When the Chinese went out for Jews

For the benefit of our Chinese readers, as well as anyone else who has not seen this excellent piece, I would like to introduce Scott Seligman’s “The Night New York’s Chinese Went Out for Jews: How a 1903 Chinatown fundraiser for pogrom victims united two persecuted peoples.” For our Chinese readers I suppose I should explain the joke in the title. Americans went out for Chinese a lot. Chinese restaurants were popular in the U.S. for a long time. Jews in particular went out for Chinese on Christmas. Christmas was the day that every single goy in America had a family meal, and so Jews were left all alone, like Americans in China at Spring Festival. I suppose Jews could have stayed in and had a family meal of their own, but they tended to make a point of going out, and the only place that would be open was a Chinese restaurant.1Not as a rule a place that non-Jews would visit on Christmas, but a place where Jews and Chinese could commiserate on their common lack of American-ness.

Given this bond between Jews and Chinese, it is maybe less surprising than it seems that a sort of Pan-Asian solidarity led Chinese to mobilize in support of the victims of the Kishinev pogrom. Chinese donated money, marched through the streets, and attended “a Chinese-language drama entitled The 10 Lost Tribes. Its subject, however, was not the destruction of the kingdom of Israel in Biblical times, but rather the subjugation of the Chinese by the Manchus in the early years of the Ch’ing Dynasty.” It’s a very good article, and rather than my summarizing it, you should go read it.



  1. Yes, the connection between Jews and Chinese restaurants goes beyond Christmas. It’s just a blog post. []


Heartland Mandala

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 7:01 pm

I was surprised to learn, about ten days ago, that PSU was going to be hosting a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks creating a sand mandala. This is a touring company, but somehow they ended up in Pittsburg, Kansas in the run-up to the fiftieth anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s uprising. There was no political commentary around it, as near as I can tell. The school newspaper and city paper reported on it, but didn’t make a big deal about the anniversary. It wasn’t entirely apolitical: The Pittsburg Morning Sun did quote the monks on the subject of the Chinese takeover and subsequent Tibetan cultural endangerment. But the opening invocation, which I attended, included no mention of that; there was a prominent altar with a picture of the Dalai Lama, though.

Unfortunately, I fell ill a few hours after the opening ceremony on Monday1 so I only got pictures of the very first moments of creation — I love the traditional-style plumb-line — and of the nearly-completed mandala on Thursday. I haven’t seen these up close before, and if I’d been healthier I would have gotten more pictures, but I was struck by the texture of the mandala. I’m used to seeing these as two-dimensional images, but the sand is actually laid out in little piles and walls (see here for a detail shot), in a very intricate fashion.

It was, apparently, a variation on the Amitayus Mandala (see also), centered on Amitabha (aka Amida), and emphasizing healing and wisdom. Here are some of the better pictures I did manage under the fold:

  1. I hope my students don’t make the connection between the “driving out of evil forces” and my absence! []


If you prick Taiwanese savages, do they not bleed?

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 8:27 am

I want to share just one more short passage from Small Sea Travel Diaries, the English translation of Yu Yonghe’s journal and essays from his trip to Taiwan in the 17th century by Macabe Keliher. I find the following reflections by Yu on natives he met in Taiwan to be an interesting display of humanity and an overly confident universalism on the part of the author, though it’s tone is entirely inconsistent with the far more insulting, unsympathetic, and otherwise derogatory tone used elsewhere in Yu’s journals.

The worst off people in the world are not as bad off as the Taiwan savages. Because they are different they are discriminated against. When people see them without clothes, they say, “they don’t get cold.” When they see them walk in the rain and sleep in the two, they say, “they don’t get sick.” When they see them carry burdens over great distances, they say, “they can work without rest.”

Aye! They are also people! They have limbs and bodies and flesh and bone; in what way are they not human? How can one say such things of them? If horses run without rest, or oxen loaded with more than they can carry, will they not get sick? If oxen and horses are like this, then what of humans? If they had cloth, and they would wear layers of clothes when the weather turned cold – what would be the point of getting cold. If they had no responsibilities, they would settle peacefully and not run around naked – what is the point of being naked? If they did not have to work, they would rest and relax and not labor for these interpreters. Who does not enjoy eating well and staying warm, avoiding pain and hunger and cold? Who does not hate hard labor and enjoy leisure and comfort? This is human nature. There are different people, but the nature is all the same. The benevolent know this and do not need to repeat it. 1

As the mention they get in this quote suggests, Yu really did not like interpreters, and they appear as the most evil figures in his narrative. Perhaps his own dependence on them when he went hunting for sulphur in remote areas of Taiwan added to his dislike for their deceptive practices.

  1. Yu, Yonghe, trans. Macabe Keliher Small Sea Travel Diaries (2004) SMC publishing, Taipei, 2004, 119. []


U.S.-China Cooperation

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:28 am

I have no idea where the U.S. China relationship is going, but I have usually thought that whatever rhetoric was coming from either side of the Pacific there were lots of common interests (making money, borrowing money, thinking North Korea is nuts, etc.) to avoid the more lurid scenarios of Sino-American conflict

I had assumed that there was some cooperation in dealing with Muslim terrorists, but was not clear on the details. According to ABC it has gone as far as the U.S. and China co-operating in torturing Uighers at Guantanamo. This is apparently not as full-scale a cooperation as some might wish. The Americans will still not hand over innocent Uighers to China for fear they may be tortured (some more.) One can hope that this is just a once-off and that the Americans and Chinese are not working up a more systematic cooperation, but I’m not entirely sure about that. I was quite surprised to see that the U.S. was willing to let honest to god Chi-coms into a top secret U.S. base to participate in the most super-secret things going on there. At some levels we are getting along great.


China’s Robinson Crusoe

I’ve been reading Wolf Totem and having a lot of fun doing so. The book, based on Jiang Rong’s time as a sent-down youth in Inner Mongolia. was a huge best-seller in China. Why is this book a Thing Chinese People Like? Nicole Barnes says that the book is nostalgic drivel aimed at Chinese who long for a world with fewer skyscrapers and more manliness and seek it in Mongolia. A lot of the novel is also nostalgia for the past. If you want to recapture the ancient knowledge of the East, Mongolia is apparently the place to do it. Our Chinese heroes spend a lot of time trying to keep wolves from eating the sheep, and learning about the symbiotic relationship between the Mongols, the steppe, and the wolves, and thus the foundations of Asian society.

Chen felt himself to be standing at the mouth of a tunnel to five thousand years of Chinese history. Every day and every night, he thought, men have fought wolves on the Mongolian plateau, a minor skirmish here, a pitched battle there. The frequency of these clashes has even surpassed the frequency of battles among all the nomadic peoples of the West outside of wolf and man, plus the cruel, protracted wars between nomadic tribes, conflicts between nationalities, and wars of aggression; it is that frequency that has strengthened and advanced the mastery of the combatants in these battles. The grassland people are better and more knowledgeable fighters than any farming race of people or nomadic tribe in the world. In the history of China—from the Zhou dynasty, through the Warring States, and on to the Qin, Han, Tang, and Song dynasties—all those great agrarian societies, with their large populations and superior strength, were often crushed in combat with minor nomadic tribes, suffering catastrophic and humiliating defeat. At the end of the Song dynasty, the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan invaded the Central Plains and remained in power for nearly a century. China’s last feudal dynasty, the Qing, was itself founded by nomads. The Han race, with its ties to the land, has gone without the superior military teachings of a wolf drillmaster and has been deprived of constant rigorous training exercises. The ancient Chinese had their Sun-tzu and his military treatise, but that was on paper. Besides, even they were based in part on the lupine arts of war.

Millions of Chinese died at the hands of invasions by peoples of the North over thousands of years, and Chen felt as if he’d found the source of that sad history. Relationships among the creatures on earth have dictated the course of history and of fate, he thought. The military talents of a people in protecting their homes and their nation are essential to their founding and their survival. If there had been no wolves on the Mongolian grassland, would China and the world be different than they are today?
Jiang Rong p.99

Wolf Totem actually fits pretty well with the other book I am reading for fun at the moment, Rose’s Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes. Rose’s book was very well-received,which is not surprising as it is a very good look as what ordinary British folk read and what they got out of it in the couple of centuries before 1945. One book that was quite popular for a very long time was Robinson Crusoe. Like Wolf Totem it is a ripping yarn with extended didactic passages. Like Wolf Totem it is a story of civilized men outside the city. Rose suggests that Crusoe was popular in part because appealed to both members of the new middle class who were no longer able to provide what they needed with their own hands and to those who were still working with their hands and liked reading a book that represented what they did as important.

Wolf Totem has a lot of that as well. As a keyboard jockey I like books about places where everyone is doing something and it is clear exactly what benefit each thing provides. The is particularly clear in Wolf Totem, since Jiang goes through the workpoint value of each job a person can do and shows how each is perfectly calibrated to the exertion the work requires and its value to the group.1 Would you be willing to go without electricity to live in a world where every day you did things of real value and this was accepted by everyone around you, and sucking up and bullshit were totally impossible? Apparently some people in China would too.

More later (mabye) on ethnic politics in the book.

  1. I’m guessing that many of his readers have no memory of how the workpoint system actually functioned []


Keeping Halal in the Ming dynasty

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 2:52 pm

As regular readers know, I am interested in the question of how people are defined as Chinese. One nice bit of data comes from Hans Kuhner. He is looking at a pair of families in the early Ming and trying to figure out what, for them, is Chinese behavior. Although today the Yuan-Ming transition is sometimes presented as an uprising of native Chinese against their Mongol rulers and a restoration of Han rule, in fact the ethnic transition was a lot more complex, as shown in the case of two families.

One of the families is the Ding lineage of Quanzhou, once a major port for international trade. The Dings won their first jinshi degree in 1501. In their genealogies the first ancestor is Jiezhai, and all the early ancestors have Chinese names and are presented as wholly Chinese. It is only much later that it comes out that the first ancestor was also called Sayyid Ajall, a Bokharan who served as a governor under the Yuan. Sayyid stayed on in China after the fall of the Yuan, changing his name and attempting to deflect the considerable hostility towards semu people in the early Ming. This hostility was entirely popular. The state did not order purges of non-Chinese and in fact went to some length to avoid ethnic trouble. The Dings, however, got in a good deal of trouble over the years, as political opponents accused them of false registration, largely, it seems as a way of getting even with the Dings, not because people were so concerned with ethnicity. A later descendent, Ding Yanxia, described the family’s background this way.

We cannot know in detail where our family (jia) has come from before the time of Jiezhai. As far as religion (jiao) is concerned, in former times they seem to have followed customs that were not yet civilized. For example, they did not change the clothes [of the dead person] before it was put into the coffin, and they did not use wood for the coffin. The burial took place already on the third day after death, and [the corpse] was only covered with a very thin layer. The mourning attire was made of cotton, and when praying, there were no soul tab­lets for the ancestors, and no sacrificial offerings. On meetings, people bowed to the west at the time of sunset. Every first month [of the year] there was a period of fasting and one was allowed to eat only after sunset, while during the day, people were hungry. God (shen) was revered only with aromatic herbs, there were no sacrifices of wine and fruit and no paper money [as sacrifice] was burned. When reciting the holy book (qing jing) one imitated the traditional sound of the barbarian (yi) language, without understanding its meaning and not even trying to understand it. This was done on both happy and unhappy occasions. It was only allowed to eat meat that was slaughtered at home, and pork was forbidden. One regularly had to take a bath, and without bathing one was nor allowed to attend worship. As for clothing, cotton was preferred to silk, and on all occasions, cleanliness was desirable. When I was young, I still could see these customs personally. … Today, we burn paper money in the sacrifices for the ancestors, cattle has not to be slaughtered at home, all wear hemp as mourning attire, no more cotton. Sometimes, people wait as long as ten years before the burial. On both happy and unhappy occasions, Daoist and Buddhist monks are invited. Pork is eaten, and there is increasing conformity with [Chinese] ritual. However, there still are some who are proud of not fol­lowing the [Chinese] ritual. With regard to the desirability of cleanliness, I have seen no reduction. Alas, as far as the teachings of the Noble Man on ritual are concerned, some maintain that it should be based on the traditions of one’s coun­try and should be adhered to without the slightest change, Others maintain that some [aspects of] ritual can be different while others should be adhered to, with their practicality as criterion. What does “practicality” mean? It should conform to the principle of heaven and to human emotions. If they do not harm these two, why should we change them just in order to conform to the views of society?



Self-introduction: Scott Relyea 李皓同

Filed under: — Scott Relyea @ 5:59 am

Hi everyone at 井底之蛙,

First of all, I’d like to thank Konrad for the invitation to join the Frog in a Well community. I’m happy to become part of what I think is quite an exciting web project and look forward to adding comments and posts to what’s already a collection of quite interesting and enlightening discussions.

So, the introduction, I’m a Ph.D. candidate in Chinese History at Chicago and am currently based in Chengdu for most of this year conducting research on ‘Sichuan Khams’, the western part of Sichuan Province on the 青藏高原, made famous in song throughout the southwest. My route to history began at much lower altitude, with a degree in Journalism at Northwestern before moving on to a Master’s degree in International Affairs from GW, followed by another MA at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. While at GW my research in IR focused particularly on contemporary sovereignty issues and trans-boundary interactions among neighbouring sub-state political, economic, or social entities, an interest which remains at the near-periphery of my current dissertation project. In between the various degrees, I was a research assistant at the U.S. Institute for Peace in D.C. and did stints in web administration and design in various cities. (I guess that’s a bit of an academic meander!)



Tibet by rail

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:51 pm

It has been in the news of late that China has built a rail line to Tibet. It cost $3.2 billion, and the train cars have to be pressurized, but you can now get to Tibet cheaper than you could before. The official reason for this is to encourage economic development in the backward area of Tibet. The unspoken purpose is of course is to encourage Han migration and tie Tibet more closely to China. Might also help in case of war with India.

I have not seen it mentioned, but another reason to build it is because Sun Yat-sen wanted to build a railway to Tibet. Everyone who visits Nanjing learns that Sun wanted to build a bridge across the Yangzi, but that Mao did it. Carrying out the great tasks of the revolution is always something Chinese governments like to do.

After the 1911 revolution, when Yuan Shikai was made President Sun was made Minister of Railways. Yuan was chosen over Sun because Yuan was seen as a practical politician while Sun was a dreamer. Sun’s plan for railway development was quite frankly nuts, as the map below, from his collected works, shows.

Tibet Railways

Sun’s plan

In China proper he called for a network of railways that has not been built to this day. The map of Tibet is even more fantastic. I particularly like the route that goes along the border with India along, apparently, the spine of the Himalayas. This, like his net of rails in Mongolia, was intended to tie these border areas more closely to China. The era around 1911 was the age of the Rights Recovery Movement, when in addition to Chinese governments trying to hold on to every bit of sovereignty they could, non-state actors and individual citizens were supposed to do the same. All the spur lines running into Nepal seem to be laying claim to endangered territory. Most of these lines seem economically insane, but as they are more political than economic plans in the first place that is fine. The modern Tibet line is pretty much the same thing. I have no idea how much economic growth in will generate, but I’m sure it will be short of 3.2 billion. Still, Tibet is tied to the motherland, and the fact that it is economically crazy almost makes it better.

Tibet elevation

The modern line


Even Barbarians can become good

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:05 am

How does one become a good person? That is a question that crops up a lot when one reads the Confucians. In fact, for Confucians the processes of self-cultivation and the questions surrounding it are absolutely central. Needless to say, Yen Chih-t’ui has stuff on this.

Partly one becomes good by hanging with good people. As Confucius put it

To live with good people is like staying in a room of orchids where, after a long time, one would naturally be sweet-scented; To associate with bad people is like living in a dried-fish shop, where one would unavoidably become imbued with the odor.p.461

Study (and self-cultivation more generally) are also important. One issue that comes up a lot is how ‘universal’ Confuican concepts of human perfectability are. Can anyone become good? Even Barbarians? How about women? Do we all become the same sort of good?

In the Ch’i dynasty (550-577) a eunuch and a palace attendant, T’ien Peng-luan, 田鹏鸞, was originally a southern barbarian. When he became a eunuch at the age of 14 or 15, he already had a desire for study. He always hid a book in his sleeves and would recite it in a low voice day and night. His position was low and the service toilsome: however, at any short respite he would hurry off to find some one he could question. Whenever he came to the Hall of Literary Galaxies, he panted and perspired and would say nothing beyond asking questions from books. When he saw some heroic or loyal deed of the ancients, he was always deeply moved, meditating for a long time. I had deep compassion and love for him and gave him double encouragement. Later on he was known and loved by the emperor, who granted him the name Ching-hsuan 敬宣, and raised his position to that of chamberlain with an independent office. When the last emperor of Ch’i fled to Ch’ing-chou [Shandong], The army of Chou captured him and asked the whereabouts of the Ch’i emperor. He deceived them, say that [the emperor] had already gone away and estimated that he should be beyond the border. Suspecting him of lying, they beat and lashed him to force him to submit. As each of his limbs was cut off, his speech and appearance became more severe than before; when his four limbs were cut off, he died. That a young barbarian boy by study could achieve such fidelity! How inferior are the generals and high ministers of Ch’i to this slave Ching-hsuan. p.73

So Yen, at least, claims that barbarians and eunuchs are capable of becoming good. Actually, they are even better than Yen himself, since he ended up serving four dynasties.
1 This quote is from 孔子家语, 4, 8b This makes it doubtful that the quote is actually from Confucius, but of course would have been regarded as his.


Taiwanese Heroin

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:46 pm

It has been rainy rather than snowy around here of late, which is very unusual for this time of year. While walking in a cold wet rain I began to try and think of something that would make me feel better. Something that was cheap, would make me feel warm, and ideally make me spit horrible blood-red spit. Sadly the only thing that does that is betel nut, and you can’t get it in Pennsylvania.


Thinking about Taiwan and betel nut led me to do a bit of research that turned out to be pretty surprising.

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