井底之蛙

8/27/2014

Chiang Yee and understanding China

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:00 pm

I have been reading a bit about Chiang Yee lately. If any of our readers know him it is probably as the author of Chinese Calligraphy: An Introduction to Its Aesthetic and Technique  which he wrote as a professor at Columbia, which was his third or fourth life. He’s one of those people where its hard to count how many careers he actually had. He was born in China in 1903 and worked as a soldier, journalist, teacher and government official.  At one point he was probably best known for his Silent Traveler series of books which he wrote/painted after moving to England in 1933. The combination of Chinese-style paintings of English sights

fig4_umbrellas

along with wry observations of the foibles of the foreigners proved to be very popular and he became one of the best-known interpreters of China in the West.  Yee is credited with the translation 可口可乐    for Coca-Cola1 The Silent Traveller books are  written in a style that sometimes seems like interwar faux-oriental stuff and sometimes like a real Chinese literati writing about his travels.  The latter is not surprising, given that his first published work was an account of a trip to Hainan that he published in 东方杂志.

Not surprisingly, what I found most interesting was Chiang’s problematic relationship with modern Chinese nationalism. On the one hand he had a fairly rosy view of the Old China, and spent much of his life in self-imposed exile from Chinese corruption, working as a guide to China’s timeless tradition to foreigners. On the other hand, he was a chemist, regretted his arranged marriage, served in the Northern Expedition, strongly supported China in the War of Resistance and returned to spend the last days of his life in China.

He appears quite May-4th-y in Men of the Burma Road, (羅鐵民) a book he published in 1943 to tell the stirring story of the building of the Road by the Chinese masses. He of course did the illustrations, and while they are good.

Burma1 Burma2 Burma3

I can’t help but think that something more along the line of a woodcut might show the toil and suffering better.img2645vhd

The story is quite interesting, since with only a very few changes it could be a Mao-period story about building communes or something. The main figure is Old Lo, a Chinese peasant who is attached to his land. That is in fact the only thing he cares about, like a stereotypical Chinese peasant. He sees no point in education for the likes of himself, and he objected to his son joining the army and to his neighbour’s children getting educated. Like a good Pearl Buck peasant he respects learning but thinks it is not for him.

All this changes with the Japanese invasion. At first, he is unwilling to give up his land to allow the Burma Road to be built to help the war effort. His neighbours and family members, who are up to date and members of a rural co-0p urge him to change, but he is immovable as….well, an old Chinese peasant.  Even his best friend’s daughter is is giving speeches in public to support the war effort as the society around him is transformed.

The Japanese kill most of his family, however. His daughter “did not fall into the tiger’s mouth and bring the black spot on our family” because she drowned herself rather than being raped by Japanese soldiers.2 All this causes him to give up his land and work heroically to build the Road, which is, of course, made (and illustrated) with traditional Chinese methods. Chinese workers

Using only their hands, they erected 289 bridges, including two big suspension bridges with a load bearing capacity of 10 to 15 tons, and 1,959 culverts. The road-bed is sixteen feet wide, has a maximum grade of eight in a hundred and a minimum curve radius of fifty feet.3

As if that’s not enough, we also get pictures of Natives in Native dress and a scathing portrait of Mr. Wood and Mr. Coward, an English and American journalist who make up stories about Old Lo that will better fit the ideas westerners already have about China. The pictures of natives seem to be the author buying into stereotypes about minority nationalities, and the journalist parts seem like a sophisticated critique of just those sorts of stereotypes. I doubt there will ever be a critical edition of this book, but if it ever goes up on Google books, you could cover almost everything you need to cover in a Modern China class through this.

 

 

  1. Zheng Da p.78 []
  2. p.40 []
  3. p.85 []

8/14/2014

So that’s why..

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:49 am

I’ve been reading Peter Harmsen’s Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze. I like it a lot. Part of the reason I like it is that he is a journalist who has worked in China for years and now and has written quite a good book, based on both Chinese and western sources. As I have discussed before, I am really envious of my Americanist colleagues who can give students all sorts of academic stuff, popular stuff written by academics, stuff written by non-academics that is quite good, etc. Until recently all we had for the China field was academic stuff, a small amount of non-academic crud, and very little in between. This is starting to change, and this book is a good example of it.

One thing that it helped clear up for me is why the Chinese.  bombed the Great World Amusement Center in 1937. This is a pretty famous incident from early in the battle where Chinese planes aiming for the Japanese cruiser Izumo, which was anchored in the Huangpu river, instead bombed the Great World and killed hundreds of civilians. This was actually a pretty important historical event, not only for those killed but because China was trying to convince the world that they were a major power worthy of help for reasons beyond pity. The poor performance of the Chinese bombers was not helping the cause.

Chinese bombers hit a number of targets near the river, but the Great World is miles away. Apparently, the best explanation for how they managed to miss so badly was that the Chinese pilots were expecting to bomb from 7,000 feet but had to drop down to 1,000 due to weather.1 Unfortunately they did not adjust their bombsites. Not a huge historical issue, to be sure, but something that has always bugged me.

More on the book here. Harmson blogs here

  1. p.63 []

3/24/2013

China becomes air-minded

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:11 am

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

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 []

12/13/2012

Japanese views of China

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:02 am

December 13 seems as good a day as any to talk about Japanese imperialism. One of the books I taught this semester was Ishikawa Tatsuzo Soldiers Alive.1 It’s a rather odd book, since Ishikawa wrote it after having been embedded with the Japanese Army in China. It was intended to be a propaganda piece, and he saw it as such. Unfortunately for him his descriptions of the suffering and sacrifices of the Japanese soldiers and how they dealt with them was not pleasing to the censors and the book was never released and he got a four month prison term for writing it. This was no doubt due to the rapes, murders and looting casually committed by his characters. For a good picture of the casual brutality of war this is a fine source.

The Chinese are presented as dirty, pathetic and passive. Below is a very good segment on Japanese attitudes towards China and Chinese culture. Our heroes are in newly-captured Nanjing.  They had participated in the battles at Zijinshan, but the book skips over the Rape of Nanjing.

FIRST CLASS Privates Kondo and Hirao were quartered in a residential street next to a large, quiet mansion surrounded by trees. “What a pompous house. It’s impudent. Let’s pay it a little visit. Kondo, come on.”

Kondo, who had been about to doze off, stood up, yawning.

“If there’s a ku-niang2 in there, she’s mine.”

“You ass, we’ll toss for her.”

Not bothering to take his rifle, Hirao set off first, a piece of bamboo for a cane. The old-fashioned gate had been broken in, giving way to a garden beginning to bloom with allspice flowers. A flagstone path curving among a thick growth of plants led to a western-style entrance. Its door, too, was open. Swinging his bamboo stick, Hirao strode into the parqueted vestibule.

“Hello. Anybody home?”

Naturally, no one answered. The retreating Chinese troops semed to have plundered the house. Curtains and dishes lay strewn along the corridors. The rooms had been mercilessly ransacked; drawers of the large rosewood wardrobes fitted with mirrors lay scattered across the floor. The tub in the western-style bathroom was filled with dirty water, and the tile floor was littered with excrement.

They walked everywhere but found no traces of ku-niang nor anything else likely to excite their interest. Finally, Hirao entered a spacious room on the second floor, apparently used for receiving guests. He turned toward Kondo, who was lagging behind, and folded both arms in front to greet him in the Chinese manner.

“Welcome, noble sir. So happy to see you, my dear Kondo of Kondo and Company. It has been a while since I’ve had the pleasure.”

The tranquil sumptuousness of the room inspired him to sudden levity. Kondo promptly responded.

“Ah, Hirao of Hirao and Company! Forgive me for interrupting you at such a busy time.”

“Well, do have a seat. Indulge in a moment of repose, please.”

As befitted men of stature, the two ensconced themselves in the large, comfortable armchairs and looked about. Made of delicately carved rosewood, the chairs resembled those of the priests in the main hall of a temple. A broad vermilion-lacquered table, a fireplace overlaid with marble, mirrors mounted atop shelves, an antique chandelier-signs of an opulent lifestyle abounded. A number of lightly colored landscape scrolls hung from the walls; two more lay spread out on the floor. Just outside the window a profusion of bamboo rustled in the wind, casting ceaselessly swaying shadows over the room.

“Now then, my dear Kondo, the world seems to be in quite an uproar these days. What do you think will come of it?”

“Indeed, even our old boy Chiang Kai-shek has been making a nuisance of himself. I finally went to see him again the other day and urged him to put a stop to his rowdyism, but I can’t be sure he will listen to me.”

“Oh, it is high time that fellow quit politics.”

Great man Hirao suddenly rose and walked over to the fireplace to discover a curious object on top of the stone mantelpiece. He took it in his hands. Two inches by five, made from wood, it had a round, flat surface inscribed with the twelve horary signs, and the four cardinal directions of the compass.

“It’s a sundial!” he exclaimed with a grave face. “Look, Kondo, a sundial.”

Although the sundial did not seem very old, the compass needle was coated with rust. Nevertheless it still tremblingly pointed north. Slanting rays of the evening sun bathed the room with a pale red glow. Hirao pulled up the vermilion-lacquered table and leaned over it. Using the compass to align the sundial properly, he flipped up the rusty vertical pin. Its shadow formed a slender, distinct line between the signs of Monkey and Bird. Hirao folded his arms and gazed at the sundial.

“This is a great find,” said Kondo, but Hirao remained speechless until asked about his silence. Then he broke into a histrionic murmur.

“Ah, the eternal China, in the present but not of the present. China is dreaming of its ancient culture; breathing the air of its ancient culture. Just think: Though surrounded by this much luxury, what the master of this house delighted in was sipping tea, folding his arms, and gazing at this sundial.”

Hirao’s romanticism was awake once more. At moments like this his grandiloquence burst forth without warning. He threw himself back in the chair, spread out his legs, and gesticulated with his arms.

“The four hundred million people of China are as serene and ancient as the Yangtze River. China hasn’t changed a bit since Huang-ti, Wen, Wu, T’ai-tsung, and Yang Kuei-fei lived and died. China will never perish. Chiang Kai-shek and his friends have had their try with the New Life Movement and the rest, but changing people like these is absolutely impossible. We, too, can do our damnedest to occupy China’s entire territory, but any notion of converting the Chinese to Japanese ways is a dream within a dream within a dream. China is what she is and will everlastingly be. It boggles the mind. Ah, it boggles the mind!”

Kondo grew bored and stood up. “What are you moaning about? Let’s go back.”

Reverently holding the sundial, Hirao rose and placed it gingerly into the inner pocket of his tunic. He felt as though he had managed for the first time to fathom this country named China. Century after century the masses of China had continued to lead lives free of any ties to politics. It did not interest them in the least whether they were governed by the Ch’ing dynasty or Sun Yat-sen. He began to feel a boundless love for these Chinese people and their millennia-old spirit. Japan was fighting Chiang Kai-shek, but the masses, remote from the Chiang regime, were neither anti-Japanese nor pro-Soviet nor anti-British nor pro-Communist. Hirao’s voice was like a wistful sigh as he followed Kondo down the staircase.

“It is genuine anarchism the Chinese are living, each practicing it in his very own way.”

Such simple-minded admiration was distasteful to Kondo.

“There are many kinds of anarchism, you know. If that’s anarchism, then beasts are all anarchists. Consider the pig, for instance: There’s a consummate anarchist for you.”

“Idiot, you’ve got no sensibility.”

“And you’re theorizing like a blind Indian groping to describe an elephant.”

“Say whatever you like.”

In theoretical dispute, Hirao was no match for Kondo. Gripping his bamboo stick, he leapt out the front door, shouting,

“Farewell! Many thanks for the gift!” (pp.139-143)

Not much to say about this, really, but it is a nice evocation of Japanese attitudes towards China.

  1. Ishikawa, Tatsuzo. Soldiers Alive. Translated by Zeljko Cipris. University of Hawaii Press, 2003. []
  2. a young Chinese woman to be raped and murdered. []

10/4/2012

Very superstitious

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:01 pm

Above is a charm carried by a Chinese soldier in 1938, re-printed in the journal Youth Front in 1938. It seems to be a Communist publication, although this being the period of the United Front it is pretty mild in its communism, calling for the unity of all groups and parties in opposing the Japanese. In any case, both the Nationalists and the Communists were, as good children of May 4th, opposed to superstition. The article praises both freedom of religion and the contributions religious groups had made to the war effort.1 Still, given China’s long history of corrupt government and uneven education superstition (presumably meaning religious views that did not count as proper religion) was quite common. Even the Japanese ridiculed these charms.

“It is laughable that they carry these charms, showing not only that they fear death, but how badly they need to die. These charms also show why our brave soldiers kill them so easily.”

Always good to be able to cite an (unnamed) enemy source on topics like this. Of course the charms don’t work and may actually do harm. This one, like most, was to be written on paper, then burned and drunk with water. Charms like this were an old part of Chinese popular religion. The Boxers had ones that would make you immune to bullets. This one reveals something about the anti-Japanese resistance of Chinese soldiers/militia/whoever, as it will make it possible for you to go without eating for ten days. The article says that this is laughable. but I might go with tragic instead.

 

from 青年战线 No 1, 1938, p.20

 

  1. Gregor Benton has a lot of nice stuff on the Communists and religious groups in New Fourth Army []

9/3/2012

Celebrate the working class

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:00 am

So, today is Labor Day in the U.S.A., which means that you can celebrate the achievements of the working class without being a Communist. The rest of the world, including China, celebrates on May 1st, but American images of labor have been imported to China in the past. Over the summer I looked into some of the issues of 工合画刊, the illustrated journal of the Co-operative movement in China. Although not enough scholarly work has been done on the movement, it is usually associated with Rewi Alley’s attempts to bring knowledge of western industrial techniques to China. Apparently they also brought techniques of illustration, since a lot of their stuff seems to borrow from western techniques.

 

This guy, who is calling for the people of the Northwest to produce more stuff might have come from Madrid, and the composition seems western to me as well, although I’m not a good enough illustrator to explain why.


This guy (and they are all guys) might have come from an American propaganda poster of an evil Japanese, showing how thoroughly Chinese artists were borrowing American conventions.

The two that I found most striking were the Son of Vulcan

and, most impressive of all, John Henry

I guess what I like best about him is that he seems not only confident in his own power, but confident that this will be accepted. He looks innocent but not naive. Needless to say, this type of image did not become common in China, but it is nice to see it there.

5/23/2012

30 seconds over Taihoku

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 3:33 am

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 []

2/28/2012

War cartoons

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 2:58 pm

I’ve been doing a class that deals with cartoons, and Feng Zikai is a major part of it

One problem with teaching popular art is that a lot of the work of someone like Feng has never been collected or is hard to find. I was therefore very happy to see that Hong Kong Baptist has put Feng’s 1945 book of wartime cartoons on-line, and thus I was able to show my students two of my favourites of his which I have not seen re-printed elsewhere.

The first is entitled Yesterday’s Hero

The second is Battlefield Dog

One thing I find interesting is that Yesterday’s Hero is from 1933 and Battlefield Dog is from 1938. So I would guess that the Hero was someone who had fought the Japanese in 1932 or so and has now been forgotten. I would guess that in 1933 Feng had not thought much about where his foot ended up, but after a few years as a refugee being bombed (and encountering wild dogs) made him think more about these things. In 1945 he put them facing each other on two pages, so I would guess he would see them as a matched pair the same way I do.

7/9/2010

Sweaty Traitors – Character Simplifications That Just Weren’t Meant to Be

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 5:01 am

I had an old instructor of Chinese language many years ago who took every opportunity to pick fun at the evil Reds on the mainland. I think he fled China in 1949 and never got over it. He loved to pick on their character simplification, saying things like, “Only the Communists would take the heart out of love.” (愛 -> 爱) Or, referring to the wings represented in the character 習 for “to learn; study” – and how this nicely gave us the image of taking flight, he would say, “Ask the Communists how you can fly with only one wing!” (習 -> 习)

I always thought his complaints were humorous but unfair, simplification will always result in such changes, and many (most?) were adopted from existing simplifications used widely in handwriting. The KMT dabbled with simplification as well, even if it never worked out. There are many fans of the simplification process and while I personally find simplified characters downright ugly to look at by comparison, I can’t really explain how I came to this aesthetic conclusion. Perhaps the old teacher brain-washed me, or the fewer simplifications of Japanese, which I studied first, made their mark?

Some simplifications already in circulation before the first round of the Chinese government mandated simplification in the mid 1950s, however, didn’t make the cut.

One that I have come across in the past couple of years and seen used in a wide range of hand written (or etched) documents of the Communist party is the simplification of the character for “Han” (漢) as in the Han people or more generally, Chinese, into the character 汗, which normally means “sweat” instead of the character which was ultimately chosen as the standard for simplified Chinese, 汉.

At one point I thought this might only be the case in documents which were “etched” in the age of pre-photocopy copies, where making curved lines is more difficult, but I have seen the same document use two of the three variations, 漢, 汗, and 汉.

I notice this more often than one might in my documents from the 1930s and 1940s since I study the punishment of traitors, or hanjian (漢奸). This word often appears in my documents as 汗奸. When I first saw it, I did a double take, wondering what horrible sins had been committed by the “sweaty traitors.”

Find the sweaty traitors in examples below the fold all taken from Public Security Bureau or more specifically “treason elimination” reports from 1939-1947 (some have a sweaty traitor, some have both regular and sweaty traitors, and one has the more common simplification):
(more…)

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