Comparative Colonialism-Taiwan

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:06 am

 Japan Focus has a nice article by Anne Booth on Japanese colonialism in Taiwan (and Korea) The standard view is that the post-war development of both places has a lot to do with the economic transformation created under colonialism. Booth compares Taiwan and South Korea to the European colonies in S.E. Asia and finds very little systematic difference. Yes, Taiwan did double its value added in agriculture, and both places were insulated from the Great Depression more than the European colonies, but the Japanese colonies do not consistently stand out. She looks at a lot of other data, but here are her 1938 GDP per capita figures

Philippines 1522

Korea        1459

Malaya      1361

Taiwan      1302

Indonesia  1175

Thailand      826

Burma         749

I don’t have much to say about it, but it is an interesting paper.

Via Michael Turton


Teaching with Tools

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:03 am

One of the classes I will be doing next semester is History 200, Introduction to History, which is our methods course for majors, usually taken when they are sophomores. This time I will be using Cohen’s History in Three Keys as the monograph we all read together. I picked it first because it is a good read,1 second because he is quite open about explaining how historians create a book like this, what their goals are and what problems they face, and third because it is a book that is easy to tie into non-China things. Most of these students will not end up ‘concentrating’ on Asia (which is fine) and I don’t like to get too Sinocentric on them in this class.

Cohen’s book is about the Boxers, which means that it connects to all sorts of issues about Imperialism and Colonialism and Missionaries and Cultural Contact and all that. Plus lots of people wrote stuff about it in English, so it is easy for the students to do a bit of primary source research. The tool I will be using for that is Diigo which is social annotation software that allows a defined group of people to “add” comments to any document on the web. Ideally we well be able to read and comment on a set of documents “together” in a big group (two sections of 20 this time) just as we would do in reading a document one-on-one, and they will learn how historians read primary sources and what we get out of them.  Any advice on how to pull this off is welcome.

One of the things we will be reading is Twain’s To The Person Sitting in Darkness which is more about American imperialism than the Boxers, and maybe something from Weale’s Indiscreet Letters from Peking and then turn them loose in the NY Times Archive. Do any of our readers know of any good (translated) European or Japanese accounts of the Boxer events, the siege, etc?

  1. by historian standards anyway. Some of them will get very frustrated by his unwillingness to Just Tell The Damn Story, but part of the purpose of the class is to introduce students to some of the other things historians do []


Asian symbols

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:39 am


Useless Tree has a post up on the Chinese roots of the Korean flag. This post led me to look up an interesting, if rather old, article on the use of “the T’ai Chi symbol in Japanese wartime propaganda.”1 That Japanese governments in  China used “Chinese/Pan-Asian” images like the Great Ultimate was not news to me. What was new was his discussion of the use of the image in Korea. Obviously in the end it ended up on the Korean flag, but before that it was a very common symbol in Korean architecture, turning up on all sorts of gates and entryways, especially for official buildings, schools, temples, etc. Rowe also says that the symbol turned up on the Independence Arch in Seoul, which was erected right after the Russo-Japanese War and symbolized Korean independence. Soon after that the flag became a symbol of resistance against Japan. Has anybody done anything more recent than Rowe on Korean nationalist symbolism?

  1. Rowe, David Nelson. “The T’Ai Chi Symbol in Japanese War Propaganda.” The Public Opinion Quarterly 5, no. 4 (Winter 1941): 532-547. []


We have never valued ingenious articles

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 3:08 pm

The generally excellent blog Jottings from the Granite Studio has an interesting post up on practical learning. The post is about the tendency of American universities to be too specialized, which I more or less agree with, but he uses a historical comparison I don’t much care for. Yes, it’s the Qianlong emperor’s reply to Lord Macartney, the most widely used quote from a pre-modern Chinese in Western writings on China, and perhaps the most often misused. Lord Macartney was sent to China in 1793 to negotiate the opening of more ports to British trade. The mission failed for any number of reasons, but it is constantly brought up as an example of the failure of the Chinese to comprehend the modern world. In particular Qianlong’s lack of interest in the clocks and mechanical devices the British presented them with is always presented as a repudiation of Science and Rationality in favor of Stasis and Tradition. Granite Studio

The Qianlong Emperor and his officials smirked at the pretty clocks the British kept presenting as gifts to the throne, dismissing them as mere toys, not realizing that the same precision instruments needed to make intricate clockworks are equally useful for making advanced artillery, rifles, and the instruments of war.

This is based on a couple of lines in the Qianlong emperor’s letter to George III, where he said.

The Celestial Empire, ruling all within the four seas, simply concentrates on carrying out the affairs of government properly, and does not value rare and precious things…[W]e have never valued ingenious articles, nor do we have the slightest need of your Country’s manufactures

I have a number of problems with this. I am not particularly interested in defending the honor of the Qianlong emperor, but the way this event is used, (and it is used a lot) is not very good history. For one thing, to expect anyone in 1793 to look at a mechanical clock and see the industrial revolution is wildly anachronistic. Clocks and clockwork go way back and nobody at the time even knew the industrial revolution was happening. Qianlong was in fact correct, there were few things that the British could sell in China at a profit (hence the opium trade.) Although Lord Macartney was proud of his nation’s manufactures and was in favor of an increase in Trade had you suggested to him that he represented the King of a nation of shopkeepers he probably would have had his servants give you a good thrashing. He was apparently much impressed with his hosts at the Qing court, and the whole mission is hard to fit into the modern stories we like to tell about the backward Chinese.

More importantly although the failure of the mission was later fit into narratives of Chinese backwardness and irrationality, that is not how the it was seen at the time. As Hevia p. 238 points out, this document was not even translated into English until 1896 and nobody at the time saw it as being of any importance. Quite a lot of interesting work has been done, by Hevia and others, on what the mission can tell us about the Qing, Empire, and such, but the old narrative still seems quite popular.


It’s not Imperialism

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:45 am

Via Yahoo a roundup of recent stuff on China’s involvement in Africa. China of course has growing economic interests in Africa and very little interest in things like promoting democracy or whatever. Jia Qinglin is currently in Africa building international solidarity. There have been a number of complaints of late about China’s growing power in Africa, and in Ethiopia  the Ogaden National Liberation Front has killed a number of Chinese oil workers to encourage China “to refrain from entering into agreements with the Ethiopian government.”

Jia has pointed out that China’s involvement in Africa is “normal business practice on the basis of equality and mutual benefit…It is totally different from the plunder committed by colonialists in Africa.”This is pretty much the standard Chinese line. What imperialism is is always a complex question, but I was struck by how much the current Chinese leaders sould like Japanese leaders talking about Manchukuo in the 1930s. In the case of many of the Japanese they were being honest, meaning they actually believed the stuff they were peddling. I assume Jia Qinglin does as well.



Maps and Empire

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:52 pm

Maps have been an important part of empire in China for a long time. In the Warring States period spies were always trying to steal maps, and defeated states presented maps of their territory to the victors as a sign of submission. Geographic knowledge written down in books like the Classic of Mountians and Seas was avidly collected as a way of learning the universal patterns of the universe. Needless to say there has been a lot written in the last decade or so about how cartography connects to empire, as it fits in so well with whole postmodern power/knowledge thing. To map a place is to control it, and thus empire-builders were always interested in mapping. I have not found many better visual representations of this than this map of Russian cartography on China, found on the CHGIS site.



How Taiwan Became Chinese

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:26 am

Salon.com is having an interesting little discussion of Tonio Andrade’s new book How Taiwan Became Chinese. I have not yet read the book, but I am familiar with Andrade’s earlier, excellent, work on the Dutch period in Taiwanese history. As one might expect, despite the fact that the book ends before 1700 and Andrade denies that his work should be read in light of current debates about the status of Taiwan, that is exactly what is happening. One of the main contentions of his book seems to be the not very controversial position that the Chinese settlement of Taiwan began under Dutch rule and that the early history of Chinese settlement should be understood in the context of the globalizing world of trade in East Asia. He also says that “Taiwan today is culturally Chinese.” This has needless to say led to some criticism, given that any statement you can make about the nature of Taiwan will lead to someone taking offense.


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.]


Elvis is everywhere

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:45 am

Elvis in China

A nice little picture from Shenbao, one of Shanghai’s most important early 20th century newspapers. The caption complains about Chinese women. Specifically it points out that Chinese women have taken up the habit of smoking on the street, and that when Westerners see them doing it they point out that in the West women don’t even smoke at home, much less in the street. Yet another example of how different commodities fit differently in different societies. Smoking is a particularly tricky one (not the most relevant link, but the best film of struggling with use of cigarettes I could find.) The cigarette is the best way to walk around while smoking, and to make smoking a part of all your everyday activities, rather than a separate social space, like gathering around an opium pipe or a complex tobacco pipe. For a western woman to smoke in the street at this point would have been a defiance of gender roles. For a Chinese woman it marks you as modern. The caption-writer seems to be trying to create a less brazen definition of modern Chinese femininity. It seems to have worked, too, since Chinese women today are a lot less likely to smoke in public than men.

Of course the picture is also cool because it seems to be an early Elvis sighting.


Virtual nationalism

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:45 pm

Via ESNW I found this interesting post about anti-japanese attitudes in Chinese virtual worlds.


Not much to add, really.

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