井底之蛙

10/4/2010

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.

7/17/2010

“China and Christianity”: Hu Shi’s 1927 View of Nationalism and Rationalism

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 12:34 pm

Over at the invaluable Danwei,  Julian Smisek’s “Hu Shi, missionaries, and women’s rights” (July 15, 2010) does a valuable service in translating Hu’s 1930 essay, “Congratulations to the YWCA,”  which pays tribute to Christian missionaries for helping Chinese women.

Hu, a Columbia University PhD, won a poll in the early 1920s as the most admired “returned student” in China. But his surprising words of praise for the YWCA need to be balanced against his views on Christianity’s future in China. He elsewhere disdained the run of Christian missionaries as uneducated and narrow. They came to China because they could live well for little money, he said, and mission boards were far less careful in selecting China missionaries than Standard Oil was in selecting China salesmen and executives.

Hu’s “China and Christianity” was the lead piece in the July 1927 issue of the North American journal, The Forum. That year saw Chiang Kai-shek purge the Communists and Mao Zedong take to the countryside, setting off a generation of civil war, but the editor introduces Hu as “the leader of an intellectual movement that is permeating the youth of China and is interested chiefly in the things of the mind.” Like the “ancient sages of the East,” Hu “stands outside the current political conflict.”

Here’s the editorial in its entirety:

The future of Christianity in China is a question which should be considered apart from the question of the past services rendered to China by the Christian missionaries. The part played by the missionaries in the modernization of China will long be remembered by the Chinese, even though no Christian church may be left there. They were the pioneers of the new China. They helped the Chinese to fight for the suppression of opium which the pirate-traders brought to us. They agitated against footbinding, which eight centuries of esoteric philosophizing in native China failed to recognize as an inhuman institution. And they brought to us the first rudiments of European science. The early Jesuits gave us the pre-Newtonian astronomy, and the later Protestant missionaries introduced modern hospitals and schools. They taught us to know that there was a new world and a new civilization behind the pirate-traders and gunboats.

Many of the Protestant missionaries worked hard to awaken China and bring about a modern nation. China is now awakened and determined to modernize herself. There is not the slightest doubt that a new and modem China is emerging out of chaos. But this new China does not seem to promise much bright future to the propagation of the Christian faith. On the contrary, Christianity is facing opposition everywhere. The dream of a “Christian occupation of China” seems to be fast vanishing, – probably forever. And the explanation is not far to seek.

It is true that there is much cheap argument in the narrow nationalistic attack which sees in the Christian missionary an agent of imperialist aggression. But we must realize that it is nationalism, – the self-consciousness of a nation with no mean cultural past,– that once killed Nestorian Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Manicheism in China. It is the same nationalism which four times persecuted Buddhism and finally killed it after over a thousand years of complete Buddhistic conquest of China. And it is the same national consciousness which is now resisting the essentially alien religion of Christianity.

And more formidable than nationalism, there is the rise of rationalism. We must not forget that Chinese philosophy began two thousand five hundred years ago with Lao Tse who taught a naturalistic conception of the universe end a Confucius who was frankly an agnostic. This rationalistic and humanistic tradition has always played the part of a liberator in every age when the nation seemed to be under the influence of a superstitious or fanatic religion. This cultural background of indigenous China is now revived with the new reinforcement of the methods and conclusions of modern science and becomes a truly formidable safeguard of the intellectual class against the imposition of any religious system whose fundamental dogmas, despite all efforts of its apologists, do not always stand the test of reason and science.

And after all, Christianity itself is fighting its last battle, even in the so-called Christendoms. To us born heathens, it is a strange sight indeed to see Billy Sunday and Aimée McPherson hailed and patronized in an age whose acknowledge prophets are Darwin and Pasteur. The religion of Elmer Gantry and Sharon Falconer must sooner or later make all thinking people feel ashamed to call themselves “Christians”. And then they will realize that Young China was not far wrong in offering some opposition to a religion which in its glorious days fought religious wars and persecuted science, and which, in the broad daylight of the twentieth century prayed for the victory of the belligerent nations in the World War and is still persecuting the teaching of science in certain quarters of Christendom.

It’s impressive both that The Forum published a critical piece from an intellectual in China and that Hu kept up with the latest stateside scandals and the novels of Sinclair Lewis. At a time when anti-imperialist tempers ran high, Hu coolly uses cosmopolitan liberal standards which stand above particular nations. His criteria apply to China and the US as well. But perhaps Hu should have known better than to think that rationality could combine with nationalism to save China.

3/28/2010

AAS Blogging: outsourced

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:19 am

I didn’t get to any China-specific panels at the AAS, but the good folks at China Beat have a few panel summaries worth taking a look at. You can find some more at Twitter, but not much. Aside from the primitive facilities — it was $600 to get internet service for a panel presentation, we were told; it was $13/day for hotel room internet, and there wasn’t any wireless in the hotel or convention center — we just don’t have a critical mass of tweeting Asianists yet. Just a couple that I’ve found. I did have a good time meeting Javier Cha, though, the first time I’ve met with someone I met on Twitter!

1/30/2009

A sinologist in Iraq

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:32 am

Graham Peck’s Two Kinds of Time has been re-issued. This is good news for everyone, and especially for those of us who got a copy for Christmas. (Thanks Sis!) For a number of years all that one was likely to find even in used bookstores was the Sentry edition (1967), which re-printed only the first half of the book. The two parts of the book are the same in that they are both the stories and pictures of Peck’s wanderings in Western China during the War of Resistance. The first volume ends on December 10th, 1941, when a group of local officials come to visit him. Peck has been fairly contemptuous of Kuomintang officials throughout the book, since he regards most of them as corrupt feudal remnants with at best a thin layer of modern jargon spread over them. They in turn are convinced he must be some sort of crypto-Communist. On this occasion however they are happy to inform him that 500 American planes have bombed Tokyo and that they are now allies.

Peck1

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1/13/2009

Liveblogging the Boxers

Military historian David Silbey is going to be blogging through the Boxer Uprising as seen through the New York Times. Though this is a little more of a distant view than Brett Holman’s Sudenten Crisis, I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve used Paul Cohen’s History in Three Keys and read a few other things that touch on the Boxers, but the one perspective I’ve never really mastered is the Western one. And the Boxer Uprising was a critical one for the image of China in the 20th century, one of the few events in Chinese history about which people know something. The first post in the series just went up; if you fall behind, you can survey all of Silbey’s posts here.

12/12/2008

Great Expectorations: Puke, Spitting, and Face

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 7:20 pm

What’s the difference between puking and spitting? Is one involuntary and the other on purpose? Joel, at China Hope Live reports that maybe you see the difference differently if you’re Chinese or if you’re not.

His nicely argued piece,  Thinking Behind the Spitting takes off from an interchange between a Chinese language teacher and a class of North American students. The teacher explained:  “ means both ‘to spit’ and ‘to vomit,’ but if you change the tone — — you can say ‘to spit’ with a third meaning: spitting to show your contempt for someone.” The big distinction in her mind was voluntary vs. involuntary actions. Spitting is involuntary.

She was quite taken aback when her students explained that in their little culture, people controlled their spitting — what did they do, she asked, swallow it?

Spitting goes way back in the cross cultural dialogue. I recall hearing a friend of my parents retailing what I later found was a classic 19th century story:

An American to Chinese: “I hear that in your country you eat dogs.”

Chinese to an American: “I hear that in your country you blow your nose on a piece of cloth and put it in your pocket.”

Responsible authorities in China have long worried about losing “face” in front of the world community. In the 1930s the Nationalist government’s New Life Movement aimed, among other goals, to eliminate public spitting. Evidently they didn’t succeed in wiping out the habit as the following governments had a series of campaigns right down to the Olympics. Yet every meeting room that I went into in China had a large spittoon and people used them.

Someone should have warned the Chinese 1970s factory that made decks of playing cards intended for Americans to use in playing “poker.” They labeled the package with two pinyin syllables that most closely represented the Chinese pronunciation: “Puke.”

I wish that I had known about China Hope Live when I wrote my piece  “The Truth About Lies,” a review of Arthur Smith’s Chinese Characteristics and Susan Blum’s Lies That Bind: Chinese Truth, Other Truths which looked at “face” and “lies.”

Joel has a bunch of insightful pieces, for instance “Chinese People Like it When You Lie to Them.”

Another sharp piece talks about Chinese national face and the Olympics, which includes a genial definition of “face” from Lin Yutang’s My Country and My People:

Face cannot be translated or defined. It is like honor and is not honor…. It is amenable, not to reason but to social convention. It protracts lawsuits, breaks up family fortunes, causes murders and suicides….  It is more powerful than fate or favor, and more respected than the constitution. It often decides a military victory or defeat, and can demolish a whole government ministry. It is that hollow thing which men in China live by. (195-196)

Shakespeare’s Falstaff asks “What is honour? a word. What is in that word honour? what is that honour? air.

Who’s right?

I’m not too worried, but maybe I’m too phlegmatic,

8/28/2008

Lies, Damn Lies, and Chinese “Lies That Bind”

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 4:23 pm

Do Chinese lie?

The Western media have jumped on recent revelations about doctoring the Olympic opening ceremonies and allegations about false ages of their gymnasts, and the recent book The Empire of Lies: The Truth about China in the 21st Century argues that the West is being too soft on China.

On the other hand, John Pomfret asks “Should We Give China a Break?” He refers us to Tim Wu of Columbia University, who asks “Are the Media Being Too Mean to China?” Chinese hosts expect guests to honor their hard work, Wu explains, but Western journalists see their jobs as ferreting out the “real” China, which to them is “the dirt, not the rug it was swept under.” Wu adds that it’s “the dishonesty, as much as the substance of what’s wrong in China, that seems to get under the skin of Western reporters.”

The major factor is that China still feels defensive after two centuries of national humiliation, and, as in any besieged country (the United States in World War II, for example), citizens give the government a pass on regrettable transgressions. It’s all in a good cause.

Jeff Wasserstrom at China Beat sees a “Great Convergence” in which we have made great progress in discussing Chinese behavior in the same terms we talk about our own, and adds that as for “populations that accept lies, while it would be foolish to suggest any kind of complete moral equivalency, this is another case of people in glass houses being careful about throwing stones.”

In much of the mainstream media, I still smell old Western prejudices, which makes me think it’s worth while to look back. After all, Shakespeare used “Cathayan” when he wanted to say “liar” and even today newcomers to China are warned that Chinese concern with “face” leads to evasions and cover-ups, and that guanxi – “relations” or “connections” – opens the back door. [1]

More than a century ago, the American missionary Arthur Smith’s Chinese Characteristics (1894; reprinted, with a Preface by Lydia Liu: EastBridge, 2003) explained the China difference using pungent terms echoed by Americans who live there today: “talent for indirection,” “disregard” for accuracy and time, “absence of sincerity,” and “contempt for foreigners.” Smith would not assert there was “no honesty in China,” only that “so far as our experience and observation go, it is literally impossible to be sure of finding it anywhere.” It’s easy to cherry pick outrageous quotes but the book wrestled with a genuine question: why do Chinese and Americans behave differently?

“Face” is Smith’s first chapter. Face provides “not the execution of even handed justice” but “such an arrangement as will distribute to all concerned ‘face’ in due proportions.” Truth was less important than harmony. Smith asserts that “any Chinese regards himself as an actor in a drama,” so “the question is never of facts but always of form.” Face seems to mean “mask”: only if you strip it off do you uncover the truth. He was perhaps the first to explain Chinese behavior by the circumstance of living in a closely knit society and being dependent on harmonious mutual relations, but his mistake was to take America as the norm and to look for “absence” or “disregard” of what were actually parochial American middle class ideals. (more…)

4/15/2008

Review of the Museum of Chinese in the Americas

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:13 pm

I just found the wonderful open access journal Museum Anthropology Review. There are a few reviews available there that will be of interest to Frog readers.

See for example this review of the Museum of Chinese in the Americas.

It looks like the museum raises some interesting questions about the material objects on display, for example:

As you begin a clockwise tour of the room, the introduction on the wall asks, “When Does an Object Become an Artifact?,” beginning a passage that is unfortunately obscured by the very artifacts that it goes on to describe. For those who succeed in reading between the legs of a wooden stool, however, a series of questions challenge their understanding of everyday objects: “Why are certain objects selected and labeled as meaningful? What do the objects say about their owners, their abandoners, their salvagers? Do they merely fulfill a useful function or do they also contain our longings, our identities, our imagination?” These rhetorical questions linger in viewers’ minds as they begin their round.

3/7/2008

Five Things That Didn’t Happen (But Might Have)

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 2:32 am

Kate Merkel-Hess at China Beat had an intriguing list last month, Five Chinese Historical Events That Don’t Get Much Attention, (2/ 11/08) which was in turn inspired by Jeremiah Jenne’s piece at Jottings From the Granite Studio about the most important Chinese historical figure most people have never heard of.

That got me to thinking – why discriminate against an event just because it didn’t happen? Very un-Daoist. So to kick things off, here are five things that didn’t happen. We don’t mean alleged “failure” to follow European models, such as the once common “failure to modernize,” but turns not taken. You’ll see that they fall into different ontological categories, since there is a lot of wiggle room when it comes to things that don’t exist.

 

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1/17/2008

Fortune Cookie History

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:48 am

A grad student from Kanagawa University may have cracked the great riddle of Asian cuisine: the origin of the Fortune Cookie! As the NY Times reports, the original fortune cookies may have been produced by Kyoto-area confectioners in the late 1800s.1 The practice — and the distinctive iron grills used to make the sembei crackers, which are part of the historical puzzle — spread to Japanese-owned Chop Suey houses in San Francisco.2 From there, Chinese-owned restaurants began to offer them, and Chinese-owned bakeries supplied them.

Then came WWII, which changed everything.

Ms. Nakamachi is still unsure how exactly fortune cookies made the jump to Chinese restaurants. But during the 1920s and 1930s, many Japanese immigrants in California owned chop suey restaurants, which served Americanized Chinese cuisine. The Umeya bakery distributed fortune cookies to well over 100 such restaurants in southern and central California.

Early on, Chinese-owned restaurants discovered the cookies, too. Ms. Nakamachi speculates that Chinese-owned manufacturers began to take over fortune cookie production during World War II, when Japanese bakeries all over the West Coast closed as Japanese-Americans were rounded up and sent to internment camps.

Mr. Wong pointed out: “The Japanese may have invented the fortune cookie. But the Chinese people really explored the potential of the fortune cookie. It’s Chinese-American culture. It only happens here, not in China.”

The war also served to popularize the fortune cookie

they were encountered by military personnel on the way back from the Pacific Theater. When these veterans returned home, they would ask their local Chinese restaurants why they didn’t serve fortune cookies as the San Francisco restaurants did.

The cookies rapidly spread across the country. By the late 1950s, an estimated 250 million fortune cookies were being produced each year by dozens of small Chinese bakeries and fortune cookie companies. One of the larger outfits was Lotus Fortune in San Francisco, whose founder, Edward Louie, invented an automatic fortune cookie machine. By 1960, fortune cookies had become such a mainstay of American culture that they were used in two presidential campaigns: Adlai Stevenson’s and Stuart Symington’s.

It’s such an American tale. It’s all there: entrepreneurship, food, racism, migration, war, marketing, invention, industrialization and orientalism.3 I can’t wait to tell my students.

(Crossposted, of course)

  1. I’m immediately reminded of the rickshaw, which everyone associates with China but which was actually invented as the jinrikisha in Japan at the opening of the Meiji era. There is evidence in the Times article going back to the early 1800s, though. []
  2. Japanese in North America were much more likely to be from Kansai than Japanese in Hawai’i []
  3. Also the obsession with national origins, Japanese-Chinese competition, the value of open archives, the historiography of food culture and the power of media to shape a historical finding. []

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