The Will of a Traitor

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 11:39 pm

Running Dog Wang JingweiThere is a lot of treason to be found in the vicinity of LOC number DS777.5195.W34 in the Harvard-Yenching library. It’s Wang Jingwei (汪精衛) territory, infamous puppet lord of wartime occupied China, and reviled former patriot turned running dog of Japanese imperialism. He is also known as Wang Zhaoming (汪兆銘 Wang Chao-ming), Wang Jingwei being his pen name. On the shelves nearby we find books by and on his underlings Chen Gongbo and Zhou Fohai, equally reviled figures who lived long enough to go on trial for being Chinese traitors, or hanjian (漢奸).

In the Harvard-Yenching library’s English language collections, this section houses an unusual volume only a few pages in length:

Will of Wang Chao-Ming
Translated by Bonggi Kim
The Korean Republic
Seoul, Korea

It opens, “This translation of Wang Chao-ming’s will into English is intended to look into his cause in collaborating with imperialist Japan.”1 Following a short introduction is the dozen page translation of what claims to be Wang Jingwei’s final written testament. It is signed October, 1944 — he would die in November, before Japan’s defeat and the text is now known as “My Final State of Mind” (我最後之心情), a document whose authenticity has been contested ever since the original was first published in the Hong Kong Chunqiu (春秋) in early 1964.2 Its publication was also widely reported in Japan, including the English language Japan Times.3

Justifying Collaboration

This text attributed to Wang, if real, is of historical interest because its author offers detailed justifications for collaboration with Japan, and writes about his plans for the postwar period.4 “We planned to hand over to the Nationalist government the areas recovered from the enemy occupation,” he writes, though at the time, the “enemy” Japan is his military ally. Using the famous “Shield” argument used to justify Vichy collaboration with Nazi Germany, Wang goes on to say, “the Nanjing government entered into an alliance with Japan as a means to fight for lost sovereignty and get as many materials as possible under Japanese occupation.”5 He writes of his successes so far in supporting Japan’s war effort including the overturning of unequal treaties, recovering foreign concessions, and claims that he has “not tolerated any foreign intervention in domestic affairs…”6 He worries about the fate of Manchuria, which Japan refuses to return to China, but claims that he must press on in his efforts. “I am well aware of the forthcoming surrender of Japan,” and is optimistic since the Japanese show renewed sincerity in their negotiations with him.7

In his closing, Wang even expresses hope for the future of Sino-Japanese relations after Japan’s defeat, which will ultimately hinge upon a thorough enlightenment of the Japanese people and the magnanimity of the Chinese government.8

Kim Bonggi – The Korean Translator

The translation of this text is, perhaps ironically, interesting for a similar reason. Following the copy of the translation, we find attached a letter from the translator, addressed to the chief librarian of the “University of Colombia” in New York.9 In it, Kim writes with what can only be interpreted as a significant degree of sympathy for Wang. In the letter, dated August 10, 1964, we find the following passage.

Wang, A leading political figure in modern China, played a vital role in the formation of the country. His collaboration with the [sic] however, tarnished his image as the great patriot with lifelong devotion to his country.

Many Chinese people, in fact, did not hesitate to call him a traitor, but others think that he was forced to bow to the inevitable and that what he did was a risk that had to be assumed in the interests of the Chinese people.

Whether servile collaboration with the Japanese militarists is precisely the term for the acts of Wang is still open to debate, but it is not difficult to suppose that his actions proceeded from the difficulty of finding solutions to the problem of a war that had been dragging on with no end in sight. He strove to regain the lost sovereignty of the Chinese people, but he fell short of the affecting it despite his determination. Even his death was at one time rumored to be an unnatural one.

Whatever his real motive was, it cannot be denied that the last words of Wang himself will be helpful in determining why he made the decision to establish the Nanking government with the support of the invading Japanese. As far as his will is concerned, it is apparent that he did not act for personal gain, but rather with the hope that he could restore the lost land of China through negotiations—not through force of arms against the overwhelming odds with which China was forced at the time.

In order to avoid attaching undue significance to his real motives which resulted in the establishment of the Nanking regime in collaboration with the invading Japanese militarists, I had better refrain from commenting on the issue; nevertheless, I sincerely hope thet [sic] the material which I send you will be of some interest in helping your studies on matters that concern the modern history of China.

Kim Bonggi, born in 1921 or 1920, was one of the founders, in 1953, of the English language newspaper, The Korean Republic, and at the time of writing this letter, its “President-Publisher.” That newspaper later became The Korea Herald but during the anti-government protests and martial law atmosphere of 1964 it was, like most of South Korea’s media, barely more than a propaganda pamphlet and devoid of criticism for the dictatorship of Park Chung-hee.

According to this biographical entry, 김봉기(金鳳基) was born in Seoul, graduated from Seoul University10 and held positions in two conservative newspapers, the Chungang ilbo and Chosŏn ilbo, as well as serving on the council of the Asian People’s Anti-Communist League.11

What led Kim to translate this Chinese text into English, or even if he merely posed as its real translator, go through the trouble to have it sent to an American university?

Kim was under 25 at the time of Japan’s defeat in 1945 so this did not leave him much time to progress along the careers paths under Japanese colonialism that could have given him the brand of collaborator.12 However, at the peak of Japan’s power in 1942, he was surely old enough to have been caught up in the excitement of Japan’s seemingly unstoppable military advances against the colonial powers of the West or to at least have begun thinking about what his place would be as a Korean in a Japanese empire.

On the highly symbolic March 1st and August 15th anniversaries in 1964, Kim’s Korean Republic was filled with stories of a valiant Korean resistance to Japan and reported on celebrations commemorating Korea’s final liberation from its colonial master, but reading Kim’s August letter I think we can see clearly the sympathy many Koreans who had lived through the Japanese colonial period felt for the collaborator’s dilemma, and believed, though they might be careful where and how they expressed their views, that even despised figures like Wang Jingwei might ultimately be remembered one day as national heroes.13

UPDATE: For one more location which has a more rich, if very dated, discussion about the mysterious document and the controversy surrounding it, see John Hunter Boyle’s bibliographical note in his China and Japan at War, 1937-45: The Politics of Collaboration (1972) on pages 395-397.

  1. Wang Jingwei, Kim Bonggi trans. Will of Wang Chao-Ming Unpublished manuscript in Harvard-Yenching library. Hollis number 009048141. []
  2. See 沈立行 《汪精卫的《日记》和“遗嘱”之谜》纵横 2000.2, 56-57 for an inconclusive discussion of its authenticity. []
  3. I haven’t checked the microfilm of their early May, 1964 issues to see if their reporting on the will included any translation of the document but if they did, it might be interesting to compare it to Kim’s. []
  4. The Chinese text can be found online at 人民网 here as of 2010.4.12. Wang Jingwei justified his collaboration in a number of other texts as well, including in a March 30, 1939 open letter “A Reply to an Overseas Chinese” (复华侨某君书). See 劉傑 「汪兆銘と「南京国民政府」―協力と抵抗の間 in 劉傑, 楊大慶, 三谷博 eds. 『国境を越える歴史認識―日中対話の試み』 (Tokyo, 東京大学出版会 2006) for the full text in Japanese. []
  5. ibid., 6. []
  6. ibid., 10. []
  7. ibid., 11. []
  8. It is remarkable that he sees only the need for the magnanimity of Chinese government policy, and not by the Chinese people who suffered under Japanese occupation. The original Chinese is, “將來戰後兩國能否有自動提攜,互利互賴,仍有賴于日本民族之徹底覺悟,及我政府對日之寬大政策。” []
  9. I assume Columbia University Starr East Asia library has the original letter and document. A CLIO library search reveals an entry for the translation and attached letter located at DS778.W3 []
  10. Unless he actually graduated from the Japanese run Keijō Imperial University and someone changed the name to its postwar equivalent, this would seem to suggest he completed his university education after the summer of 1946. []
  11. 亞細亞反共聯盟 in Korea, these organizations, founded throughout Asia in the 1950s still exist but have changed their names. They are national chapters of the World League for Freedom and Democracy, formerly the World Anti-Communist League. Kim was also involved in the 大韓公論社, which appears to have published a number of things, but I don’t know much about the organization. []
  12. Someone by the name 김봉기(金鳳基) is listed on a recently published list of suspected Japanese collaborators, in the category of “pro-Japanese” organizations, but I am not sure this is the same person. Another 김봉기(金鳳基) was executed in 1907 for his anti-Japanese resistance efforts. []
  13. The political cartoon shown here is by 麦非, and can be found in 沈建中 ed. 抗战漫画 (Shanghai, 上海科学院出版社, 2005), 206. []


Transvestite chickens late at night

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:07 am

I’ve been reading Cao Naiqian‘s There’s Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night.

It’s an odd sort of book, and you can see why an academic press published it rather than commercial press. The stories are quite short, usually only a few pages, and the author is someone who does not really fit the model of the modern western writer, since he still works as a cop in the city of Datong, rather than chucking his job and writing full-time. He also does not write about being a policeman, but rather about life in the Wen Clan Caves. Although it is possible to criticize Mao’s Cultural Revolution for lots of things, sending city youth down to the countryside does seem to have an effect on Cao, giving him a window into how the other 90% lives that he is still looking through all these years later.1 The  Wen Family Caves is a fictionalized version of  the area he was sent down to, (a Chinese Yoknapatawpha County) and describing the lives of its inhabitants is his main purpose. The Chinese version is apparently written in a heavy Shanxi dialect, but pretty much all that comes through in the English translation is frequent use of the word fuck. This is rather appropriate, since food, work and sex seem to be about all the people in these stories are interested in. Building the revolution, getting ahead in society or even moving to the big city are goals that are so remote as to be non-existent.

I find the stuff about work interesting, just cause I always do, and because one of the things that makes peasants peasants is that their lives revolve around physical labor the way mine doesn’t. The food is mostly pretty gross, a bowl of oatmeal with wild garlic is about a fancy as these representatives of the world’s greatest cuisine get. There is an awful lot of sex, however.  In fact, just as people in the book don’t have dreams of attending Beida, or meals consisting of 6 dishes for five people they also don’t have much for “regular” human relationships. Mostly people are struggling to survive (they live in holes in the ground) and only the most stripped down forms of courtship or family formation are going on, (marriage costs money) and lots of violations of propriety. One of the longer stories is Heinu and her Andi. Heinu was an old woman who had been something of the town prostitute (although it’s not clear if she was ever paid).

Poverty was one thing that had been handed down over generations in the village. Some men were so poor they could never take a wife. Heinu thought that chickens and dogs all mated. As a woman she couldn’t bear to see the men as less then chickens and dogs.

This led her to let Zhaozhao have sex with her after seeing him try to mount a ewe, and later having sex with most of the unmarried men. The men take care of her, and she burns spirit money to them after they are dead, since they have no family.  When the story opens Heinu is rather old, and she has been given a chick by a traveling salesman who has been unable to sell his “Australian” (a word that means nothing to the villagers) chicks. She raises it (She never had any children) and it grows into an enormous black bird that is the envy of the village. At first it lays eggs and makes her “rich” but after an illness it stops laying eggs and starts mounting all the local hens (hence the name Andi). The roosters are not happy about this and gang up on Andi, but are defeated, leaving Andi with all the females (just as Heinu had been left with all the males years before.) Eventually Andi’s rebellion becomes too much for the villagers (Andi leads all the roosters and all the hens to crow not only at dawn but all day and night) and it ends badly.2 Like most of the stories this one is very sparse in its narration, and presents a human relationship stripped down to its absolute minimum.

Of course another thing that makes the book great is that they sent it to me just because of this blog. Normally all I get is American History textbooks. Other publishers looking to have their books introduced to our tens of readers should take note.

  1. According the the Introduction he was sent to supervise sent-down youth rather than being sent down himself []
  2. My students often complain that Chinese stories always end badly. []


Thin layer sensing with multipolar plasmonic resonances (and showgirls)

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:12 am

Via Language Log, something on how to make a fool of yourself in Chinese. Apparently the Max Plank Institute asked for a nice Chinese poem for their cover and got awful calligraphy and an ad for strippers.

Not much to add, really, although I do find their struggles to read the KK加美 bit a little odd. Apparently a lot of Chinese had trouble figuring out the place in line 2 where “KK加美” is shoved into the space that should have just one character. I’m not very experienced at reading ads for showgirls, but at least as late as the early republic it was common for Chinese texts to have commentary in a smaller font interspersed with the main text. (I bet there is a word for that) so I would read those four graphs in the order KK加美. Apparently this tradition is dead enough that Language Log’s modern Chinese readers are not familiar with it. Or maybe they are better at having fun with words than I am.


Mountains, Vikings, and Chinese Poetry

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 3:42 pm

Lots of people seem to like Chinese poetry. The latest NYRB has a review of a reprint of A.C. Graham’s Poems of the Late T’ang by Eliot Weinberger.1 The book was first published in 1965. A review now may seem odd, but it seems like its always a good time for people (everyone from Ezra Pound to Kilgore Trout) to talk about Chinese poetry. Part of the reason for this is that a lot of Chinese poetry, and especially Tang stuff, sounds very much like modern poetry once you translate it. I assume some translator of Chinese poetry has expressed this as well, but I take an example from Jane Smiley’s introduction to The Sagas of Icelanders.2 The Sagas have been tremendously popular (in literary terms) in the twentieth century just like Tang poetry because they are both modern (more a novel in the case of the Sagas) and medieval at the same time. As Smiley puts it.

And yet, these stories are so clearly medieval
And yet, they are not
This is their fascinating paradox

Chinese poetry turns out to be much the same. Weinberger says that when Graham’s translation first came out “most of the poets I knew avidly read it.” One of the poems he brings up is Han Yu’s The South Mountains (南山) It is a very long poem, and he only cites a few lines out of a much longer section of similes describing mountains.

Scattered like loose tiles
Or running together like converging spokes,
Off keel like rocking boats
Or in full stride like horses at the gallop;
Back to back as though offended,
Face to face as though lending a hand

Weinberg says that this “combination of trance-inducing repetitive rhyme and hypersimilitude would not be attempted again for another 1,000 years, until the Chilean poet Vincente Huidobro’s modernist extravaganza Altazor”

As this is a blog an I have unlimited electrons, I can give you the whole section on mountains.3


  1. Graham, A.C. Poems of the Late T’ang. NYRB Classics, 2008. []
  2. The Sagas of Icelanders: A Selection. 1st ed. Viking Penguin, 2000. []
  3. This is from the Charles Hartman translation in Liu, Wu-Chi and Irving Yucheng Lo eds. Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry. Indiana University Press, 1990., so it is a tad different []


Pearl Buck’s Intriguing Staying Power: Imperial Woman

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 1:40 pm

Parade Magazine (September 14, 2008) asked Laura Bush what she’s been reading: “The Imperial Woman, by Pearl S. Buck. I picked up this book after returning from the Olympics in Beijing. The story of the last empress of Manchu China is fascinating; I can hardly put it down.”

Now from my point of view, the novel’s interest is for the history of American ideas about China, but Buck’s take on “Old Buddha” is not to be taken lightly and her appeal to the public should be respected as a “teachable moment,” not merely scoffed at.

Over the years, Buck’s staying power has intrigued me. Since I have a contrarian streak, I’ve challenged myself to respect her accomplishments (considerable) while keeping in sight her shortcomings (ditto) and to distinguish the two.1

Moyer Bell Publishers has a number of her books in print, including Imperial Woman. They are nicely printed and reasonably priced, including Buck’s translation of Shuihuzhuan (titled All Men Are Brothers), which is listed at $16.95. The translation is heavy going at first, as you have to get used to the labored diction she developed to reflect Chinese style, but hey, the price is right.

They offer other of her novels which are of topical interest: Dragon Seed (1939), for instance, describes the opening of the Second Sino-Japanese War with gruesome details of the 1937 invasion and occupation of the Yangzi valley. It’s not the first thing to read on the subject, but holds its own as an historical novel. Peony (1948) is set in 19th century Kaifeng and interweaves a reasonably accurate history of the Jewish community there.2

  1. Charles W. Hayford, “What’s So Bad About The Good Earth?,” Education About Asia 3.3 (December 1998): 4-7. []
  2. The Moyer Bell catalogue descriptions of Dragon Seed and Peony, however, are switched with the write ups for other novels. They also quote Kenneth Rexroth praising her “renerding” of Shuihu, which I actually prefer to the perhaps correct but less colorful “rendering.” []


Collecting Songs

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:39 am

In Imperial China, emperors and other high officials sometimes disguised themselves as commoners and mingled with the ordinary folk to learn what they were really thinking. For essentially the same purpose, a government office in the People’s Republic now collects shunkouliu, or “slippery jingles.”……Uncensored and uncensorable, they are the freest and arguably the liveliest medium in China, even though the government has classified the poems in its own collection as state secrets.

Perry Link has a very brief piece in the Washington Post on collecting songs in China.



Lin Yutang and Chinese literature

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:25 am

One of my neighbors was doing some spring cleaning and brought me this.

Lin was a notable if somewhat minor intellectual figure in China but his real fame came as an interpreter of China to the outside world. In China he was known as a humorous critic of the warlord governments which got him in trouble with both Left and Right, since they felt warlordism was no joke and his emphasis on the continued value of Eastern Wisdom made him sound more like Tagore than anyone Chinese intelectuals of the period were likely to respect. He became an important figure in the West after Pearl Buck convinced him to write My Country, My People (1935) which launched his career as and interpreter of the West.

He is somewhat unique in that his reputation has vanished almost entirely. His books are still in print, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in a bookstore (Although I tend not to haunt the ‘don’t worry be happy section’) and he is never assigned in courses. Even during his life he was dismissed as being someone who wrote English very well. (He was a third-generation Fujian Christian) but was not all that knowledgeable about China. You can see how he worked with these two excerpts from the story Curly-Beard

 [wpcol_1half id=”” class=”” style=””]Lin Yutang:

IT WAS a world of chivalry, adventure, and romance, of plucky battles and faraway conquests, of strange doings of strange men which filled the founding of the great Tang dynasty. Somehow the men of that great period had more stature; their imagination was keener, their hearts were bigger, and their activities more peculiar. Naturally, since the Sui Empire was crumbling, the country was as full of soldiers of fortune as a forest is full of woodchucks. In those days, men gambled their fortunes on high stakes; they matched cunning with cunning and wit against wit. They had their pet beliefs and superstitions, their virulent hatreds and intense loyalties, and once in a while, there was a man of steel with a heart of gold.

It was nine o’clock in the evening. Li Tsing, a young man in his thirties, had finished his supper and was lying in bed, bored, puzzled, and angry at something. He was tall and muscular, with a head of tousled hair set on a handsome neck and shoulders. Lazily he jerked his biceps, for he had a peculiar ability to make these muscles leap up without flexing his arms. He was ambitious, with plenty of energy, and nothing in particular to do.

He had had an interview with General. Yang Su that morning, in which he had presented a plan to save the empire. He was convinced that the fat, old general was not going to read it and regretted having taken the trouble to see him at all. The general, who was in charge of the Western Capital while the Emperor was sporting with women at Nanking, had sat, bland and self-satisfied, on his couch. His face was a mass of pork, with blubbery lips, heavy pouches under his eyes, fat hanging down under his chin and lumpy, distended nostrils, from which sniffs and grunts issued regularly. Twenty pretty young women were lined up on both sides of him, holding cups and saucers, sweetmeats, spittoons, and dusters. The dusters, which were made of hair from horsetails, over a foot long, and fixed with a jade or red- painted wooden handle, were more decorative than useful.

The silky, white horsetails swung gracefully, though idly. There could not be a more convincing picture of a misfit in high office, or a neater contrast between the luxurious setting and the debased sensuality which was no longer capable of enjoying it.

[/wpcol_1half] [wpcol_1half_end id=”” class=”” style=””]
From Cyril Birch Anthology of Chinese Literature

When the Emperor Yang-ti of the Sui dynasty visited Yangchow he left his Western capital, Ch’ang-an, in the charge of Councillor Yang Su. This was a man whom high birth had made arrogant, and in the troubled state of the times he had begun to regard his own power and prestige as unrivalled in the land. He maintained a lavish court and departed from the mode of conduct appropriate to a subject. Whether it was a high officer requesting interview or a private guest paying his respects, Yang would receive his visitor seated on a couch; when he rose to leave his hall it would be to walk, supported on either side by a beautiful girl, down between rows of attendant maidens. In these and other ways he arrogated to himself the imperial prerogatives. With age his behaviour grew more extreme, until he no longer seemed aware of the responsibility he owed to sustain the realm against peril.

One day Li Ching, later to be ennobled as Duke of Wei but at that time still a commoner, requested interview with Yang Su in order to present certain policies to which he had given much thought. As with everyone else, Yang Su remained seated to receive him. But Li Ching came forward, bowed and said, “The whole empire is now in turmoil, as would-be leaders strive for mastery.

Your highness is supreme in the service of our imperial house. Your first concern should be to win the respect of men of heroic mettle, and this you are hindering by remaining seated to receive those who seek audience.”

Yang Su composed his features to an expression of more fitting gravity, rose to his feet and apologized. He derived great pleasure from the discussion which followed, and Li Ching, when the time came for him to withdraw was assured of their acceptance.


The differences here are pretty stark, and it is easy to see why Lin is not read as much as he used to be. The book is called short stories re-told, so he does not have to stick to the text very closely and there are several versions of the story, but he has changed quite a lot here. The first paragraph of Lin’s version is an introduction to the period and the milieu of dynastic decline in general, which of course would not be needed for a Chinese audience. (I would also not want it in a reading I was assigning, since the whole point is to try to read things the way Chinese would.) Throughout the story Lin adds a lot more dialog and much more detailed descriptions of what people are doing, making his version seem much more like a modern character-driven short story.

The treatment of Yang Su is also interesting. For Chinese readers the minister who exceeds his authority is a well-known enough trope that the Birch version sees no need to dress it up. Lin makes him into an orientalist caricature of the decadent Chinese. (Which may help to explain why Lin was less popular in China.) The whole point of this first story is also changes in Lin’s version. In the Birch version the point of the first encounter is to show our hero, Li Ching, is in fact a hero capable of making others behave better by his own influence. He gets Yang Su to show him proper respect and even manages to get him to agee to his plans (not that anything comes of it). In the Lin version there is not much point to the episode, other than to point out how decadent the Chinese are.

Lin’s story also ends up not having much of a moral. The Birch story rotates around Li Ching and his friend Curly Beard deciding that a Li of Taiyuan is the One Man and rightful next emperor. Li Ching decides to serve him, and Curly Beard, not being that type, decides to go carve himself out a kingdom outside China. This makes it not work so well as a short-story (which it’s not, its a piece of Chinese prose that is short enough to be called one) and so Lin focuses more on Curly-Beard and his friendship with Li Ching. He also gives Li Ching’s wife a much larger role and in general makes the story much more modern. I assume that one of his purposes in doing the translations was to show Western audiences that the Chinese really did have a literary history that paralleled their own. Since editing the Chinese to make them look civilized is not one of the main purposes of translating Chinese literature today, it is not too surprising that Lin is little read.

See also Lin Yutang, Critic and Interpreter Chan Wing-Tsit
College English, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Jan., 1947), pp. 163-169


New Chinese Literature

The New York Times has published three reviews of new Chinese works in translation: Wang Anyi’s The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong (pen name for Lu Jiamin) and Mo Yan, Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out. What binds these works together, in particular, is that all three are — at least in part — about the experience of the Cultural Revolution.



‘China Network’ at Cambridge

Filed under: — katrina @ 7:34 am

If you will forgive the promotion, this may be of interest to other Frogs…

Cambridge University’s humanities centre (CRASSH) recently received funding for a two-year network on China, on the theme of modernity. Most of the scholars involved are approaching this from the field of comparative literature, but also there are historians and translation scholars. There will be conferences in Cambridge (this May), Yale (later this year) and Tsinghua (2009).

Some information is online here about the May conference http://www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/events/2007-8/chinaconference.html.


Jackie Chan and Louis Cha

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:42 am

Everybody knows about ping pong diplomacy, but we seem to have just completed a period of Canto-pop diplomacy, as Jackie Chan has recorded an “official” song for the Olympics. Canto-pop is of course the dreadful Cantonese pop music that infects every corner of the Chinese world. More generally I suppose it can be used to refer to the general pop culture of Hong Kong1 Just as Beijing used ping pong to try and create a connection with the U.S. so to the central government has embraced the commercial culture of Hong Kong as part of their attempt to create a Greater China. John Hamm discusses some of this in Paper Swordsmen which is partially about the rise of New School martial arts fiction but mainly about Jin Yong 金庸 and his work. Jin, a.k.a. Louis Cha, in addition to being the world’s best-selling author of martial arts novels is also the founder and long-time editor of Ming Pao once one of the more independent-minded papers in Hong Kong and now the center of a multi-national media empire. Zha was thus exactly the type of person Beijing would want to cultivate as they tried to re-unify the motherland. Zha was received by Deng Xiaoping at the Great Hall of the People in 1981, the first important figure from Hong Kong to be so honored. Zha would have been worth talking to just as a newspaper editor, but being an author of martial arts novelist made him even better. Although Beijing never accepted Tapei’s claims to be the “real” preservers of Chinese culture, after the Cultural Revolution a figure like Zha who had been critical of the CR and could make claims to be a preserver of Chinese culture was solid gold. As Beijing was trying to re-unify Hong Kong (and Taiwan) calling for a unified state was a non-starter, and so the ties of history and culture were needed. What is Chinese culture? Some bits of what might be called Chinese culture were not perhaps things Beijing wanted to play up, such as the Confucian concept of government by a class of incorruptible officials chosen for their skill rather than their connections. Everyone likes gong fu heroes, however, and given that so many of Cha/Jin Yong’s stories had strong anti-imperialist/ nationalist elements he was a perfect fit.

Jackie Chan is in some respects ever better for this than Louis Cha. He is, I think, about the last of the martial arts movie starts to have had real old-fashioned opera training. He is also a bit less prickly. Cha’s Ming Pao has been accused of cuddling up to Beijing a bit more than some would like, but he was also quite critical of Beijing, especially after 6/4. Chan is not critical of anything, as far as I can tell, and this sort of ties in the comic persona he takes on in most of his films.2 Bruce Lee does not work as well for Beijing’s purposes as a living symbol of Hong Kong culture. Besides being dead and thus unable to turn up for events far to many of his roles (and Jet Li’s) involved playing people who defied corrupt power-holders. The Jianghu (rivers and lakes) tradition that was at the center of martial arts fiction always had a problematic relationship with authority (That’s why so many of the stories have elements of Ming loyalism/ anti-Manchuism. That way one can defy cruel oppression and be loyal to the true rulers.) Jackie Chan has none of that (compare his Wong Feihong in Drunken Master with Jet Li’s in Once Upon a Time in China) If you want a nice, non-threatening haohan Jackie Chan is your man.

  1. At least I will use it that way in this post []
  2. I suspect that many of our readers know gong fu flicks better than I do []

« Previous PageNext Page »

Powered by WordPress