnic groups have always been modern nationalists.  PeasantsDontcareUnfortunately, Liu does gloss over some of the more bothersome aspects of China’s past. Footbinding is a good example. In this book it is presented as a way of protecting Chinese women from being carried off by barbarians.

FootbindingNobody has a really good explanation for why footbinding spread, but needless to say this is not one of the possible explanations. More importantly, this page reconciles me to the fact that Liu is not planning to go past 1911 in his history. If you won’t look at the uglier part of your history, what can you do with those who rebel against it? If you leave out what footbinding really was you can’t do Joe Hill or MLK, or Lu Xun or Liang Qichao. I guess they are just nagging troublemakers, rather than the best of what you are.

ALSO

At the same time the new, re-drawn and expanded revised edition of Volume One is out.
(( Jing Liu claimed he “fixed some of the problems you pointed out.”, and while I doubt I had much influence on what he did, it is nice to think that this is a blog that Gets Results. )) Liu seems to be warming to his task, and in this new world of publish on demand he can re-work his stuff as much as he wants. Here is China surrounded by foes in the introduction to the old Volume 1

Divided V1

And here it is on p.13 of the new version

RivalStates2

Not only are the drawings more detailed, they are better in that they convey more. You can loose yourself in the second one in a way you can’t in the first version.

Here is the old version of Confucianism as a means of social mobility Mobility V 1

Here is the new.

Exams

He has also expanded some parts. In the last version I mentioned that this was about as well as you could explain Confucianism, Daoism, and Legalism in one page,

photo5

but also pointed out that it might be o.k to use more than one page. Here is (part of) the new version.

Daosim

We also get a bit more history of technology, and also a tendency to have characters leap out of the page to explain things to us.

It is still pretty much the same book, only better.

 

8/14/2014

So that’s why..

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:49 am

I’ve been reading Peter Harmsen’s Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze. I like it a lot. Part of the reason I like it is that he is a journalist who has worked in China for years and now and has written quite a good book, based on both Chinese and western sources. As I have discussed before, I am really envious of my Americanist colleagues who can give students all sorts of academic stuff, popular stuff written by academics, stuff written by non-academics that is quite good, etc. Until recently all we had for the China field was academic stuff, a small amount of non-academic crud, and very little in between. This is starting to change, and this book is a good example of it.

One thing that it helped clear up for me is why the Chinese.  bombed the Great World Amusement Center in 1937. This is a pretty famous incident from early in the battle where Chinese planes aiming for the Japanese cruiser Izumo, which was anchored in the Huangpu river, instead bombed the Great World and killed hundreds of civilians. This was actually a pretty important historical event, not only for those killed but because China was trying to convince the world that they were a major power worthy of help for reasons beyond pity. The poor performance of the Chinese bombers was not helping the cause.

Chinese bombers hit a number of targets near the river, but the Great World is miles away. Apparently, the best explanation for how they managed to miss so badly was that the Chinese pilots were expecting to bomb from 7,000 feet but had to drop down to 1,000 due to weather.1 Unfortunately they did not adjust their bombsites. Not a huge historical issue, to be sure, but something that has always bugged me.

More on the book here. Harmson blogs here

  1. p.63 []

3/25/2014

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? []

2/24/2014

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. []

1/28/2014

Professors as booty

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:51 am

51zDOAHqEkL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

I have been reading Patricia Ebrey’s new book on the Song emperor Huizong. For those of you who don’t know him he known for being the most artistically accomplished of the Chinese emperors and for loosing his empire to the Jin. These things make him a good subject for a book, as a lot was written and preserved about him. The book itself is one of the most intimate portraits of a Chinese emperor in English, and there is a lot of good stuff in here on the Song government, Huizong’s actions and artistic production and other interesting topics. I am mostly going to talk about the fall of the Song and its aftermath. The defeat and exile sections are among the most detailed in the book, no doubt because the theme of an exiled emperor was attractive to later writers and compilers of sources

You can get some tips on how to conduct a siege. When the first Jurchen army approached Kaifeng they decided not to enter the city, but to demand ransom.

…the capital was thrown into an uproar trying to raise the truly huge sum of gold and silver, equal to 180 times the annual payments that Song had been paying to Liao. The government treasuries had large quantities of copper cash, bur the Jurchen wanted gold and silver, in much shorter supply. Everyone who had received gifts of gold or silver from the throne, including all the princes, Daoist officials, court musicians and artists, and so on, were to turn it over at the Yuanfeng Treasury. All palaces and imperially sponsored temples, as well as the Kaifeng prefectural offices were to turn over any gold and silver they had to the main treasury. Huge sums were confiscated from Wang Fu’s house- more than seven thousand bolts of cloth and ten million strings of cash- but a third of that was looted by people who forced their way in during the inventory. By 1126/1/20, the besieged Song court sent to the Jin camp more than three hundred thousand ounces of gold and twelve million ounces of silver. When that still was not enough, the government ordered any families owning gold or silver to turn it in to one of several collecting points. They would be compensated later at the rate of 20 strings of cash for each ounce of gold and 1.5 strings for each ounce of silver. Informing on those who concealed their gold or silver was rewarded at a rate of two-tenths of the concealed gold and one-tenth of the concealed silver. On 1/26, the court sent the equivalent of another five hundred ounces of gold and eight million ounces of silver, with much of it made up of jewelry and utensils collected from the populace. There was reason to rush; on 1/27 it was reported that the Jurchen were excavating the tombs of imperial consorts, princes, and princesses. (p.438)

I like the image of imperial largess flowing back to the palace, starting first with the elite and then spreading outward. You can see the beginnings of panic in the city as a third of the wealth from Wang Fu’s house is taken by the mob. Most interestingly, the Jurchen seem to have read their Foucault. Rather than entering the city and searching for movable wealth, why not have the court and the populace discipline themselves and root it out? They can even change the copper cash in the treasury for silver and gold! Although the Jurchen army left the first time the Song court was too riven by factionalism to either make peace or  make war and by the end of the year another army was demanding even more gold and silver, far more than the court could come up with.

Jin officials entered Kaifeng and opened the Song government storehouses, which were found to have even more bolts of plain silk than demanded, but only a tiny fraction of the gold and silver. Song officials were assigned responsibilities for searching specific quadrants of the city and confiscating all gold and silver. Every few days, the Jurchens demanded something else for the Song government to deliver to them. For instance, on 12/5 Jin demanded ten thousand horses. Ranking officials were allowed to keep one horse, but all others were seized, over seven thousand all together  The next day, 12/6, Jin demanded weapons, many of which people had taken after soldiers abandoned them. Qinzong issued an order that all weapons in Kaifeng, both government and private, be turned over to the Jin authorities. A few days later, on 12/10, all the money in the storehouses was distributed to the Jin soldiers as their rewards. On 12/13 a call was issued for twenty painters, fifty wine-makers, and three thousand bottles of wine. Ten days later Jin demanded a long list of books and documents by name, including Sima Guang’ s Comprehensive Mirror and calligraphy by Su Shi and Huang Tingjian. In some cases, the Kaifeng prefectual authorities had to buy the works from bookshops to fulfil the orders. A few days after that, the books from the Directorate of Education were taken (though as an insult, ones by Wang Anshi were discarded). As the scholars in Jin employ discovered that they were missing a title, they added it to their requisition lists. Just before the Lantern Festival, Jin demanded all the lanterns usually used not only by the palace, but also by temples and shops, then held their own ceremony outside the walls of the city. Not long afterward, they demanded the full set of procession paraphernalia, then took such objects as the Nine Cauldrons, the bells and other instruments used for the Music of Great Brilliance, consorts’ headgear, the blocks for printing books, including those for the Buddhist and Daoist canons, and maps, diagrams, and pictures of all sorts. From time to time, the Jurchen commander requisitioned specific craftsmen or specialists, such as physicians, musicians,astronomers, weapons makers, masons, gardeners, jade carvers, clerks, painters, storytellers, professors, Buddhist monks, and so on. Lists of objects taken from the palace are often staggering: 25,000 ancient bronze vessels, 1,000 ox carts, 1,000 parasols, 28,700 pills from the imperial pharmacy, 1,000,000 jin of silk thread, 1,800 bolts of a certain type of silk made in Hebei.

Here you can see the definition of movable wealth expanding (and common Jurchen soldiers getting something.) but even more, the Jurchen are starting to demand symbols of Imperial authority, most notably the Nine Cauldrons, but also all the other things (and people) you needed to be ruler and could carry away. They even demonstrated their taste by tossing out the books of Wang Anshi. I love the idea of professors as booty, along with gold, parasols, and bells.

As the situation slipped out of the control of the Song court things got worse and worse for the people of the city.

Although the city had fallen, the Jurchen forces kept the gates closed, enforcing, in a sense, a reverse siege to keep up the pressure on the city until all its demands were met. Food and firewood, therefore, were in very short supply. On 12/21 the court allowed government office buildings to be demolished for firewood; the next day, after a snow fall aggravated the situation, approval was given for people to enter Northeast Marchmount Park to chop down the rare trees planted there. A few days later, with another snowfall, people were also allowed to break up the hundred-odd buildings in the garden for fuel. So many rushed there that people were trampled to death.

There were lots of other bad things happening in the city, but it is not surprising that the sources would focus on the park. There is almost a checklist of things a bad last emperor is supposed to do, and waste money is one of them (frugality is always good, especially in emperors.) and one of the canonical ways to waste money is by building parks and palaces. The Northeast Marchmount Park was one of Huizong’s greatest achievements, a magnificent paradise that demonstrated his equivalence to the great rulers of antiquity. They too had built parks filled with animals and plants from all over their domain. Huizong was criticized for the expense of this park, and the costs it imposed on the people, and it is not surprising that cutting down its trees and burning its buildings would seem a fitting symbol of the end of his reign.

Huizong himself was a form of moveable wealth. The Jurchen eventually took him and his son and successor Qinzhong north, and both of them eventually ended up in Northern Manchuria. Huizong was of some use to the Jin, being required, for instance, to pay homage to the Jin ancestors, provide samples of his calligraphy and to convince Song holdouts in the north to surrender. They were pretty much the only male members of the family who were of much use, and many of others died on the march north.

The female members of his family and the various palace women were also a form of movable wealth, but all of them were of use. When the first large group of these women was brought to the Jurchen camp they were required to dress in entertainers clothes and serve the Jurchen generals at a banquet. Soon after it was announced that those women to be given to Jurchen soldiers were to start wearing their hair in the Jurchen fashion and let doctors abort their fetuses if they were pregnant. While most of the would eventually be distributed to Jurchen men or become palace slaves far in the north many died on the march due to harsh conditions, suicide, or died resisting rape. Other captives were traded off to the Tanguts, Mongols and Tartars at a ratio of 10 slaves to one horse.

While Huizong’s captivity was certainly not the lifestyle to which he had become accustomed he did live reasonably well and even had another 14 children with his remaining concubines. He continued to write poetry, and for the first time began studying the Spring and Autumn Annals for advice on how to be a good emperor. A sound idea of course, but too late.

 

 

1/3/2014

Teaching Asian Civilizations

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 2:28 pm

As I was cleaning out my office I found a copy of Approaches to Asian Civilizations by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Anslie T. Embree.1 First published in 1964, the book is the record of a conference on the teaching of Asia to American undergraduates. 1964 would be about the dawn of what you could call modern Asian Studies in the U.S. The field was being freed from “the incubus of philological Orientalism”2 The De Bary source readers were coming out, Fairbank, Reishcauer and Craig’s A History of East Asian Civilization came out in 1960. Learning about Asia in a serious way was starting to become possible for Americans who did not plan to become professional Asianists and were not at a handful of elite universities.

So, how does it look 50 years later?

Not surprisingly, some things look remarkably modern, and some much less so.

It is rather hard to imagine the Great and the Good of the profession all coming together today to discuss undergraduate education, but part of the reason for that is that there are too many Asianists for that now, unless we met in the Astrodome or something. The field has also fragmented a lot, in part because there are so many more of us. The book deals with China, India, Japan and a bit on the Middle East. The writers include historians but also political scientists and economists, the last of whom would seem unlikely at such a gathering today.

Parts of it seem shockingly old-fashioned. Most of the states of the Middle East (and Asia) “are inexperienced in the conduct of statehood, and most of them are also uncommitted in a literal sense. They do not feel the tug of global issues. Nor have they in fact accepted formal obligations either in degree or variety that the older states have, so that, at times, they behave in a manner we are prone to label irresponsible.” p.135-6

It is also interesting that the assembled professors do not seem terribly concerned about how they will justify having students take courses on Asia. The whole student as consumer/how will you market your program in the undergraduate marketplace thing is still in the future. A bunch of scholars will decide what and education is, and students and administrators will go along.

The American relationship with Asia is quite different, which ties in with the ‘why would undergraduates be interested’ thing. Today there are large groups of students (and granting agencies) who have an interest in Asia before you even open your mouth. There is no reference here to students who are interested in participating in the immense growth of the Asian economies, (not surprisingly) no mention of those fascinated with Asian pop culture (even less surprisingly.) We do get one disparaging reference to “dharma bums,” who may show up in your classes, but that’s it. Nor is there much much emphasis on the idea that being an American citizen should involve thinking in an informed way about the advisability of getting involved in a land war in Asia, even though that was something American citizens really should have been thinking about in the early 60′s.

Asia is pretty much an academic subject here, and the key issue that academics are struggling with is what’s wrong with Asia, specifically, why it is so stagnant and was stagnant for so long before being awakened by contact with the West.

Here is Arthur F. Wright’s periodizaiton of Chinese history

A. The period of genesis: the emergence of distinctive features of a Chinese civilization in the Shang;
B. The later Chou viewed as a “classical age”
C. The unification of state and culture: the founding of the Chinese Empire by the Ch’in, consolidation and development by the Han
D. The first experience of dismemberment and foreign invasions, cultural and political, c. 300-589
E. Unification: a new centralized empire and its culture-Sui and T’ang, 589-750
F. The breakdown of the second imperial order and the beginnings of the new society and culture-late T’ang, Five Dynasties, and Sung; proto-modern China
G. The first experience of total conquest and of incorporation in a larger world-empire: the period of Mongol domination, the brutalization of politics, and the evolution of mass culture;
H. Reassertion of Chinese control over state, society, and culture: the Ming. The failure of creativity. With apologies to Toynbee, “the abortive effort to revive the ghost of the T’ang oekumene” (Toyenbee gets mentioned a lot in here)
I. The second total conquest, continuation and atrophy of Ming institutions and culture under a Manchu-Chinese dyarchy.

The first bit seems not that different from the way we would outline it now. The middle gets bogged down in invasions with the occasional nod at ‘culture’, but the real difference is at the end, where we get lots of atrophy, an end to creativity, and a good 300 years of decline and stagnation. This is not at all how it would be seen today. William Rowe claims that the Qing had “worked out systems of administration and communication more efficient and effective than any of its predecessors.” and had “achieved a level of material productivity (indeed, prosperity) far beyond that of any earlier Chinese dynasty, as well as institutions of economic management probably more ambitious and effective than any seen previously in the world.” It had a “vibrant cosmopolitan culture.” One might almost think that Rowe is trying to dispel a lot of the old myths, and he makes it pretty clear that is what he is doing. It’s a lot easier to explain why people should study Asia when you see Asian history as a success rather than a big mistake its people would be better off forgetting.

While the books approach to Asian societies may seem old fashioned, many of their other concerns seem quite up to date. How do you teach history without getting bogged down in details or skimming over things? When will they publish some better books for students to use? Do comparisons with the West help more than they hurt? How do you deal with the cliches and stereotypes your students come to class with?

Of course some of these problems have been fixed by time and technology.

Arthur Wright mentions that he likes showing slides to his students, but is never sure when to interrupt lectures and show some pictures “Ideally, one should have a slide operator always courteously waiting and prepared to flash five minutes of carefully selected materials whenever they would support or illustrate the subject at hand.” See, Powerpoint does help!

 

  1. No, the office is still a mess. Interestingly, I inherited this book from Tom Goodrich, our department’s Ottomanist and the son of L. Carrington Goodrich. []
  2. p.69 Hellmut Wilhelm points out that the old sinological tradition actually functioned more or less like modern area studies. You are not limited to History or Literature or Economics. You learn the language and then go all over. I guess in 1964 Sinology and Classics were all of a sudden methodologically trendy. []

12/15/2013

Sinology and Simon Leys

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:30 pm

New York Review of Books Classics has re-printed Simon Leys’ The Hall of Uselessness: Selected Essays. This makes him the first Sinologist to crack the NYRB Classics list as one of the masters of world literature, this despite the fact that the original book of these essays only came out in 2011. Leys write about all sorts of things, from Orwell to Cervantes to Zhou Enlai, but his chief claim to fame, at least for me, was his caustic criticism of westerners who had been taken in by the Maoist myth.

Why read this book? Well, he writes well, both in the sense of being able to describe things and in the sense of knowing exactly when to stick the knife in. From the piece on Zhou En-lai

Alone among the Maoist leaders, Zhou Enlai had cosmopolitan sophistication, charm, wit and style. He certainly was one of the greatest and most successful comedians of our century. He had a talent for telling blatant lies with angelic suavity….Everyone loved him. He repeatedly and literally got away with murder. No wonder politicians from all over the world unanimously worshipped him…

..no interlocutors ever appeared to small, too dim or too irrelevant not to warrant a special effort on his part to charm them, to wow, them..He was..the ultimate Zelig of politics, showing tolerance, urbanity and a spirit of compromise to urbane Western liberals, eating fire and spitting hatred to suit the taste of embittered Third World leaders; displaying culture and refinement with artists; being pragmatic with pragmatists, philosophical with philosophers, and Kissingerian with Kissinger.

 

Most China scholars don’t write like that, but Leyes is not a China scholar, he is a Sinologist, and while he is certainly a scholar he is rightly sceptical about the modern academic world. You can see this pretty clearly the essay on Said’s Orientalism. In this essay Leys was trying to figure out if Said’s work had any relevance for China folk. This is a topic that has been hashed out a bit. Said did not make it clear what the “east” was for him, and while ome East Asia folk use and talk about the idea others don’t. What is Leys’ take?

Edward Said’s main contention is that “no production of knowledge in the human sciences can ever ignore or disclaim the author’s involvement as a human subject in his own circumstances.” Translated into plain English, this would seem to mean simply that no scholar can escape his original condition: his own national, cultural, political and social prejudices are bound to be reflected in his work. Such a common-sense statement hardly warrants debate. Actually Said’s own book is an excellent case it point: Orientalism could obviously have been written by no one but a Palestinian scholar with a huge chip on his shoulder and a very dim understanding of the European academic tradition (here perceived through the distorted prism of a certain type of American university, with its brutish hyper-specialization, non-humanistic approach, and close, unhealthy links with government.)1

In general East Asia folk seems to be less afraid of getting the Orientalist cooties than Middle East people, and and Leys helps explain why. Part of Orientalism is worrying that you are essentializing the “timeless East” and while Leys has no patience with anyone foolish enough to lump everything from Syria to Shandong into an “East” he points out that ”Western sinology in its entirety is a mere footnote appended to the huge sinological corpus that Chinese intellectuals have been building for centuries to this day.” Although Leys does not point it out, if you want essentialization of Chinese culture 漢學 is a good place to look, and if you want to understand China Chinese scholars are the first people you should talk to.

For Leys the study of China is not part of euro-american empire2 or ‘othering’, but part of humanistic education. “Chinese should be taught in Western countries as a fundamental discipline of the humanities at the secondary-school level, in conjunction with, or as an alternative to, Latin and Greek.” Actually, if we wanted to put good old fashioned Classical Studies back in American High Schools I would guess making them Chinese classical studies would be the way to do it. More likely to be useful in Shenzhen.

While I like reading Leys his flavor of Sinology sometimes leaves me cold. In his essay on Confucius he claims that the Analects was written withing 75 years of Confucius’s death and shows a single voice. He compares those who claim that the text was compiled over a much longer period to those scholars who question the Gospels, and here he enlists the novelist Julien Gracq.

Gracq first acknowledged the impressive learning of one of these scholars as well as a devastating logic of his reasoning; but he confessed that, in the end, he still found himself left with one fundamental objection: for all his formidable erudition, the scholar in question simply had no ear-he could not hear what should be so obvious to any sensitive reader-that, underlying the text of the Gospels, there is a masterly and powerful unity of style which derives from one unique and inimitable voice.

I think he is wrong there, both about Jesus and about Confucius, but far worse is the footnote to his claim that in the Analects “there are very few stylistic anachronisms: the language and syntax of most of the fragments is coherent and pertains to the same period.” The note reads “On these problems of chronology and textual analysis, see E. Bruce Brooks, The Original Analects (Columbia University Press, 1998)” This is a pretty serious failure of scholarly courtesy, first in erasing Brooks’ co-author, but more importantly enlisting him in support of the claim that Analects is a coherent text.3 What’s the point in reading books and citing them if you are just going to make up things about what is in them? I would like to think it is possible to be both a scholar and a sensitive reader, but Leys is not helping me here.

This goes farther than just sloppy scholarship. Leys wants to uncover the real Confucius under the distortions of “Imperial Confucianism [which] only extolled those statements from the Master that prescribed submission to the established authorities.” This seems wrong to me and more importantly leaves you uninterested in the period from the Han to the present when the ru were always intertwined with the state. Leys’ condemnations of the dupes of Maoism are always fun to read, and lord knows he was fighting the good fight4 when he took them on. While he has some real insights on the period, he is not a very good guide to the Mao era, which for him was grotesque and alien. Grotesque certainly; In “The China Experts” he skewers Edward Friedman, Han Suyin and Ross Terrill.

Perhaps we should not be too harsh on the these experts; the fraternity recently suffered a traumatic experience and is still in a state of shock. Should fish suddenly start to talk, I suppose that ichthyology would also have to undergo a dramatic revision of its basic approach. A certain type of “instant sinology” was indeed based on the assumption that the Chinese people were as different from us in their fundimental aspirations, and as unable to communicate with us, as the inhabitants of the oceanic depths; and when they eventually rose to the surface and began to cry out sufficiently loudly for their message to get through to the general public there was much consternation among the China pundits.

Leys gives us lots of examples of China pundits (mostly Terrill) swallowing the most absurd nonsense about how the Chinese loved Chairman Mao. The problem of course, is that the Chinese did love Chairman Mao. You can’t start a Cultural Revolution memoir without explaining your youthful loyalty to the red, red sun of Chairman Mao, and you can’t treat Mao period as something alien to China. How can you write about people becoming disillusioned unless you can explain how they became believers in the first place?  Leys’ China is as much a place to find Simon Leys as a place to find Chinese people, (just like Europeans used to do with Greece and Rome) and while I like reading him on Said or Terrill, I suspect he would not be as helpful for reading Mark Edward Lewis or Elizabeth Perry.

  1. Yes, I am quoting a lot, but Leys is a hard guy to paraphrase. []
  2. Almost the only mention of East Asia in Said is an approving comment on the Concerned Asian Scholars, who he praised for their condemnation of American imperialism in Asia while for Said they ‘failed most scandalously in their moral responsibilities toward China and the Chinese people.’ []
  3. Which seems the obvious way to read that note for me. []
  4. at some risk to his reputation in academic circles, which does not seem to have worried him []

11/7/2013

China in Cartoons II

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:42 am

The second volume of Understanding China Through Comics is out.1 I ‘reviewed‘ the first volume and concluded that Jing Liu is no Larry Gonick, but it’s not bad. My short review of the new volume is that he is still no Larry Gonick, but this volume is even better than the first one, and you should certainly buy it.

The art has many of the same problems as the first volume, but is better in general. There are still too many places where what is going on in the story is not represented graphically. So, the struggle between Shu, Wu and Wei is represented, in part, by three guys getting ready to fight on a map.

Wu-Strategy

Obviously a lot of history is hard to represent well in pictures, but that’s the whole point of being a cartoonist, that you are better at this then we are. Although there are some clunkers in here there are also some quite serviceable bits, like this one on corruption.

Corruption

A better one on the Three Kingdoms, showing backstabbing and armies being destroyed

Shu

And even some quite good ones, like this on street fighting in Chang-an, which looks like it might have been inspired by a WWII movie but at least gives you a nice feeling of tension.

Fighting

(more…)

  1. Been out for a while, actually []

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