井底之蛙

12/15/2013

Sinology and Simon Leys

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:30 pm Print

New York Review of Books Classics has re-printed Simon Leys’ The Hall of Uselessness: Selected Essays. This makes him the first Sinologist to crack the NYRB Classics list as one of the masters of world literature, this despite the fact that the original book of these essays only came out in 2011. Leys write about all sorts of things, from Orwell to Cervantes to Zhou Enlai, but his chief claim to fame, at least for me, was his caustic criticism of westerners who had been taken in by the Maoist myth.

Why read this book? Well, he writes well, both in the sense of being able to describe things and in the sense of knowing exactly when to stick the knife in. From the piece on Zhou En-lai

Alone among the Maoist leaders, Zhou Enlai had cosmopolitan sophistication, charm, wit and style. He certainly was one of the greatest and most successful comedians of our century. He had a talent for telling blatant lies with angelic suavity….Everyone loved him. He repeatedly and literally got away with murder. No wonder politicians from all over the world unanimously worshipped him…

..no interlocutors ever appeared to small, too dim or too irrelevant not to warrant a special effort on his part to charm them, to wow, them..He was..the ultimate Zelig of politics, showing tolerance, urbanity and a spirit of compromise to urbane Western liberals, eating fire and spitting hatred to suit the taste of embittered Third World leaders; displaying culture and refinement with artists; being pragmatic with pragmatists, philosophical with philosophers, and Kissingerian with Kissinger.

 

Most China scholars don’t write like that, but Leyes is not a China scholar, he is a Sinologist, and while he is certainly a scholar he is rightly sceptical about the modern academic world. You can see this pretty clearly the essay on Said’s Orientalism. In this essay Leys was trying to figure out if Said’s work had any relevance for China folk. This is a topic that has been hashed out a bit. Said did not make it clear what the “east” was for him, and while ome East Asia folk use and talk about the idea others don’t. What is Leys’ take?

Edward Said’s main contention is that “no production of knowledge in the human sciences can ever ignore or disclaim the author’s involvement as a human subject in his own circumstances.” Translated into plain English, this would seem to mean simply that no scholar can escape his original condition: his own national, cultural, political and social prejudices are bound to be reflected in his work. Such a common-sense statement hardly warrants debate. Actually Said’s own book is an excellent case it point: Orientalism could obviously have been written by no one but a Palestinian scholar with a huge chip on his shoulder and a very dim understanding of the European academic tradition (here perceived through the distorted prism of a certain type of American university, with its brutish hyper-specialization, non-humanistic approach, and close, unhealthy links with government.)1

In general East Asia folk seems to be less afraid of getting the Orientalist cooties than Middle East people, and and Leys helps explain why. Part of Orientalism is worrying that you are essentializing the “timeless East” and while Leys has no patience with anyone foolish enough to lump everything from Syria to Shandong into an “East” he points out that ”Western sinology in its entirety is a mere footnote appended to the huge sinological corpus that Chinese intellectuals have been building for centuries to this day.” Although Leys does not point it out, if you want essentialization of Chinese culture 漢學 is a good place to look, and if you want to understand China Chinese scholars are the first people you should talk to.

For Leys the study of China is not part of euro-american empire2 or ‘othering’, but part of humanistic education. “Chinese should be taught in Western countries as a fundamental discipline of the humanities at the secondary-school level, in conjunction with, or as an alternative to, Latin and Greek.” Actually, if we wanted to put good old fashioned Classical Studies back in American High Schools I would guess making them Chinese classical studies would be the way to do it. More likely to be useful in Shenzhen.

While I like reading Leys his flavor of Sinology sometimes leaves me cold. In his essay on Confucius he claims that the Analects was written withing 75 years of Confucius’s death and shows a single voice. He compares those who claim that the text was compiled over a much longer period to those scholars who question the Gospels, and here he enlists the novelist Julien Gracq.

Gracq first acknowledged the impressive learning of one of these scholars as well as a devastating logic of his reasoning; but he confessed that, in the end, he still found himself left with one fundamental objection: for all his formidable erudition, the scholar in question simply had no ear-he could not hear what should be so obvious to any sensitive reader-that, underlying the text of the Gospels, there is a masterly and powerful unity of style which derives from one unique and inimitable voice.

I think he is wrong there, both about Jesus and about Confucius, but far worse is the footnote to his claim that in the Analects “there are very few stylistic anachronisms: the language and syntax of most of the fragments is coherent and pertains to the same period.” The note reads “On these problems of chronology and textual analysis, see E. Bruce Brooks, The Original Analects (Columbia University Press, 1998)” This is a pretty serious failure of scholarly courtesy, first in erasing Brooks’ co-author, but more importantly enlisting him in support of the claim that Analects is a coherent text.3 What’s the point in reading books and citing them if you are just going to make up things about what is in them? I would like to think it is possible to be both a scholar and a sensitive reader, but Leys is not helping me here.

This goes farther than just sloppy scholarship. Leys wants to uncover the real Confucius under the distortions of “Imperial Confucianism [which] only extolled those statements from the Master that prescribed submission to the established authorities.” This seems wrong to me and more importantly leaves you uninterested in the period from the Han to the present when the ru were always intertwined with the state. Leys’ condemnations of the dupes of Maoism are always fun to read, and lord knows he was fighting the good fight4 when he took them on. While he has some real insights on the period, he is not a very good guide to the Mao era, which for him was grotesque and alien. Grotesque certainly; In “The China Experts” he skewers Edward Friedman, Han Suyin and Ross Terrill.

Perhaps we should not be too harsh on the these experts; the fraternity recently suffered a traumatic experience and is still in a state of shock. Should fish suddenly start to talk, I suppose that ichthyology would also have to undergo a dramatic revision of its basic approach. A certain type of “instant sinology” was indeed based on the assumption that the Chinese people were as different from us in their fundimental aspirations, and as unable to communicate with us, as the inhabitants of the oceanic depths; and when they eventually rose to the surface and began to cry out sufficiently loudly for their message to get through to the general public there was much consternation among the China pundits.

Leys gives us lots of examples of China pundits (mostly Terrill) swallowing the most absurd nonsense about how the Chinese loved Chairman Mao. The problem of course, is that the Chinese did love Chairman Mao. You can’t start a Cultural Revolution memoir without explaining your youthful loyalty to the red, red sun of Chairman Mao, and you can’t treat Mao period as something alien to China. How can you write about people becoming disillusioned unless you can explain how they became believers in the first place?  Leys’ China is as much a place to find Simon Leys as a place to find Chinese people, (just like Europeans used to do with Greece and Rome) and while I like reading him on Said or Terrill, I suspect he would not be as helpful for reading Mark Edward Lewis or Elizabeth Perry.

  1. Yes, I am quoting a lot, but Leys is a hard guy to paraphrase. []
  2. Almost the only mention of East Asia in Said is an approving comment on the Concerned Asian Scholars, who he praised for their condemnation of American imperialism in Asia while for Said they ‘failed most scandalously in their moral responsibilities toward China and the Chinese people.’ []
  3. Which seems the obvious way to read that note for me. []
  4. at some risk to his reputation in academic circles, which does not seem to have worried him []

5/17/2012

What if it’s a fake? What if it isn’t?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:56 am Print

Jeremiah Jenne pointed me to this most wonderful bit of French nonsense: Jean Levi’s claim that the terracotta army is a modern forgery.

These famous clay sentinels, which protect the sleep of the despot eternally as is insistently and pompously proclaimed by journalists, do not date back from the 3rd century B.C., the time when the Great Emperor was buried, but from the 20th century, at the end of the Cultural Revolution when the struggle between factions was raging with the “Gang of Four”. As you’ve pointed out, it is nonetheless surprising that this “new wonder of the world”, which has crowds from the four corners of the planet gape with admiration, was inscribed on the World Heritage List without being assessed by international experts as is usually the case when a country officially asks for an artistic or architectural place or property to be listed. The Chinese authorities purely and simply refused the UNESCO experts access to the archeological site, although those same experts apparently did not take much offence as Lingtong’s buried army was added to the list anyway.

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12/26/2010

Monumental Histories

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 10:46 pm Print

Quite by coincidence, I ended up reading three books on Chinese monuments, but not until the third did I realize that what I was reading was a history of modern monuments. The first two books I picked up relatively recently – as my “to read” stack goes – but since they were related to my Early China course this last semester they moved to the front of the line.1 The third was a review copy sent by Cornell UP to “Jonathan Dresner, Frog In A Well Blog.”2 The books are

  • John Man, The Terracotta Army: China’s First Emperor and the Birth of a Nation, Bantam Press, 2007
  • Julia Lovell, The Great Wall: China Against the World, 1000 BC – AD 2000, Grove Press, 2006.
  • Chang-Tai Hung, Mao’s New World: Political Culture in the Early People’s Republic

Why do I say these are modern monuments? The terracotta warriors, while a monumental work, were unknown until 1974, and did not become “monuments of China” for several years after. The Great Wall was a fairly obscure remnant until foreign visitors, mistranslations and reporters (including Ripley himself) raised so much interest that the Chinese government refurbished and made it accessible primarily as a nationalist beacon and tourist attraction. Though they have older stories to tell as well, they actually fit quite well into the discussion Chang-tai Hung presents of the artistic and aesthetic politics in the first decade of the PRC.
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  1. If memory serves, they were both bought at Daedalus Books in Maryland. Great prices, if they’ve got what you’re looking for; dangerous place for book-hounds. []
  2. Yes, the rest of the address was there, too, but that’s boring. []

7/4/2010

The Most Effective Kind of Education

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 6:29 am Print

While there are many historical problems worthy of exploring in the study of history, I personably believe that one of the most important is an attempt to understand the process by which humans come to accept violence as legitimate. History has no monopoly on this, it is a deeply interdisciplinary issue. A second related, and equally interdisciplinary issue is to better understand the many different reasons why someone comes to accept some or all of the claims made by the institutions of power. This too, as a question of trust, is ultimately tied to legitimacy.

Like most movements aspiring to power, the Communist Party of China was also deeply interested in these questions, especially, of course, the latter. In looking through internal reports of the Treason Elimination Department (锄奸部) in Shandong from the 1930s and 1940s, I am fascinated by their emphasis on measuring and reporting not merely the elimination of the treason in question, but in the response to that elimination by the people. How did the masses respond? How many people were “mobilized” (发动) by public trial x or execution y?

I recently came across yet another source which has helped me think about, and continue to be puzzled about the two issues I opened with.

Last week I read the memoir of Sam Ginsbourg, a Russian Jew born in Siberia, but raised in Harbin, Vladivostok, and Shanghai. I’m mostly interested in Ginsbourg as a source of background information on his older brother Mark Gayn (Mark changed his name after moving to the United States), one of the most important journalists and first hand sources reporting on the complex political events of occupation Japan and Korea in the early aftermath of World War II.

Though I may post more on Mark some other time, Sam is also a very interesting figure. In 1947, as the Chinese Civil war was heating up, he travelled from Shanghai to Communist occupied Yantai (Chefoo), in Shandong province. He became a passionate supporter of Communism and a Chinese citizen in 1953. Ginsbourg took up a career in Shandong as a professor of Russian language and, whenever his card was up in political movements, as a bourgeois intellectual or Russian spy.

At least half of his memoir My First Sixty Years in China, published in 1982, deals with the long history of Communist political movements he experienced. In most cases, and especially during the Cultural Revolution, Ginsbourg found himself among the targets for attack. His own suffering and the ridiculousness of the accusations made against him and some of those close to him are described, albeit in a somewhat muted tone. Although I only skimmed through some of his encounters, it appears that he didn’t fare too badly. He wasn’t killed, and he doesn’t seem to have been severely beaten or subjected to long periods in labor camps. “On the whole,” he says, “the movements were a necessary political and ideological foundation for rapid economic growth.”1

His closing chapter is set up as a response to a visiting American academic who tries to get him to express regret for having moved to the liberated areas in 1947 and stayed through the tumultuous decades that followed. I am not too surprised to see him defend his home, his friends, and his entire way of life in those pages, rejecting the outsider’s arrogance and looking forward with great optimism at the future. All that was missing were the cute baby chickens shown in final scene of the movie To Live (活着).

More jarring however, was Ginsbourg’s display of that characteristic disconnect between what Ginsbourg himself experienced, and acts of violence he witnessed against those he did not know personally. Whereas he knows he was not himself a Russian spy, and that the President of Shandong University was probably not guilty of the many reactionary crimes he was accused of when he was purged, he doesn’t seem able to extend the same sort of skepticism to many other cases.

We see this when he describes a realization he has as he watched, in 1950, two “reactionaries” being delivered to the execution ground.

I reflected with satisfaction how far I had come since the autumn of 1947, when I had felt shock at the sight of a woman landlord being dragged to execution. Not an iota of pity or perturbation stirred me in 1950. I felt nothing but hatred for the two who were in the truck.”2

Later at Qingdao stadium (From Brazzaville to Kabul, from Pyongyang to Kigali, stadiums serve well for executions when you want to maximize impact) with, he claims, 50,000 in attendance, he watched the trial of two “ringleaders” of a secret religious society.

The woman – the abbess of a monastery – had caused the death of several ‘believers’, cheating hundreds of others of large sums of money and committed other crimes. The old man had raped sixty nuns of his nunnery, some of whom had died.

After the trial the two of them were led, or rather dragged, around the track of the stadium for everybody to see. As they rounded the huge arena, a roar of shouts followed them until they were hauled onto trucks and driven off.

The movement taught me and, I believe, others – who like myself had been born and had grown up in towns, especially those coming from well-to-do families – how horrible were the crimes that had been committed and were still being committed against the common people, how deep was the popular hatred toward the evildoers and how just the deserts. It was the best, the most practical, the most effective kind of education; and I have always thought myself lucky to have gone through it.3

Is it possible the two “ringleaders” were in fact murderers and rapists? It is certainly possible. For example, my own reading of reports from the period suggests that the Party often capitalized on the huge anger felt by local villagers against an infamous bandit or local puppet military commander. Punishing real evildoers is not just good justice, it is good politics. And yet it is just as possible that, like so many thousands of victims of the campaigns against religious organizations and secret societies in the late 1940s and early 1950s, these two leaders of religious societies had committed only the crime of leading an organization targeted by the party for complete liquidation or full co-optation. Accusing the leaders of outlandish and horrific crimes is the fastest way to demoralize and discredit such an organization, setting into motion a wave of self-criticisms and struggle sessions for other members who might then emerge cleansed of their crime of association – at least until the next movement needed a target.

Writing his memoir towards the end of his long life in China, Sam Ginsbourg wrote about that encounter and his realization at that moment without adding a word of doubt or reflection from the perspective of someone who had been a far more fortunate victim of criminal accusations. It seems that, indeed, it was a most effective kind of education.

  1. Sam Ginsbourg, My First Sixty Years in China (Beijing: Foreign Language Press Beijing, 1982), 247. []
  2. Ibid., 209. []
  3. Ibid., 210. []

6/18/2010

Private views of Chinese history

Recently I went to the Jianchuan museums, which are in Anren, just outside Chengdu. It is an interesting place first because it is huge, financed by mogul Fan Jianchuan, and second because it is a private museum, something not very common in China.

The place is covers a lot of ground, and there are, or soon will be buildings showcasing West Sichuan folk customs, footbinding, traditional houses, and the response to the Wenchuan earthquake of 2008. They are already working on the building for the last of these, and some of the artifacts are sitting outside.

The biggest and most interesting sections are on the War with Japan and the Red Years.

The War buildings (there are several) are strongly nationalistic (it is glorious to die for the homeland, etc) and pretty popular with the Chinese visitors. The war also gets some of the most striking installations, including a display of the handprints of 300 veterans and statues of 200 heroes of the war (mostly generals and commanders of various sorts.)

Both of them sort of reminded me of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, in that they rely on the effect of masses of individuals (each of the handprints and statues has an inscription telling you who it is.) The statues also remind me somewhat of Qin Shihuang’s terracotta warriors, although having been given names and not being in such strict ranks they are more individualized.1

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  1. Also, like Qin Shihuang himself, they are on top of a relief map of China. []

8/25/2009

China, where totalitarianism works

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:55 am Print

Daniel Drezner has been watching the coverage of the current show trials in Iran, and points out that they are not working very well in cowing the population, and suggests that in the television age show trials do not work, as it is harder to control the images that people get of the trials. He asks “can show trials ever cement an authoritarian government’s legitimacy?” In comments someone suggests the trials of the Gang of Four, which I think is an interesting idea.

The trials of the Gang of Four were seen on film by Chinese people, although not on television by most I would assume. I think the real difference  is that the medium is not really the message here. Stalin, I believe, did not broadcast his entire show trials on radio, but rather news items about them (or so I assume). Likewise Chinese people (I assume) saw the trials as heavily edited newsreels. The trials themselves did run off track a bit, most famously when Jiang Qing, who was being accused of plotting the Cultural Revolution without Mao’s knowledge said that she was “Chairman Mao’s dog, whoever he said to bite I bit.” (我是主席的一条狗,主席要我咬谁就咬谁) Chinese people, of course, did not hear this. I don’t think the problem is so much video vs. audio but the sheer bulk of what you want to show people.  A trial is a major thing with hours and hours of testimony. Stage managing a huge reality show like that is hard, particularly when you are not trying to generate sympathy for the accused, given that the trial itself is set up to make the accuesed look helpless before the power of the state.

Even more important than medium, however, is context. I assume Stalin’s show trials were effective in convincing people that they really, really did not what to get on Stalin’s bad side, but they were only one of many things that did this. The trials of the Gang of Four were intended (I think) to convince Chinese people that the CR was really over and to shift blame from Mao and the CCP as a whole to the safely dead or imprisioned. They did this, but the trials, which started in 1980, were the end rather than the beginning of this effort.

1977 Poster criticizing Gang of Four. From Stepan Landsberger

1977 poster criticizing Gang of Four. From Stepan Landsberger

The Iranian trials seem to be isolated attempts to convince the Iranian people that the protesters were bad people and that the state is still in control. I don’t think show trials alone can do that, but they are a useful part of authoritarian political theater if used properly.

7/22/2009

Modern Archaeology

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 9:53 pm Print

Gansu backyard furnacesGreat Leap Forward era backyard iron furnaces have been unearthed [via] and there is discussion about whether to preserve them as historical evidence, even a cultural heritage. The site is described thus

The backyard furnaces are located on the south slope of a hillside within the borders of Heiyaodong Village in Baiyin Mongolian Township, Sunan Yugur Autonomous County. They are situated in an east-west line and number 159 furnaces in total, most of which have crumbled. About fifty are still largely intact. The largest is 8 meters high and 14 meters in circumference; the smallest is 2.5 meters high and 2.7 meters around. Most are pagoda-shaped, with one or more chimneys. Their insides are lined with clay bricks. Some of the larger furnaces are dug into the hillside and have one or more arched entrances for feeding raw material, lighting the fire, or cleaning out slag, and multiple air vents are set into the floor. Some are made up of ten individual furnaces joined together. The whole group extends for a more than two kilometers, making for an impressive sight. The furnaces were built in 1958 during the Great Leap Forward and ceased operating in 1960. Some of them were never put to use.

That last line captures what is, for me anyway, the essence of the GLF: an immense waste of effort, resources, lives. Wu Zuolai of the journal Theory and Criticism of Art and Literature writes:

People who experienced that time recall that whole forests were cut down to make charcoal to burn, bringing immense disaster to the environment. And because some areas were unable to produce acceptable steel, the people had to break apart their cooking pots and melt them down in the furnaces, and as a result, unusable lumps of iron were all that was produced. One unforeseen consequence was that real cultural heritage was plundered during the steel production campaign. The two-storey tower at the famous Hangu Pass* was torn down, and inscriptions accumulated over the course of two thousand years were destroyed. Wuwei County,* Gansu, was an important northwestern garrison in the Tang Dynasty, and its city wall, built of large bricks, towered for a thousand years. But those thousand-year-old bricks became part of the furnaces.

The past has become a memory and a historical lesson. But has the mentality of the Great Leap Forward been entirely eradicated? Faced with this massive cluster of iron smelters, we have much to reflect upon. Public, scientific, and democratic decision making must not be merely empty words but must be put into practice in every project.

Wu goes on to suggest a “small museum” on the site, and an oral history and records collecting project. Given that this is one of the landmark events of modern Chinese history, I would hope for that much, or more. But given that this is one of the landmark events in the failure of Maoist policy and rapid modernization, I have my doubts.

7/13/2009

Transvestite chickens late at night

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:07 am Print

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. []

7/6/2009

My Dear Revolutionary Comrade-in-arms

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:29 am Print

Sina has a collection of Chinese love-letters going back to the 50s (via CDT) The ones from the 60′s and 70′s are the most interesting. Lots of Maoist ways of re-stating the same thing. Of course other peoples love letters always seem silly, since mostly they are just re-stating the same thing over and over again,  but these are worth reading.

5/3/2009

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.

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