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.


Life imitates The Office

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 4:11 pm

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. []


From all the junks, the one I need more is music

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:57 am

Slate has a piece up on the Asian-ization of Western classical music. It’s more historically informed than you might think for a Slate piece, although it seems to be lurking in the author’s mind that Classical Music is a universal component of Western Culture. In fact  a lot of it was created for the aristocracy, and there was only a fairly brief period1 when major cities were supposed to have a symphony orchestra supported by bourgeois ticket-buyers. Paarlberg points out that Jews dominated violin performance for years, so its not surprising that the torch is being passed to a new subgroup.

I mostly wanted to mention this as a great way to plug Richard Kraus’s fine book Pianos and Politics in China: Middle-Class Ambitions and the Struggle over Western Music in China. Kraus deals with the role of Western music in defining (and denouncing) China’s new middle class. Although other forms of Western music were important in creating modernity in Asia ‘classical’ music was an important class signal, just as it was in the West. Under the Communists the music of the urban elite had to be swept away along with the elite.

This Cultural Revolution piano announces that Art should serve the workers, peasants, and soldiers, but its still a piano.2 During the CR, of course, any sort of Western music was problematic. The big bold quote from Chairman Mao saved this piano from being smashed, but lots of its brethren. were not so lucky.

This dates from the early 80’s I think,3 and is one of the oddest Chinese propaganda posters I have ever seen. Yes, things changes fast during the Reform era, but a housewife whose kid is learning the violin? Less then a decade after the fall of the Gang of Four? The class symbolism of music may have made the quickest comeback of anything during the reforms. And apparently, its one thing that it pretty similar in Asia and among Asian Americans.



  1. o.k. a century or so []
  2. This actually made me wonder how ‘classical’ a piano would have been in China, as for me a piano would not necessarily bring up thoughts of a classical orchestra. []
  3. via Landesberger []


Pigs Again: Li Shizhen’s Ming Dynasty Map

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 1:45 pm


After my posting last year of “Pigs. Shit, and Chinese History,” Sigrid Schmalzer was kind enough to share this map which she drew based on the works of the Ming dynasty scholar Li Shizhen (李時珍; 1518-1593) mostly widely known for his Bencao Gangmu (本草綱目).

It looks to me as if Li was as much concerned with how the meat would taste as with other qualities!


Miss Taiwan?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:27 am

Going Hunting

A hunting parting in Xinzhu, 1935


A great new resource provided by Paul Barclay of Lafayette College. They have digitized a great collection of photos of colonial-era Taiwan. It is very well organized with clear and complete descriptions of each image. A wonderful resource for both research and teaching.



When is a Farmer not a Farmer? When He’s Chinese: Then He’s A Peasant

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 1:03 am

After Mao Zedong died in 1976, they put his body on display in one of those see-through coffins which Lenin made popular. Shortly after, the NBC evening news commentator, David Brinkley, termed this “peasant under glass” – a racist flippancy which would not have been accepted (or probably even thought of) for the dead leader of a Western state.

Now the thing is that Mao wasn’t even a peasant: He never made his living with a hoe (if anything he was a landlord); he earned the highest educational degree available in his home province at the time; he was successively a librarian, teacher, and school principal; and for most of his career he was a salaried government official. He saw himself in the tradition of rulers and state builders like Qin Shi Huangdi and George Washington. Mao is a peasant only if all Chinese are peasants in essence, simply by virtue of being Chinese. (Curiously, for some of the same Orientalist reasons, Mao and his successor Deng Xiaoping were also held to be “emperors.” That is, all rulers in Beijing were “emperors” by virtue of being Chinese.)

So when I looked into it, I was surprised to find that the use of the word “peasant” rather than “farmer” was relatively new. I spent a pleasant afternoon in the library pulling books off the shelf and found that until the 1920s, Americans religiously used “farmer” for China, “peasant” for Europe, Russia, and even the Mediterranean. F.H. King’s classic 1911 study is Farmers of Forty Centuries.

After about 1930, the words switched positions. Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth (1931), for instance, uses the word “farmer,” never “peasant,” but after that, Americans overwhelmingly prefered “peasant.” When Oprah Winfrey chose The Good Earth for her book club in 2005, the New York Times bestseller list said it was about “peasant” life.

In recent years, “peasant” has come under fire. A writer in China Daily wrote in 1985 that “from now on, the word peasant no longer suits China‘s rural population.” Randy Stross called “peasant” a “quaint taxonomic term that Americans usually used and that served to keep the Chinese apart – and ranked vaguely below – the ‘farmers’ at home.” The British anthropologist Polly Hill attacked the term first because it confused all residents within a village, whether they farmed, peddled, wove, cooked, or lent money (or did each in succession), and second because it lumped together villagers in Africa, Latin America, and Asia who are actually in quite different situations.

What did Americans down to Pearl Buck mean when they insisted France and Russia had peasants but the United States and China had farmers? The distinction was central to Jeffersonian democracy. Thomas Jefferson charged that “the mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government as sores do to the strength of the human body” and believed that the “cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens.” Old World despotism was based on landless peasants who did not have the independent means to stand up to the dukes, lords, barons, and kings. A “peasant” worked under “medieval” or “feudal” conditions, while a propertied “farmer” produced free or democratic rule.

Now we can re-conceive our problem of why there were farmers in China. As best I can make out, the implicit logic runs something like this:

  • European history was normal; the stages were ancient, medieval/ feudal, and modern.
  • China was not Europe, was outside normal history, was eternal, and therefor had no feudalism.
  • Peasants are a feudal phenomenon
  • Ergo, China had farmers, not peasants.

Then why the change from “farmer” to “peasant”?

Young Chinese of the New Culture Movement (1916-1923) came to see China as poor, backward, and shameful; they searched for a new political force powerful enough to destroy traditional culture and to repel imperialism. Revolution was this force and “feudal” the word made China’s weakness a curable structural malady.

Historians now resist the claim that China was feudal. Feudal Europe and Japan had decentralized political systems in which the economy was dominated by military force to the detriment of the market. But from at least the sixteenth century the Chinese rural economy had been basically commercialized, with markets in land and labor. Politics were civilian, centralized and national – anything but feudal. True, by the mid-1920s, the Chinese village economy had been shaken by political disarray, deflation, inflation, drought, flood, famine, warlords, taxes, pestilence, opium, and sociologists. But the solution proposed to these terrible realities depended on the terms in which they were construed as problems. The problem was not feudalism but political disorganization.

True, but not the point. “Feudalism,” in this new argument, was not a technical description but a metaphor, and a devastatingly effective one at that. After all, Marxists and American liberals both saw Progress in history; feudalism in Europe ended with the French Revolution of 1789. Therefore to say that China was “feudal” was to assert that China followed the patterns of universal history; that the Chinese people had to be liberated from feudalism through revolution; that revolution was possible; that the formation of a nation was liberating; and that a vanguard should lead it.

Therefore that the man with the hoe was a peasant.

Must we give up the word “peasant”? Heavens no. But too often we mistake “peasant” for a primary category of nature rather than a convenient term which must be used warily. After 1949, too many in China and in the West saw the countryside as filled with feudal minded peasants, making it easy to rationalize state power. Observing that the “peasant” was invented, not discovered, helps to keep us honest.

[This piece draws on my “The Storm over the Peasant: Orientalism, Rhetoric and Representation in Modern China,” in Shelton Stromquist and Jeffrey Cox, ed., Contesting the Master Narrative: Essays in Social History (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1998): 150-172. reprinted as Lund East Asian Working Paper Series on Language and Politics in Modern China (Formerly Indiana East Asian Working Paper Series on Language and Politics in Modern China): Paper # 11, Summer 1998. Please see that piece for footnotes and references.]


Han Dynasty Pig Sty-Latrine

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 3:29 pm


© Minneapolis Institute of Art

This is posted on the Institute’s rich and well organized site, Art of Asia, which notes that combination pig sty-latrines can be found in rural China today.


Pigs, Shit, and Chinese History, Or Happy Year of the Pig

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 12:55 am

The intriguing pig map in Alan Baumler’s post, “Pigs” (January 11) reminds us that 2007 is the Year of the Pig. Wikipedia informs us that a person born in the year of the Pig (or Boar) is “usually an honest, straightforward and patient person,” someone who is a “modest, shy character who prefers to work quietly behind the scenes.” The article’s list of famous people born in the Year of the Pig includes Chiang Kaishek, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lee Kuan Yew, Ronald Reagan, and Woody Allen. Does this increase your respect for astrology?

I have known some pigs. Well, maybe not exactly “known” – I’m a city kid – but at least had feelings for them. We won’t count Charlotte’s Web or the Three Little Pigs, and I probably shouldn’t even mention the pig jokes (“I haven’t had so much fun since the day the pig ate my little brother”).

If you deal with China, pigs are part of the deal, but they play a different role from elsewhere. Anthropologists duel over why peoples in the ancient Middle East (not just the Jewish pastoralists) avoided the “abominable pig.” This is a puzzle. Pigs are supremely efficient at converting their feed to meat, sows farrow quickly, and the meat is quite tasty. So what’s not to like? Mary Douglas argued that pigs were impure because they defied proper categories (Douglas 1966). Marvin Harris, in his classic Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches, makes an ecological argument: pigs were not suited to the hot, arid climate (they don’t sweat, so they wallow in mud); goats and sheep eat grass, but pigs don’t; pigs were a cultural marker of difference from the settled agriculturalists; in short, they were too expensive. Richard Lobban, Jr. followed up with a comparative study which found a correlation between pig ecology and prohibition; cool, moist conditions, such as those in Europe and China, correlated with eating pork. (Lobban, 1994; p. 71).

In China no supreme being commanded “eat not this flesh,” whether of pig, dog, or cow; still, from early on the main role of the pig was not at dinner. Economically, pigs were a great deal for farmers. They recycled waste which nobody else would touch, produced fertilizer, and at the end of the year this “piggy bank” could be carted to market to realize a cash profit. One scholar counted the fluctuation in pig skulls in neolithic tombs and concluded that pigs were important not only to eat and in religious ceremonies but to build political power (Kim 1994). Han Dynasty funerary models found in tombs included combination pig sty-latrines – when we say pigs “recycle waste” we’re not fooling! Ch’u T’ung-tsu and Hsu Cho-yun describe Han dynasty herders whose pigs rummaged through the swamps and forests.

By early modern times, the forests which fed herds were gone. The human population was so intensive that it didn’t make sense to feed animals on grain since a given piece of land could support many more people if they ate what they grew rather than feeding it to animals. But pigs fit into a niche where cows or other grain eaters could not; the disgusting eating habits of the pig came from the power of its gut to get nutrition from what had already passed through an inefficient human’s. (The fascinating subject of nightsoil will have to wait for another day). The value of this pig fertilizer was low, but the cost was almost nothing.

A knowledgeable American who lived in China in the 1930s related the “biography of a Shantung pig.” It was a “rare thing,” he observed, “for a hog to be raised from piglet to pork chop by a single farmer, and equally rare for a Chinese farmer to raise more than a single hog at a time.” The piglet was sold at market by a breeder (after being castrated to prevent competitive breeding); raised in a private pig pen-latrine; fattened by still a third owner for the meat market; then “betrayed to the butcher.” None of these farmers could afford to eat the meat, which the butcher sold by the ounce. (Winfield, 1948 pp. 64-66)

The cultural overtones of pigs in Chinese society were quite different from the Middle Eastern ones. Who could forget “Pigsie ,” Arthur Waley’s name for Zhu Bajie, the half pig, half human character in Journey to the West? Farmers are not sentimental about what they raise to be butchered, but one of my first Chinese teachers in Taiwan explained that the Chinese character jia (often translated as “home” or “family”) shows a pig under a roof. I had long wondered if this was reliable or just a folk etymology, and am thankful to Alan Baumler for sending me a solid reference which clears up the question:

Mark Lewis, in his Construction of Space in Early China, p. 92, says (following Xu Shen) that the character , home, is not a pig under a roof, but a child under a roof, as the seal-script hai looked a lot like shi . In his notes he has a quote from Lu shi chun qiu that illustrates the possible confusion:

Zi Xia was going to Jin and passed through Wei. Someone reading a historical chronicle said “The Jin army, three pigs, forded the Yellow River.” Zi Xia said, “That is wrong. This says ji hai”[己亥, one of the sexagenary cycle used to indicate the day] The character “ji ”is close to three [san ] and the character pig [shi ] resembles child [hai ]

But the folk etymology reflects a truth. Pigs often lived under the same roof with the family (I have seen this myself in the Sichuan countryside). This human/ livestock cohabitation is the reason viruses pass back and forth between humans and animals more easily in China than in places with the luxury of grain fed meat. One hypothesis is that the virus pandemic of 1918 started in Chinese pigs, while the transmission of SARS from domestic fowls to humans is well established.

What can pigs tell us about China’s modernity? Sigrid Schmalzer shows us in an eye-opening article, “Breeding a Better China: Pigs, Practices, and Place,” (Schmalzer, 2002), about agrarian reform and modernization in Ding Xian in the 1930s. I had thought I knew something about this. After all, I had written a book (Hayford, 1990) which told the story of the Ding Xian [Ting Hsien] Experiment. James Yen [Yan Yangchu] and his colleagues set out to demonstrate that Maoist revolution was not needed in order to transform the Chinese village; they also rejected the wholesale, uncritical adoption of Western models. They aimed to produce Sinified scientific techniques which fit Chinese realities. Including pigs.

So Sigrid’s article took me by surprise. By looking at what “science” actually meant to these agrarian reformers, not just their intentions, she dissects what goes astray when social experiences are not taken into account in defining “science.” The article challenges the universality of modernity based only on Western practice.

A little background: In the late 19th and early 20th century, Chinese farmers actually did pretty well. Imperialist depredations damaged China politically but many farmers benefitted from new technology, expanded transportation, growing urban markets, and even exports. Alan’s map suggests to me that the number of pigs in North China grew because farmers, long skilled at responding to the market, used these old friends on a new scale. The Rural Reconstruction reformers correctly saw that the key to improving village life was not to destroy some unchanging “feudal” system but to take advantage of the long standing commercial mentality of the small farmer. Among other things, they introduced better breeds of pigs.

Schmalzer argues that the reformers nonetheless made several mistakes. One was to assume that Chinese pigs served the same function as American ones. American farmers wanted pigs to convert their abundant corn into bacon, not scraps into fertilizer. American pigs were “scientifically” bred to produce more meat and therefore less fertilizer. Second, the reformers left out gender: Chinese pigs were domestic partners, raised mostly by women. What’s more, the Chinese system prized sows, and over the years bred selectively for sows which produced large, frequent, litters of admittedly smaller piglets; American breeders valued boars and bred for size and fashionable looks to compete at the county fair. The reformers introduced American boars so huge that they had to build special support platforms for mating.

When the Japanese invasion of 1937 ended the Ding Xian experiment, the imported pigs disappeared into the chaos of war. James Yen and agricultural scientists had no time to produce modern, scientific techniques based in Chinese practice. So in the end the difference was not between “scientific” (i.e. Western) pig breeding and Chinese folkways but between American and Chinese needs and situations.

An afterword. When my wife and I visited Yen’s Philippines Rural Reconstruction Movement in the late 1960s, local workers showed us the air conditioned pens housing the pigs introduced from the States; the new pigs, they explained, couldn’t stand the heat, were sensitive to sun burn, and demanded special treatment – not unlike, the local workers slyly added, most of the other Americans they knew.

And you thought pigs were pigs! If so, you should read Richard P. Horwitz, Hog Ties: What Pigs Tell Us About America (1998). Rich, a friend who teaches American Studies at University of Iowa, worked on a pig farm and knows his… fertilizer. Pigs are more like people than most animals, so Rich demonstrates that the way we treat them says a lot about our values and practices.




Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:59 am

How many pigs were there in China during the warlord era?

I came across the wonderful site Strange Maps, and one of their offerings was a 1922 map of world hog production

World O' Pigs

The text says that this is a map of industrial-scale pig breeding. China seems a bit over-represented here. Yes, every farm in China should have a couple pigs. So should every farm in Ohio and Korea, but the densities there seem much lower, and it can’t just be population. Were Chinese really eating all that much ? Or was there a big export industry? Either would be interesting as the first would be a sign of a surprising prosperity, and the later a sign of China getting an export industry right in the 1920s. Does anyone know if there is anything out there on Late Imperial/Republican pigs?


Working like a slave

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:04 am

I have been to busy to post much of late, as I have been very busy. Not quite working like a slave however,

as the slave contract below shows. I use this in classes as a nice picture of the Han economy, but it is also a

lot of fun in other ways, so I thought I would post it for the beneift of our countless readers.

The Contract for a Youth

WangPao(fl. 61-54 b.c.e.)

Wang Tzu-yuan of Shu Commandery went to the Chien River on business, and went up to the home of the widow Yang Hui, who had a male slave named Pien-liao. Wang Tzu-yuan requested him to go and buy some wine. Picking up a big stick, Pien-liao climbed to the top of the grave mound and said: “When my master bought me, Pien-liao, he only contracted for me to care for the grave and did not contract for me to buy wine for some other gentleman.”

Wang Tzu-yuan was furious and said to the widow: “Wouldn’t you prefer to sell this slave?”

Yang Hui said: “The slave’s father offered him to people, but no one wanted him.”

Wang Tzu-yuan immediately settled on the sale contract, etc. The slave again said: “Enter in the contract everything you wish to order me to do. I, Pien-liao, will not do anything not in the contract.” Wang Tzu-yuan said: “Agreed!” The text of the contract said:

Third year of Shen-chiao, the first month, the fifteenth day, the gentleman Wang Tzu-yuan, of Tzu-chung, purchases from the lady Yang Hui of An-chih village in Chengtu, the bearded male slave, Pien-liao, other hus­band’s household.

The fixed sale price is 15,000 cash. The slave shall obey orders about all kinds of work and may not argue.

He shall rise at dawn and do an early sweeping. After eating he shall wash up. Ordinarily he should pound the grain mortar, tie up broom straws, carve bowls and bore wells, scoop out ditches, tie up fallen fences, hoe the garden, trim up paths and dike up plats of land, cut big flails, bend bamboos to make rakes, and scrape and fix the well pulley. In going and coming he may not ride horseback or in the cart, nor may he sit crosslegged or make a hubbub. When he gets out of bed he shall shake his head to wake up, fish, cut forage, plait reeds and card hemp, draw water for gruel, and help in making tsu-mo drink. He shall weave shoes and make other coarse things, catch birds on a gummed pole, knot nets and catch fish, shoot wild geese with arrows on a string, and shoot wild ducks with a pellet bow. He shall ascend the mountains to shoot deer, and go into the waters to catch turtles. He shall dig a pond in the garden to raise fish and a hundred or so geese and ducks; and shall drive away owls and hawks. Holding a stick, he shall herd the pigs. He shall plant ginger and rear sheep; rear the shotes and colts; remove manure and always keep things clean; and feed the horses and cattle. When the drum sounds four he shall arise and give them a midnight addition of fodder.

In the second month at the vernal equinox he shall bank the dikes and repair the boundary walls of the fields; prune the mulberry trees, skin the palm trees, plant melons to make gourd utensils, select eggplant seeds for planting, and transplant onion sets; burn plant remains to generate the fields, pile up refuse and break up lumps in the soil. At midday he shall dry out things in the sun. At cockcrow he shall rise and pound grain in the mortar, exercise and curry the horses, the donkeys, and likewise the mules—three classes.

When there are guests in the house he shall carry a kettle and go after wine; draw water and prepare the evening meal; wash bowls and arrange food trays; pluck garlic from the garden; chop vegetables and slice meat; pound meat and make
soup of tubers; stew fish and roast turtle; boil tea and fill the utensils. When the dinner is over he shall cover and put away leftovers; shut the gates and close up the passageways for dogs; feed the pigs and air the dogs.

He shall not argue or fight with the neighbors. The slave should only drink bean-water and may not be greedy for wine. If he wishes to drink good wine he may only wet the lips and rinse the mouth; he may not empty the dipper or drain the cup. He may not go out at dawn and return at night, or have dealings with close chums.

Behind the house there are trees. He should hew them and make a boat, going downriver as far as Chiang-chou and up to Chien-chu. On behalf of the storehouse assistants he shall seek spending money, rejecting the strings of cash which are defective. He shall buy mats at Mien-t’ing, and when traveling between Tu and Lo he should trade in the small markets to get powder for the ladies. When he returns to Tu he shall carry hemp about on his pole, transporting it out to the side markets. He shall lead dogs for sale and peddle geese. At Wu-yang he shall buy tea, and he shall carry lotus on his pole from the Yang family pool. When he travels to market assemblies he shall carefully guard against the practice of theft. When he enters the market he may not squat like a barbarian, loll about, or indulge in evil talk and cursing. He shall make many knives and bows, and take them into Yi-chou to barter for oxen and sheep. The slave shall teach himself to be smart and clever, and may not be silly and stupid.

He shall take an axe and go into the mountains; cut memorandum tablets and hew cart shafts; if there are leftovers he should make sacrificial stands, benches, and wooden shoes, as well as food pans for pigs. He shall burn wood to make charcoal; collect stones and heap them into retaining walls, make huts and roof houses; and whittle books to take the place of commercially prepared writing tablets. On his return at dusk he should bring two or three bundles of dry wood.

In the fourth month he should transplant; in the ninth month he should reap; and in the tenth month gather in the beans. He shall gather quantities of hemp and rushes and stretch them into rope. When it rains and there is nothing to do, he should plait grass and weave reeds. He shall plant and cultivate peach, plum, pear, and persimmon trees. He shall set out mulberry trees, one every thirty feet in rows eight feet apart, and fruit trees in corresponding sequence with the rows and intervals matching. When the fruit is ripe and is being picked or stored he may not suck or taste it. At night if the dogs bark he should arise and warn the neighbors, block the gate and bar the doors, mount the tower and beat the drum, don his shield and grasp his spear. Returning down he shall make three circuits of inspection.

He shall be industrious and quick-working, and he may not idle and loaf. When the slave is old and his strength spent, he shall plant marsh grass and weave mats. When his work is over and he wishes to rest he should pound a picul of grain.

Late at night when there is no work he shall wash clothes really white. If he has private savings they shall be the master’s gift or from guests. The slave may not have evil secrets; affairs should be open and reported. If the slave does not heed instructions, he shall be bastinadoed a hundred strokes.

The reading of the text of the contract came to an end. The slave was speechless and his lips were tied. Wildly he beat his head on the ground, and hit himself with his hands; from his eyes the tears streamed down, and the drivel from his nose hung a foot long.

He said: “If it is to be exactly as master Wang says, I would rather return soon along the yellow-soil road, with the grave worms boring through my head. Had I known before I would have bought the wine for master Wang. I would not have dared to do that wrong.”

From Mair

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