井底之蛙

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 []

11/10/2013

City of big shoulders

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:40 am Print

So I spent some time at the library going through 圖畫日報 Although it is not a paper that lasted long (1909-1910) there is lots of cool stuff here connected to the it’s mission of exposing China to the world.

World

 

One thing that leaped out at me was the picture of Chicago. It’s part of an occasional series on famous places overseas.

chicago

Chicago is a city of skyscrapers, the ideal city ” built of  clouds.” (白雲砌成) including the 21 story 商務總會, (commercial association building, maybe the Chicago Stock exchange?) a 13 story 婦奴節用會 (Women’s holiday meeting place? Could this be Marshall Fields?) and an 11-story 大妓院 (da ji yuan) with 600 rooms. 大妓院 would, I think, mean a brothel. I’m guessing that this is a reference to Palmer House or one of the other big downtown hotels which were, as we all know, the haunts of  “adventuresses” in accounts of the city of sin.

adventureess

Since I heard about Chicago as the first city of skyscrapers while growing up in Chicagoland I found this interesting. The illustration is clearly not taken from pictures of the city, but it is also different from the generic pictures of foreign cities you get at this point. It is sort of a occidentalist picture. Chinoiserie seems to involve pulling apart elements of Chinese design and gluing them back together in ways that would look really odd to a Chinese person (compare your standard “westerner trying to do fake calligraphy” to Book From the Sky) and the same thing seems to be going on in this picture.

 

10/1/2013

Why go to college?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 4:32 am Print

Tea Leaf Nation has a post up on a micro-trend of Chinese kids not going to college, or at least one parent not being willing to pay for it, on the grounds that “Today, even peddlers who collect garbage…make more money than many graduates.” This is also something of a trend in the U.S., where some rich people also think that college may be a waste of time.

College is of course not a universal of all human societies. Even in America lots of people have happy, productive lives without ever going there. Most of the Americans saying that you should not go to college seem to be among the 1% who are extremely wealthy, and for them there is a point in not going. Why beat your brains out getting a degree if all it gets you is a shot at a $100,000 a year job? Great, that will keep you in toilet paper, but as a child of privilege why bother?1 College used to be one of the tickets to the middle class, but as the U.S. abandons the model of the universal middle class society college attainment may shrink. A lot. If the only life choices are Wal-mart greeter vs. Wal-mart greeter with college debt, OR idle rich vs. idle rich who used to write term papers and shared a bathroom why go to college?

China is trying to create a universal middle class society 小康,2 but college there has, until recently, been something to mark out an elite, not define a middle class. As Tea Leaf Nation points out, Chinese colleges have been expanding exponentially in recent years, and there is no way that you can fully maintain standards which that much expansion. Nor does just going to college make you a member of an elite nowadays, as much as the hordes of entrance-exam takers may hope it will.

In the last years of the Qing, when Western-style education was expanding far more rapidly than you could find qualified teachers, everybody who could get it wanted a degree, since it marked you as a member of an elite, even if you had not learned much. By the 1920′s the figure of the semi-employed college grad became more common. Just having been to college no longer guaranteed a job or elite status.

I suspect China is going through a similar transition now. The Chengdu dad in the TLN story may well be right about college. If Dad has pulled in enough cash to be one of China’s new rich,and the kid did not get into Beida or Oxford, (which would give her elite status) what exactly does she need to go to college for? You can start your own business or get on the corporate ladder in China without a degree, so it is not an entry ticket for the middle class. It’s not as subsidized by the state as it used to be either. You can spend some serious money on college. If your career goal is to or schmooze your Daddy’s rich friends, China does not have a proper set of ‘playground for rich kids’ schools as of yet.

Jimmy Stewart, the famous actor, grew up in the town my college is in. He went to Princeton, which was a school for the wealthy, or like him the well-off. My school was here then, but it was called a Normal school because it was intended to educate teachers, one of the few classes of people besides rich kids who were felt to need to go to college. The vast middle range of modern American higher ed did not exist then, and I suspect the U.S. is moving back towards that model. In China the process of sorting out universities into different categories is a lot less advanced, but I suspect the trend will continue (it did in the 1930′s) They even have a bit of anti-intellectualism, Red in the Chinese case rather than Red, White and Blue, to push the trend along.

 

  1. Yes, beer and sex, but what else? []
  2. They apparently don’t realize that public education and free health care will lead to ..Socialism! []

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. []

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.

10/18/2012

Thurify yourself

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:49 pm Print

One of the things we have read for the May Fourth class I am teaching is Liang Qichao’s On the Relationship between Fiction and the Government of the People (論小說與羣治的關係)1  It is a good reading if you want to explain to students why May 4thers cared so much about literature, and also why everyone should care about literature.

As a good Confucian Liang of course sees no need to explain that literature can have a transformative effect on someone’s mind and morals, or that this can be connected to the stability of the state. Claiming that fiction (rather than, say, poetry) can do this will take more proving for his audience.

He claims that people enjoy fiction, of course, and it is easy to get them to read it. Besides being enjoyable, it lets us experience things outside our own lives.

..human nature is such that it is often discontented with the world. The world with which we are in physical contact is spatially limited. Thus, apart from direct physical or perceptual contact with reality, we also often desire to touch and perceive things indirectly; this is the life beyond one’s life, the world beyond one’s world. This sort of vision is inherent in both the sharp and the dullwitted. And nothing can transcend the power of fiction in molding the human into more intelligent or duller beings.  Thus, fiction often leads us to a different world and transforms the atmosphere with which we are in constant contact.

It was through fiction that the May Fourthers met Nora Helmer, and Young Werther and it is nice to have Liang make this point for me. Fiction goes beyond this to have various powers to transform the individual.

The first power is called thurification. It is like entering a cloud of smoke and being thurified by it, or like touching ink or vermillion and being tinted by it. As mentioned in the Lanikavatara Sutra, the transformation of deluded knowledge to relative consciousness and of relative consciousness to absolute knowledge relies on this kind of power. When reading a novel, one’s perception, thinking, and sensitivity are unconsciously affected and conditioned by it. Gradually, changing day by day, it makes its effect felt. And although the effect is momentary, alternating interruptions and continuations, over the course of a long period of time the world of the novel enters the mind of the reader and takes root there like a seedling with a special quality. Later, this seedling, being daily thurified by further contact with fiction, will become more vigorous, and its influence will in turn spread to others and to the entire world. This is the cause of the cyclical transformation of all living and non-living things in the world. Thus, fiction reigns supreme because of its power to influence the masses.

My students did not know what thurification () meant, so I had to explain it.2 This point fits in with a lot of stuff on the impact exposure to fiction  has on one’s world-view, a point that goes back, for me, to Orwell’s Boy’s Weeklies. The stuff you read creates your world-view in ways that you are not always consciously aware of. Thus if you read lots of British Boys Weeklies of the 1930′s you soak up a lot of old imperialist attitudes without realizing it.3  If you were a regular reader of the satirical and irreverent Mad Magazine of the late 70′s then…..Obviously the May 4th crowd wanted to transform the people, and reforming fiction was able to transform not only the masses, but non-living things as well!

While fiction can transform you without you knowing it, it can also do so more consciously.

The second power is known as immersion. Whereas thurification is spatial and hence its effect is proportional to the space in which it acts, immersion is temporal, and its effect varies according to the length of time it operates. Immersion refers to the process in which a reader is so engrossed in a novel that it causes him to assimilate himself with its content. When one reads a novel, very often one is unable to free oneself from its effect even long after having finished reading it. For instance, feelings of love and grief remain in the minds of those who have finished reading The Dream of the Red Chamber, and feelings of joy and anger in those who have finished reading The Water Margin. Why is it so? It is because of the power of immersion. It follows that if two works are equally appealing, the one that is longer and deals with more facts will have the greater power to influence the reader. This is just like drinking wine. If one drinks for ten days, one will remain drunk for a hundred days. It was precisely because of this power of immersion that the Buddha expounded on the voluminous Avatamsaka Sutra after he had risen from under the Bodhi Tree.

I have not yet experimented with drinking for ten days and seeing if it keeps me drunk for 100. Perhaps the undergrads can try that one. I have, however, lived in novels and been influenced by them. So have my students. They are selling IUP Quiddich t-shirts at the bookstore, I assume because some of our students wish they were going to to Hogwarts instead of here. Nor has fiction done for me what the Bodhi Tree did for Gautama, and transformed me into the God of Gods, Unsurpassed doctor or surgeon, or Conqueror of beasts, although I suppose I could lay some claim to Teacher, if not Teacher of the World.  So the idea that one’s reading turns one into a new person makes sense to us as well, and is in fact the foundation of Liberal Education.

Of course in some respects Liang is not a modern Liberal.  While he does not quite call for banning books he is not one of those (like almost all American teachers) who sees reading as either good or a waste of time, but certainly not something that could hurt you. There is a long tradition of condemnations of bad literature in China, and Liang is part of it

Nowadays our people are frivolous and immoral. They indulge in, and are obsessed with, sensual pleasures. Caught up in their emotions, they
sing and weep over the spring flowers and the autumn moon, frittering away their youthful and lively spirits. Young men between fifteen and thirty
years of age concern themselves only with overwhelming emotions of love, sorrow, or sickness. They are amply endowed with romantic sentiment
but lack heroic spirit. In some extreme cases, they even engage in immoral acts and so poison the entire society. This is all because of fiction. ……One or two books by frivolous scholars and marketplace merchants4 are more than enough to destroy our entire society. The more fiction is discounted by elegant gentlemen as not worth mentioning, the more fully it w ill be controlled by frivolous scholars and marketplace merchants. As the nature and position of fiction in society are comparable to the air and food and indispensable to life, frivolous scholars and marketplace  merchants in fact possess the power to control the entire nation! Alas! If this situation is allowed to continue, there is no question that the future of our nation is doomed! Therefore, the reformation of the government of the people must begin with a revolution in fiction, and the renovation of the people must begin with the renovation of fiction.

If you want a clear analysis of the role of literature in human society, some Buddhist references, a denunciation of pop culture that might come from Big Hollywood, with a bit of the Great Learning at the end Liang Qichao is your man.

 

  1. published in 1902. Translation by Gek Nai Cheng from Denton, Kirk, ed. Modern Chinese Literary Thought: Writings on Literature, 1893-1945. 1st ed. Stanford University Press, 1996. []
  2. Google is your friend. []
  3. For instance, simplistic and outdated stereotypes. From Orwell ” In papers of this kind it occasionally happens that when the setting of a story is in a foreign country some attempt is made to describe the natives as individual human beings, but as a rule it is assumed that foreigners of any one race are all alike and will conform more or less exactly to the following patterns:….

    Spaniard, Mexican, etc.: Sinister, treacherous.

    Arab, Afghan, etc.: Sinister, treacherous.

    Chinese: Sinister, treacherous. Wears pigtail. []

  4. 華士坊賈 I might translate that as ‘alleyway merchants’ or something like that []

9/20/2012

Daiyou Islands: New Sources, New Clarity?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:08 am Print

NYT reporter Nick Kristof brought in a guest blogger, Han-Yi Shaw of Taiwan, to examine some new mid-Meiji documentation about Japan’s relationship with the contested Senkaku/Daiyou islands. The core of Shaw’s findings is

the Meiji government acknowledged Chinese ownership of the islands back in 1885.

After several abortive attempts to survey the islands, the Japanese government declared them incorporated Japanese territory during the Sino-Japanese war, despite recognizing that it should have been negotiated with China. As territory seized in 1895, it should have been reverted to China in 1945, but for a variety of reasons, including an administrative shift of the islands from Taiwan to Okinawa prefecture, it remained outside of negotiations until a few years later.

It’s a reasonably persuasive presentation, historically, though I don’t think that these details are going to shift Japanese nationalists, even mild or moderate ones, to support politicians who would abandon Japan’s claim to these useless rocks which sit in such valuable territory. And as long as there’s no particular cost to maintaining the claim — Chinese hostility to Japan is not predicated on this issue sufficiently that abandoning the claim would eliminate anti-Japanese sentiment as a nationalist motivational tool of the mainland regime — it seems unlikely that anything will change, except a few American lectures.

2/9/2012

Life imitates The Office

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 4:11 pm Print

As someone who is a member of an academic department and of two University-wide committees I think a lot about bureaucracy. Since I am teaching Modern China this semester I am also thinking about the history of bureaucracy. Actually, I’m not sure it -has- a history, since the basic principles seem to be timeless and unchanging. The example below comes from Huang Liu-hung’s A Complete Book Concerning Happiness and Benevolence Written in 1694 this is a manual for district magistrates; the men who, having passed the civil service exams, were now to be sent out to run a county, the basic building block of the Chinese administrative system. Just like recent graduates everywhere, they found that their education did not fully prepare them for the world of work. This sample is an informal report that Huang sent. He is complaining about two military officials who are in his district but not under his command. He is complaining to their superior, (who is not his superior) about their performance in office. This missive is sent on the occasion of Huang starting his mourning leave (unplanned) so it is not clear if he was warming up to send this in any case and wants to get it in before he goes, or if he just figures this is a good time for a parting shot. As it is an informal complaint he does not have to prove anything or track down the source of any rumours, but since he is an official and sent this letter it has the potential to put Commander Yang in a bad spot if things blow up in the future and it is clear that he has not looked into this warning. If you want to understand perfect bureaucratic trouble-making, this is it.

 

An Informal Report Presented to Provincial Military Commander Yang
Since your humble subordinate arrived at the post, he has paid special attention to the organisation of the pao-chia system and ordered patrolling duties day and night because T’an-cheng, being close to the wooded hills of I-chou, I-hsien, and the Western Hills, and bordering P’ei-hsien and Su-ch’ien in Kiangsu province,  is a convenient refuge for lawbreakers from these places.1 Your humble subordinate has also made frequent night inspections himself to insure the peace of the district and relieve Your Excellency’s anxiety.2 As to the garrison officers stationed in the district, your humble subordinate has tried to cultivate their friendship. The soldiers of the two military posts have also been entertained frequently. Since the civil and military personnel are colleagues, their cooperation is needed in times of emergency. Your humble subordinate has been the magistrate of T’an-ch’eng for two years. Fortunately, the unlawful elements have not attempted to create trouble during this period. This is mainly due to Your Excellency’s authority which has been acknowledged far and wide, and also to the cooperation of the garrison officers, who have carried out the good intentions of their commander.

Unfortunately, your humble subordinate has lost his father and while in deep grief is awaiting the arrival of the succeeding magistrate. Recent news from intelligence sources indicates that outlaw groups in P’ei-hsien and Su-ch’ien are preparing to take some action.3 The safety of the whole district will depend upon the garrison officers. Traditionally two officers are stationed in this district: one in the city, responsible for protecting the district seat, granaries, and treasuries; and the other in Hung-hua-pu, responsible for control of the main thoroughfare of the district. Only people with ability, courage, experience, and determination can discharge these heavy duties with success.
Lieutenant X, who is now stationed in the city, is good natured but too easygoing and lackadaisical.4 Lieutenant Y, stationed in Hung-hua-pu, is young and arrogant and maintains no discipline over his soldiers. The two officers, therefore, are less than perfect. Your humble subordinate has enjoyed the confidence of Your Excellency for a long time. He cannot keep silent when it is his duty to report what he has heard-hence this  confidential report.

The deployment of soldiers in the various townships should be frequently reviewed, yet Lieutenant X has never ventured outside the city gate to check their performance. He is not known to have fulfilled any night patrol duty for months on end, which proves that he is rather negligent of his duties. One of the squad leaders, Chang San, allowed his wife to gather wheat from neighbor Shao Chiin-ai’s field on the tenth day of the fifth month. Two soldiers, Chang Chin and Shih Erh, forcibly sickled the grain of
the village elder Chang Mao-te on the twenty-third day of the sixth month.5 When Chang Mao-te went to question ,them, they assembled their comrades and beat him brutally. The chief warden examined the victim and declared that “the wounds covered his whole body like fish scales:’ The people of the whole district are uneasy about the incidents.6 When soldiers are allowed to beat people at will, what discipline is there? Chang San also manacled the night-watchman Wang Chia-ying; another soldier, Chen Yu, knifed the tax prompter Li Ying-yang; and a squad leader named Wang let his son Yuan-chen and others hit the runner Wang Chin-li until the latter’s face was covered with blood. These victims were all employees of the district yamen.7 Another soldier, Tai Chin, entered the house of constable Chao Ying-chi, demanded drinks and raped his wife. These incidents illustrate the way the yamen staff are mistreated by the garrison soldiers. However, the said lieutenant was guilty only of lack of discipline, not knowing how to control his men; there was no intentional malice involved.8

The other lieutenant’s performance has been even more outrageous. He has led his men in committing all kinds of atrocities. For instance, when he was making a call at the time of his arrival at the post, he met a courier of the office of the Director General of Grain Transport, Yang Shou-fu, on the road. When the courier did not dismount to let him have the right-of-way, the lieutenant was incensed. He had the courier manacled and brought to his garrison headquarters and did not release the latter until after dark. The courier was detained for a whole day just because he failed to dismount. Only express documents marked with time limits are carried by mounted couriers. Who but the courier would be blamed if delivery was delayed?
The market of Hung-hua-pu is a strategic point on the north-south communication line. The key to the gate of the stockade of the town has traditionally been kept by the village headman. When a messenger from the post station had to pass through, theheadman would open the gate for him at any time. Since the arrival of the lieutenant, the key has been kept at garrison headquarters. Sometimes when messengers are held up at the gate they try to run the blockade or beat the grooms. If a memorial or
an imperial order must be delivered urgently, who bears the responsibility for such a delay?

By tradition there has been an annual festival celebrated at the Hung-hua-pu market in honor of the horse deity. During one such festival a stage play was in progress when the lieutenant arrived. The female impersonator did not stand up to show respect for a dignitary. The lieutenant had him flogged. Not until all spectators knelt before him and begged for clemency did the flogging stop; the actor had already received three heavy blows. The lieutenant had walked into the theater unannounced. How
could he punish the female impersonator for insolence? This is only one instance of his arrogance.
One time garrison soldier Chang Wen-teng and other soldiers went to sleep while on duty, having ordered night watchmen Chang Yin-shan and T’ang Hsiao-shih to make their rounds. When the latter wandered too far from the garrison, the soldiers had them suspended in the air and beaten. The people of the market sympathized but made no protest. When Chancellor Kuo of the Grand Secretariat passed through Hung-hua-pu, a squad leader named Lu and others went to the post station and commandeered
four horses to perform some military transportation duty. The horses were not sent back until the next day at sunset and were almost dead of exhaustion. This shows how reckless Lieutenant Y’s soldiers were.
The most startling incident of all happened on the eighth day.9
The most starling incident of all happened on the eighth day of the seventh month, when there was an altercation between a Hung-hua-pu post station groom named Chang T’iao-yuan and an egg seller, Wang T’ai-p’ing. A garrison soldier named Chiang Te-sheng suddenly intervened and beat the groom with a heavy object. When the groom reported the incident to the lieutenant, the latter not only did not discipline his soldier, he ordered squad leader Lu to beat the groom to the brink of death. From then on
the garrison soldiers turned on the grooms at every opportunity. The result was that the entire group of grooms left the post for several days during which urgent documents could not be delivered. All these incidents were witnessed by the people of the market.
The intent of the government in establishing local garrisons is to protect the people. These garrison soldiers are committing all kinds of atrocities, and their officers not only fail to keep them in bounds but encourage them by taking part in their outrageous activities. The relationship between the people and the military is threatened, not to speak of the protection supposedly afforded by the military.
Battalion Commander Chu Cheng-ming and Lieutenant Shih Ying-pei, who were formerly in command of garrison headquarters in T’an-ch’eng, were respected by the soldiers and loved by the people.10 When on night patrol they always went before their
soldiers. Both could be labeled officers with ability, courage, experience and determination. When Battalion Commander Chu was ordered transferred to another post in the winter of the ninth
year of K’ang-hsi, your humble subordinate sent a petition, based on an appeal from the people, to retain him at the post. However, Your Excellency refused to approve the request on the ground that the established regulation should not be interfered with. Now, may your humble subordinate repeat his request to have Chu Ch’eng-ming and Shih Ying-p’ei replace the incumbents, so that the soldiers will once more be disciplined and the peace of the district protected?

Your humble subordinate has never offended the garrison officers during his tour of duty at T’an-cheng. Why should he bring wrath upon himself now that he is about to leave the post? It is prompted by his concern for the future safety of the district which has nothing to do with his personal feelings toward either the former or the incumbent officers. It is urgently hoped that Your Excellency will kindly consider his request for the benefit of the people of the district. Your humble subordinate will feel
forever grateful.
A Follow-Up Report
With regard to the case of Shao Chun-ai, your humble subordinate had already sent a petition which must have reached the attention of Your Excellency.

Your humble subordinate harbored no acrimony against the two officers. He did not expect Your Excellency to order a thorough investigation. It was your humble subordinate’s concern for the future welfare of the district that prompted him to request a change of the garrison officers. Since your humble subordinate had enjoyed Your Excellency’s trust for a long time, he had no reservations about what he thought should be made known to Your Excellency. It was not his intention to make these incidents
into a big case. Now, not only is the future of these two officers hanging in the balance, your humble subordinate also feels remorseful for taking such a blundering action.
Your humble subordinate has received your instruction to summon the important witnesses Chung San and others, some thirty odd people. The order will, of course, be carried out. However, those summoned are mostly artisans or laborers who support themselves by manual work. The distance between the
provincial capital and the district is over 700 li. They cannot earn a livelihood while traveling such a long distance back and forth. When they heard about the summonses, they were scared and
came very near running away. Your Excellency’s order was intended for the preservation of peace of the district, but it resulted in the creation of alarm and loss of livelihood for these poor people. This is not what your humble subordinate had expected from Your Excellency’s benevolent decision.

Accordingly, your humble subordinate sincerely implores that the cases be dismissed without further investigation.11 Not only will the future careers of these two officers be preserved, the conscience of your humble subordinate can rest at ease. The summoned witnesses, Shao Chun-ai, Chung San, and others
will also receive the benefit of Your Excellency’s wise decision, which will symbolise both mercy and authority. Your humble subordinate dares to present this irrational request because he has continuously enjoyed Your Excellency’s favor and hopes that the request will be granted.

  1. The border of two administrative regions was always a popular location for bandits. []
  2. I have gone above and beyond my responsibilities. []
  3. So nothing has happened yet, but I have reason to think it may soon. []
  4. A bit of praise makes it clear that the criticism is not just personal []
  5. Lots of very damming specifics, yet oddly no reports on the the criminal prosecution of these malefactors. []
  6. Always good to add some customer reaction []
  7. If they will attack other officials they must really be out of control. Just like a cop-killer is worse than a regular killer. []
  8. What will you bet that the next officer will be outright malicious? []
  9. They also seem very likely to get Y’s boss in trouble with higher-ups []
  10. so the problem does not lay in the soldiers or the district []
  11. Not sure if this is a final bit of CYA, or if the response from above was more potent than expected. []

11/6/2011

The good old days of empire

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:48 am Print

My local paper ran an editorial (version here) by Rich Lowry which gave readers more Qing dynasty history than they normally get.  As an American conservative his main point in the piece is that Europe is at last on the brink of collapse due to excessive state spending, just as the Lowrys of the world have been predicting for the last 50 years or so.1 He opens with a lament for the Good Old Days

One hundred and fifty years ago, no one could mistake the relative power of Europe and China. When the British defeated the Chinese in the First Opium War, they imposed an indemnity, took Hong Kong, and forced open more Chinese ports to British merchants. They demanded extraterritoriality for British citizens, exempting them from Chinese law. Other Western powers extracted similar privileges.

When this wasn’t enough, the British launched the Second Opium War after the Chinese seized a ship flying the British flag and refused to apologize. The French joined in, and the two together captured Beijing, and burned the emperor’s summer palaces for good measure.

This nasty episode is worth recalling against the backdrop of the Europeans’ begging the Chinese to help bail them out from their debt crisis. What would Lt. Gen. Charles Cousin-Montauban, the commander of the French forces who marched on Beijing, make of Klaus Regling, the commander of the European bailout fund who traveled to Beijing hoping for a helping hand? What would Lord Palmerston, who justified war against China as a matter of honor, think of Nicolas Sarkozy’s supplicating his Chinese counterpart for funds?

He does toss in that “nasty episode” line, but he is obviously lamenting the idea of white people dealing with yellow people as equals. He probably knows as little about Chinese history as he does about Greek bonds, but I would guess that even if he did know more about Palmerston’s ideas of honor he would still support them. In the case of the Arrow incident neither international law nor any other principle other than power were on the British side.2 Palmerston, of course did not care. Harry Parkes, a British official had made certain assertions about Chinese behavior and British power had to back him up. Those who questioned him in Parliament were traitors, motivated by

“an anti-English feeling, an abnegation of all those ties which bind men to their country and to their fellow-countrymen, which I should hardly have expected from the lips of any member of this House. Everything that was English was wrong, and everything that was hostile to England was right.”

In any case, an excuse to beat up on wogs was not be be missed, as Palmerston’s most famous quote on foreign policy shows.

“These half-civilised governments, all require a dressing down every eight or ten years to keep them in order. Their minds are too shallow to receive an impression that will last longer than some such period and warning is of little use. They care little for words and they must not only see the stick but actually feel it on their shoulders before they yield to that argument that brings conviction, the argumentum baculinem

Why bring this up? Well in part because one just does not get much Chinese history in the Indiana Gazette. Also, I think we may see more and more of this. In the Chinese press people are always bringing up the past as a way of understanding present international relations and while as a historian I think that can be good, I also think it can be bad. Historical analogies are not just sprinkles on top of an argument, they are ways of helping you think, and in this case they help you think wrong. While you can’t understand China’s relationship with Britain or Japan without understanding the past, assuming that the Japan of today is that of the 1930′s, or that the U.S. of today is that of 1900 is not a good way of using the past. Likewise, as Americans talk and think more about our relationship with China the ‘lessons of history’ will come up a lot, and we will have to choose if we want a foreign policy that will “Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all” as Washington put it, or if we will follow Lowry in admiring Palmerston and that other great Englishman, Lord Voldemort in assuming that “There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.”

 

 

 

  1. I don’t know about Lowry, but some of the prominent early American Neo-Cons started out as Trotskyites, which may have helped them write all these explanations for why reality is not matching their theories. []
  2. J.Y. Wong’s Deadly Dreams: Opium and the Arrow War (1856-1860) In China deals with this at great length. []

12/20/2010

Boxers and history

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:07 pm Print

Via Jeremiah Jenne, a link to an Economist article on the legacy of the Boxers. It is without a doubt the best article on Chinese history I have ever seen in a mainstream magazine.

It made me think of one of my favorite scenes from Wang Shuo’s Please Don’t Call me Human Old man Tang, the last living Boxer, has been brought it for an interview because the powers that be are thinking of using his son to represent China in physical combat against a Western circus strongman. I think it’s a nice piece that sums up (and makes fun of) a lot of popular ideas about the Boxers, the past, and Chinese History. …

“Do you know why we brought you here?”
“Yes, you want to learn about my participation in the Boxer movement.”
In an otherwise empty, soundproof room, the bald, fat man sat behind a desk in the shadow of a desk lampshade. Light from the lamp shone directly into old man Tang’s face, whose hands rested in his lap as he sat respectfully on a stool fastened to the floor.

“Your name?”
“Tang Guotao.”
“Age?”
“One hundred and eleven.”
“Where did you live before you were taken into custody?”
“Number thirty-five, Tanzi Lane.”
“When did you join the troops?”
“In March 1899.”
“What were your ranks?”
“Team leader, guard leader, Second Elder -Apprentice, First Elder Apprentice, and First-rank Master.”
“Decorations or punishments?”
“I was sentenced to death in 1900″

“On that night eighty-eight years ago, that is, the night the Allied forces entered the city, where were you?”
“I was home,” old man Tang replied, looking perfectly calm in the lamplight.
“Why weren’t you out fighting? Big Sword Wang Five was, as was the father of the novelist Lao She.”
“I had a far more important duty.”
“What was that?”
“I ran home and strangled my parents, my wife, and my son. It was as dark then as it is tonight, and as cold, and I had no sooner eliminated my family than I heard a knock at the door. ‘Master’s wife, open the door, hurry.’ I opened the door, and the person rushed inside, carrying an infant in her left hand and a red lantern in the right. . .”
“Who was it?”
“My wife, the woman you saw at my house. At the time she was one of the Red Lanterns.”
“And the child in her arms?”
“Huo Yuanjia, the future martial-arts master.”
“My God, how come this is the first I’ve heard of that?”
“As soon as my wife saw me, she fell to her knees and mumbled, ‘Master, Master, the master’s wife, my sister-in-law, they’re all dead.’ And I said, ‘Yes, I killed them.’ And she said, still crying, ‘From today on, l am yours, and this child. . .’ I
interrupted her, ‘You take this child back where you found it ”
“Then what?” the fat man said as he wiped his tears.
“Then gunfire erupted and a Japanese soldier rushed, in shouting bakayaro [son of a bitch]! He asked me, ‘What you do?’ Everything happened faster than it takes to tell, but when he barged in, I’d already crawled into bed, and my new wife was still on her knees, facing the other way. She kowtowed to the Japanese. ‘Your honor,’ she said, ‘he’s a bean-curd maker, a common, law-abiding citizen.’ The Japanese smirked—heh heh heh—and nudged her with his bayonet. ‘Pretty lady’ he shouted. That’s when I threw back the covers and roared, ‘Let her go! I’m one of those Boxer leaders you’re looking for! This has nothing to do with the common folk!’ ”

“Elder Tang, you’re spreading it a bit thick, I’m afraid,” said the fat man with a frown. “To the best of my knowledge, the Boxers had no grassroots party organization.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, young man. A hundred years ago, we were already laying down our lives for the Cause.”

“That’s not what the book says. Let’s turn to page forty-four, fourth line from the bottom.”
In the interrogation room, the bald, fat man read aloud, “On that night, the city was ablaze, the sound of gunfire like thunder. The foreign soldiers advanced like a tiger attacking a herd of sheep, torching and killing. The soldiers and the Boxers scattered like birds and beasts, and all the first-rank masters fell into the hands of the French soldiers at Hadamen, who trussed them up, despite their ferocious resistance. Shortly after dawn, I was beheaded by the French in the marketplace, along with over a hundred Boxer bandits, including leaders like Big Sword Wang Five and Little Sword Zhao Six …”

The bald, fat man looked up and said to old man Tang, who was wearing a pair of reading glasses as he followed along, his finger stopping at each word, “Naturally, if you believed everything in books, we’d be better off without them. This Memoirs of the Green Tower is nothing but a collection of ghost stories and fantastic tales, but there’s no harm in keeping it around, since it represents one way of looking at things. We all understand that rumor is the twin sister of fact.”
“Are you saying I’m wrong?” old man Tang asked blankly, looking up from the page. “I clearly recall being taken into a blockhouse by the Japanese and shot.”
“You’ve read The Little Soldier Zhang Sha, haven’t you?”
“Yes,” old man Tang said with a nod.
“I’m not surprised. A few days ago, we interrogated the fat interpreter, and he couldn’t remember if he stood with the Japanese or against them.”
“Why couldn’t I have been executed once by the Japanese and again by the French? It’s already been settled that I came back from the dead.”
“I didn’t say you couldn’t. The question is whether or not you had time to be executed by the Japanese and then rush over to be executed again by the French.”
“Why not? There’s nothing illogical about it. When the bullet hit me, I fell to the ground and closed my eyes, pretending to be dead. Then, after the Japanese left, I crawled out of the execution pit, stood up and cleaned the blood off, filled with hate and a taste for vengeance against the imperialists. I ran off and rejoined the battle.”

Cocking his head, the bald, fat man pondered what old man Tang had told him. “I see nothing wrong so far.”
“I went down East Fourth Avenue, killing the enemy along the way as I headed to wherever the sounds of battle were the loudest. When my guts began spilling out, I stuffed them back in. When one of my eyes fell out, I picked it up and swallowed it. I was possessed by a single thought: Don’t fall, keep going. If you fall, China is done for!”

“Then what?”
“Eventually I did fall. I lay on the ground, seeing spots before my eyes. Then the world began to spin, and I blacked out. …”
“What do you recall about the beheadings at the marketplace?”
“That’s where I was when I came to. People were lined up to be beheaded. Before I could say a word, it was my turn. As to methods, it wasn’t much different than cutting up a rack of ribs—holding it down with one hand and chopping with the other.”

“You must have said something, a farewell to your comrades or last words before the executioner’s sword fell. That’s common sense.”
“I’m not sure, but I might have said, ‘Long Live World Revolution.’ ”

“Hardly.”

“Oh, now I remember. I shook hands with Wang Five, and we exchanged knowing looks. Then I turned and growled at the executioner, ‘China will be destroyed by the likes of you!’
“Now that sounds more like it. The executioner was Chinese?”
“No, he was French.”

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