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ASPAC Blogging: Change in Rural China

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:46 am
Flowers of Soka - Pink LotusI heard a few China papers at ASPAC and, though they weren't all on one panel, they might well have been, because they all dealt with the rural response to changing 20th and 21st century circumstances. On Friday I heard Soka University's own Xiaoxing Liu discuss rural responses to the marketization of the labor and agricultural economy in China over the last few decades. She noted that the share of Chinese workers involved in agriculture dropped below 50% in 2003, a critical landmark for modernization theorists: many former agricultural workers have become migrant laborers (more about them below) and the remaining agriculturalists have a great deal of structural and economic trouble: lack of land rights being high on the list. Perhaps more important, according to Liu, is the lack of information. Agriculture in a market economy is a series of educated guesses about what will grow and what will sell: rural cooperatives (of which there were, she noted, many different types) have been trying to improve the quality of the guesswork by pooling information, creating better paths to bigger markets, and building negotiating power. Despite the success of some of these projects, Liu noted that participation rates are still low: "Trust crises are widespread in China," she said, including financial institutions necessary for long-distance and long-term trade, land rights, and problems of bureaucratic authority. On Saturday morning I got to hear Kate Merkel-Hess of UC Irvine relate the career of rural reform educator Tao Xingzhi, particularly the short-lived teacher training school he founded in 1927. The "Rural Modern" movement he spearheaded was an attempt to merge rural Chinese values with Western progressivism, and use education to jumpstart rural reform along May Fourth movement lines. Tao's thought was a combination of John Dewey and Wang Yang-ming Confucianism, among other things; one of the successful innovations of his school was that it was in a rural area, so that the teaching students didn't get "citified" and resist "returning" to teach in rural areas. The education projects carried out by students at the school often -- as rural reform often does -- morphed into social reform, including a great growth in self-government in the 1930s. There were some fascinating connections between Tao's movement and contemporary (and slightly later) CCP shifts -- the realization of the potential of rural society for reform echoing Mao's contemporary reports from Jiangxi -- and Tao worked closely with the CCP in the development of preschool and kindergarten in China. His students went on to become very influential in education as well, and the mix of physical education, scientific thinking and access to literacy (some great stuff about the new generation "Thousand Character Readers") lay a new foundation for modernization in the latter 20th century. On Sunday I got to chair a session on education in Asia which included a paper by Yi Schuler, from Biola U., on the education of the children of migrant laborers. She started the paper (and the powerpoint) with a great quote:
“Education is a mirror held against the face of a people. Nations may put on blustering shows of strength to conceal public weakness, erect grand facades to conceal shabby backyards, and profess peace while secretly arming for conquest, but how they take care of their children tells unerringly who they are.” --- George Z. F. Bereday (( Comparative Methods in Education, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964, p. 5 ))
The critical issue here is the hukou residence registration system which limits social and educational services to the place of official residence. It isn't impossible to change residences, but it is difficult and rare for migrant laborers, which means that their children, for those who bring them along, are unable to attend public schools. It's true that the majority of migrant laborers with families leave them behind, but even a small share of the tens of millions (some estimates say hundreds of millions) of migrant laborers bringing children along represents a huge population. Interestingly, parents who are better educated are more likely to bring their children when the migrate, and also more interested in making sure their children get decent educations (which is often difficult in their home villages). Yi's focus was on Chengdu city, which has taken a much more creative and flexible approach to the education problem (in the absence of a complete abandonment of the hukou system), including supporting unofficial schools in their quest for licensing and better facilities and creating official migrant student schools that draw on government education funds.


Revising history: Brief notes

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 9:51 pm
Quick hits:
  • 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.


Shanghai and Modernity

Filed under: — katrina @ 4:55 am
I am currently working on a paper about Shanghai and modernity - obviously a lot of work has been done on that from the perspective of Chinese modernity but I am trying to understand the ways in which to Westerners it was perceived (in the interwar period) as a 'modern' city (or not). Noel Coward wrote Private Lives while staying at the Cathay Hotel, for instance, and I am intrigued by the sudden rush of interest in Shanghai of that period in Western culture (cf.The White Countess, Lust Caution, etc). Anyone here have any opinions/suggestions? On a side note, I just defended my PhD thesis on Thursday so am finally done!! Apologies for my absence from the site while I was finishing.


(A Little) Chinese History at ASPAC

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:14 am

There was, I'll admit, a lot of Chinese content at ASPAC which I didn't see. Such is life. I did see two papers which I want to discuss here briefly, though, from the "Globalization and Cultural Links" panel: on Qing "Dragon Robes" and transnational adoption.

Shu Hwa Lin, from the UH-Manoa Department of Family & Consumer Sciences (( I had to check. The UH-Manoa department shows up on the third page of results. I guess it's a Land-Grant thing, from what I'm seeing. Lin seems to be from the Apparel Product Design And Merchandising side of the program, which includes a "History of Western Fashion" and several "ethnic" and regional fashion courses. )) reported on Manoa's own collection, particularly on early 20th century "Dragon Robe" exemplars and the iconography and numerology of elite fabrics. I suppose it's no surprise to our readers here that Chinese elites used elaborate patterns and multiple symbols to indicate status and rank. There were twelve symbols for sovereignty (( Sun, moon, mountains, dragons, a constellation of three stars, pheasants, flame, a pair of bronze sacrificial cups, seaweed, grain, an axe, and "fu" )) , accumulated over the years, as well as eight symbols of good fortune from Buddhist sources. (( canopy, conch shell, vase, royal umbrella, the Wheel of the Law, endless knot, lotus, a pair of fish. )) The importance of the numbers 9 and 5 came up repeatedly: on the highest ranked nine-dragon robe, for example, five were visible from all angles. The robes represented about 2.5 years worth of work. (( This site says eight years, which sounds about right for six million stitches )) What was a surprise, to me, was that UH-Manoa has a textile archive with over eighty thousand items, including five dragon robes and a number of other items from the Qing dynasty. (( What wasn't a surprise was that the archive isn't adequately funded to properly store and preserve all those artifacts. Lin mentioned their search for a donor to provide "a cabinet" for the Qing exemplars several times during the talk. ))

Alexander Yamato, Asian-American Studies coordinator at SJSU, talked about "Transnational Adoption of Asian Children by Americans," a topic near and dear to a lot of hearts. It was a very good survey of the issues, emphasizing the way in which a lot of them centered around issues of identity: identity of the children, of the adopting parents, and of ethnic immigrant groups, etc. Even what he described as the "political economy" of overseas adoption was closely tied up with issues of national identity: he talked about the black eye Korea took in the late '80s when they hosted the Olympics and Asia Games but were best known in the West for their export of poor children and GI orphans; similarly, Chinese adoption policy has sometimes reacted to foreign reportage or their perception of reputation. There was a period when adoption was heavily promoted by the Chinese government, and even extended to "non-traditional" families -- singles, homosexual couples -- but policy has shifted in the last ten years to include not only heterosexual stability but health (height, weight, age) and wealth as requirements for would-be adoptive parents. This is in response to the perception of China's population and poverty problems -- unwanted girls, lots of poor rural families. (( I can't imagine where that perception's come from. I only know three adoptive families with Chinese girls among my immediate circle of acquaintances off the top of my head. My wife and I have been speculating that the deep gender imbalance in China under the one-child policy combined with the exodus of adopted girls is going to produce some odd pressures over the next decade or so. ))

On the adoptive side, the identity issues are pretty substantial, starting with the cognitive dissonance of growing up racially Asian in America with a Caucasian family: at what point does the family address the issue, if at all? Are these children considered "immigrants"? Would travel to the country of origin be considered a "return"? Is their identity as Asian American a racial or cultural one? How to negotiate the relationship with the country/culture of origin, particularly given the reputation many of these countries have of "unwanted babies"? There's no answers to most of these questions: the impression I got is that there are a wide variety of individual approaches and responses, but no consensus on what results these produce or what might be a "best" approach. There is a growing economy associated with these children (( According to Yamato's numbers, there were over sixty thousand adoptees from China over the last fifteen years, and over two hundred thousand from Korea )) : not just the commodification of adoption on the "front end" but also the rise of a sort of "heritage industry" which includes cultural camps and classes in the US, and tours and travel to the country of origin (often subsidized by the state).

The adoption issue connects to the "Diaspora?" issue, which is something I'll talk about over here later.


Taiwan gained and lost

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 10:54 pm
Japan (ahem) Focus has a great excerpt from MIT's Emma J. Teng's Taiwan’s Imagined Geography: Chinese Colonial Travel Writing, 1683–1895 up this week. To be fair, there is a Japan connection towards the end
In 1895, only a short time after Taiwan had become an official province of China, the Qing were forced by their defeat in the Sino-Japanese war to cede the island to Japan. The reaction of Chinese elites to the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki demonstrates how far Chinese ideas about Taiwan had come since annexation. Officials and students in China vigorously protested the Treaty, signing declarations condemning what they called the “selling of national territory,” and the “severing of the nation.” Whereas Chinese officials two centuries earlier had protested the annexation of Taiwan as a waste of money, these protesters now declared that Taiwan should not be sold for any price. Pessimists predicted that once this piece of China was lost, the rest would soon fall like dominoes to imperial aggressors.
I'm going to be teaching the Qing portion of the China sequence next semester, so this is currently of great interest to me. I heard a great talk on Korean Buddhist travel literature at ASPAC, too: it's a theme!


Married couples

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:54 am

2 married couples

2 married couples, from China Digital Times

As both Mother's Day and her birthday are coming up, I thought I would post something romantic for my wife. GTF.


Asian History News Dump, March 2007

This is a "dump": all the Asia related stuff I've saved over the last.... two months? Anyway, nobody else has blogged about it, so I thought I'd toss it out there. I hope to resume more ... measured blogging soon. [Crossposted at all three Frog Blogs; sorry about the irrelevant stuff.]

The increasingly inaptly named JapanFocus website has a fantastic study of ethnic Koreans in Yanbian, China and their economic connections to both Koreas and Korean diaspora communities. The existence of this community -- the origins of which are rooted in Korean refugee migration from the Japanese incursions of the 1590s and early 20th century -- has provided a conduit for FDI, but has also been a factor in the ongoing historical/territorial debates between Chinese and Koreans (Even Salon has noticed!). Perhaps the most interesting section for me was the last third, where issues of remittances and the social standing of the Yanbian Korean-Chinese were raised: "famliarity breeds contempt" seems to be the theme, as relations between the Yanbian community and both Korean and overseas communities have gone through euphoric phases but generally been lukewarm in person, with the China-based community coming out on the short end.

In related news, JapanFocus also has an excerpt of a new translation by Joshua Fogel of Yamamuro Shin'ichi's Manchuria under Japanese Domination. Prasenjit Duara is not mentioned by name, but his works is, I think, implicitly criticized; Yamamuro's view of Manchuria is closer to Louise Young's ...someone should do a review essay drawing on all three.

It appears that our recent historiographical nightmare is over because Abe has apologized "as prime minister" for Japan's use of "sex slaves" (there was a fascinating debate on the terminology at H-Japan the end result of which is that a really concientious commentator cannot refer to the phenomenon of wartime military brothels with coerced participants except by using quotation marks or by going into long, long discussions of terminology).

I've been staying out of this whole brouhaha, mostly because of the rank ahistoricality of most of the discussion. Abe's initial point, that coercion was overstated and reevaluation is needed, is absurd on the face of it, replacing legalistic standards of evidence for historical ones. Regarding the rejection of the 1993 government finding by nationalist legislators, I can only repeat what I've said before, which is that if your pride or legitimacy rests on a denial the realities of history, it's time to find new sources of pride and legitimacy. The personal testimonies of former sex slaves before Congress, members of the Japanese military, etc.

Of course, the "debate" about the Nanjing massacre goes on: Joint historical committees come and go. Revisionist textbooks in Japan downplay atrocities, and Taiwanese textbooks seem to be focusing more on Chinese crimes than Japanese (and what can I say about the Taiwanese Nazi party? It would take a whole post...). A Chinese legislator even proposed "Humliation Day" as a commemoration of Japan's 1931 invasion.

I was struck by a Korea report of a new planed textbook which would take both Chinese and Japanese historical errors to task, while another report suggests that unique Korean errors are being promoted. This follows Presidential scolding of Japan and a lawsuit over Yasukuni Shrine.

The Matteo Ricci map [via] is fascinating, but I can't figure out why there are katakana readings of many of the place names, unless it is a later Japanese copy. Speaking of Japanese sources, the UC Japanese Historical Text Initiative looks like a great multilingual resource; a password is required to get at the texts, though not for their very detailed electronic publications, including a list of "Basic terms of Shinto" (which goes well beyond basic), their "Shinto Shrine atlas" and Contemporary Papers in Japanese Religion series.

Joe's Brief History of Lawyers in Japan (MutantFrog seems to be having some trouble at the moment, but I'm assuming it'll be back shortly) is a great example of timeline construction.

1854: The second known reference to European-style lawyers in Japanese literature. They are described as "accompanying stupid people to court and writing documents for them."

There's a new history resource, WikiHistory [via]. While I have grave doubts about the wiki "movement" I do think that it could be a good tool for creating valuable resources. This is one such attempt, though the strictly chronological format means that it's going to be useful for people looking for very specific kinds of connections, rather than general users, at least for a while. Still, if you're interested in contributing to a wiki, this wouldn't be a bad place to start. Certainly the only one I've considered, so far.

Clint Eastwood's movies on the Iwo Jima battles have gotten a lot of attention. Ian Buruma cites them as models for humanistic storytelling, and Noriko Manabe chronicles some Japanese reactions (which got a really sharp response on H-Japan). Both of them, I think, miss the point: Buruma cites the exceptional humanity of a few Japanese characters but he seems to ignore the basic inhumanity of the vast majority of them. I don't fault Eastwood for this, mind you: a movie exploring the human emotions and motivations of most Japanese soldiers would be very different indeed. I don't think Shintaro Ishihara's kamikaze valentine is going to quite fit the bill, though. Manabe's piece attacks Eastwood as a cultural imperialist, an essentialist position that would obliterate anyone's ability to do history in any form; she also cites "critiques" of the movie by online Japanese without ever trying to evaluate the strength of those critiques.

Chinese cultural heritage preservation is a huge task, with potentially large payoffs. China is considering legislation to auto-patent indigenous knowledge to prevent western bioprospectors from exploiting China's resources. Great Wall reconstruction is a perennial favorite. Language preservation is trickier, but essential to China's claims to be a multi-ethnic and culturally diverse and responsible nation. 700 year old Korans are great sources, and Chinese can even learn from foreigners. It can even be fun: Han Recreation Society is a huge hit in Beijing, reportedly, reinforcing my belief that in any given large city, you can find a group of people that will do anything for fun. And a new movie commemorates a young Englishman in China during WWII particularly his efforts to help orphans.

New materials from the Japanese Imperial house may shed light on WWII, of course. In case you missed it, George Weller's dispatches from Nagasaki have been published, but a Japanese translation of this expose of the Royal family will not be. And new material from the CIA sheds light on an aborted coup attempt, the postwar careers of Japanese war criminals, and CIA agents imprisoned in Communist China (I highly recommend that last one, by the way, for the great details and real drama, though I think the discussion of "brainwashing" is a bit cavalier). The agents came home right around the time of Nixon's ping-pong diplomacy (There's a whole book about it, now).

Lafcadio Hearn is having a renaissance, as is whaling. There's a new Japan Blog Matsuri which will run at the end of each month. Speaking of blog carnivals, there's a new History Carnival Aggregator, a "One-stop shop for announcements about history-related blog carnivals."

The opium problem in the late 19c US wasn't Chinese. The Moon Cake problem, however is. Former "rightists" are starting to speak out in China.

In southeast Asian monarchical news, archaeologists get environmental and discover that an early Cambodian capitol was abandoned due to water shortages. Vietnam's old imperial city is getting refurbished with lots of help from overseas. And "Balthazar Napoleon de Bourbon, a jovial Indian lawyer and part-time farmer," is the entirely unofficial heir-apparent to the pre-Revolutionary French monarchy. The only way this next item is "royal" is the nature of the pain: Buddhism prevents extermination of poisonous ants. Religious convictions can be inconvenient (no, I'm not ready for Passover!).

Many, perhaps most, of the above links without hat-tip credit came from HNN.


Gavin Menzies, Historian

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:08 pm
A few weeks ago I received a flyer from a publisher who shall remain nameless. They are soliciting people to write pro and con essays on various historical controversies. I realize that projects can change a lot, but at present it looks like rubbish. They combine... -Interesting historical questions like if American slavery was profitable, or if Nestorius was really a Nestorian. -Trivia like the authorship of Shakespeare or if Richard III killed the princes. -Crazy stuff like did Atlantis exist, and is the Holy Grail really in Wales. They also want someone to write on the Menzies controversy. I suppose if they put him in with Atlantis and the Welch Grail I would be o.k. with that. Still, it was bothersome to me to see someone entirely lacking in credibility like Menzies being mixed up with real history. Then this week I got something much worse. Worlds of History: A Comparative Reader vol II, published by Bedford St. Martin's and edited by Kevin Reilly of Raritan Valley College. It is a collection of short primary and secondary readings on various topics in World History. Surprise, surprise, there is a selection from Menzies' book. Reilly points out that Menzies'swork has "caused a stir among historians", and states that this selection "contains the author's more reliable discussion of preparations for the great Chinese naval expedition of 1421." which at least implies that the editor does not take Menzies seriously. The actual selection just a summary of stuff about the Ming and the tribute system and there is nothing obviously dishonest about it. So why does it bother me so much? I normally am not all that concerned with issues of status, but it really bothers me to see an obvious fraud like Menzies getting exposure and credibility. Soon he will be as solidly lodged in history as George Washington's cherry tree, Qin Shihuang burying the Confucians, and Francis Bacon as Shakespeare.


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.

Works Cited:

T'ung-tsu Ch'u, ed. by Jack L. Dull, Han Social Structure (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1972).

Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London: Routledge, 1966).

Charles W. Hayford, To the People: James Yen and Village China (NY: Columbia University Press, 1990)

Richard P. Horwitz, Hog Ties: What Pigs Tell Us About America (Orig. Hog Ties: Pigs, Manure, and Mortality in American Culture (1998) rpr. University of Minnesota Press, 2002).

Cho-yün Hsü, ed. Jack L. Dull, Han Agriculture: The Formation of Early Chinese Agrarian Economy, 206 B.C.-A.D. 220 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1980).

Seung-og Kim, “Burials, Pigs, and Political Prestige in Neolithic China,” Current Anthropology 35.2 (1994): 119-141.

Mark Edward Lewis, The Construction of Space in Early China (State University of New York Press, 2006).

Richard A. Lobban Jr, “Pigs and Their Prohibition,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 26.1 (1994): 57-75.

Sigrid Schmalzer, “Breeding a Better China: Pigs, Practices, and Place in a Chinese County, 1929-1937,” The Geographical Review 92.1 (January 2002): 1-22.

Wikipedia, “Pig (Zodiac),” (accessed January 27, 2007)

Gerald F. Winfield, China: The Land and the People (New York: Sloane, 1948).

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