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.



Hua Guofeng: Hats Off!

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 12:05 am

While we wait for Jeremiah at Jottings from the Granite Studio to say something substantive, I’d like to put in another good word for Hua, the man with the goofy smile. I’ve made my share of jokes about him, such as saying that it was strange that the mere governor of a province would think he could move up to the job of running China — why it would be like the governor of say, Georgia or Arkansas thinking that he was qualified to be president of the United States.

But there are important things about him which deserve our respect. The arrest of the Gang of Four was probably the single most important political stroke of its time. During the Cultural Revolution, anybody with power had abused it, but somebody had to take the fall in order to get on with things. When I first went to China, people would say “Gang of Four” and hold up five fingers, the fifth being “he who must not be named.”

That’s pretty obvious, but it was not obvious that Hua would not have the Gang of Four taken out and shot or just “shot while resisting arrest.” The legitimacy of their trial was not that great in procedural terms, though far above Stalin’s show trials of the 1930s and certainly above the secret administrative procedures which condemned hundreds of thousands of Chinese as “rightists” in earlier years. But the basic injustice was that so many other wrongdoers got off. Still, Hua deserves credit for starting on the right foot.

Though it says more about Deng than about Hua, we also need to observe is that after Deng edged him out Hua went on to a quiet career and died in bed. That’s big. Neither of Mao’s two previous successors did — Lin Biao and Liu Shaoqi — and Zhao Ziyang died under house arrest. Being Mao’s successor was like being next in line for a shave from Sweeney Todd, and Hua pulled it off.

So say what you want, China could have done a lot worse than Hua!


Hua Guofeng

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:46 am

It is not often that a historic figure like Chairman Hua leaves us, and while I can’t possibly compete with Jeremiah in my reverence for the red, red (well, light pink) sun of Chairman Hua, I did think I would post this picture of Hua and Mao that comes from one of my old China Pictorials

I think this was taken close to the end of Mao’s life (from the picture it is hard to tell if it is before or after) and it is something I always use in class when talking about how various people tried to glom on to the old monster’s reputation and power after he was gone. Whatever you say about Hua1 he did get rid of the Gang of Four, which is more good than most politicians have done.

  1. and really, it is pretty sad to have much to say about him []


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.



What if?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:15 pm

Geez, now everybody wants to play. On March 7 our own Charles Hayford started the ball rolling by posting on Five things that Didn’t Happen (But Might Have). This led to Michael Turton coming up with a list for Taiwan history. Now the New York Review of Books is getting in the act, with a piece by Perry Link entitled He Would have Changed China. It is a review of Zong Fengming’s book of conversations with Zhao Ziyang Link starts of with a few favorite Chinese history counterfactuals, like what would have happened to Lu Xun if he had lived past 1949, and then gets on to Zhao, who has also been a subject for these types of games. Link shows that during his years of house arrest Zhao did a lot of reading and came to the conclusion that China needed more democracy, more rule of law and less nationalism. He also concludes that Zhao would have probably had very little effect even if he had held on to power in 1989 and if his thinking had evolved in the same way. The real power was always with Deng Xiaoping and to a lesser extent Chen Yun. Still, lots of people in China like to imagine something that might have been better.


First, kill all the Legalists

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:21 am

Sam at Useless Tree draws our attention to a really interesting website called 新法家(in English the New Legalist) I’m not quite sure who these people are, but the website is out of Beijing and quite impressive. Sam does not much care for them, seeing them as “nationalists who are appropriating ancient Legalist texts, together with some Taoist volumes, to fashion a neo-traditionalist legitimation for a contemporary Chinese assertion of power globally” That sounds about right to me.

Sam is much bothered by their attempts to tie together Legalism and Daoism, but to me it just sounds like Huang-Lao stuff, as there were lots of links between Legalism and Daoism right from the start. I am also not that surprised to find people looking back to the Legalists themselves, as this was a big item in the early 20th century as people began going through the Chinese tradition looking for the genealogy of a modern nation in the Chinese past. The New Legalists may seem weird, but they have a long way to go before they can match up with Kang Youwei.

Of course these people are looking into the past to find something different than the Chinese thinkers of a century ago. They are finding environmentalism and anti-globalization ideas, along with lots of occasions for nationalist chest-thumping. As Sam points out it is pretty bizarre to see Han Fei as a Green. Still they do seem to be drawing on a pretty wide range of classical thought. According to their mission statement

The Chinese people have built up a unique and comprehensive thought system covering medicine, economics and politics. This system aims at a dynamic balance between different parts of the human body, between different groupings of people within a society, and between human society and nature. All its subsystems follow the principle of “guiding changes towards balance” (from The Yellow Emperor’s Four Cannon ) economically, arranging production and consumption in accord with the change of seasons and with nature’s productive capabilities at the time; and politically, allocating limited resources among people according to their respective contributions to the society1

This actually does sound bit like a lot of the Warring States-Han stuff you would find in Mark Edward Lewis’s work. For me the most interesting part is the twisted Marx quote at the end. A lot of the site has an anti-capitalist feel, or at least a feel that China is best off if it does not totally adapt American culture. Part it seems to be vaguely Maoist egalitarianism and concern for the workers, “end capital’s hegemony in the name of liberty” and part of it an even more vague utopianism that owes something to Mao and also a lot various bits of traditional Chinese thought.

  1. 中国人还在这一伟大哲学的基础上建立起了独特的医学、政治、经济体系——她追求人体内部、社会与自然、社会内部各阶层之间 的动态平衡,她的医学、政治、经济都按“应化之道、平衡而止”(《黄帝四经·道法》)的原则构建——经济上,她按照自然时序与产出能力进行生产和消费;政 治上,她按一个人对社会贡献的大小对有限的资源进行配置 []


Why is Obama winning?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 4:09 pm

There are few things I enjoy more than following American elections in the Chinese press. Zaobao (from Singapore) had something recently on Obama and why he is doing so well. Like many foreigners I think they were mystified by this unknown becoming known, but they put some thought into it. They rejected the Clinton camp’s suggestion that his success is entirely attributable to his 花言 (flowery words). After all, many prominent officials and movie stars are supporting him. I get the impression that they think American voters are sheep (which I might be inclined to agree with) but that they also think that American elites are significantly harder to fool (which I really doubt, but then I’m an American not a Confucian). They do point out that as a young man Obama can deal with the grind of the campaign trail, and that he has been successful in raising small amounts of money from lots of people. The one I found most interesting is that they claim that people are worried about American becoming a banana republic if we end up with a Clinton to follow a Bush who followed a Clinton who followed a Bush. I have heard Americans mention that, but I doubt many Democratic primary voters will switch to McCain on that basis. I guess from an Asian perspective that problem jumps out at you more. It’s a nice piece that explains things pretty well. As much as I find some of their thinking odd I wish the American press ran articles on foreign elections that were half as informative.

Strawberry Cake

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 3:48 pm

One of my students is doing an honors thesis on kissing. Specifically she is looking at a series of articles from Ling Long that explain what kissing is and why Shanghai women of the 1930’s should be doing more of it if they want to be modern women. One of the interesting things about Ling Long is that there are lots of pictures of scantily clad women (usually foreigners) in it. She suggests that the pictures (like the text of most of the issues) was intended to present modern, western ideas about sexuality and the role of women to Chinese people in a way that was both intimate and at the same time foreign enough to not be threatening. Thus foreign movie stars were great subjects.

It is an interesting thesis1 in part because it is interesting and in part because I think it offers an insight that helps us to understand some aspects the modern Chinese press. Even fairly serious Chinese papers tend to have a lot of cheesecake shots (almost always women. sorry) like this set of photos of Jessica Alba2 Part of it is just the idea that this will sell papers, but I find the text fascinating, as they seem to be dressing it up as something that will help us (Chinese readers) to understand the West. Here is the caption

中国日报网环球在线消息:Jessica Alba在出演电影《甜心辣舞》中,用热辣的舞姿,加上漂亮的脸蛋,赢取了“美国甜心”的称号。一组Jessica Alba的内衣泳装照,甜蜜诱人好似草莓蛋糕,解释了秀色可餐一词。

An overly literal translation might be: Jessica Alba in the film Honey? used her hot and spicy dancing and  and a beautiful face to win the title of “America’s Sweetheart”3 In this set of photos of Jessica Alba in her underwear and swimwear she is as sweet and tempting as a strawberry cake, looking both sexy and tasty?

Very weird, in part because it is always hard to really translate some types of language, but also because the ‘serious’ American press does not dress up its pictures of movie stars this way. But as long as it helps you to understand Americans I guess it is o.k.

  1. Which she explains much better than this []
  2. No, I have not done a comparative study of the frequency of scantily clad women in the Western and Chinese press []
  3. This is the hook for the ‘story’ and it seems quite wrong []



Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 4:30 pm

早报有好奇怪的文件关于中国得婚姻制度。 作者 叶鹏飞谈到中国的离婚率上升。在一部分时一个建立在史学研究基础上的观点。 他说道国外婚姻制度的改变,特别斯泰芬尼·库茨(Stephanie Coontz) 的书。对我来说这是很有意思,因为在美国的报纸如果有一事可以说有”永恒精神“就是我们的婚姻制度。

但是,他也说道中国文化的最基本的特色。一个 是余英时的“一生为故国招魂”,和“回家过年”的文化精神。


有一部分”日本人論 “的味道。在国外他可以分析历史变成,但在国内(或者文化内)他要识别中华的永恒精神。最有意思是他的文化特点是回家过年。美国的文化是一样。以前我们没有火鸡节,但是在二十世纪我们越来越多“在冰天雪地中艰难跋涉,坚持回家 ”. 是非常现代的文化传统


Great Moments in International Journalism

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:47 pm

Philip J. Cunningham at Informed Comment Global Affairs has a great post about Chinese State TV and their Dialogue commentary program. I’m just going to excerpt the funny and historical bit below the fold, but the rest of the discussion, hopeful and realistic, is quite worthwhile. The focus is actually on the collaboration/mutual exploitation relationship between CCTV and Japan’s NHK.

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