井底之蛙

3/18/2014

Chairman Xi serves the people

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:12 am

Offbeat China has some official cartoons showing Xi Jinping as an ordinary guy who can sit cross-legged just like folks.

7I guess now that Gary Locke has officially left the building there is an opening for someone to take on the role of high official who is one with the common people. The style of the drawings is pretty obviously intended to make him look like an ordinary person. They remind me in part of some of the old shots of Chiang Ching-kuo, who never tried to pull off his Dad’s spartan military style

Kai-shek.

Nor did he try to pull off Wei-guo’s full-on Nazi look.Chiang_Wei-kuo_wehrmacht_LQ

Rather, while democratizing Taiwan, he chose to look like a man of the people.

Picture2

What the Xi Jinping cartoons remind me most of though is Hua Guofeng. As Mao’s chosen successor Hua had some big shoes to fill.

HuaGuofeng6

And he did this in part through a massive propaganda campaign, which you can learn about at Chinese Posters.

Here we have Hua cleaning a counter and Xi getting his own food. Hua is serving the people, and Xi is being served by them, but times do change, and waiting in line will get you credit as being a man of the people as a Chinese official today.

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There are plenty of shots of Hua holding a shovel and such like, but China’s leadership has changed so much that that would just look ridiculous with Xi. Instead, he meets with college students (the future elite) and encourages them to be concerned with the common people. Hua probably would have done that by leading the students out for some vigorous physical labor alongside workers and peasants, but this is 2014.

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Both of them mingle with the common folk, and you can see some of the differences in revolutionary charisma. Part of it is the cellphones, but also it is hard to imagine Hua greeting a member of the masses who happened to be female with “Hello Beautiful.”

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Hua had the disadvantage that he was following Mao, and so he had to either put himself in Mao’s place in the picture, or sort of abandon Maoism, neither of them a good strategy. Hua was followed by a guy named Deng Xiaoping, who shied away from the leader-cult thing, and when he did turn up in posters they would focus on him as an individual, someone passing through revolutionary history, not dominating it.

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The way everyone gushes over Xi in these pictures (and laugh at his jokes) is the most leader-cult thing in the set, and given that Xi is the leader of the great and successful Communist party of China that is to be expected. Hua could be pretty informal and push the leader-worship off on Mao or the Party. Xi has to be both a symbol of Chinese greatness and an ordinary Jiu. It’s a hard act to pull off, and it will be interesting to see how well he does at it. God forbid he ever ends up in a picture like this.

obamafeet

 

 

10/11/2012

Fire and protest in China

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 4:39 pm

The Atlantic has a nice set of pictures of the Great Wall up, for your teaching pleasure. The one I found most interesting is this.

Is the Great Wall on fire? Well, the caption says “Smoke rises from a watchtower of the Great Wall during an activity to mark the International Anti-Drug Day in Beijing, on June 26, 2006″ There is an old tradition of burning stuff in China, but mostly as a form of worship. In the late Qing, however, missionaries and Chinese reformers began to make burning opium and opium paraphernalia a regular part of their rituals. Here is one from Fujian1

Opium and drug burnings became a regular part of Chinese anti-opium events, but as far as I know the whole burning things in protest meme never caught on as a general method of protest in China. Eventually this form of anti-opium protest became engrained enough in Chinese political culture that it traveled back in time.  Lin Zexu had -destroyed- opium in 1839, and by 1909 he was credited with burning it, as in this image2 This mistake is now pretty common.

I’m not really a 19th century person, so I never put much effort in to figuring out when this form of protest emerged. It does not seem to link up well with the Chinese tradition of burning things as an offering, since you burned things you thought the ancestors would want. Admittedly, by 1909 some of your ancestors probably would have liked some opium, but that does not fit in with the protest aspect of things. Maybe a legacy of Guy Fawkes day in England? In any case, if you want to burn something in the name of China, the Great Wall would seem a great place for it.

 

  1. via Ryan Dunch []
  2. via MIT []

10/4/2010

China, the Hobgoblin of Small Minds

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:34 pm

I had a student ask me in class, recently, about whether China, among other countries, was planning to take advantage of our coming collapse to move into a position of world domination, that they had operational plans and expected the collapse to come momentarily. I responded by pointing out that most advanced nations develop contingency plans for a wide variety of possible future scenarios, so that the existence of a plan is no guarantee of it’s probability.

Then, today, I read about this 2006 Delaware Senate debate:

Republican Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell of Delaware said in a 2006 debate that China was plotting to take over America and claimed to have classified information about the country that she couldn’t divulge.

O’Donnell’s comments came as she and two other Republican candidates debated U.S. policy on China during Delaware’s 2006 Senate primary, which O’Donnell ultimately lost.

She said China had a “carefully thought out and strategic plan to take over America” and accused one opponent of appeasement for suggesting that the two countries were economically dependent and should find a way to be allies.

“There’s much I want to say,” she said at the time. “I wish I wasn’t privy to some of the classified information that I am privy to.”

This is four years old, now: have we seen considerable progress in the takeover of the US by China? Seems to me that we’ve been holding steady, mostly. My immediate thought is that a US economic/political collapse would leave China in a strong short-term position, but an extremely weak long-term one, given the interdependence of our economies and technology sectors. But I’m not privy to classified information.

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. []

9/23/2009

Save the Pandas

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:18 am

A couple of years ago before I left for a trip to China an imperial princess told me to get a picture of a panda. I pointed out that there were a zillion pictures of pandas on the web, so there was no point in my trooping out to a zoo to take another picture. Ahhh, but none of those pictures were taken by Daddy. Obviously China=pandas, and the only good reason to go to China is to see pandas. This is actually a pretty widespread attitude. Now some grumpy Englishman says that we (by which I assume he means ‘China’) should “Pull the plug” on pandas. Far too much money is spent on them, and there is almost no hope them ever becoming a wild species again. Mostly this is just typical grousing about how large or cute animals get all the funding, and pandas are both of course.

Jen Phillips, however, points out that there are things to do with pandas besides have them live in the wild (the holy grail of most conservation efforts.) The Chinese government makes a ton of money renting them out to zoos around the world, and they are a powerful symbol of China both internationally and domestically. Obviously the Chinese government is the one making the calls here, and they are not going to stop breeding pandas.

Actually, pandas today are not that different from the animals in the imperial menagerie in imperial times. At least back to the Han the emperor was expected to have a park that had all manner of odd animals and plants that could not be found elsewhere, symbolizing his universal rule.  Sima Xiangru’s Sir Fantasy is probably the most famous description of one of these parks.  This tradition continued in some form until the Qing, given that the Qing Imperial Park was the last place you could find Pere David’s Deer

The Imperial population of Pere David’s Deer, or Milu 麋鹿 was finally wiped out during the Boxer Rebellion, when foreign troops ate them. Some of the herd had been given to Europeans as diplomatic gifts, however, and from those the population was rebuilt. Apparently the Emperor’s herd had been isolated for so long that any bad genes had been bred out, and so you could re-build from a very tiny number of animals. Milu have been extinct in the wild for about a thousand years, and it is not even clear what their original range was.1 They surrvived for a very long time as imperial animals, however, and maybe pandas will too. I suppose it would help if they were better at mating.

  1. The first link says the last wild one was shot in 1939, but most sources say 1000 years. I suspect the 1939 animal was something else. []

9/9/2009

Teaching Confucianism

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 2:11 pm

Guess who’s in Bejing! Well, not me anymore since I just left1 I snuck away from my conference for a bit to go to the Confucian temple and the Yonghe temple, neither of which I had seen in years. Yonghe is still pretty much the same, although 15 years ago there were not so many stores clustered around it selling incense and Buddhist tcotchkes. Actually, I think 15 years ago there were basically none, and now there are zillions of them. The Confucian temple and the adjacent Imperial University were more interesting however. Last time I was here they were pretty sparse, and there were not many people there. There were still not many people. Confucian temples are always nice and quiet, and a nice place to look at old trees. The exhibits had been updated, however, and there was a lot of stuff on Confucianism and its role in Chinese society. Since I like public history it was interesting to me, especially since most Chinese my age would have gotten no Confucianism at all in school, so it was cool to see this attempt to retro-fit it into the visitors. As you might expect, Confucianism was not really shown as developing, it was just created and remained unchanging, and the ascribed the ideas of a lot of later Confucians, or just Chinese customs, to the Big C. Confucianism was the essence of Chinese society, and still is (Which was not what they would have said 15 years ago) and Confucius inspired both the scientific method and the industrial revolution. Like most of these “”5000 years of culture Hooray!” things it was pretty overdone, but still very professional and detailed. They are getting pretty good at this.

In the University they had an exhibit of sorts on the Qianlong emperor’s lectures to his officials, which happened here. You may not have know that Qianlong was actually a teacher. Here is his office door.

His office

His desk

One of his classes.

Hmm. Seems a bit ornate for a Faculty member. Of course, Qianlong was really an Administrator, so I guess even if he did give the occasional lecture you might expect him to be a little better taken care of than the average temp. One thing I wondered about was if these lectures were a Qianlong innovation. I don’t think I have read anything about them, and I have read that Chinese emperors were quite different from Early Modern European monarchs, in that the Europeans were constantly on display and performing ritually in front of the ‘public’ (mostly the court). Chinese emperors were supposedly far less in the public eye, and these lectures would seem to be something that would tie in with the Southern Tours and other aspects of Qing imperial performance. Maybe I will check Zito when I get home.

  1. although I think there are still -some- people left in Beijing []

6/3/2009

The twentieth anniversary

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:39 am

I have, as it turns out, very little to say that I didn’t say five years ago, but I’ll reproduce it under the fold. Reading this year’s crop of remembrances, and Philip Cunningham’s first-person history, I don’t think my views have changed all that much, except that I see the movement more in the context of the decades before — periodic reformist movements which invariably met with repression whether or not the reforms were eventually pursued — and it’s much less shocking to me now than it was then. Still tragic. And the history since has been, by comparison, oddly quiet.
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3/7/2009

Zhou Confucianism? Ming Quality Control?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:26 pm

In an absolutely fascinating article on the modern petition redress system1 focusing on attempts by regional officials to prevent petitions from reaching a national office, the Financial Times sidebar, “Confucian Accountability” says

China’s petition system dates back to the Zhou dynasty 3,000 years ago. It embodies a Confucian tradition that idealises an authoritarian yet benevolent ruler who puts the concerns of his subjects above the interests of corrupt officials.

There’s the obvious point, that the Zhou dynasty predates Confucianism by a half-millenium or more. Confucius never dealt with the issue of petitions2, nor can I recall any pre-Han thinker postulating such an active (and literate) role for commoners. All of them, though, put the welfare of the people and the state above that of individual (especially dishonest) officials. One of the principle concerns of the more institutionally-minded figures (Mozi, Xunzi, Hanfeizi) is how to pick honest officials, and root out (or work around) dishonest ones, but none of them argue for violating the chain of command, even in extraordinary circumstances. They want a monitoring system which works well in normal circumstances, not something which encourages disorder.

The sidebar continues

After the 1911 republican revolution, petitioning was abolished by the Nationalist government. The Communists reinstated it soon after their 1949 revolution.

Experts say petitioning remains basically unchanged from the system in place 500 years ago in the Ming dynasty, when the formal evaluation of government officials began to take into account the number of petitioners who travelled to the capital from their region.

Since the Nationalist government was a democratic/republican system, presumably petitioning wouldn’t be necessary. I’m a bit surprised that the article didn’t take a slightly more critical approach to the idea that petitioning was a normal process over the last sixty years and only recently has started to break down. I can’t imagine that petitioning for redress in the era of Mao or Deng wasn’t fraught with danger for the petitioner, from the problem of unauthorized travel to the assumption that Party officials are always in the right. The responses that the article describes — detention, harassment, false imprisonment under the guise of mental illness — are classic Communist party tools for handling dissension, used widely in the Soviet Union as well as in China.

The last point in the sidebar — the use of petitions as a metric of administrative quality — is central to the article: the extralegal attempts by local officials to suppress petitions and petitioners is rooted in systemic self-protection, the avoidance of the appearance of trouble. Modern transportation technology, as the article notes, makes travel easier for petitioners, and has contributed to the rise in numbers. But, of course, the nature of modern society is such that it is also much easier to identify, track, monitor petitioners now than it was even fifty years ago, much less five hundred. The problem of danson minpi (“honoring officials, despising the people” as the Japanese put it) was intense during the latter half of the 20th century in China: the scaling up of suppression efforts to match the scaling up of petitions is pretty much par for the course, but the information environment is very different now, and the question of government legitimacy more intense.

  1. via, where the discussion quickly veered into the surreal, with participants unsure whether China’s petition system made it a more responsive and fair political system than the republicanism of the US. []
  2. One of the many issues Confucius never dealt with. []

12/9/2008

Sino-Soviet Nuclear Collaboration Revisionism?

In a review of Thomas C. Reed, and Danny B. Stillman‘s new book, The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and its Proliferation, William Broad writes that

Moscow freely shared its atomic thefts with Mao Zedong, China’s leader. The book says that Klaus Fuchs, a Soviet spy in the Manhattan Project who was eventually caught and, in 1959, released from jail, did likewise. Upon gaining his freedom, the authors say, Fuchs gave the mastermind of Mao’s weapons program a detailed tutorial on the Nagasaki bomb. A half-decade later, China surprised the world with its first blast.

This doesn’t jibe with what I remember about the relationship at all. Perhaps I’m overreacting to the word “freely,” but there was considerable resistance on the Soviet side to full cooperation with the development of Chinese atomic bomb and missile technology.1 In most accounts that I’ve read, that foot-dragging was a significant element in the ultimate break between the two powers, and the Chinese had to work from the bits and pieces the Soviets gave them2 combined with knowledge gleaned by Chinese who studied in the US and France.

This doesn’t seriously call into question the basic thesis of the book, which is that nuclear weapons technology spreads by diffusion — usually with some element of theft, subversion or treason3 — and that China has been a major proliferator in the post-Mao era.4 Reed and Stillman assert that

China in 1982 made a policy decision to flood the developing world with atomic know-how. Its identified clients include Algeria, Pakistan and North Korea. Alarmingly, the authors say one of China’s bombs was created as an “export design” that nearly “anybody could build.” The blueprint for the simple plan has traveled from Pakistan to Libya and, the authors say, Iran.

That puts China square in the middle of one of the most important and troubling trends of the last quarter-century.

  1. See, for example, Sergei Goncharenko, “Sino-Soviet Military Cooperation,”, Brothers in Arms: the Rise and Fall of the Sino-Soviet Alliance, 1945-1963, ed. Odd Arne Westad, Stanford University Press, 1998, pp. 141-164. []
  2. See, for example, Ji Qiang, “The scientists making the atomic bombs” [PDF], pp. 130-132, which describes Soviet help in the 1950s but that aid quietly disappears from the narrative around ’59. []
  3. This isn’t a new idea; I’ve been telling my students for years that the United States is the only nation to have actually invented the atomic bomb. But their level of detail and access to new sources sounds pretty substantial. []
  4. The French are the other major nexus, having aided the Chinese and provided the Israelis with most of their technology, and Israel has gone on to share it with others, most notably South Africa. []

12/4/2008

奥巴马mania

Filed under: — gina @ 3:22 am

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.

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