井底之蛙

3/25/2014

Unearthing the Nation

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:56 pm Print

Grace Yen Shen’s Unearthing the Nation: Modern Geology and Nationalism in Republican China is a really good book. Shen says that at first “it took a lot of explaining to convince people that the history of Chinese geology needed to be told.” That scepticism seems well-founded. What did Chinese geologists ever do? How does geology connect to anything else? Is this going to be one of those institutional studies where nothing seems to happen other than setting up institutions and then having the members do nothing but complain about lack of funding?

Thankfully, geology is pretty easy to connect to other parts of China’s transformation. Part of this is just dumb luck. The first work on China’s geology written by a Chinese was “Brief outline of Chinese geology” published by former Jiangnan Military Academy School of Mines student Zhou Shuren, who would later go on to considerable fame under the name Lu Xun. It is not surprising that Zhou/Lu went on to become one of the most famous May 4th intellectuals, since

Chinese geologists rejected the Confucian values of the political and social order and associated them with parochialism and complacency. However, they not only accepted the deeply Confucian values of the intellectual as servitor-cum-guide to state and society, but they also managed to identify this role with progressivism and morality by taking it as a call to self-criticism and renewal. ….geologists’ shared sense of Chineseness grew out of their admission of guilt and the dedication to self-transformation. Geology was a discipline that would reshape its practitioners and resuscitate the nation on the verge of extinction. Unearthing the Nation. p.10

You could use that as a nice summary of the May 4th project, and in fact I did so in class last week.

Geology also matters because it ties in with wealth and power better than lots of other fields of study. Locating valuable rocks was something that both Chinese modernizers and foreign exploiters could get behind. Shen shows how Chinese geologists managed to replace foreigners and gradually they became the ones who surveyed an interpreted China’s rocks for both foreign and domestic audiences. Geology had only fitful support from the Chinese state, but it was popular with young Chinese, in part because the emphasis on fieldwork helped distinguish geologists from traditional educated youth “with pale faces and slender waists, seductive as young ladies, timorous of cold and chary of heat, weak as invalids.”1

Geologists also served the nation. They were the ones who found the Tungsten and other rare materials that wartime China exported. They also defined China as they Chinese would like. As Li Siguang put it.

at the time most people in western Europe invariably thought that Tibet was not fully part of China, and to correct this mistaken concept (whether intentional or unintentional) I purposely gave the Tibetan plateau first place among China’s natural regions. p.136

Of course service to the nation came with a price. The geologists did a better job than you might think in balancing a desire to do pure science and to serve China.

 By training their sights on the overall development of geology in China and remaining flexible about details and timing Chinese geologists achieved many of their own goals while catering to the interests of both native philanthropists and foreign funding agencies. When the remains of Peking Man were first announced in 1926, for instance, the Chinese geological community quickly turned its attention to paleoanthropology. Though it had no experience in this field, the Geological Survey convinced the Rockefeller Foundation to fund a Cenozoic Research Laboratory to study both Peking Man and the “tertiary and quaternary deposits of northern China” more broadly. p.185

This fits it with a lot of other examples I can think of where scholars adjusted their research to funding. It would be nice to have unlimited money to study anything, but practice that is not how China, or anywhere else, actually works.

If you want a nice, short, well-written book that explains the birth of a modern science in China and why it matters, this is a good choice.

 

  1. quote from Chen Duxiu. Were there any female geologists? []

5/3/2013

Seek truth from facts

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:13 pm Print

The Atlantic has a post by Matt Schiavenza entitled “What’s with the Chinese Communist Party and Slogans” It’s a nice little piece on the vapid sounding slogans that post-Deng Chinese leaders announce to set the tenor of their reigns. Like papal names these are often pretty opaque to outsiders. What Schiavenza does not discuss is that slogans go back way further than 1978. The Maoist period had lots of them, and you still see both the faded Maoist ones and new ones on walls all over China. Slogans (口號) actually go back at least to the Republic. When you look at the reports of Nationalist period conferences they will often have a list of the official slogans that the conference had decided on. Why was this such a big deal? The best place to look for information on this is David Strand’s An Unfinished Republic

Strand it interested  in the development of modern forms of political performance, like oratory, after about 1900. Although he does not discuss slogans as such, he does talk about how creating new forms of communication was at a premium in the early 20th century.

In a jumbled, creative, and competitive political culture, spreading the word about women’s rights, setting up shop as a political activist, or trying out the role of orator put a premium on making an immediate visual and vocal impact on potential recruits like the young Mao. The multiplying of vocational, educational, and ideological paths ensured competition. Competition rewarded clarity or urgency of message. A critical resource for all political actors of the period was the capacity to imitate and reproduce images and ideas that sold or persuaded as the means to gain a quick payoff or a first step toward seeding deeper values. Greenblatt, in a literary and historical variation on the theme of social and cultural mimicry, terms this critical ingredient “mimetic capital” As either fashion statement or deep-dyed commitment, ” China” sold once the term was recognizable, and so, perhaps more surprisingly, did “republic,” “rights,” “public speaking,” “male-female equality,”” “chamber of commerce,” “people’s livelihood,” “meeting,” [and] “study society,”…Serious political entrepreneurs like Sun Yat-sen mined world, national, and local culture for a phrase or world picture that might excite or reassure such an impressionable and interested audience(p.166)

So this explains why things like oratory (not part of the Chinese tradition) newspapers, reading rooms, etc became important in China. But why slogans? Part of it may have been that you can’t do a nice bit of calligraphy without a nice pithy phrase to work from.  Slogans (sometimes) lend themselves to chanting.  Maybe it ties into the tradition of chengyu (4-character classical phrases), or even reign titles. If nobody has written anything about this someone should. Strand’s book is a good place to start, however.

3/24/2013

China becomes air-minded

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:11 am Print

So, I presented a paper at AAS in San Diego. Obviously the high points were meeting Konrad Lawson in person and eating really good fish tacos, so I could taunt the kids when I got back. The paper was on air-mindedness in China. Air-mindedness was the interwar idea that aircraft were about to lead to a transformation of human affairs. This was a big deal in Europe, the U.S. and Soviet Russia, among other places. I dealt a little with how the idea was imported into China before the war, especially after the bombing of Shanghai in 1932. While there were some air-minded writers who talked about how air travel would lead to universal peace, China was more influenced by those who foresaw a new form technological warfare that a modern nation would have to learn how to cope with. My paper mostly looked at wartime efforts to deal with air-raids, but the best reactions I got came from some of the pre-war pictures. If you are the type who only reads scholarly journals for the pictures this post is a good substitute for going to AAS.

Here is a map showing the WWI bombing of London, superimposed on the city of Shanghai, to give the Chinese people an idea of the scale of modern war. In 1932 only a handful of places in Shanghai had been bombed, and part of the purpose of pre-war propaganda was to convince Chinese that they needed to be ready for a new type of war.

ShanghaiMap

How do you prepare? Well, you have to become a different sort of person, as the picture below suggests. I’ve seen this reproduced in a few places. It shows how, based on American experiments, you can tell what size bomb made the crater you are looking at. Your natural reaction to seeing the building next to you turned into a smoking crater might be to panic, but the air-minded citizen will climb into the hole and report the event to the proper authorities

Bomb Crater

You also have to become a different sort of society. Here is a map, based on European models, that shows a proper modern air defence net for a city, going from the observers far away (all linked by modern communications) to the layers of defence of the city.

IMG_3247

How well did the Chinese do at all this? Well, as the picture of an air defence net below, taken from a wartime journal, suggests, they had the idea, but the execution was lacking, at least in the early part of the war. Diagram

A lot of the pre-war modernity was pretty vague, like these fliers urging the Chinese people to pay attention to air defence, but not really explaining what that might meanFAngKong

Modernity was also not very evenly distributed in the pre-war period, with most of what was being done happening in Nanjing. That changed during the war of course. It was not much of a paper, but I did like digging around and finding some of this pre-war stuff on air-mindedness and tying it into the more familiar narrative of the wartime bombings.

 

 

1/27/2013

Are Japanese people evil?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:24 am Print

There has been some commentary, both on well-known blogs and obscure ones on Robert Farley’s Diplomat article on Japan’s WWII Counter-Insurgency planning and implementation Farley discusses an article by retired Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) Lieutenant General Noboru Yamaguchi and Farley suggests that

Long story short, the history of Japanese operations in China was more complicated in process, if not in effect, than the “Kill All, Loot All, Destroy All” that has come to characterize the war*.

*Standard caveat: I trust that readers are bright enough to understand that this does not constitute an apology for the Japanese Imperial Army.

As my co-blogger Jonathan Dresner points out, this caveat seems not to have worked, as the comments at the Diplomat are mostly from (presumably) Chinese who want to make it clear that the Japanese are eternally evil.

Having violated Internet protocol and actually read the article I can report that it is interesting in an odd way. Noboru calls what went on the China Incident, and points out, correctly enough, that this was not the a war Japan wanted or planned for. He is not defending Japanese aggression, however. He is mostly interested in laying out how the Japanese Army in North China tried to deal with Chinese insurgency in addition to all their other tasks it had. North China was considered to be a sideshow to the coming war with Russia and then a sideshow to the current war with the U.S., and so they were expected to defeat the Chinese Communists while also preparing troops for battle at Guadalcanal or maybe Siberia. The North China army was also expected to send resources (iron, coal, salt, and cotton) home, making it quite different from the situation of, say, the American army in Iraq, which is the main comparison of the volume.1

That Japanese war aims were confused at best is not news, but Noboru is drawing from high-level Japanese documents and the Japanese scholarship that flows from them, things that have not been much used by Western or Chinese scholars. A lot of what he says will not be wildly shocking to anyone who has read Lincoln Li2 or Tim Brook3 The article gives a nice Japanese Army-centric view of dealing with Chinese insurgents.

Farley is looking at the Japanese experience in China as an example of counter-insurgency, and I guess you can take lessons from it for that purpose. Heck, the Americans in Vietnam took lessons from the suppression of the Jiangxi Soviet in the 1930′s. It may seem odd to be taking lessons from Chiang Kai-shek on fighting Communists, but the suppression of the Jiangxi Soviet was actually a success. It helps to split things up in order to make sense of them. The Japanese Empire was a failure, but that does not mean that parts of it are not things people interested in counter-insurgency can learn from.

More to the point for this blog, the Japanese experience in China was not all of a piece. When I was in grad school4 the whole war period was pretty much a black hole. Communists and Nationalists were fighting in 1936. Then stuff happens and they are fighting in 1946. The last couple of decades have seen a lot of scholarship on what happened in China during the war. Our view of the Japanese is still pretty primitive, however. Unless you are Konrad Lawson or some type of hyper-smart person like that you still see the Japanese invaders as evil people who came to China for the chance to twirl their moustaches and cackle as they killed Chinese. There were plenty of those, but allowing the overall evil of the Japanese presence to dominate everything that happened obscures history. Lots of Japanese sincerely wanted to help China even while serving the Japanese war effort. The modern attempt to make a radical distinction between Japan and China just does not work. Are Lu Xun, Liang Qichao, Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek all collaborators?  Were Japanese who thought they could get Chinese to contribute to their empire all idiots? They did it in Taiwan and to some extent in Manchuria. Wang Jing-wei may have been a traitor, but it is hard to say he was not also a figure in the history of Chinese nationalism. Bose’s Indian National Army contributed a lot of men to the Japanese war effort. 5 The radical anti-Japanese view ignores even Chinese wartime propaganda which could be quite solicitous of the sufferings of ordinary Japanese. While we can’t ignore the evil the Japanese people did in China, we also don’t want to oversimplify things, and the article helps with this.

 

 

  1. The whole point of the volume, based on an 2010 conference at Ohio State, is to provide American policymakers with ideas about how to deal with Hybrid Warfare, situations where you are dealing with both a formal army and an insurgency, Thus, one would be dealing with a threat that would ‘blend the lethality of state conflict with the fanatical and protracted fervor of irregular warfare. []
  2. who he cites []
  3. who he does not []
  4. We spent a lot of time on the ‘Opposable Thumb — Fad or the Future’ question. (I was also the first history student to decide I needed an ‘electronic mail’ account despite not being a comp-sci student)  ‘ []
  5. One place where I disagree with Farley is when he cites Bayly and Harper to suggest that the Japanese occupation of S.E. Asia was completely infective. The Japanese made many errors, but  Bayly and Harper seem, to me. to suggest that they got more buy-in than the standard popular interpretation would suggest []

9/11/2012

National Library of China- A fine place to do research

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 4:13 pm Print

 

Most of our readers who might care already know this, but the National Library in Beijing is a fine place to do research on Republican China. It has it’s own subway stop, which means easy access. The computer system works well (nice search features), getting a card is easy, and the collection is good. Specifically, a lot (all?) of the published journals and reports that used to be in Nanjing are now in Beijing. Many years ago, Nanjing had the Tezangbu (Special Collections Department) which held all the journals and books that used to be in the pre-49 National Library. I spent some time talking to people and looking through the computer, and it seems that the books I read many years ago are still in Nanjing (or somewhere) but pretty much all of the journals and official publications are now in Beijing. This is a big deal, since local and provincial governments loved to publish stuff. If you find a monthly report in a provincial archive there is a good chance that at some point it was published in a monthly report in a nice typeface that does not look like the work of a budding master calligrapher.

They will photocopy stuff for you. Photography is not permitted. I saw some people who were obviously trying to photograph whole books get yelled at. On the other hand, I was in the reading room while some people discretely photographed a few individual articles and nobody noticed or cared.

 

 

5/23/2012

30 seconds over Taihoku

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 3:33 am Print

On February 23, 1938, the Russians bombed Taipei. Given how worried the government was about Taipei being bombed by communists when I was first there in the 80′s I am somewhat surprised that I had not heard about it before.1 To celebrate Red Army Day 28 planes crewed by the Russians who were serving in the Chinese airforce attacked Songshan airport outside Taipei. Having received reports from Russian intelligence on the state of the airfield, the Russian commander波雷宁 led his planes to Taipei. They managed to locate the airfield through the clouds, and as the Japanese assumed they were friendly they were not fired on. He reported that they bombed the planes, the airstrip, and the hangars. Given the lack of response they then strafed the area. According to later sources 12 Japanese planes were destroyed, and a few people killed. The head of the Chinese Air Force reported that this made news all over the world, including Japanese radio (showing how important to him the propaganda side of this was) and that the Japanese commander promptly committed seppuku. He also told the pilots that they had proven that Russia was giving China real aid, not just words.

Without much effort I found a few brief press accounts of the attack, none of which mention the Russians, attributing it all to Chinese planes, and none of which, naturally, include anything like interviews with the pilots, who might have become national heroes if they were Chinese.

Shen Bao reported that “flames and smoke reached up to heaven,” something that lots of Chinese could probably picture at this point, and reported from Japanese papers that 40 planes were destroyed, along with fuel, repair shops and about 100 people were killed.

New York Times thought that it was just a random bombing of the city, rather than a military attack, but did claim that it showed that China was not about to surrender. Latter in the week they would report that sightings of Chinese planes over Hangzhou would lead to alerts in Taipei and elsewhere, so if the goal of the attacks was to encourage future Japanese over-reaction it worked well.

Da Gong Bao (Hankou) reported it as the first strike outside the country (空军出国第一功) so apparently they were of the opinion that Taiwan is not part of China.

All in all a glorious bit of Chinese military history, if only it had been more Chinese. One presumes it helped Chinese morale, and taught the Japanese the surprise attacks can work really well if you catch the other guys napping. Plus its just an odd bit of history.

  1. I found this account, based on Russian sources, in 汪金国, 反法西斯战争时期的中国与世界研究胡德坤主编第八卷战时苏联对华政策, 武汉大学出版社,2010 []

3/19/2011

Sun Yat-sen: If only a Revolution -were- like a dinner party

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:54 pm Print

Livebloging 1911

Someone once said “A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.”

That is a pretty radical statement. Also a somewhat analytical one. Very few have ever accused Sun Yat-sen, father of the 1911 Revolution of being either a radical or overly analytical. He was however, great at dinner parties. On March 19th he was not in Canton, where the April uprising would be happening, nor in Hong Kong, where it was mostly being planned. He was in Vancouver, 1 talking to audiences of Overseas Chinese. He raised $7,000 HK, which was the largest total raised for the April uprising anywhere in the world. If Huang Xing was the organizer of the revolution Sun was the publicist and fund-raiser. Having been abducted in London in 1896 and briefly imprisoned in the Chinese legation made him by far the best-known Chinese revolutionary overseas, and his tireless fund-raising and organizing in Southeast Asia, North America, Japan and elsewhere made him the best known spokesman for the overthrow of the Qing and establishment of a Republic. So although he played a pretty limited role in the actual 1911 revolution it is worth thinking about him for a bit. They also serve who only wrangle invitations to banquets and give speeches.

Although the bulk of his uprisings were failures, a revolution costs a lot of money, and while giving speeches all over the world on the Overseas Chinese rubber chicken circuit must have been a drag he kept at it, and had a rare ability to convince everyone from wealthy Cantonese merchants to railroad laborers to part with their cash.  Sun’s personal ability to persuade people to support the cause was a major asset, even if it was not clear what all these resources, both money and recruits, were best used for. So today is a fine day to remember Sun Yat-sen, who among his many other achievements, was the after-dinner speaker who financed the 1911 Revolution.

  1. Or somewhere in Canada. The nianpu I have is not very detailed, but in was in Vancouver about the 19th. []

3/6/2011

Revolt in Canton

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:13 am Print

Live-blogging 1911

Live-blogging is (for historians) the process of blogging about something in the past as if it was happening in the present. Since this is the 100th anniversary of the 1911 revolution, I thought it might be nice do something on that. The Wuhan revolt is still a ways off, but the Canton uprising is (although nobody knew it) right around the corner. Textbooks tend to dismiss the various revolts that Sun Yat-sen encouraged in the years before 1911 as pathetic failures, which is true enough, but by early 1911 some of them were becoming more substantial. There were a couple of disturbances in the New Army in Canton early in 1911, the first of which happened on February 12, exactly one year before the Manchu emperor formally abdicated.

Revolutionaries vaguely connected to Sun Yat-sen had been organizing in the New Army in Canton for some time. . Ni Yingdian 倪映典 was the ringleader of the revolt. He was the son of a traditional Chinese doctor from Anhui and had risen to command an New Army artillery division before being dismissed for revolutionary activity. He promptly moved to Guangdong and joined the new army there and was again dismissed for revolutionary activity, although he was not arrested. It may seem a bit odd that he was dismissed but not arrested twice, but the Qing government was less in control of things than they might have hoped and also desperate for modern-trained men. More to the point, during the New Policies period many revolutionaries were turning into reformers, and they may have hoped that the same would happen with Ni.

Unfortunately a mutiny occurred among the troops of the Second Regiment on February 10th ,, well before the planned date for the revolt. Sun Yat-sen had raised over HK 8,000 to support the revolt, and preparations were being made for supporting revolts in the countryside, but Ni decided he could not wait and encouraged his old comrades to rise up. When the commander of the Artillery Division refused to join the revolt Ni shot him, which pretty much committed them to the revolt, which was put down the next day. Ni Yingdian was one of the first rebels killed. Several others were executed later and the rebellious units disbanded.

Although the revolt itself had minimal support it was a revolt of active military units in a major city, which was an upgrade from some previous revolutionary actions. The punishment of the rebels actually won them a good deal of support.  Sun and his followers began mobilizing for a new revolt in Canton.  “Intellectuals, tradesmen, workers and peasants” began to assemble in the city. Female members of the Revolutionary Alliance posed as brides and began smuggling arms into the city.  They also took over a newspaper which had been created to oppose a planned provincial gambling monopoly and used it to spread revolutionary ideas. So that is pretty much where things stood in March of 1911

 

Most of the above is from Rhodes, China’s Republican Revolution

 

P.S. If anyone has suggestions for posts, feel free to sent them to me.



7/17/2010

“China and Christianity”: Hu Shi’s 1927 View of Nationalism and Rationalism

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 12:34 pm Print

Over at the invaluable Danwei,  Julian Smisek’s “Hu Shi, missionaries, and women’s rights” (July 15, 2010) does a valuable service in translating Hu’s 1930 essay, “Congratulations to the YWCA,”  which pays tribute to Christian missionaries for helping Chinese women.

Hu, a Columbia University PhD, won a poll in the early 1920s as the most admired “returned student” in China. But his surprising words of praise for the YWCA need to be balanced against his views on Christianity’s future in China. He elsewhere disdained the run of Christian missionaries as uneducated and narrow. They came to China because they could live well for little money, he said, and mission boards were far less careful in selecting China missionaries than Standard Oil was in selecting China salesmen and executives.

Hu’s “China and Christianity” was the lead piece in the July 1927 issue of the North American journal, The Forum. That year saw Chiang Kai-shek purge the Communists and Mao Zedong take to the countryside, setting off a generation of civil war, but the editor introduces Hu as “the leader of an intellectual movement that is permeating the youth of China and is interested chiefly in the things of the mind.” Like the “ancient sages of the East,” Hu “stands outside the current political conflict.”

Here’s the editorial in its entirety:

The future of Christianity in China is a question which should be considered apart from the question of the past services rendered to China by the Christian missionaries. The part played by the missionaries in the modernization of China will long be remembered by the Chinese, even though no Christian church may be left there. They were the pioneers of the new China. They helped the Chinese to fight for the suppression of opium which the pirate-traders brought to us. They agitated against footbinding, which eight centuries of esoteric philosophizing in native China failed to recognize as an inhuman institution. And they brought to us the first rudiments of European science. The early Jesuits gave us the pre-Newtonian astronomy, and the later Protestant missionaries introduced modern hospitals and schools. They taught us to know that there was a new world and a new civilization behind the pirate-traders and gunboats.

Many of the Protestant missionaries worked hard to awaken China and bring about a modern nation. China is now awakened and determined to modernize herself. There is not the slightest doubt that a new and modem China is emerging out of chaos. But this new China does not seem to promise much bright future to the propagation of the Christian faith. On the contrary, Christianity is facing opposition everywhere. The dream of a “Christian occupation of China” seems to be fast vanishing, – probably forever. And the explanation is not far to seek.

It is true that there is much cheap argument in the narrow nationalistic attack which sees in the Christian missionary an agent of imperialist aggression. But we must realize that it is nationalism, – the self-consciousness of a nation with no mean cultural past,– that once killed Nestorian Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Manicheism in China. It is the same nationalism which four times persecuted Buddhism and finally killed it after over a thousand years of complete Buddhistic conquest of China. And it is the same national consciousness which is now resisting the essentially alien religion of Christianity.

And more formidable than nationalism, there is the rise of rationalism. We must not forget that Chinese philosophy began two thousand five hundred years ago with Lao Tse who taught a naturalistic conception of the universe end a Confucius who was frankly an agnostic. This rationalistic and humanistic tradition has always played the part of a liberator in every age when the nation seemed to be under the influence of a superstitious or fanatic religion. This cultural background of indigenous China is now revived with the new reinforcement of the methods and conclusions of modern science and becomes a truly formidable safeguard of the intellectual class against the imposition of any religious system whose fundamental dogmas, despite all efforts of its apologists, do not always stand the test of reason and science.

And after all, Christianity itself is fighting its last battle, even in the so-called Christendoms. To us born heathens, it is a strange sight indeed to see Billy Sunday and Aimée McPherson hailed and patronized in an age whose acknowledge prophets are Darwin and Pasteur. The religion of Elmer Gantry and Sharon Falconer must sooner or later make all thinking people feel ashamed to call themselves “Christians”. And then they will realize that Young China was not far wrong in offering some opposition to a religion which in its glorious days fought religious wars and persecuted science, and which, in the broad daylight of the twentieth century prayed for the victory of the belligerent nations in the World War and is still persecuting the teaching of science in certain quarters of Christendom.

It’s impressive both that The Forum published a critical piece from an intellectual in China and that Hu kept up with the latest stateside scandals and the novels of Sinclair Lewis. At a time when anti-imperialist tempers ran high, Hu coolly uses cosmopolitan liberal standards which stand above particular nations. His criteria apply to China and the US as well. But perhaps Hu should have known better than to think that rationality could combine with nationalism to save China.

6/18/2010

Private views of Chinese history

Recently I went to the Jianchuan museums, which are in Anren, just outside Chengdu. It is an interesting place first because it is huge, financed by mogul Fan Jianchuan, and second because it is a private museum, something not very common in China.

The place is covers a lot of ground, and there are, or soon will be buildings showcasing West Sichuan folk customs, footbinding, traditional houses, and the response to the Wenchuan earthquake of 2008. They are already working on the building for the last of these, and some of the artifacts are sitting outside.

The biggest and most interesting sections are on the War with Japan and the Red Years.

The War buildings (there are several) are strongly nationalistic (it is glorious to die for the homeland, etc) and pretty popular with the Chinese visitors. The war also gets some of the most striking installations, including a display of the handprints of 300 veterans and statues of 200 heroes of the war (mostly generals and commanders of various sorts.)

Both of them sort of reminded me of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, in that they rely on the effect of masses of individuals (each of the handprints and statues has an inscription telling you who it is.) The statues also remind me somewhat of Qin Shihuang’s terracotta warriors, although having been given names and not being in such strict ranks they are more individualized.1

(more…)

  1. Also, like Qin Shihuang himself, they are on top of a relief map of China. []

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