井底之蛙

8/8/2013

Chinese youth defending their rights

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:24 am

My historical methods course for the Fall will be looking at the Boxers, and I have been reading Jane Elliott’s book on the Boxers.1 It’s a really interesting book, which among other things collects a lot of pictures and cartoons of the Boxers that I had never seen before.

The standard Western image of the Boxers eventually became that they were a gang of colourful, superstitious primitives (just like all non-White people) who had to be put down by the civilized, orderly forces of the West for the good of Civilization and China itself. ((The main book in the class in Cohen’s History in Three Keys, which deals with some of this myth-making and above all how Chinese dealt with this relationship between “Boxerism” Chinese-ness and Anti-foreignism.)) You can see this narrative in the picture below, which is identified as U.S. Marine Corps art, and which I remember from my High School history textbook.2

boxer-rebellion

One of the things that makes Elliot’s book so interesting is that she shows how a less stereotyped narrative was present right from the beginning. She argues that the Qing imperial troops actually did quite well against the foreigners. This makes the Late Qing reforms look better, which fits in with a lot of recent scholarship. She also shows a number of contemporary images, produced for commercial sale in the West, that make the Chinese look more modern, manly, and soldier-like than the standard narrative would suggest.

Chinese Boxers-RightsThis is Ben W. Killburn “Chinese Boys Defending Their Rights”, sold to the American public in 1900

Boxers2Here is “Firing a Volley from the Shelter of a Bank — Chinese Soldiers at Tien-tsin, China” These guys could almost be the Marines in the first picture.

All these photos of Chinese soldiers as modern people were taken by Americans, or are in American collections, and she argues that the Americans had a much more developed tradition of war photography at this point than anyone else, and that they were less likely to want to see Chinese as something out of The Mikkado than the British. This is something I think I will try to do something with in class, as I am often amazed at how totally dead the old American Anti-imperialist tradition is.

  1. Elliott, Jane E. Some Did It for Civilisation, Some Did It for Their Country: a Revised View of the Boxer War. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2002. []
  2. This picture is not in Elliot, but she does have a lot like it. []

4/10/2013

Going Native

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:11 am

Here is something from Edward V. Gulick Teaching in Wartime China: A Photo-Memoir, 1937-1939. ((University of Massachusetts, 1995)) When Gulick came to China he was a young, idealistic part of the wealthy, idealistic Yale in China program. He went on to have a career as a historian of international relations and of China, but at this point he was a young  Christian from a missionary family (although he ‘disliked old-fashioned missionary evangelism’1 ) who knew no Chinese and little about China. Still, he took to the place, and he learned a lot, much of it through meeting up with various missionaries, China hands and others. The one who interested me most was Gerald.

The exotic qualities of the hotel were enhanced by our linking up with someone I will call Gerald, a young English Buddhist who was on his way to Kunming and who had also come on the S.S. Canton from Hong Kong. Gerald identified himself as a dropout from Cambridge University and as a member of a prominent English family. He had lived several years in South China and several more in Peiping, attaining fluency in both Cantonese and Mandarin, and becoming a Buddhist convert. That was interesting enough, but I was astonished to learn that this tall, handsome and self-assured man had an opium habit, and then fascinated  to be invited to watch him smoke. He was articulate, loved to talk, and relished having an interested audience as he lay on his side and prepared his opium for smoking. That ritual consisted of dipping a blunt needle into a viscous fluid like molasses; the tip of the needle with its adhering drop was held briefly over the concentrated heat of a squat opium lamp. He turned the drop as it bubbled and then shaped it on the flat surface near the bowl of the pipe, before dipping the needle tip wth its cooled droplet into the “molasses” once again, the cycle being repeated slowly and peacefully six or eight times. The finished pellet was finally pushed off the needle into the tiny bowl of the opium pipe which was turned to the heat of the lamp so the smoker could ignite the pellet with several big puffs followed by a gigantic long inhale. The whole procedure was known as a “mouth.” Since this took place thirty years before the prevalence of drugs in middle-class America, it seemed incredibly exotic
and offbeat to me.
Dr. Liebenthal and I visited Gerald a number of times in opium dens to watch and listen. He talked of northern and southern differences in preparation, of the gentleness of the habit, of how he had smoked socially off and on for a year, and even regularly for a month in order to cope with an intestinal ailment, before he realized he had a habit. By the time I knew him he was compelled to smoke two or three “mouths” both morning and evening. He was eager to show us how benign and peaceful the dens were, how civilized smoking was, how unrelated the whole process was to the ill-informed and prejudiced ways in which it was usually perceived by Westerners.
Gerald possessed a romantic image of a perfect and purified Chinese culture that led him to an obsessive conviction that the Chinese way of
doing anything- in art, in language, in manners, in dress, in architecture, in agriculture and organization, in religion- was demonstrably the
best. Initially, I found this view of life sympathetic, but it risked slipping from novelty and stimulation to tedium and aggravation.

Eventually he sours on Gerald, but for me the opium smoking was the most interesting part. Apparently for Gerald opium smoking was a vital part of connecting to China. Liu Wendian seems to have felt the same way. Needless to say that is not true now, but it was part of the package as recently as the 1930s

  1. p.16 []

1/13/2013

Ungraded Love or Double Standards? Stanley Fish, Stephen Asma, and Confucius

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 8:10 am

Stanley Fish, no stranger to controversy, has a piece on the New York Times online blog, Opinionator, Favoritism Is Good (January 9, 2013). Fish is known for such books as There’s No Such Thing As Free Speech: And a Good Thing Too,  He vigorously responds to the critics of his March 2012 Two Cheers for Double Standards, published during the early phases of the presidential campaign when Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher both made colorful and offensive remarks. Many said that we had to condemn both the right and the left in order to be fair.

“Enlightenment liberalism!”  cried Fish, and proceeded to explain why even-handed treatment of friend and foe was wrong.  The classic liberal stance was “the transposition into the political realm of the Golden Rule: do unto others what you would have them do unto you. Don’t give your friends a pass you wouldn’t give to your enemies.” That is, “fairness is the great liberal virtue.” Dangerous, says Fish: “Limbaugh is the bad guy… why should he get an even break?” If you treat the good guys and the bad guys the same way, you are withdrawing from moral judgment.

That argument outraged more readers than any column he had written. An avalanche of comments asserted that merit and a single standard should rule. Fish responds by defending the double standard: “it’s not only O.K. but positively good to favor those on your side, members of your tribe. These are the people who look out for you, who have your back, who share your history, who stand for the same things you do. Why would you not prefer them to strangers?”

Giving preference is not prejudice but morally grounded, he continued. The classic liberal sees the individual as “what remains after race, gender, ethnicity and filial relationships have been discounted.” This is wrong:  “personhood is the sum of all these, and it makes no sense to disregard everything that connects you to someone and to treat him or her as if the two of you had never met.”

Pop quiz: Does this remind you of anyone? Confucius called for “graded love.” You don’t treat your family the same way you treat a stranger. (more…)

1/18/2012

Dragons in the News: Is a Long a Dragon?

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 2:22 am

The Year of the Dragon is upon us – should we be afraid?

Around the English speaking world, magazine covers and editorial writers rely on the dragon as a colorful shorthand for “China”:  “the dragon is coming,” the “dragon is waking,” or  “the eagle and the dragon.” In the PRC, Xinhua, the official news agency, reports “Year of Dragon Stamp Arouses Debate among Public.” One writer complained: “The moment I saw the design of the dragon stamp on newspaper, I was almost scared to death.”

Relax. We will not need a St. George the Dragon Slayer to come to our rescue. The Chinese long is a different creature from a dragon.

Wolfram Eberhard reassures us that in “sharp contrast to Western ideas on this subject, the Chinese dragon is a good natured and benign creature: a symbol of natural male vigor and fertility,” a primordial representative of the yang side of things. 1.

Eberhard warns that “combining as it does all sorts of mythological and cosmological notions, the dragon is one of China’s most complex and multi-tiered symbols.” In the cosmology which was systematized under the Han dynasty, the dragon  stood in the east, which came pretty naturally, since the east was the region of sunrise and rain, as opposed to the west, land of the cold, dry yin, where the white tiger ruled over death. A “tiger and dragon” fight, whether in martial arts or in Ang Lee’s 2000 movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” is the clash of opposite styles.

In the Book of Changes (Yijing), says Edward Shaugnessy, University of Chicago specialist on early China, the “Heavenly Dragon” is an “organizing image.”  As the creature associated with spring and dawn, “first hidden in watery depths beneath the horizon, the dragon then appears in the fields before suddenly jumping up to fly through the summer sky. However, even the dragon cannot fly forever. When it gets too high – and too arrogant – it is cut off at the neck to descend once more into the watery depths.”2

Dragons come in all shapes and sizes, and they have the handy ability to expand to fill up all space or shrink as small as a silkworm. For starters there are “heavenly dragons (tian long),” “spirit dragons (shen long),” earth-dragons (di long),” “dragons which guard treasure (fu-cang long),” and Flying Dragons (feilong). And this is before we even get to the other dragon-like creatures, such as the qilin, fenghuang, and pixie. (If you want to know what a qilin looks like, you’ll find one on a bottle of Kirin Beer, since “kirin” is the Japanese pronunciation of qilin).

So “dragon” isn’t a great translation for the Chinese long. “A long is a long,” says Thorsten Pattberg, a scholar at Peking University’s Institute of World Literature, in a good humored column with a serious point in China Daily (January 16, 2012) (here).  He says it’s “maybe even a tianlong, but please, please do not use ‘dragon.’ That kind of linguistic imperialism happened to your unique Sichuan xiongmao once, remember? Now it’s a Western ‘panda.’” If Westerners used the correct word, long, it would remind them that they are facing something culturally new,” not a “dragon.”

(more…)

  1. Wolfram Eberhard, A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols: Hidden Symbols in Chinese Life and Thought (London; New York: Routledge, 1986), pp. 83-86 []
  2. Edward Shaugnessy, China: Empire and Civilization (Oxford 2000) p. 6. []

7/13/2011

Names and Dates In English and Chinese

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 9:15 pm

I recently discovered Beijing Time Machine, run  by Jared Hall. His recent piece Time over Place: Naming Historical Events in Chinese (ironically, it is not dated), is a striking and useful observation:

In English, we generally recall important turning points in terms of where they unfolded. Simple place names conjure up entire historical epochs. “Pearl Harbor” marks the American entrance into the Second World War and the global struggle against fascism. “Bandung,” the conference in of newly independent African and Asian nations that pledged to stand together in 1955 against imperialism and Cold War division. And then, of course, there is “Tian’anmen.” It is doubtful that mention of the square here in China would, by itself, raise any eyebrows. But try “6-4″ (六四) and you are can expect quite a different reaction.

There is also a useful chart of name years in the sixty year cycle, which you can download to put on your desk calendar or refrigerator door.

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