- It's one of the most difficult periods of modern history to teach, and I love using primary sources for the tough times, so I'm always glad to see new oral histories of the Maoist era. In some ways, the flaws the reviewer cites -- wandering in particular -- could be really useful for students.
- A new revisionist history of Chiang Kaishek raises the possiblity of teaching 20th century China in a much more balanced and complete way. I'm not entirely convinced, though: the portrait of Chiang as a political visionary is still in great tension with his heavy-handed methods and questionable associates and administrative skills; the idea that Taiwan's development was charted by Chiang has to contend with both the Japanese legacies and the favorable international environment for Taiwan's economic development during the Cold War. I want to see some real academic reviews.
- The NYT "Room for Debate" about Chinese Character Simplification would be a lot more interesting if they discussed anything other than the first-wave simplification carried out by the Communists -- the association of language control with early empire, the natural evolution of languages (i.e. the instability of "traditional" characters), the realities of technology and language. I've read a couple of their "Room for Debate" pieces, and I don't see the point.
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.
The illustrations are one of the joys of the book. Peck himself said in the introduction to the 1967 half-edition that this was a good place to split the book, and he seems to be right. The first half is about the decrepit nature of the Nationalist system and Peck has a nice eye for the contradictions of China's attempts to modernize and the absurdities of Western attempts to help the process along.
After America enters the war, however, Peck will start working for the OWI and the book is about America's first great attempt to remake a foreign country. This is one of the things that I think makes the second part pretty topical, given that Americans are still in the middle (well, the end of the middle) of an attempt to re-make a large Asian nation. Peck is deeply critical of the American government's decision to bind themselves hand and foot to whatever Chiang Kai-shek's government wanted to do, and to our general and continuing ignorance about China. ((After all, soon China will be just like Kansas City, so there is not much point in learning about the soon to be vanished past.)) He is a bit more charitable about American attempts to explain themselves to the Chinese.
He also spends a lot of time talking about what might be called the American Green Zone in China, which he is much less impressed with, either in its old missionary form or its new military form.
Peck's analysis of the geopolitical situation in China is interesting, even if I don't always agree with it. What is striking me most at present, however, are his accounts of ordinary Americans encountering "China".
American troops were in general not interested in the Wisdom of the East, and Americans were often contemptuous of the Chinese they met. They were more than happy to uplift the Chinese, and to put a great deal of effort into doing it, but they seem to have expected the process to be easier than it turned out to be. One flyboy complained to Peck about his inability to get a date.
"At that Mayor's party last month I met four or five girls who could speak English, and they gave me their phone numbers. A couple weeks ago I came into town at noon. I was sick of those dirty squabs in the hotels, and I just wanted to take a nice girl to the best restaurant in town, buy her a dinner and talk to her, the way you would at home....I called up every one of those girls and they all gave me the run-around. I got so mad I decided if I couldn't have a good time myself, I'd give one to somebody who needed it. I picked up the worst-looking beggar I could find, and took him to a restaurant to get him just as fine a meal as I would have ordered for a girl. What d'you think happened?..The manager threw us out! Said his restaurant would lose face if it served beggars, even in a private room. After that I went right back to the airfield without any dinner. I was so fed up with the Chinese I didn't want their food." p.538
The poor American just wants to sit down and eat with a date, something he regards as entirely natural, but in China it's not, and he can't understand why. Frustrated in his attempt he decides to help out a poor beggar and flip the bird to Chinese Culture, and finds that he can't do those either.
To some extent this ties in with many of the Chinese people Peck had been talking to. Many of them are Chinese liberals who very much wanted to turn their compatriots from peasants to modern Chinese, but are frustrated by their inability to change them or even to make contact. Many of the them just give up. Probably the best example is a Chinese woman he meets who is in charge of a local adult-education effort and, being a graduate of the LSE, impresses Peck with her detailed plans and multi-colored charts, but has been forced to close down all the schools because "the peasants were much too ignorant. "
Giving up is not always an option for the Chinese, of course, but the Americans always had the option of heading back to the airbase for the duration and then trying to forget China as rapidly as possible once they got home. The pattern of wild enthusiasm for re-making the world, followed by confusion, followed by wanting to forget the whole thing seems to be an American standard. Peck's book is in some ways not an ideal guide to China in the 1940's, but it is an excellent guide to the eternal and unchanging nature of the Americans.
He said that two key pieces of evidence for this are how much CKS cursed (罵) people close to him, and how much private, even confessional, material is in the diaries. (CKS used to give himself demerits for looking lustily at women.) Prof. Yang argued that CKS would not have wanted this kind of material to be made public...One result of the private nature of Chiang's diaries, according to Prof. Yang, is that we can learn a lot more about what was really going on in CKS's head at certain important historical moments, such as the 1926 Zhongshan Warship Incident and the 1936 Xi'an Incident.I find this quite interesting since I have seen the diaries used in quite a number of places and whenever I have heard them mentioned in presentations, it is usually accompanied by warnings about the care that needs to be taken when using the source. The first thing thing this makes me wonder is why, if Chiang was concerned about the confessional material and other damaging contents ever becoming public, he did not take better care to destroy what must have amounted to a huge amount of material (if the diaries indeed covered the period 1915-1972)? Surely the great generalissimo must have suspected these diaries would get into the hands of someone following his death and get published? Were there secret orders for them all to be burned that were betrayed following his death? Sounds like there could be a great story here. Second, given Chiang's exposure to Christian, Western, and Japanese historical, military, and political traditions and heroes that are filled with the diaries, memoirs, etc. of great leaders - I really find it very difficult to believe that Chiang could have put pen to paper every time he made a diary entry and not ever have imagined his words were speaking to an audience larger than one. Although I haven't come across it myself, I suspect there is a whole theoretical literature among historians and literary scholars on the topic of diaries, their authors, and their conscious or unconscious audience. I would venture to suggest that it is really difficult for an author, writing something like a diary - or a weblog, for that matter, to maintain a consistent audience in mind across a large span of time. Let me give a few examples. I have a public personal weblog that mixes postings about my own life with my thoughts on more academic and political topics. When I write, I try to imagine that my own graduate advisor or a future hiring committee is reading every posting (I honestly hope they don't and won't). The idea is that this way I don't write anything that would be inappropriate for the widest possible audience. This is the reverse of what Professor Yang is arguing. However, going back over my entries, I notice that over the past few years, I see numerous postings where I slip, where I can tell that I was writing a posting which had a much smaller audience in mind - and though not too embarrassing, is probably not the kind of thing I would written if I really was imagining that hiring committee or advisor reading it. Isn't the opposite quite common too? Maybe I'm on my own here, but I don't think I have ever been able to write a diary entry in my life where the thought hasn't occasionally crossed my mind: won't someone else someday somewhere possibly see what I wrote? Are there really people out there, especially ambitious military and political leaders, who are so confident that they are the one eternal and only audience for their writing? I suspect that at the very least, CKS suffered from the kinds of "lapses" that I mentioned above - a kind of "audience" slippage in his writing. Finally, as a historian, we must confront the issue of what it means to know what is "in someone's head." The issue of diary audience notwithstanding, the actions, intentions, and opinions of someone like CKS caught in the Xi'an Incident, for example, inevitably goes through a form of translation as he puts his thoughts to paper. Diaries are not written thoughts, they are narrated thoughts. While what is put on paper in this manner does not lose historical value - we might want to be careful in how to articulate what it is that we have found. I didn't hear Professor Yang's talk or how exactly he expressed these ideas but it sounds like it was a fascinating discussion of an important historical source. I'm curious what others have to say about some of these issues surrounding the diaries of leaders like CKS? UPDATE: Jonathan records another interesting comment by Professor Yang: "One last thing that Prof. Yang mentioned--he said that Chiang's status has risen in China from that of a devil (鬼) to a human (人), while in Taiwan, coincidentally, it seems his status has gone from god to human. (No one commented on the immediate political conditions that might be responsible for that coincidence.)" On this point, Sayaka over at Prison Notebooks has an interesting posting worth checking out.
So, what is the current status of Chiang Kai-shek in China? He is the most troublesome of the Republican era-figures for the mainland to figure out. Anyone who can possibly be called a “democratic personage” i.e. vaguely leftist or progressive or something can be praised. Even warlords can be rehabilitated if they went over to the Communist side. Chiang was for a long time –the- bad guy of the CCP demonology, but as the Nationalist regime has been re-appraised so has he. This is not really surprising. He was not a Communist. But then economically neither are the current rulers of China. He was not a democrat. Ditto. He ran a fairly corrupt developmental party state, which should not be too difficult to justify. And he fought the Japanese. There is a nice exhibit up on the Nationalist government at the old Presidential Palace in Nanjing. It lays out the structure of the Nationalist government quite well and is pretty non-committal about his anti-communism, although it does point out that he helped defeat the warlords and such. They only really get down on him when they get to 1948. Under Sun Yat-sen’s Fundamentals of National Reconstruction China was to go through a series of phases of government. First was military dictatorship. Then a period of political tutelage, where under the direction of the wise party-state the Chinese people would be made ready for the third phase, which was constitutional government. Sun was well aware that just declaring a Republic did not make one happen.
In the age of autocracy, the masses of the people were fettered in spirit and body so that emancipation seemed impossible Those who worked for the welfare of the people and were willing to sacrifice themselves for the success of revolution not only did not receive assistance from the people but were also ridiculed and disparaged. Much as they desired to be the guides of the people, they proceeded without followers. Much as they desired to be the vanguards, they advanced without reinforcement. It becomes necessary that., apart from destroying enemy influence, those engaged in revolution should take care to develop the constructive ability of the people. A revolutionary program is therefore indispensable.The displays at the Presidential palace seem quite respectful of Sun’s 5-power constitution, although they don’t talk much about the transition to constitutional rule. Chiang himself kept China in the stage of political tutelage for most of his time in power. As his critics pointed out this amounted to a dictatorship with vague promises of future democracy. At last, in 1947, Chiang moved China into constitutional government. He became President of China on May 20, 1948. This is often seen as the last act of a desperate man, trying to shore up support for a foundering regime. Here on the mainland, however, they seem to take it pretty seriously. The museum here in Nanjing calls him “President” Chiang after this point, with the title in scare quotes. All the institutions of the post-48 government are in quotes. Scare quotes are pretty common in CCP histories. ((they can be quite postmodern, those commies)) Institutions of Wang Jingwei’s puppet government are always put into quotes or just called false (wei 伪) Always very important to let people know that someone else’s “democracy” is not the real people’s democracy. What I find interesting is that the museum is willing to grant Chiang legitimacy right up to 1948, apparently. It almost makes him seem like an old dynasty that is presented as having had the Mandate and then, right at the end, having lost it, rather than someone who was always an enemy of the people. Or maybe they just don’t want to say that the '48 government was China's first democracy, which I would probably agree with, although not for the same reasons the CCP would not want to say that.
Of course to some extent this is a moot point. I don’t think there is as rigid a central “line” on most historical topics as there used to be, and here in Nanjing in particular you might expect more favorable treatment. Still, I find it interesting to watch the changing reputations of historical figures.
One nice thing about Chinese history is that there is a long history of recording popular songs. From the Han at least it was assumed that popular songs reflected the popular mind, and so collecting them was an early form of public opinion polling.
In the first month of spring each year, just before the many inhabitants were to scatter [for farmers went out to live in their fields during the growing season], the envoys would come shaking their wooden clackers all along the roads, in this way intending to gather up the local odes, which were then presented to the Grand Master [at court]. It was he who arranged their musical scores, at which point they were performed for the Son of Heaven. Hence, the saying, “The king knows All-under-Heaven, without ever peering out from his windows and doors.” Han Shu via Nylan Five Confucian Classics
Of course the songs we have written down are problematic in that it is not clear if they are really the songs commoners sung, or what they would mean if they were. Still, a lot of them were recorded. Even the Communists did it.
This is one from Shaanxi in 1938 or so, when the Nationalists were building #7 military school。
第七分校 一派胡闹 借题建校 到处拆庙 摔碎砖瓦 专要木料 政治讲话 胡说八道1 军事训练 更谈不到 骑兵无马 炮兵无炮 专等吹号 吃饭睡觉
Number 7 school Is complete nonsense A school built on false pretenses Everywhere they destroy temples Shattering the tiles And confiscating the timbers Political lectures are Wild talk (could be “Wild talk about the (Communist) 8th route army”?) Military training is Endless talk without results The cavalry have no horses The artillery have no cannon They spit out slogans Eat and sleep
Although the format (peasant complaint song) is very old, this one is pretty astute in its criticisms. In the second line the school is accused of being built on false pretenses. This could mean at least two things. One of the purposes of the school was to suck up students coming from the occupied areas and headed for the Communist base at Yenan. So as far as Chiang Kai-shek was concerned the purpose of the school was not so much military training as denying recruits to the Commies. For Hu Zongnan, the commander of the school, its purpose was to instill loyalty to himself and create the building blocks for a personal satrapy in the Northwest.
As the village the school was located in did not have enough large buildings for what eventually grew into a major training facility a lot of building was done, which required a lot of lumber. Some of this was acquired by forbidding peasants access to the forests, but a lot of it also came from taking apart temples. In the wood-starved Northwest temples would be a great place to find big timbers. Revolutionaries, both Nationalists and Communists, regarded temples as worthless dens of superstition and so loved taking them apart, not as a rule a very popular move.
Mostly though the song criticizes what went on at the school, which for the peasants seems to have been very little. This was the opinion of the students and their future commanders as well, as the school had a reputation for doing more political training than military training. From a good revolutionary point of view that is fine, but apparently the peasants were not buying it.
From 文史资料存稿选编 p.743
1There are a couple of possible puns on the name of 胡宗南，Chiang Kai-shek’s commander in Shaanxi and commander of the school. (He was incompetent to the point that Chang and Halliday accuse him of being a communist mole.) There are other bits of wordplay in here too, I think.
In an interesting article on the gun trade and state control of weapons in Guangdong province in the 1920’s Qiu Jie and He Wenping make an interesting argument about the role of guns in Chinese politics. The article as a whole attempts to get at the level of armament in the province, which is of course difficult to do. Weapons came in from all sorts of places, military weapons, local production, the British in Hong Kong trying to stir up trouble. Guangdong produced a lot of overseas sojourners (the article focuses on the Pearl River delta) and they liked to help out the folks back home by buying them guns. Although guns flowed into the province throughout the 20s prices kept going up, (locally made rifles went from 40 yuan apiece in 1912 to 170 in 1928. Prices of handguns rose more slowly) indicating that there was still lots of demand. After some speculation on total numbers of guns the authors focus on the Guomindang Canton government’s attempt to license and tax weapons. This was initially a revenue move. During the warlord period states taxed almost everything and guns were a particularly attractive thing to tax. Gradually attempts to license guns came to be more focused on denying weapons to opponents of the state, most notably the Merchant Corps of Canton, which was always difficult to control.
The most interesting thing about the article is the conclusion. The authors conclude that Guangdong did not see the emergence of really serious local oppressors, (土皇帝) or of large-scale banditry because as a fairly prosperous area it was a well-armed area. As a result it was hard for any one family to dominate a local militia and hard for the state to control the people. Thus local independence grows out of the barrel of a gun.
I’m not sure I entirely buy this. I’m not sure things in Guangdong were really that good, or that this single explanation really explains it. Guangdong does seem a good deal less disastrous than many other areas during the warlord period, but then so does the Shanghai area, and I suspect this has more to do with the presence of a major urban area than with guns per se. What I do find interesting is the almost libertarian emphasis on guns and popular power. Chinese scholarship usually seems pretty state-centered, i.e. looking from the point of view of the state at the problem of controlling the people. (Or regarding the Nationalist state as evil and assuming the existence of a Communist counter-state) I don’t have much problem with a state focus, since the process of state-building was one of the most important parts of China’s 19th and 20th century, but it is nice to see civil-society type ideas being applied outside Shanghai.
邱捷，何文平“1920 年代广东的民间武器” in 一九二0年代的中国，社会科学，北京， 2005
Mrs Li says there was indeed a battle. "The KMT warned us that the Reds would eat the young people and bury the old," she said. "Many fled up the mountainside. But when we saw them, they told us not to be afraid, they only opposed bad people. I remember they were wearing straw shoes, with cloth wound around their shins." "The fighting started in the evening," Mrs Li said. "There were many killed on the Red Army side. The KMT set fire to the bridge-house on the other side, to try to melt the chains, and one of the chains was cut. After it was taken, the Red Army took seven days and seven nights to cross. Later, I was told that someone we had seen was Mao Zedong." Oxford University's Steve Tsang says the Chiang Kai-shek archives show the KMT chief did in fact order the senior warlord in the area to hold the crossing on pain of court martial, while his 100,000-strong Central Army tried to catch up with the Reds from the south. Some of the Sichuan warlord's forces arrived before the Reds at Luding, but their commander panicked as the Reds' main force arrived. He fled, leaving behind only a few of his notoriously opium-dazed soldiers to defend the bridge. The attempt to burn the bridge could not have amounted to much, as the timbers were soaked by rain. "The Maoist story of the battle was a lie, and a huge exaggeration but there was a battle," Tsang said.
Sun Shuyan's claim seems to rest partially on a negative finding: no eyewitnesses, though given that she could only find forty Long Marchers to interview after seventy years, that's hardly proof, really. She also cites
As Gen. Li Jukui wrote 50 years later in a memo never published until last month by author Sun Shuyan in her new book, "Long March:" "This matter was not as complicated as people made it out to be later."
Though I'm always happy to see interesting new sources enter the public realm, that sounds reasonably close to what Steve Tsang was describing above, and it may be that what Sun is "debunking" is the static Chinese Communist narrative rather than the current anglophone understanding. To be fair, I haven't seen the book: I am loath to rely too heavily on news accounts, but I also haven't seen any scholarly reviews yet.
Over 10 months, travelling mainly by bus and train through areas little changed to this day, I found 40 of the march veterans. Talking to them, I learned that their suffering, and what they overcame, was actually much greater than we had been told, especially among the women. Some of the realities they described also sit uneasily with the myth - none more so, perhaps, than the fate of the children of the Long March: the children left behind, children given over for hurried adoption after being born along the way, the young taken on as recruits and sometimes abandoned if they could not keep up.I can't tell from the article, which focuses on women and children in the march, if the book will follow that emphasis, nor does it give any clues as to whether there will be any new information on the Luding Bridge incident which features prominently in Chang/Halliday's attack on Mao's legacy. However, if the article is any clue as to the rich detail available in the book, it will be a valuable addition to the history and the pedagogy. Oral history is one of the most accessible sources for students, and well-done oral history is a joy to read and use.