PRC National Anthem

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 8:16 am

In honor of the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic on October 1st, my friend Carsey Yee has sent another video: The Two Chinese Characters do the March of the Volunteers (twice, once with English subtitles). I was a bit surprised to learn that the song predates the PRC by over ten years, that the author was arrested and the song banned for a time (Can anyone think of another case where a national anthem was banned without a regime change taking place?), and, of course, the lyrics changed during the Cultural Revolution.

I suppose it makes sense: the history of the song really is the history of China.


Old Friends in New Contexts

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 9:44 pm

One of the fun things for me about the “Rise of China” and the prominence it continues to gain in Western media, economics and culture, is reconnecting with old friends from the China side in sometimes random ways. A few months back, for example, my old friend Caroline Reeves hit the blogosphere, guest-posting at China Beat with a History of the Chinese Red Cross, (and part two). I knew that was her research topic back in grad school, but didn’t figure it would ever be part of the popular discourse.

More recently, I discovered that Carsey Yee, another good friend from the days when we read more than we graded, has started making Olympics-oriented instructional videos as a hobby.1 He’s paired up with John Weinstein as “The Two Chinese Characterstm” and they offer slightly goofy, but very clear, little clips. The first, embedded below the fold, is about the proper pronunciation of “Beijing.”2 They’re trying to get to 8,888 views before 8-8-8, and they’ve got less than two hundred to go. The second teaches some basics of cheering in Chinese, including the official two-clap-thumbs-up-two-claps-fists-up cheer approved by the Chinese government. The existence of an official cheer is, in itself, an interesting political and cultural fact: I’ll be watching to see how much it’s in evidence during the actual events.


  1. At least, I think it’s a hobby. They’ve gone to a great deal of trouble, but if there’s money involved, it’s news to me. []
  2. Hint: It’s not French. []



Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 4:30 pm

早报有好奇怪的文件关于中国得婚姻制度。 作者 叶鹏飞谈到中国的离婚率上升。在一部分时一个建立在史学研究基础上的观点。 他说道国外婚姻制度的改变,特别斯泰芬尼·库茨(Stephanie Coontz) 的书。对我来说这是很有意思,因为在美国的报纸如果有一事可以说有”永恒精神“就是我们的婚姻制度。

但是,他也说道中国文化的最基本的特色。一个 是余英时的“一生为故国招魂”,和“回家过年”的文化精神。


有一部分”日本人論 “的味道。在国外他可以分析历史变成,但在国内(或者文化内)他要识别中华的永恒精神。最有意思是他的文化特点是回家过年。美国的文化是一样。以前我们没有火鸡节,但是在二十世纪我们越来越多“在冰天雪地中艰难跋涉,坚持回家 ”. 是非常现代的文化传统


Han Dynasty Pig Sty-Latrine

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 3:29 pm


© Minneapolis Institute of Art

This is posted on the Institute’s rich and well organized site, Art of Asia, which notes that combination pig sty-latrines can be found in rural China today.


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.




Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:33 am

I caught a couple of episodes of Firefly on TV a bit back. The thing that hooked me was that some of the characters were swearing in Chinese, of a sort. The series is about space smugglers in the far future, and every so often one of the crew will break into Chinese. The Chinese (Mandarin) is not very good, and not very important to the plot. Plus, looking at the on-line glossary of all the Chinese used in the show (I love geeks) it seems that a lot of is stuff that Americans might say that was then translated into Chinese. Or at least it does not sound very slang-y to me. Of course I don’t hang with Chinese space pirates all that much so maybe they really do say things like 太空所有的星球塞盡我的屁股 and 我的媽和她的瘋狂的外甥都

What I found interesting is that according to Wikipedia the explanation for this in the show’s backstory is that the Chinese and the Americans were the main early explorers of space, and thus Chinese is a pretty common language in the future. I’m not really sure the show pulls that off. Nobody seems to really speak Chinese, they just toss in a few words here and there. Still, it was interesting to see the Chinese as the people with a future. The obvious comparisons are Burgess’s nadsat, from Clockwork Orange, which has a lot of Russian in it, and Blade Runner, which I remember as having a bit of Japanese. Now making Science Fiction with Russian in it would seem weird, and even Japanese does not work as well.


One for the military historians

Filed under: — katrina @ 4:48 am

In preparing the Asian History Carnival, a variety of things turned up in my inbox – in between some very tempting deals on pharmaceuticals.

Today I received a link to this interesting site by Liang Jieming on Chinese Siege Warfare

The site is bilingual and full of illustrations of historical weaponry.


danger + opportunity

Filed under: — katrina @ 5:56 am

This entry on pinyin.info looks at the misunderstanding of the construction of characters. This tendency – particularly among the writers of motivational/new age books it seems! – to interpret every hanzi character as imparting some kind of philosophical lesson is fascinating. I suppose it is part and parcel of the ‘Eastern Wisdom’ fetish, which also includes sanskrit tattoos.


7/7 and a Wartime Dictionary

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:30 am

While I’m spending the summer studying Korean in Seoul, one of the books I brought with me for some recreational reading is a Chinese wartime dictionary (“encyclopedia”) with mostly political and historical terms. It is often quite arbitrary with entries on everything from Lappland to one on Owen Lattimore. It is about 370 pages in length, with 10-20 entries per page, plus a timeline of events beginning with the Manchurian Incident in 1931 and up to July 1942, when it was published.

文化供應社《抗戰建國實用百科辭典》文化供應社, 1942.

Dictionaries like these, which have an almanac feel to them, give you a great look at what terms and events are viewed as important by contemporaries, and are thus great background reading for historians interested in getting a flavor for that particular period.

There are also other interesting things to note about some of the events it includes descriptions of. For example, some 68 years ago today fighting broke out between Japanese and Chinese forces at Marco Polo Bridge near Beijing and those historians who find such issues interesting still find great room for disagreement over exactly how and who bears greater responsibility for that particular skirmish. It has great symbolic importance, however, as it has traditionally come to date the beginning of the most open phase of prolonged conflict between the two countries and Japanese aggression throughout China. You can find a special article remembering the event in the People’s Daily. To use Allen S. Whiting’s term, this is also one of the “war recall” days in the Chinese media. Like other such symbolic days in August (end of the war), September (Manchurian incident), and December (Nanjing massacre) there are usually a great swelling of articles, publications, and protests related to Japan.

In this dictionary, however, there is no entry for 七七事變, which is probably the most common name by which the Marco Polo incident has come to be known among Chinese today. A small entry under 七七紀念 simply tells the reader to see 蘆溝橋事變. That second term, explicitly referring to the bridge, is the most common name today in Japan and in English, but is slightly less commonly used in China. 七七事變 must thus have become the standard Chinese term at some later point. Both terms are listed in the People’s Daily article today. The only reason I mention this minor point is that today is also a tragic one for London, as the city has been hit by a serious terrorist attack. If, like 9/11, it comes to be remembered as 7/7 or the 7/7 Incident, there will be something of a nomenclaturial clash in Chinese.

However, in addition to the amusement and information provided by reading the occasional entry, this particular copy of the dictionary is interesting in other ways. I snagged my copy from the Harvard-Yenching library, fairly confident that this particular volume would not be recalled over the summer while I was away since it hasn’t been checked out in over a decade. The copy is stamped “Rec’d thru Dr. Fairbank” on the cover. Although we shouldn’t judge a book’s history by its cover, perhaps the Fairbank picked up the copy while he was in the Nationalist stronghold of Chongqing during the war. Regardless, the book went through something of a mangling, mostly likely at the hands of Nationalist government censors (it was published in Guilin, Guangxi province). Some 63 of the entries, including the entry words themselves, are completely blacked out by a black brush or marker of some sort…


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