Announcements and Encouragements

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:13 am Print

While the discussions on the Asia lists have been a bit wooden for a while, other H-Net communities are lively and thriving, and the book reviews are a fantastic resource. Moreover, I know some of the current leadership of H-Net, and I have great confidence that they’ll take it in interesting directions with new technology and new paradigms. That said, though the leadership, editors, reviewers and participants are all volunteers, they still need money for technical support, infrastructure and other expenses, and we can’t rely on state institutions of higher learning for this sort of thing. Donate!

The 2010 Cliopatria Awards for History Blogging nominations are open through November, so there’s still two weeks to riffle through your archives and pick your best work, and your friends’ best work, and the best stuff off your RSS reader. The categories are, as in the past, Best Individual Blog, Best New Blog, Best Group Blog (which we won back in ’05), Best Series of Posts, Best Single Post, and Best Writer (which Alan Baumler won in ’06). I’m judging Best New and Group Blog, so we can’t win that again this year; otherwise, the field for Asianists is wide open! Nominate!

The 2011 ASPAC Conference will be a joint event with the WCAAS Conference, to be held at Pomona College, June 17-19, 2011. In a remarkable feat of organization, the Conference website is already live and accepting paper proposals, though the deadline isn’t until mid-March. The theme is “Asia Rising and the Rise of Asian America” but proposals on all topics in Asian studies are welcome. Submit! (and let me know if you’ll be there; we’ve never had a blogger meet-up at ASPAC before!)


ASPAC Blogging: Change in Rural China

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:46 am Print

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. (more…)


Revising history: Brief notes

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 9:51 pm Print

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 Print

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 Print

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.



Taiwan gained and lost

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 10:54 pm Print

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 Print

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.]


Gavin Menzies, Historian

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:08 pm Print

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 Print

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.


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