井底之蛙

2/24/2014

China’s Museums

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:57 am Print

I have been reading China’s Museums, part of the Cambridge University Press series Introductions to Chinese Culture. I am finding the table of contents particularly interesting,1 as it reflects on how you categorize things. The authors, Li Xianyao and Luo Zhewen, are both major figures in the museum world, so the book gives you a reasonably up-to date2 official view of China’s 5,000 years of history and what matters in it.

It is interesting to try and figure out why things were included in what category and why they are there at all. The first category is Chinese Treasures, which starts with the Palace Museum in Beijing, but follows that with the Palace Museum in Taipei (and they call it Taipei) as well as the Shaanxi History Museum, (birthplace of Chinese culture). The Shanghai Museum is included because of “The scope, depth and quality of its collection, and its striking architecture and use of modern technology” I’m guessing that Liaoning Provincial3 is included because of the Qing stuff they have. Something good on China’s last Emperors, and thus emperors in general, is worth including. Three Gorges in Chongqing has a “glass dome [that] resembles a huge magnifying glass, reminding us to pass on the inheritance we have received from our forebears to the next generation, to use culture to nourish the earth.” So I am guessing that some combination of quality of your collection, excellence of your presentation, and importance of what you do in the narrative of Chinese history will get your museum in this book.

The second section, is, of course, The Contribution of China’s Ethnic Minorities. Eventually we get to Huaxia civilization, and these two reflect the problems of defining China. This is particularly acute for museums, since it is easier for them to slip into Han chauvinism. If all of China’s 56 nationalities are part of the great tapestry of Chinese civilization, then why is almost everything in the book Han, other than a single section on minorities?

They get around this a bit, with their definition of Huaxia 華夏, a sort of cosmic Han category that includes everything.

The term huaxia, however, is broader in meaning that “China” It indicates more of a cultural space than a geographic designation, and also implies a historical lineage. Xia is the name of the first-known dynasty of what later came to be “China.” dating to some three millennia ago.  The term hua includes both overseas Chinese as well as non-ethnic Chinese under the overarching umbrella of what today is known as China. Cultural aspects of huaxia, such as silk, tea, ceramics and Chinese medicine, have all made great contributions to mankind.

Some of the rest of the book is trying to categorize the stuff you are stuck with. Not many other countries would have a category on Treasures of China’s Grottoes, but when you have Dunhuang and Yungang and Longmen in your cultural past you probably should. Should we include archeological sites? Well, if we don’t Peking Man and Banpo will be left out, so I would guess we should.

One thing I noticed was that there is very little modern history here. Once upon a time Chinese history was revolutionary history, the story of how the Chinese people rose up and destroyed the old feudal society. There is very little of that story here.  No sites associated with Sun Yat-sen or even Mao Zedong, and little reference to the modern period at all.4 You can see this most clearly in the discussion of the National Museum of China5 The Museum has an area of 192,000 square meters, but only 2,000 square meters are dedicated to the Road to Resurgence and China’s modern history.

 

 

  1. Why, yes, I am a load of fun at parties. Why do you ask? []
  2. This seems to be the same book that was published in 2004 by China Intercontinental Press, so I’m not sure when the text was written []
  3. Which I have not been to []
  4. Zigong Salt Industry Museum does manage to slip into Natural History. []
  5. There is a great dissertation in how the China Revolutionary Museum and the China History Museum merged to form this. []

2/13/2014

History and tourism in China

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:28 pm Print

China File has been following the attempts of the town of Bishan  to make itself into a tourist destination. Tourism is a rapidly growing industry in China, and lots of localities are trying to find ways to draw in the crowds. Bishan is in the Huizhou region of Anhui, which was a very prosperous region in the Qing. Some of the other towns in the area have parlayed their local architecture into UNESCO World Heritage site status and big tourist money. In fact, beyond just tourists coming in, Huizhou architecture is being appropriated by shipped out, both by cultural institutions with impeccable pedigrees like the Peabody Essex Museum and by tacky zillionaires like Jackie Chan. Bishan is a little different. They don’t have much of the classic Huizhou architecture, and have been sort of left behind.  The attempt to draw in people is headed by the Wangs, the long-time leading family of the district. While private museums and preservation efforts are not unknown in China the state usually takes the lead, and the interpretation of the site, if any, is usually up to them.  For the Wangs, rebuilding ancestral halls and re-creating genealogies has its own value outside cash, so this is a very local, grass-roots sort of project. The thing that makes it really interesting to me is the clientele they are aiming at. Below is a picture of one the inns that have been built in the town (this one in an old rapeseed oil factory) to “cater to an international clientele who eschew the region’s more popular modes of tourism”

Historical Value_ A Chinese Town Appraises Its Past _ ChinaFileI find this interesting because I am always struck by the different versions of China different tourists get to see. I’m usually particularly aware of this since I prefer going on the Chinese tours since they are cheaper and are more likely to include places connected with bits of Chinese history most foreigners have never heard of. Chinese tourists are also more likely to ask interesting questions like “what happened to all the villagers who lived here before you built this historic site?”((See that guy emptying a trash can? That’s where.)) Of course they also spit melon seeds everywhere, so you can see why foreigners would not want to be near them.

It’s pretty obvious from the photo essay that China is starting to develop different tourist trails for different customers, and they will go to different places, be told different things, read different things and see different things even when they are seeing the same things. In the picture there is some beautiful old Chinese writing which might be taken differently by Chinese and foreigners, since if you don’t know Chinese and nobody bothers to explain it you might think these are imperial inscriptions or something.1

It’s not just foreigners who want a different tourist experience of course. Rich and poor Chinese are bifurcating  more and more. Here is a picture I took while visiting the historic town of Pingyao   P2 Ok, Chinese people selling vegetables in the street. Big deal. Why would a middle-aged China hand like me waste film on that?

IMG_2157Ok, a customer on a bike. I really did not get enough pictures of daily life in bicycle China back in the day, maybe I wanted to capture that? (more…)

  1. the top one is THE PEOPLE’S COMMUNES ARE GOOD []

1/16/2014

Underage drinking in Southeast Asia

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:05 am Print

Apparently the Mint Museum of Toys in Singapore is worth seeing. Although I have not been, it seems that they currently have an exhibit up on “Guinness by the decades.” This should not seem too odd. The Guinness folk have a long history of humorous ads that might appeal to kids.

MyGoodnessMyGuinness-Ostrich

The Guinness Book of World Records was an important part of youth culture when I was a wee nipper, since we often had to settle important arguments and needed a source of authority that knew more interesting facts than our parents did.1

Guinness also seems to have been in Southeast Asia for a long time, adopting its brand to the local culture. From the exhibit

SAMSUNG CSC

I wonder how well the whole ‘Guinness for strength’ thing fit in with Chinese ideas about medicine and food. Here is a more modern place mat, which is on my office door

Mulan2

Mulan is trying to convince the other soldiers that she is indeed a man by drinking 11 pints of stout. Just 3 more and she can go surfing!

So not surprisingly there is all sorts of Guinness swag spread all over Southeast Asia

GuinnessbytheDecadesPhoto_zps32cbecee

I don’t know how well the exhibit does with the way Guinness, a brand sometimes associated with Ireland, was acculturated into Southeast Asia, but I will be charitable and assume they did a great job with it.

When will this interesting exhibit come to our Children s Museum here in Pittsburgh? When hell freezes over, of course. In the U.S. any suggestion that childhood could happen in the same places alcohol exists is unthinkable. It may take a village to raise a child, but that village better not have a pub in it. Apparently in Singapore kids are part of the general society, rather than a special Disney version.

  1. Our debates did not take place in pubs, and I don’t think any of us associated the book with the brew, or even knew it existed. []

1/6/2014

The pure land of Tibet and the lothesome Han Chinese

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:05 am Print

Washington Monthly has an article up on Chinese tourism in Tibet. It is by Pearl Sydenstricker, who is a western (I assume) reporter who does not want to use their real name “in order to protect sources in China and Tibet.” That strikes me as a good idea, since the Chinese government tends not to like criticism.1 While I agree with a lot of what the article is saying, I found most of it deeply annoying. The general thrust of the article is that Chinese tourism is destroying Tibetan culture “Rather than threatening Tibetan monks with army troops, the government is smothering them with throngs of pushy tourists.” Han Chinese tourists have overrun Tibet, taking pictures inside temples, gawking at sacred rituals, and making a mockery of a culture. One could, of course, replace the words Han and Tibet here with American or German or Japanese and …well, anywhere really. I bet this is an old story with some interesting modern and Tibet-specific twists, but you won’t find that here.

Yes, Chinese tourists are flocking to Tibet, just like they are flocking to Shaoshan and Pyongyang and Paris. Yes, China is an imperial power in Tibet, and the Beijing government treats Tibetans even worse than it treats Han. Yes, lots of Han have deeply condescending attitudes towards the minority nationalities. On the other hand, the whole point of sending someone who knows Chinese (but apparently not Tibetan) to write an article is to get beyond lazy stereotypes.

The article opens with Chinese tourists witnessing a sky burial. How vile.2 It appears, however, that at least one monastery was o.k. with that. Was it just the money? Were they thinking that this would help win converts? There are lots of motives for letting people look at your culture beyond fear of getting shot, but the Tibetans are just as much cardboard cutouts here as the Han. While I doubt that Tibetans are raking in as much of the tourist cash as they would like they are getting some, and a lot of them want it, and the effect would really be no different if the tourist money came from culturally understanding American and Danish tourists rather than those loud Han with their IPhones. Cultural contact is a complex issue, and spitting on the Han does not really advance our understanding much. One of her informants is a Han Chinese.

a twenty-six-year-old Han Chinese backpacker from the coastal provincial capital city of Jinan, who goes by the English name of Sarah. I said that Lhasa feels uptight. “Oh—you mean the military and police?” She laughed and then told me, as if explaining a very simple idea to a child, “We feel very relaxed here. It’s a very safe city. If we feel cheated by a vendor, we can call a hotline and they tend to be on our side.” Sarah wore a pink scarf with Tibetan designs; prayer beards encircled both of her wrists. “I’m a Buddhist,” she said proudly. “It’s in the heart.”

She explained the military presence: “Have you heard of Tibetan independence? People wanted to split the country and oppose the unification of the motherland. We really didn’t like that.” During her weeklong trip to Tibet, Sarah stayed in a Han-run hostel and ate Chinese food for all but two of her meals.

Sarah seems a little less self-aware than might be nice. So does Pearl. I have never actually had a ditzy Chinese female (they have to be female for examples like this) explain how she loved Tibetan Buddhism while having no understanding of her own status as part of an empire. I have seen lots of Americans like that though. The title of the piece is the Disneyficaiton of Tibet. If Americans can’t see themselves in the word “Disneyficaiton” they really need …something. My point is not that the article would be saved with a little “other people do it too” but that the whole frame is built around Tibetans as people who exist only for the better sort of Americans to lament their passing at the hands of the evil Han or (in Mexico) busloads of Americans who work at Wal-Mart.

The Han Chinese may leave melon seeds everywhere, but when they say the Tibetans are poor because they are lazy they are least do them the courtesy of thinking some Tibetans might like cars and money and modern medicine. Very few Chinese are likely to see Third World poverty as colourful the way so many Americans do. At least none of the Chinese analogize Tibetans directly to yaks like Pearl does. Is the Tibetan case different from the other cases of traditional cultures disappearing around the world, as capitalism changes everything and the young people leave for the big city? I would also like Pearl to give us a bit of Chinese context. Is the tourist-industrial complex growing quicker in Tibet than elsewhere in China? There is a massive growth in tourism all over China, and many of the same issues about access, preservation and tacky tourists present themselves there. I don’t doubt that police and paramilitary types are everywhere in Lhasa. Are they more common and more annoying then they are everywhere else in China? I would guess so, but no way to tell from this. Maybe someone should send a reporter to find out. For now all readers of Washington Monthly will get on this topic is some Han-bashing.

Pearl is fighting the good fight here, but this article is really not very helpful.  I would be interested in knowing what she thinks of the reaction to the article. As you might expect, the comments are less then edifying.

This is so sickening – Chinese people are a disgrace. It is the lowest of all “civilizations” on earth.

Does Pearl agree with this? I would guess not, but when you write stuff that fits in with crude anti-Chinese stereotypes you will find yourself with a lot of unpleasant bedfellows.

 

  1. Although my guess would be that Pearl’s access to China is more threatened by this piece than any Chinese or Tibetan acquaintances. []
  2. The tourists, not the custom. The custom is traditional. []

11/7/2013

China in Cartoons II

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:42 am Print

The second volume of Understanding China Through Comics is out.1 I ‘reviewed‘ the first volume and concluded that Jing Liu is no Larry Gonick, but it’s not bad. My short review of the new volume is that he is still no Larry Gonick, but this volume is even better than the first one, and you should certainly buy it.

The art has many of the same problems as the first volume, but is better in general. There are still too many places where what is going on in the story is not represented graphically. So, the struggle between Shu, Wu and Wei is represented, in part, by three guys getting ready to fight on a map.

Wu-Strategy

Obviously a lot of history is hard to represent well in pictures, but that’s the whole point of being a cartoonist, that you are better at this then we are. Although there are some clunkers in here there are also some quite serviceable bits, like this one on corruption.

Corruption

A better one on the Three Kingdoms, showing backstabbing and armies being destroyed

Shu

And even some quite good ones, like this on street fighting in Chang-an, which looks like it might have been inspired by a WWII movie but at least gives you a nice feeling of tension.

Fighting

(more…)

  1. Been out for a while, actually []

10/20/2013

Xi’an Walls

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:52 am Print

The city of Xi’an is in the process of re-building the city wall and adding four new museums, one each for the Zhou, Qin, Han and Tang dynasties. I was not surprised by the museums. Xi’an has a lot of history, and they have pretty obviously been trying to preserve/cash in on it for years. I did wonder a bit about the walls, since last time I was there they looked fine. What is going to happen with them? According to Xinhua

The rebuilding work will not damage any of the walls’ relics. “Experts will monitor the whole process of the rebuilding project,” said Yao Lijun, deputy director of the city’s ancient walls management committee.

This makes me wonder who this Yao Lijun is, and how much he knows about historic preservation. Anyone can slap on some new bricks, but are they re-building the Ming version of the wall? Might it not be better to leave parts of it as is? What will they do with the bomb shelters that were dug into the wall during the War of Resistance? Any physical object has changed a lot over time, and to “restore” it you need to figure out not only the technical details of restoration, but which of the several versions you want to restore.1

A colleague recently asked me to suggest some names of public historians in China for a joint U.S.-China project. I was completely stumped, and I am pretty sure it is as much the state of history in China as my ignorance of what Chinese scholars are up to that is responsible.

First, for the benefit of our non-U.S. readers, what is Public History?  A quick definition might be that it is a field that has grown up in the U.S. since the 1970′s and includes all the people who are professional historians but not teaching at a university. Archivists, museum people, historic preservationists, monument builders, oral history folk, they are all Public Historians, and increasingly they need a degree it Public History to do this.2 I have blogged quite a bit about Public History in China, but I thought it might be worth thinking a bit more about it.

I think the rise of public history is an altogether good trend. Historians today (the teaching and monograph-writing tribe) are more and more interested in artifacts, visual images, how the public understands the past etc. but we are mostly winging it. How do you “read” a popular print, or restore a building to its ‘original’ form? What does it mean to declare someplace a historic site, and what should you do after you declare it? If the point of public history is to teach someone something, who is supposed be learning and how does that work? Most of us have no clue unless we have talked to and studied with some Public Historians.

This is particularly important for China, as so many Chinese places (mostly cities) are trying to ‘restore’ old sites and explain what they mean, both as a way of attracting tourists and as a way of establishing their importance in China’s 5000 years of history. (See here here and here.)

There are a few of major differences I can see between the U.S and Chinese traditions of public history.

-What to memorialize and who gets to do it? Both in China and in the U.S there are both public and private museums, although the governments (central and federal, state and provincial) dominate the action. Everywhere in the world what counts as a historic site is part of what a society (and a government) decide needs to be remembered. China has been less successful than some other places in historicizing some parts of the past. Thus there is a New York Tenement Museum but very little in China dealing with the Cultural Revolution. In part this is because the Chinese state feels the need to avoid certain topics. China’s central government seems to favor a public history that either connects to China’s glorious 5,000 years of history (ideally as sanctioned by a UNESCO world heritage site designation) or things that will lead to an appropriate form of patriotism. Things that don’t fit get left out, and you are not sure what to say about the rest. What sort of plaque do you put on the Great Wall once you decide that was built not to keep out evil foreigners but to divide some of China’s 57 harmonious nationalities from each other? This is the same sort of problem Americans face with sites like the Little Bighorn. American academic historians sometimes complain that they are marginalized in the process of making public history, but I think they have more influence than historians in China.

-A very different public face. One aspect of public history is that there are no captive audiences off campus. Thus if you build some sort of historic thing you have to find ways to attract people to it. In China a lot of these places seem more commercial than they would be in the U.S. This is not actually entirely bad. I don’t think that something that people like and enjoy is by definition non-scholarly, nor is there any harm in things that are just fun. Everywhere in the world historic sites have to struggle with how to put bums in seats without Disnifying too much. This is still in its infancy in China One example of this are the dressed up people. In the U.S they might be called interpreters or docents or living history. They dress up in costume and explain what the site would have meant to people at the time. The basic idea is to trick people into learning something about history. At times they can reach a pretty high level of both performance and commentary on the meaning of American History in the present. Ask A Slave is a interesting example, where a woman (with a performing arts degree) uses her experience as a living history slave at Mount Vernon to discuss America, race, and history. I can’t imagine any of the people who work at a site like this in China doing a website like Ask A Slave. In China you are more likely to get minimum wage workers dressed up in vaguely period costumes. At best you get drama. When I took my daughter to the historic city of Pingyao there was a dramatic performance that roamed through the city and you could watch various parts of the story of the magistrate investigating a wronged widow and …something.

PingyaoDrama1It was plenty of fun, but I’m not sure what anyone learned from it. While we are at it, the general quality of guides and interpreters at Chinese sites is often pretty poor. Lots of dates, figures (the pagoda contains over 100.000 bricks!) and not much interpretation. Likewise the texts that go along with various sites and buildings are often pretty poor. Again my point here is not just to be an annoying foreigner but to point out that the face of public history has made enormous strides in the U.S and Europe over the last decades, and that China still has a ways to go.

-Ideas about re-construction. I have talked about this before, but basically in China there is much more of a tradition of totally re-building sites (sometimes with a few bits of old-timey stuff tacked on after) rather than what elsewhere would be called careful historical reconstruction.

Still there are many parts of what is called Public History in China that are well-established. There is a lot to work with here.

-Oral History This is well-established in China, going back to the Maoist period, although it seems less popular now.

-Archives Very well established. There are lots of archivist, they have their own publications and everything. Admittedly they do not always function the way they do elsewhere. I remember going to one Chinese archive and being greeted with huge calligraphy scroll that urged the archivists to 保护档案(Protect the Archives) Protect them from what? It turned out to be protecting them from having anyone look at the documents. Still there is an archival community

-Collectors, connoisseurs and physical culture types. While academic historians may sometimes make fun of antiquarians, public historians can get a lot from building restorers, antique collectors and such. Antique collecting was one of the proper obsessions for a gentleman in the Late Imperial period, and there was an one time quite a culture of connoisseurship in China. More modern events, especially the Cultural Revolution, did not help this culture, but it is certainly back now. The Wuhan museum of the 1911 revolution collected a lot of artifacts from this type of people. In Jiangsu Qin Tongqian is trying to build an entire hotel out of architectural elements he has saved from buildings all over China. China does not yet have the hordes of Taiping Rebellion reenactors, military history buffs and blue-haired county historical society ladies it deserves, but one would guess they are coming.

-Popular interest and state support Here I am a bit at sea. While Americans and their governments and their rich people are interested in history it is mostly U.S. History. I assume that some of this influence is good, and some bad, but I can’t really assess how much of each, as there is a pretty minimal interest in Chinese history in the U.S. Regardless, the Chinese public and state are really into Chinese history. If you want state funding or public attention for Chinese history China is the place to go, so there is a real potential to create something here.

Well, this post keeps growing, and at this point I think I need to either delete it, put another month of thinking into it, or just post it as is.

Update

Apparently some people in China are unhappy with a temple restoration that turned this

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into this

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  1. When Troy was dug up they actually dug through the Trojan War Troy because they were not interested in the history of the site, just finding the one “real” Troy and they got it wrong.  (not sure where I remember this from) []
  2. Popular history really should be linked to this too, but I am going to leave it out for now. []

10/11/2013

1911 in 2013

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:44 am Print

I was going to do a post on how the Chinese world is remembering 1911, the overthrow of the Qing, and founding of the Chinese Republic. The answer seems to be that there is not much up. A couple years ago, for the 100th anniversary there were quite a few publications. This year the big story seems to be that very few people are visiting the museum of the revolution in Canton, although private collectors are donating artifacts to the museum of the Revolution in Wuhan Taipei does not seem to be up to much, although Ma Ying-jeou did use the occasion to call for closer cross-straits ties, but the general coverage is pretty downbeat. The mainland seems to be continuing its tradition of not paying much attention to the occasion. The Santa Fe Opera is doing an opera on Sun’s life which, from the description, sounds like it is not very historical.

8/8/2013

Chinese youth defending their rights

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:24 am Print

My historical methods course for the Fall will be looking at the Boxers, and I have been reading Jane Elliott’s book on the Boxers.1 It’s a really interesting book, which among other things collects a lot of pictures and cartoons of the Boxers that I had never seen before.

The standard Western image of the Boxers eventually became that they were a gang of colourful, superstitious primitives (just like all non-White people) who had to be put down by the civilized, orderly forces of the West for the good of Civilization and China itself. ((The main book in the class in Cohen’s History in Three Keys, which deals with some of this myth-making and above all how Chinese dealt with this relationship between “Boxerism” Chinese-ness and Anti-foreignism.)) You can see this narrative in the picture below, which is identified as U.S. Marine Corps art, and which I remember from my High School history textbook.2

boxer-rebellion

One of the things that makes Elliot’s book so interesting is that she shows how a less stereotyped narrative was present right from the beginning. She argues that the Qing imperial troops actually did quite well against the foreigners. This makes the Late Qing reforms look better, which fits in with a lot of recent scholarship. She also shows a number of contemporary images, produced for commercial sale in the West, that make the Chinese look more modern, manly, and soldier-like than the standard narrative would suggest.

Chinese Boxers-RightsThis is Ben W. Killburn “Chinese Boys Defending Their Rights”, sold to the American public in 1900

Boxers2Here is “Firing a Volley from the Shelter of a Bank — Chinese Soldiers at Tien-tsin, China” These guys could almost be the Marines in the first picture.

All these photos of Chinese soldiers as modern people were taken by Americans, or are in American collections, and she argues that the Americans had a much more developed tradition of war photography at this point than anyone else, and that they were less likely to want to see Chinese as something out of The Mikkado than the British. This is something I think I will try to do something with in class, as I am often amazed at how totally dead the old American Anti-imperialist tradition is.

  1. Elliott, Jane E. Some Did It for Civilisation, Some Did It for Their Country: a Revised View of the Boxer War. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2002. []
  2. This picture is not in Elliot, but she does have a lot like it. []

6/30/2013

Pigs in the News and In Wikipedia: Or, Lipstick on a Frog

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

Vladimir Putin is on a roll. He has been having a fine time poking the US in the eye over the Edward Snowden kerfuffle,  but at a news conference he declined to comment: “In any case, I’d rather not deal with such questions, because anyway it’s like shearing a pig – lots of screams but little wool.”

That reminded me that it’s been too long since we talked about pigs. Just because we’re Frog in a Well doesn’t mean that we can only talk about frogs – in fact, pigs are our, well… bread and butter. I will modestly call attention to my piece, “Pigs, Shit, and Chinese History, or, Happy Year of the Pig!” Frog In a Well  (January 27 2007). You can find several more by clicking the “Pigs” link on the right hand column of this page.

Putin seems to be using one of the many, many colorful pig sayings. My father, who grew up on a farm, had a bunch of them, mostly unprintable. Wikipedia is good at accumulating this sort of thing. A succession of people edited the article “Lipstick on a Pig,”  which gives examples of usage going back decades, but the Wikipedia article  “Pig in a Poke” is even better. Many languages have a rough equivalent. It turns out that in  Latvia you say “Buy a cat in a sack.” Who knew? Wikipedia “Pigs in Popular Culture” has an extensive section of pig-related idioms.

Right. But what about China?

Wikipedia has many faults. It is a great grab bag, not an encyclopedia. But, as the computer software people like to say, “that’s not a bug, it’s a feature.” China and pigs is a good example. If you want to have some idiotic fun, go to Wikipedia, any page, and in the upper right hand corner you will find a “Search” box. Enter “~Pigs + China” (without the quotation marks). The tilde (~) means that you don’t want articles with this word in the title, but all  Wikipedia pages with the following words in it.

Amazing. I got 7,259 hits. Of course, this includes duplicates, off the wall irrelevances, rock songs, and pig iron, but also a fascinating variety of things you would not have thought to look up: “Coprophagia”, Dutch Pacification Campaign on Formosa,” as well as straightforward finds such as “Science and technology of the Song Dynasty.“And that’s less than a dozen of the hits, leaving more than 7,000 to go.

This search, random though it may be, is a dramatic way to see the central role that pigs played in Chinese history.

And oh, young people today just don’t know the classics — the Muppets’ “Pigs in Space.” Vladimir Putin’s soft power sneers can’t compare. YouTube has tons of them: Pigs in Space at YouTube.

 

 

5/26/2013

Nationalism sucks

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:40 pm Print

A very sad post from the Economist on the problem of the zodiac heads. Basically, a wealthy Frenchman has agreed to donate two of the bronze heads stolen from the Summer Palace in 1860 back to ‘China’. What I find most depressing is the use of the Summer Palace as a symbol of foreign oppression of the Chinese. Yes, the torching of the Summer Palace was a crime against China, History, and Art, but the place itself is one of the greatest symbols of cultural borrowing and fusion you could imagine. Built by Qing emperors (who were not Han), designed by Jesuits (who by definition identified with no nation), it is also the  perfect place to be all Chinese and write poems about the ruins of the old capital, like Chinese poets used to write about Loyang.  The piece points out that  the site is being used to teach Chinese schoolchildren to hate the Other, which is really very depressing.

 

P.S. Don’t read the comments.

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