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Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:00 pm

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Its hard out there for a Party Historian

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:14 am

Xie Chuntao, the chief historian at the Central Party School has recently expressed an opinion that some parts of China’s history are closed, and likely to remain so. “Some involve the state’s core interests and some are not convenient to be released,”

My comments on this are partially superseded, as it is coals to Anyuan to be snarky about Chinese history on the English-language internet as long as Jeremiah Jenne is still at large.

One thing I do find encouraging is that at the very end Xie says “From a historical research [viewpoint] it is to be hoped that it would be best if they are all opened. But I fear this cannot happen and may never happen.” (I wish SCMP would link to the Chinese version) So he regrets the situation. That is good. He wants to reveal this stuff, supposedly, but can’t. How does one balance one’s obligations to China and the Party-state against one’s duties to history and scholarship? Xie Chuntao may not be Fang Xiaoru, but this is an old topic in Chinese culture.

Is Xie (who I have never met) a hack? And if so, what sort of hack is he? Or is he just a scholar doing the best he can in a certain situation? Well, here is the blurb for his book. Why and How the CPC Works in China. 1 edition. New World Press, Beijing, China, 2011.

The international community now views China and the Communist Party of China (CPC) with increasing respect because of a series of important and symbolic events—from the truly exceptional Beijing Olympic Games and the 2010 Shanghai World Exposition that attracted world attention to the fast economic growth obtained even against the backdrop of the international financial crisis. The “China Model,” “China Road” and “China Experience” have become hot topics of discussion both at home and abroad. Insightful people are pondering how the CPC could score such brilliant achievements, and how such a party can still be full of vigor and vitality 90 years after it was founded and 60 years after it gained power.

O.k. so far he sounds like George Will. On the other hand, he works at Central Party School the which is the subject of this very revealing expose, which shows some of the constraints he is laboring under.

This is an older piece, so we get some pictures of the old head of the party school, some guy named Xie. What we also get is a nice picture of ideological control over scholars. Many American scholars are grumpy about the role of student evaluations in assessing teaching, but at the Party School we find a proper modern assessment system

According to the current appraisal system, the full mark for a lecture is 10 points. Any lecture scored under nine is deemed a major malfunction of the teacher. If such an event occurs, proper administrative departments in the school will hold a meeting with all the teachers to resolve the problem.

The appraisal system was introduced into the school not long ago. Currently the school publishes each teacher’s score at the end of each term. Xie Chuantao said in his department, if a teacher has a score lower than department’s average, he or she would be suspended from teaching for a while.

The Central Party School, where all the teachers are above average. Obviously this type of system will have US assessment gurus polishing up their C.V.s for a new job in China. It is not very surprising that students have so much power, however, given that the Central Party School is  the place where  cadres punch their tickets for the trip from promising local person to national figure. ( see  Liu, Alan P. L. “Rebirth and Secularization of the Central Party School in China.” The China Journal, 2009. )

Xie is highly aware that his students are quite different from ordinary school students. In past years, Xie Chuntao has seen many students promoted to higher positions or even to the Central Committee of the CPC, while at the same time, he is also sorry for a few that have been put into prison for discipline violations.

Obviously the elite have changed some. Instead of cadres with high school education many of them now have Master’s degrees.

 Great changes have taken place regarding the school’s curriculum. More than a decade ago, given the educational background of students, the school prepared classes on history and geography in addition to classics of Marxism and Leninism. Nowadays, such courses are replaced by opera appreciation and diplomatic etiquette.

The school is also a lot more liberal than in was in the old days

Openness and frankness are long-cherished traditions in the school. In the late 1970s, students at the school held a discussion covering the criterion for testing truth, which subsequently led to a nationwide liberation of thoughts. Hu Yaobang, the then vice president of the school, set up four rules to encourage free discussion among students. Here, no one would be discriminated against or punished for speaking out his real mind. When former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited the school the liberal classroom environment surprised him greatly.

If you have both Hu Yaobang and Donald Rumsfeld you have both the Chinese and the foreign spokesmen for liberalism and free thought on your side.

What I suspect is happening is that, yet again, the bounds of acceptable discourse are shifting, and a tiny set of issues are being defined as nei bu (internal circulation) They do talk about the Great Leap at CPS, but they also don’t publish  anything that contradicts the official line. While ruling things out of bounds is clearly not a progressive step, it may help at least a little in opening up sources on things which are not considered sensitive.  On the one hand the Xie quotes about “closed files” make it sound like Chinese historical study is slipping back towards the Maoist period. On the other, CPS article makes China sound a bit like any other normal country where scholarship has to contend with state power and the security state. Of course it is pretty different as well.

Frog In A Well enters the 5 dynasties

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:14 am

This blog is currently going through a Tang-Song transition sort of thing: a somewhat confusing period of change from which it emerges better than ever…maybe.

The long-term transition is from three separate East Asia blogs one unified blog, from one layout to another, and from one site to another.

Old Version here

New Version here

At present we are stuck in the confusing 5 Dynasties that come between the Tang and the Song, so at least for a bit you can find identical posts at both places. If you have us on an RSS feed or something like that this would be a time to switch.


The Song was a period Open to Talent, and we are looking for new members. So if you want to join, contribute a post, or otherwise contribute, send an 8-legged essay describing your interest.


Do you like it for the articles or the pictures?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:27 am

If you are looking for something fun to read, you might try Nick Stember’s blog. He is a grad student who is interested in manhua, and he can tell you about the Chinese graphic novel-ization of Star Wars

The many editions of Jin Ping Mei (some closer to the original story than others)

how all Japanese Anime was inspired by the Chinese film Princess Iron Fan (which you can watch here) and lots of other stuff.




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


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 []


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.


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.


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


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.


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,


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


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.



China’s first statue?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:49 am

I found this in 圖書日報, I think from 1910. It is a statue of Lin Zexu that may be China’s first public statue. It is of course not the first statue to exist in China, but it may be the first time China had a proper Western-style Public Statue made of bronze. There was never much of a Chinese tradition of statuary and certainly none of public commemorative statues.

Lin Zexu圖書日報 (more…)


The internet is awesome-Chinese history in film version

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:39 am

British Pathé  has put some 80,000 of their old newsreels on YouTube. This is a massive treasure trove of cool stuff, and the many hours I will spend looking at them are fully justified as “work”. A lot the commentary is bland, foreigner-centered and uninformed, but the pictures are great.

Civil War in China. (1922) Not much analysis, but a a nice funeral.

Some of these are listed as unknown material with no date. such as. World Faces Crisis As Japan And China Clash In Far East (1938) I suppose I should comment and tell them what this is.

Some of it might be quite useful for research. Would you like to see a film of the official parade at the inauguration of the Japanese puppet government of Canton? With street drama and everything?

Maybe Village Children Of South China (1951) is more your style?

Or Nationalist troops in Nankin in 1927?

China Fish People (1930)?

An opium burning which I think is the one in 1919?

Not only is all this great content searchable, it is also free! This is the type of thing that convinces me that inventing the internet may not have been a mistake after all.

What are your favorites? You can go to the Pathe channel here https://www.youtube.com/user/britishpathe and click on the magnifying glass to search.


Socialism is good

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:14 am

Finally. Just in time for the end of the semester.

I managed to find an on-line version of Socialism Is Good.

Well, not just a version. There are lots of fairly standard ones out there.

but the first one is, I think, one that was recorded back in the 90’s by the Beijing Modern Art Band or something like that.1 It is a bit more….peppy that you might expect. I remember having a long argument with a Chinese friend over whether is was a bunch of cadre kids trying to make the CCP cool, or a bunch of anti-party types mocking one of the great red anthems. I took the later position, but I will have to see what the kids say about it.

I found it, by the way, from an American right-wing site that suggests that thanks to Obama we may all be singing this pretty soon. Maybe you should learn the lyrics now, while it’s still optional.


  1. I swear that cassette is in one of my boxes downstairs. I really need to dig it out. []


I made tea eggs today

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 4:29 pm

TeaEggsApparently this makes me both a multi-millionaire and part of cross-straits relations. I have not kept up as much as I should with the current Taiwan protests, but Offbeat China has. and they claim that tea eggs are one of the things that both sides are using as a symbol (both real and snarky) of Taiwan.

Admittedly, mine are not real tea eggs, since

1. I did not meet Dr. Who, steal the Tardis, go back to the Shang dynasty and build a 7-11 and then put the eggs in a crockpot and let them simmer for 3,000 years. That would be a proper Taiwan tea egg.

2. I only made them because we had too many eggs and everyone I know likes tea eggs. No rhetorical points about China, Taiwan, democracy, identity, etc. Just eggs. And tea.

3. They taste good, but maybe I should have used one more star anise. Always hard to judge that.


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