Liveblogging the Boxers

Military historian David Silbey is going to be blogging through the Boxer Uprising as seen through the New York Times. Though this is a little more of a distant view than Brett Holman’s Sudenten Crisis, I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve used Paul Cohen’s History in Three Keys and read a few other things that touch on the Boxers, but the one perspective I’ve never really mastered is the Western one. And the Boxer Uprising was a critical one for the image of China in the 20th century, one of the few events in Chinese history about which people know something. The first post in the series just went up; if you fall behind, you can survey all of Silbey’s posts here.


Conference in Japan on Media in the Foreign Concessions

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 1:55 pm Print

If you understand Japanese, are in Tokyo, and interested in the history of the foreign concessions of China, you may find a conference being held at Waseda of interest that has a panel of talks on media in the foreign concessions. See this posting over at Frog in a Well Japan for more.



Filed under: — gina @ 3:22 am Print

I just joined this website, but I was surprised to see no post about the American elections in China (perhaps I found it surprising because it has been so pressing on my mind). China Beat had a long list of coverage about China’s reaction to Obama (my favorite is “Now it’s ‘cool America’”), but I feel like many of them didn’t really examine how many Chinese people feel about Obama. They make it seem like the average Chinese people all liked Obama because of really solid political reasons, which I think is largely misguided. It is certainly no secret that the Chinese favored Obama over McCain, even though Chinese Obamamania may not compare to other countries, like in Rwanda where on the street in early November Obama pop songs could be heard. The reasons for this varied; many of the older generation, who I met either on the street or in cabs, would talk at length with me about America’s mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how America needs to solve such international crises which we created. The younger generation, however, loved Obama because he was handsome and young. Actually, they could not even properly recall McCain’s name; the most common comment was “We like Obama! Did you vote for Obama instead of…that other guy…what was his name?”

I find it interesting that such fervent political opinions come from a group of adolescents who have very little interest in their own politics. I have a friend who made what I thought was a very insightful comparison in his column for the Huffington Post between our generation in America and the same generation in China. I would like to quote him in saying:

China’s youth stand caught in a remarkably similar generational split as their American counterparts: We both are the progeny of a generation desperately polarized by ideology and history. Simply put, on both sides of the Pacific, our generation is sick of hearing about and fighting the battles of our parent’s generation.

For Americans my age, a large part of Obama’s appeal is his transcendence of the culture wars of the 1960s. In 2004, John Kerry labored to mention his Vietnam service at every turn. In 2008, John McCain made frequent reference to his heroic military service in Vietnam while Obama skirted the issue entirely. My generation didn’t even blink. To those my age, McCain’s invocation of the tawdry aura of pop princesses Britney Spears and Paris Hilton–figures with a decidedly less Baby Boomer flair–had far more relevance than 60s era figures such as Bill Ayers.

For their part, the Chinese youth come from a generation similarly split by ideology, albeit on a much more profound scale. While our parents are still licking their wounds from the 1960s culture wars, here in China, there is silence. Even today, there is simply no discussion of anything pre-Reform era as the divisions are just too painful. Unsurprisingly, among the youth of China, there is a visceral aversion to ideology and politics. Here the youth are not so much post-partisan as they are completely divorced from parti-anything. Names like Bill Gates and David Beckham have far more relevance to their lives than Marx, Lenin, or other vestiges of an ideological battle of a bygone era.

Admittedly, exactly how much of Obama’s post-partisan, post-ideological message penetrated and resonated here in China is uncertain. What is unmistakable to Chinese youth is that Obama’s election represents a change in America that needs no translation nor cultural context. Young, attractive, brilliant, and black, Obama represents to the Chinese youth a forward-looking America uninhibited by the ideology of a previous generation. Whether consciously or not, Obama embodies the very post-ideological spirit that Chinese youth subscribe to themselves.[i]

There is one exception to this lack of political interest (or at least a reason for supporting a political candidate) among young people, and that was young Chinese females’ support for Hillary Clinton. This obviously died down after she lost the primary, but before that, and even sometimes after, young women were unanimous in their support for Hillary, claiming that she represented women’s rights all over the world (as opposed to “we like him because he is a celebrity.”) This was a political message that made sense to them, perhaps because it was a battle they were currently fighting, as in the Post-Mao era, gender differences have become much more distinct.

So how do we explain this Obamamania among young people? Perhaps it is as simple as he is a celebrity (the Chinese I believe focused more on him in the news than anything else) and Chinese youth like the up and coming. Or perhaps it is that Chinese youth really see him as a new America, and a new world, that moves past these battles of the older generation. I’m not sure; all I know is that most of China was happy at the results from November 4 2008.

[i] I would love to provide the link for this, but unfortunately, the Huffington Post is one of those websites blocked by the Great Firewall. This is as much of the citation as I have: Davenport, Alexander. “Obama Brand Captures Chinese Youth.” Huffinton Post. 3 Dec., 2008.


Newspaper Digitization at Shandong Provincial Library

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 10:00 am Print

I am currently spending my days at a microfilm machine in the basement of Shandong Provincial library, looking through old wartime newspapers from occupied and civil war period Shandong.1 The publications I’m looking at are often put out of more remotely located areas not fully under Japanese control such as Yishui(沂水).

To be given access to the old newspapers, I have to pay a fee of about $5 per reel and a few cents per photograph I snap of the microfilm machine screen, but I guess that is just the cost of doing research here (at least I’m allowed to use my camera, which one cannot assume in Asia). Their old microfilm machines aren’t the best, with usually only half of any given page fully in focus and no zoom capabilities but the lamp is brighter and the quality of the microfilm is significantly better than some of the late 1940s newspapers I have looked through in Korea’s national library. Generally, what is left of Korea’s published materials from the postwar late 40s are, as far as I can tell, in far worse condition than what I have come across here in Shandong among the Communist newspapers and documents coming out of nominally occupied zones of wartime China, with some exceptions.2

There is a much better and more powerful machine behind me, however, being used all day by a library employee. I do interrupt her at the end of each reel I look through to have her print out a few selected pages that I want a clearer image of than my camera is currently providing me with by taking pictures of the microfilm machine’s screen. Otherwise, she is slowly making her way through some of the old newspapers in their collection and taking a snapshot of each page that is then saved in the form of a TIFF image of about 200-300kb in size each. We have a similar machine (perhaps the same model) in the microfilm rooms back in the US but it is the first time I have seen it used for a full scale digitization project. Judging from her rate of coverage from the last week, she can probably go through somewhere between 1 to 3 years of issues for a newspaper per day, depending on the completeness of the collection. I estimate that she can probably go through all of the old newspapers the library has in perhaps two years or so, even if she is the only one working on this project.

Many of the newspapers and old magazines they have only exist for a few years and are missing many issues, but are really wonderful sources to have access to. She explained that when she is done the files then have to be processed and indexed by two other sections at the library but she says the eventual goal is to put these online in some form. She is currently making her way through the same newspaper I’m looking at, the Communist controlled 大众日报, and I only wish I could intercept those TIFF files before they get swallowed into the bureaucracy of the library. My experience with the Korean national library and oral history documents available here in digital form is that these wonderfully crisp and simple image files often get horribly mangled on their way to final public access by being transformed into proprietary formats that require dreadful downloaded plug-ins, Internet Explorer Active-X, special reader applications, and the like. God forbid we provide everyone with simple downloads of PDF or image files like some of the better archives and museums out there do. Sometimes issues of copyright are at fault, but that is no excuse for Japanese colonial period documents in Korea or these old wartime newspapers. I look forward to see what happens in this case and hope for the best.

In the meantime, for anyone doing research on Shandong, below are just a few picks from among just the newspapers you can currently view in their microfilm department, selected from periods I’m interested in, including some from occupied territory (often with 新民 in the title). As far as I could tell, these cannot be found listed their library’s search engine and I found a list in an old book that emerged from the drawer of the head of the microfilm division, who has been very friendly and helpful. I’m lucky I ended up in the right place. I was told by a woman working in the newspaper section at the library back in March that, “We have no newspapers from before 1949.” Since I had seen this library listed under various important entries in a master index (name escapes me for this important book) of where old publications are supposed to be located in the libraries and archives of China, I’m glad I was more stubborn this time about tracking down someone who knew what a gold mine there in fact was in their microfilm collection. The microfilm is located deep in the labyrinth of offices in the basement floor. If you wait a few years, perhaps some of these will be viewable online without, I hope, too much hassle. Ok, here is the small sampling, mostly from ’30s and ’40s offerings:

大华日报 1946.7-1948.8
渤海日报 1944.7-1950.4
东海日报 1931.7-1937.12
华东新闻 1932.11-1948.8
济南日报 1925.11-1938.6
冀鲁豫日报 1944.7-1949.8
军民日报 1945.12-1948.10
鲁东日报 1939.1-1945.7
鲁南时报 1943.7-1948.2
鲁中大众 1945.4-1947.12
民言报 1945.10-1948.10
民众日报 1936.12-1947.1
青岛民报 1932.5-1937.7
青岛日报 1949.12-1996.12
青岛时报 1932.5-1948.6
青岛晚报 1946.7-1948.10
青岛新民报 1938.6-1944.11
山东民国日报 1929.9-1946.6
山东日报 1929.4-1936.10
山东新民报 1938.9.28-1949.9
烟台日报 1945.11-1947.9

  1. For more information on the library in English, see our EALA entry for this library here. []
  2. 1943-1945 大众日报, for example, is of noticeably worse quality than preceding years and even has some handwritten characters. I can only assume that the Japanese came across and destroyed or confiscated their printing press in one of their many mopping up campaigns in the province. []


舊版報紙資訊網: Initial Thoughts and Technical Review

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 4:47 am Print

I have been spending a few days looking at one of the important early postwar newspapers in Taiwan, 臺灣新生報, using the microfilm collection on the 6th floor Taiwan resource center of the National Taiwan Library (國立中央圖書館臺灣分館). Yesterday, I happened to catch a glimpse of someone viewing some old copies of another important postwar Taiwan paper, 民報, using an online database, which I will offer some comments about below, following a brief opening rant.

I’m not a big fan of microfilm newspapers. The advantages of this medium over providing access to physical copies or bound printed copies are obvious. Among them include: 1) preservation 2) space conservation 3) the ability to zoom 4) ability to print zoomed in articles from microfilm machines onto various sizes of paper, etc.

However, from the point of view of the historian, the disadvantages soon become apparent: unlike the bound printed copies of, for example, 中央日報, 申報, or 大公報 that I can find in various libraries, which sometimes shrink the original size of the newspaper such that the characters in the articles are barely legible – it is actually possible to browse these through these collections quite fast. It is in fact faster to turn the pages of a book and scan a page of a newspaper for interesting articles than it is to operate the knob of a microfilm machine and zoom in and out on interesting looking pieces.

More importantly, the higher contrast of black text on the printed white of paper makes the experience of looking at bound volumes far more pleasant than a microfilm machine. With the exception of some digital microfilm readers that artificially boost the contrast, the vast majority of microfilm readers I have used in Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and the United States are extremely hard on the eyes. If you have to sit at the reader for 4-10 hours, with some short breaks, for even a few days in a row, the impact on one’s eyes is noticeable. The sick yellow background (or black with white text, as the default is for many newspapers I viewed in Korea’s national library, hardly much better) of the microfilm reader, desperately trying to transfer light to the viewer through its lenses always seems to fall below the expectations of my eyes, which yearn to look at real paper, or even the greater contrast of a computer screen!

Digital databases of newspapers are always welcome. In addition to the power of database searching, they offer some of the benefits of both paper bound and microfilm collections but also some more serious defects. It is not all one glorious march towards progress. In my experience, I have found that digital newspaper collections (as well as many library OPAC databases and other online resources) often are designed by people that appear to greatly underestimate the importance of browsing. It isn’t just about what is there in that article or even on that page; historians often want to know what can be found near that article, page, or issue. Sometimes we aren’t looking for a single article about a single topic, but trying to get a feel for the kinds of things being written on the days and weeks surrounding a particular historical event. It is all part of the task of surveying the discursive environment of a time or place.

Now, having made these comments, let me turn to the database I discovered completely by chance yesterday: 舊版報紙資訊網. Read on below the fold…

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