Understanding China Through Comics

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:46 am

The third volume of Understanding China Through Comics is out, and it is good. In my previous reviews I talked about how well the books explained Chinese history and how well they worked visually. As before, the answer to both is pretty well, and they are getting better.

This volume goes from 907-1368, so we get the Song and the Yuan. This is a tricky period to deal with visually. There are a lot of foreigners around, and it is hard to distinguish them. Different hats will help.


Unlike western writers, Liu is committed to explaining all the political ins and outs of this period, and he does a pretty good job of sorting out the constant political shifts, although reading this also helps explain why so may other authors don’t bother with all this.

As in the earlier volumes there is a lot of stuff explaining the past in terms of the present, so Song commercialization/technical advances is done through by having Malcom Gladwell drop by to discuss rice paddies. Gladwell

The Song is actually a pretty interesting test case for Liu’s central thesis, that Chinese history is a 5,000 year quest to create a middle-class society, given that this is the time of the birth of an early modern commercial society and a time of great technological advance. SongTreadSongTechMost importantly, this was the time of Wang Anshi. Wang’s reforms have garnered a lot of attention in the 20th century, since he is the Chinese official who’s policies can be most easily linked to the present. If you want to find signs of modern administration, the welfare state, democracy, or incipient Communists totalitarianism in traditional China, Wang’s reforms are where you look. Liu is clearly a member of Team Wang, presenting him as an upright technocrat who should have been listened to. WangAnshi The Song is also portrayed as the age when the “scholar-officials” came fully into power, and the idea that these upright technocrats were admirable and sacrosanct came from here. No more executing those who speak truth to power!ScholarsWhile all the above is both pretty good history and also clearly has modern resonances, Liu does point out that you can’t read Chinese nationalism back into the past. Here we have peasants telling each other that it does not much matter who they are paying taxes to. This makes the books quite different from a lot of the Chinese history you see in China, where all of China’s 56 ethnic groups have always been modern nationalists.  PeasantsDontcareUnfortunately, Liu does gloss over some of the more bothersome aspects of China’s past. Footbinding is a good example. In this book it is presented as a way of protecting Chinese women from being carried off by barbarians.

FootbindingNobody has a really good explanation for why footbinding spread, but needless to say this is not one of the possible explanations. More importantly, this page reconciles me to the fact that Liu is not planning to go past 1911 in his history. If you won’t look at the uglier part of your history, what can you do with those who rebel against it? If you leave out what footbinding really was you can’t do Joe Hill or MLK, or Lu Xun or Liang Qichao. I guess they are just nagging troublemakers, rather than the best of what you are.


At the same time the new, re-drawn and expanded revised edition of Volume One is out.
(( Jing Liu claimed he “fixed some of the problems you pointed out.”, and while I doubt I had much influence on what he did, it is nice to think that this is a blog that Gets Results. )) Liu seems to be warming to his task, and in this new world of publish on demand he can re-work his stuff as much as he wants. Here is China surrounded by foes in the introduction to the old Volume 1

Divided V1

And here it is on p.13 of the new version


Not only are the drawings more detailed, they are better in that they convey more. You can loose yourself in the second one in a way you can’t in the first version.

Here is the old version of Confucianism as a means of social mobility Mobility V 1

Here is the new.


He has also expanded some parts. In the last version I mentioned that this was about as well as you could explain Confucianism, Daoism, and Legalism in one page,


but also pointed out that it might be o.k to use more than one page. Here is (part of) the new version.


We also get a bit more history of technology, and also a tendency to have characters leap out of the page to explain things to us.

It is still pretty much the same book, only better.



Professors as booty

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:51 am


I have been reading Patricia Ebrey’s new book on the Song emperor Huizong. For those of you who don’t know him he known for being the most artistically accomplished of the Chinese emperors and for loosing his empire to the Jin. These things make him a good subject for a book, as a lot was written and preserved about him. The book itself is one of the most intimate portraits of a Chinese emperor in English, and there is a lot of good stuff in here on the Song government, Huizong’s actions and artistic production and other interesting topics. I am mostly going to talk about the fall of the Song and its aftermath. The defeat and exile sections are among the most detailed in the book, no doubt because the theme of an exiled emperor was attractive to later writers and compilers of sources

You can get some tips on how to conduct a siege. When the first Jurchen army approached Kaifeng they decided not to enter the city, but to demand ransom.

…the capital was thrown into an uproar trying to raise the truly huge sum of gold and silver, equal to 180 times the annual payments that Song had been paying to Liao. The government treasuries had large quantities of copper cash, bur the Jurchen wanted gold and silver, in much shorter supply. Everyone who had received gifts of gold or silver from the throne, including all the princes, Daoist officials, court musicians and artists, and so on, were to turn it over at the Yuanfeng Treasury. All palaces and imperially sponsored temples, as well as the Kaifeng prefectural offices were to turn over any gold and silver they had to the main treasury. Huge sums were confiscated from Wang Fu’s house- more than seven thousand bolts of cloth and ten million strings of cash- but a third of that was looted by people who forced their way in during the inventory. By 1126/1/20, the besieged Song court sent to the Jin camp more than three hundred thousand ounces of gold and twelve million ounces of silver. When that still was not enough, the government ordered any families owning gold or silver to turn it in to one of several collecting points. They would be compensated later at the rate of 20 strings of cash for each ounce of gold and 1.5 strings for each ounce of silver. Informing on those who concealed their gold or silver was rewarded at a rate of two-tenths of the concealed gold and one-tenth of the concealed silver. On 1/26, the court sent the equivalent of another five hundred ounces of gold and eight million ounces of silver, with much of it made up of jewelry and utensils collected from the populace. There was reason to rush; on 1/27 it was reported that the Jurchen were excavating the tombs of imperial consorts, princes, and princesses. (p.438)

I like the image of imperial largess flowing back to the palace, starting first with the elite and then spreading outward. You can see the beginnings of panic in the city as a third of the wealth from Wang Fu’s house is taken by the mob. Most interestingly, the Jurchen seem to have read their Foucault. Rather than entering the city and searching for movable wealth, why not have the court and the populace discipline themselves and root it out? They can even change the copper cash in the treasury for silver and gold! Although the Jurchen army left the first time the Song court was too riven by factionalism to either make peace or  make war and by the end of the year another army was demanding even more gold and silver, far more than the court could come up with.

Jin officials entered Kaifeng and opened the Song government storehouses, which were found to have even more bolts of plain silk than demanded, but only a tiny fraction of the gold and silver. Song officials were assigned responsibilities for searching specific quadrants of the city and confiscating all gold and silver. Every few days, the Jurchens demanded something else for the Song government to deliver to them. For instance, on 12/5 Jin demanded ten thousand horses. Ranking officials were allowed to keep one horse, but all others were seized, over seven thousand all together  The next day, 12/6, Jin demanded weapons, many of which people had taken after soldiers abandoned them. Qinzong issued an order that all weapons in Kaifeng, both government and private, be turned over to the Jin authorities. A few days later, on 12/10, all the money in the storehouses was distributed to the Jin soldiers as their rewards. On 12/13 a call was issued for twenty painters, fifty wine-makers, and three thousand bottles of wine. Ten days later Jin demanded a long list of books and documents by name, including Sima Guang’ s Comprehensive Mirror and calligraphy by Su Shi and Huang Tingjian. In some cases, the Kaifeng prefectual authorities had to buy the works from bookshops to fulfil the orders. A few days after that, the books from the Directorate of Education were taken (though as an insult, ones by Wang Anshi were discarded). As the scholars in Jin employ discovered that they were missing a title, they added it to their requisition lists. Just before the Lantern Festival, Jin demanded all the lanterns usually used not only by the palace, but also by temples and shops, then held their own ceremony outside the walls of the city. Not long afterward, they demanded the full set of procession paraphernalia, then took such objects as the Nine Cauldrons, the bells and other instruments used for the Music of Great Brilliance, consorts’ headgear, the blocks for printing books, including those for the Buddhist and Daoist canons, and maps, diagrams, and pictures of all sorts. From time to time, the Jurchen commander requisitioned specific craftsmen or specialists, such as physicians, musicians,astronomers, weapons makers, masons, gardeners, jade carvers, clerks, painters, storytellers, professors, Buddhist monks, and so on. Lists of objects taken from the palace are often staggering: 25,000 ancient bronze vessels, 1,000 ox carts, 1,000 parasols, 28,700 pills from the imperial pharmacy, 1,000,000 jin of silk thread, 1,800 bolts of a certain type of silk made in Hebei.

Here you can see the definition of movable wealth expanding (and common Jurchen soldiers getting something.) but even more, the Jurchen are starting to demand symbols of Imperial authority, most notably the Nine Cauldrons, but also all the other things (and people) you needed to be ruler and could carry away. They even demonstrated their taste by tossing out the books of Wang Anshi. I love the idea of professors as booty, along with gold, parasols, and bells.

As the situation slipped out of the control of the Song court things got worse and worse for the people of the city.

Although the city had fallen, the Jurchen forces kept the gates closed, enforcing, in a sense, a reverse siege to keep up the pressure on the city until all its demands were met. Food and firewood, therefore, were in very short supply. On 12/21 the court allowed government office buildings to be demolished for firewood; the next day, after a snow fall aggravated the situation, approval was given for people to enter Northeast Marchmount Park to chop down the rare trees planted there. A few days later, with another snowfall, people were also allowed to break up the hundred-odd buildings in the garden for fuel. So many rushed there that people were trampled to death.

There were lots of other bad things happening in the city, but it is not surprising that the sources would focus on the park. There is almost a checklist of things a bad last emperor is supposed to do, and waste money is one of them (frugality is always good, especially in emperors.) and one of the canonical ways to waste money is by building parks and palaces. The Northeast Marchmount Park was one of Huizong’s greatest achievements, a magnificent paradise that demonstrated his equivalence to the great rulers of antiquity. They too had built parks filled with animals and plants from all over their domain. Huizong was criticized for the expense of this park, and the costs it imposed on the people, and it is not surprising that cutting down its trees and burning its buildings would seem a fitting symbol of the end of his reign.

Huizong himself was a form of moveable wealth. The Jurchen eventually took him and his son and successor Qinzhong north, and both of them eventually ended up in Northern Manchuria. Huizong was of some use to the Jin, being required, for instance, to pay homage to the Jin ancestors, provide samples of his calligraphy and to convince Song holdouts in the north to surrender. They were pretty much the only male members of the family who were of much use, and many of others died on the march north.

The female members of his family and the various palace women were also a form of movable wealth, but all of them were of use. When the first large group of these women was brought to the Jurchen camp they were required to dress in entertainers clothes and serve the Jurchen generals at a banquet. Soon after it was announced that those women to be given to Jurchen soldiers were to start wearing their hair in the Jurchen fashion and let doctors abort their fetuses if they were pregnant. While most of the would eventually be distributed to Jurchen men or become palace slaves far in the north many died on the march due to harsh conditions, suicide, or died resisting rape. Other captives were traded off to the Tanguts, Mongols and Tartars at a ratio of 10 slaves to one horse.

While Huizong’s captivity was certainly not the lifestyle to which he had become accustomed he did live reasonably well and even had another 14 children with his remaining concubines. He continued to write poetry, and for the first time began studying the Spring and Autumn Annals for advice on how to be a good emperor. A sound idea of course, but too late.




Guest Blogger- Ou-yang Hsiu

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:39 am

Lots of bits of Chinese prose would make great blog entries. (A blog is basically a biji, more or less) Plus, they make great things to teach from. So, if any of you are teaching about the Song dynasty elite and their attitudes towards the mundane world you might find this from our guest-blogger Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修 to be helpful or informative.  (tips on working with it here)

A Record of the Pavilion of an Intoxicated Old Man

Ou-yang Hsiu

All around Ch’u there are mountains, but the forests and valleys of that assemblage of peaks to the southwest are the finest. There is one that appears from afar most luxuriant and deepest in verdure—that is Lang-ya. After you have walked six or seven tricents into the mountains, there you will gradually notice the sound of water gurgling. Where it drains out between the two peaks, this is Brewer’s Spring. Rounding the peak the road winds; there a pavilion hangs, like a wing, out over the spring. This is the Intoxicated Old Man’s pavilion. Who was it that built this pavilion? A monk of these moun­tains, Chih-hsien. And who named it? The prefect, who called it after himself. When prefect and guests come to drink here, because he becomes intoxicated after only drinking a little and because he is the oldest in years, that is why he nicknamed himself the Intoxicated Old Man. But what he means by Intoxi­cated Old Man has nothing to do with the wine; it has to do instead with being in the mountains by the water. This joy from the mountains and the water he feels within his mind; he merely ascribes it to the wine.

Now the sun rises and the forest mists dissipate, the clouds return and the caves in ravines grow gloomy—these alternations of dusk and light mark mornings and evenings amid the mountains. Wild flowers bloom with their hidden scents, beautiful trees leaf out with deepening shade, then winds rise and pure frost appears, the water level drops and the rocks protrude—such are the four seasons amid the mountains. In the morning he goes there, in the evening he returns; the scenery of the four seasons is never the same, hence his joy knows no bounds.

Those who carry loads on their backs sing along the path; sojourners rest beneath the trees. The ones in front call out and those behind respond. Some are bent over with age and others so young that they must be led by the hand. They come and go without cease—such are the travelers around Ch’u. One may lean over this stream and fish; the stream being deep, the fish are fat. Or one may brew wine with the spring water; the spring being fragrant, the wine is crystal clear. Sliced meats from the mountains and wild vegetables arrayed in profusion before the guests—such are the prefect’s banquets. The joys of the feast are not from strings or winds; they are from winning at pitch-pot, from victory in chess. Passing goblets and mugs back and forth, shouting with abandon, now sitting,, now on their feet—such is the happy abandon of the guests. And the one who, ruddy-faced and white of hair, lies sprawled in their midst—that is the prefect intoxicated.

When the merriment is over and the evening sun sets among the mountains, the prefect goes home with his guests in tow, their shadows jumbled together. The forest gloom deepens; birds call high and low. The revelers all gone, the birds are joyful. Yet, though birds may know the joy of mountain forests, they know not the joy of mankind; men may know the joy of revels with the prefect and yet never know the prefect’s enjoyment of their joy.

Intoxicated yet able to share their joy, able when sober to describe it in writing—such is the prefect. And what is this prefect’s name? Ou-yang Hsiu of Lu-ling.               Translated by Robert E. Hegel


环滁皆山也。其西南诸峰,林壑尤美。望之蔚然而深秀者,琅琊也。山行六七里, 渐闻水声潺潺,而泄出于两峰之间者,酿泉也。峰回路转,有亭翼然临于泉上者, 醉翁亭也。作亭者谁?山之僧智仙也。名之者谁?太守自谓也。太守与客来饮于 此,饮少辄醉,而年又最高,故自号曰“醉翁”也。醉翁之意不在酒,在乎山水之间 也。山水之乐,得之心而寓之酒也。若夫日出而林霏开,云归而岩穴暝,晦明变化 者,山间之朝暮也。野芳发而幽香,佳木秀而繁阴,风霜高洁,水落而石出者,山 间之四时也。朝而往,暮而归,四时之景不同,而乐亦无穷也。至于负者歌于塗, 行者休于树,前者呼,后者应,伛偻提携,往来而不绝者,滁人游也。临溪而渔, 溪深而鱼肥;酿泉为酒,泉香而酒冽;山肴野蔌,杂然而前陈者,太守宴也。宴酣 之乐,非丝非竹,射者中,弈者胜,觥筹交错,坐起而喧哗者,众宾欢也。苍然白 发,颓乎其中者,太守醉也。已而夕阳在山,人影散乱,太守归而宾客从也。树林 阴翳,鸣声上下,游人去而禽鸟乐也。然而禽鸟知山林之乐,而不知人之乐;人知 从太守游而乐,而不知太守之乐其乐也。醉能同其乐,醒能述其文者,太守也。太 守谓谁?庐陵欧阳修也

For more discussion see


Holiday reading: Murder, treachery and genocide

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:39 am

As I am half-heartedly getting ready for the Spring I am putting together some readings for my students. What survey would be complete without a chunk from the Secret History of the Mongols? So if you are looking to take a break from your preparations for Taiwan’s Constitution Day this is a good way to take a break.  I would like to claim that I have carefully studied the whole text and picked out the best bit to give you a picture of Mongol society, but that’s not really true. It is a good read though, if a little long for use in class.

from Chapter Four

After getting Ong Qan to come, Cinggis Qa’an and Ong Qan decided to move jointly against Jamuqa. They set out downstream along the Keluren River. Cinggis Qa’an sent Altan, Qucar and Daritai as vanguard; Ong Qan for his part sent as vanguards Senggum, Jaqa Gambu and Bilge Beki. Patrols were also dispatched ahead of these vanguards: at Enegen Guileni they set up an observation post; beyond that, at Mount Cekcer, they set up another observation post; and beyond that, at Mount Ciqurqu, they set up a further observation post. Altan, Qucar, Senggum and the others of our vanguard arrived at Utkiya. While they were deciding whether to camp there, a man from the observation post which had been set up at Ciqurqu came riding in haste and brought the news that the enemy was approaching. When this news came, without setting up camp they went towards the enemy in order to gain information. They met and gained the information: when they asked the enemy patrol who they were, it turned out to be Jamuqa’s vanguard consisting of A’ucu Ba’atur of the Mongols, Buyiruq Qan of the Naiman, Qutu, the son of Toqto’a Beki of the Merkit, and Quduqa Beki of the Oyirat. These four had been going towards us as Jamuqa’s vanguard.
Our vanguard shouted at them, and they shouted back, but it was already getting late. Saying, ‘Tomorrow we’ll fight!’, our men withdrew and spent the night together with the main body of the army.
Next day the troops were sent forward and when they met, at Koyiten, they battled. As they pressed on each other downhill and uphill, and reformed their ranks, those very same Buyiruq Qan and Quduqa, knowing how to produce a rainstorm by magic, started to conjure it up, but the magic storm rolled back and it was right upon themselves that it fell. Unable to proceed, they tumbled into ravines. Saying to each other, ‘We are not loved by Heaven!’, they scattered.
Buyiruq Qan of the Naiman separated from the rest and went towards Uluq Taq on the southern side of the Altai Mountains. Qutu, the son of Toqto’a of the Merkit, went towards the Selengge River. Quduqa Beki of the Oyir went towards the Sisgis River, making for the forest. A’ucu Ba’atur of the Tayici’ut went towards the Onan River.
Jamuqa plundered the very people who had elected him qan; then he moved homewards following the course of the Ergune. As they were dispersing in this way, Ong Qan pursued Jamuqa downstream along the Ergune while Cinggis Qa’an pursued A’ucu Ba’atur of the Tayici’ut in the direction of the Onan.
As soon as A’ucu Ba’atur reached his own people, he had them moved along with him in haste. The Tayici’ut A’ucu Ba’atur and Qodun Orceng arrayed their troops at Ulengut Turas on the other side of the Onan, and stood in battle order ready to fight.
Cinggis Qa’an came up and fought with the Tayici’ut. They battled to and fro incessantly until evening came; then, in the same place where they had been fighting, they passed the night right next to each other. When people [the refugees] arrived, fleeing in disarray, they set up a circular camp and also passed the night in the same spot, alongside their troops.  In that battle Cinggis Qa’an was wounded in a vein of the neck. He could not stop the bleeding and was in a great plight. He waited till sundown, then he pitched camp just there where the two armies had encamped right next to each other.
Jelme sucked and sucked the blood which clogged Cinggis Qa ‘an’s wound and his mouth was all smeared with blood. Still, Jelme, not trusting other people, stayed there and looked after him. Until the middle of the night he swallowed down or spat out mouthfulls of the clogging blood.
When midnight had passed Cinggis Qa’an revived and said, ‘The blood has dried up completely; I am thirsty.’ Then Jelme took off his hat, boots and clothes – everything – and stark naked but for his pants, he ran into the midst of the enemy who had settled right next to them. He jumped  on to a cart of the people who had set up a circular camp over there. He searched for kumis, but was unable to find any because those people had fled in disarray and had turned the mares loose without milking them.
As he could not find kumis, he took from one of their carts a large covered bucket of curds and carried it back In the time between his going and coming back he was not seen by anyone. Heaven indeed protected him!
Having brought the covered bucket of curds, the same Jelme, all by himself, searched for water, brought it back and having mixed it with the curds got the Qa’an to drink it.
Three times, resting in between, the Qa’an drank, then he spoke: ‘The eyes within me have cleared up.’ He spoke and sat up: it was daybreak and growing light. He looked and saw that, all about the place where he was sitting, the wound-clogging blood that Jelme had kept on sucking and had spat about had formed small puddles. When he saw it, Cinggis Qa’an said, ‘What is this? Couldn’t you have spat farther away?’ Jelme then said, ‘When you were in a great plight, had I gone farther away I would have feared being separated from you. As I was in haste, I swallowed what I could swallow and spat out what I could spit out; I was in a plight myself and quite a lot went also into my stomach!’
Cinggis Qa’an again spoke: ‘When I was in this state, lying down, why did you run naked into their camp? Had you been caught, wouldn’t you have revealed that I was like this?’ Jelme said, ‘My thought, as I went naked, was that if somehow I got caught, I would have said, “I wanted to submit to you, but they found out and, seizing me, decided to kill me. They removed my clothes – everything – only my pants had not yet been removed when I suddenly managed to escape and have just come in haste to join you. They would have regarded me as sincere, they would have given me clothes and looked after me. Then, I would have jumped on a horse and while they were astonished watching me flee, in that brief moment I would have surely got back! So thinking, and because I wished to get back in time to satisfy the Qa’an’s craving for drink caused by his parching thirst, thinking this and without so much as blinking an eye I went there.’
Cinggis Qa’an said, ‘What can I say now? In former days, when the Three Merkit came and thrice circled Mount Burqan, you saved my life for the first time. Now, once more, you restored me to life when, with your mouth, you sucked the clotting blood from my wound. And, yet again, when I was in a great plight with a parching thirst, disregarding your life, you went amidst the enemy without so much as blinking an eye; you quenched my thirst and restored life to me. These three services of yours will stay  in my heart!’ Thus the Qa’an spoke.



Obama for Minister of the Left

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:01 pm

Some historians have gone so far as to endorse Barak Obama for the office of President of the United States. Lots of people who seem to have very little affinity with the policy positions Obama has advanced on his website find him to be attractive. How can this be? Is not democratic politics a matter of picking the candidate whose policy positions you find most compatible and then voting for them?

Well, yes and no. At least some of choosing a president is choosing a symbol of the nation. Thus the suitably of a candidate to be a flattering self-reflection is also important. Most of the time we Americans select our politicians (if we give the matter any thought at all) on what promises they make and what things they say they will do. The moral qualities of an official are not something we worry about too much. On the other hand, we do occasionally tend to think some politicians are more than just a set of checkmarks on a list of policies1 but rather symbols of whatever an American is (Kennedy and Reagan come to mind)
Americans seem to have problem with this, as our political language is not well suited to this type of talk. Jounalists do ask, incessantly, the silly question of which candidate you would most like to have a beer with2 I think Dukakis ran an ad pointing out that politicians and beer buddies are not the same thing.

In China things are a bit easier, in part because one does not need to worry about electing leaders all the time and in part because traditionally Chinese politics had a lot to do with moral qualities. One of these is friendship, which is both one of the five bonds of Confucianism and crucial to understanding much of Chinese political history. Somebody said that nations do not have permanent friends, only permanent interests, but members of the Chinese elite did have friends. Wyatt talks a lot about the role of friendship in The Recluse of Loyang, a study of Shao Yung (1011-1077) whose political role in the Song centered around his friendship with powerful men and their desire to be friends with a man like Shao Yung. As Shao put it in a 1074 poem

A man mustn’t seek his reflection in flowing water;

He must seek it in water that is still.

Flowing water has no fixed form,

While still water provides a fixed entity.

[But] neither should a man seek his reflection in water [at all].

He should seek his reflection in other men.

Water’s mirror may show a man’s face,

But a human mirror exposes a man’s spirit.

(Wyatt)This poem encapsulates a code that is simultaneously exclusionist and yet immanently social. Shao the recluse could not conceive of passing through life alone; still, he was unwilling to settle for anything less than full perfectibility in his prime relationships.

This should not be taken as an endorsement of Obama by this website, Shao Yung, or myself, but I think this poem does a lot to explain the Obama phenomena. Much better to look in the mirror and see Obama then to see (insert name here.) I suspect that democratic politics in China, if it ever comes to be, will be rather different than that in the U.S.

For Su Fei’s Chinese take on American politics look here.

  1. As Mitt Romney is discovering []
  2. Bush, obviously. Being rich he would pay and as he does not drink I would get both beers. []


Lumpy Chinese History

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:54 am

There are a few places to go for archived syllabi — H-Net, ExEAS, I had a printed collection at one point, as well, then there’s the GMU Syllabus Finder — but not a lot of open discussion of course design. I’ve gotten help on sources, etc., from lists like H-Asia or by blogging questions (“bleg” means to “beg via blog” but it looks like “blech” to me so I won’t use it) and bothering old friends. But we need a more sustained discussion. So I’m going to inaugurate what I hope will be an ongoing series of posts here (and the other blogs about syllabi I’ve designed or am working on.

My only Asian history syllabus this semester is Hist 312: China I: Early China. It covers China up to about 1600: China II is Qing, including the Ming-Qing transition; China III is 20th century.

Early China is a great course: I keep toying with the idea of making it the one required Asian course for history majors, because the material is so fundamental, and it’s my best-attended China course by far. The problem, of course, is the richness and range of the material. This semester, though, I’m not even trying to make the semester “flow” because the history itself doesn’t. It’s episodic and inconsistent and the emphasis has to shift to make sense of things.



Cheng-Zhu or Chengs v. Zhu?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 10:37 pm

I didn’t make a big thing of it in class, and nobody seems to have noticed the discrepancy, but there’s something of a disparity between my World History textbook (Brummet, et al., Civilization: Past and Present, 11e) and my own understanding of the development of Neo-Confucianism. Now that the semester’s (almost) over, I’d like to throw it open for comment.

My understanding, based in no small part on the new editions of the Columbia Sourcebooks, is that Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi were largely in agreement on the matter of li [principle] and qi [essence, force, energy, etc.], but that Cheng Yi emphasized qi as the most important consideration in personal development while Cheng Hao emphasized jen [humaneness] as the key to education and moral understanding. Zhu Xi, then, while a student of both brothers, was more a follower of Cheng Yi, focusing on the function of qi; thus the term Cheng-Zhu Confucianism.

Cheng Hao, on the other hand, was the progenitor of the Cheng-Lu strain, emphasizing, along with Lu Xiangshan, the unity of xin [mind, soul, heart, etc] with the Ultimate substrate of existence and the li principle. This is important particularly because it’s the foundation for the development of Wang Yangming thought, which was very influential in Japan.

Civilization, though, puts the Cheng brothers together as developers of li-qi theory, and claims that Zhu Xi “differed from the Chengs by ascribing greater importance to li over qi and by positing the existence of a Supreme Ultimate to which all li was connected.” (304)

Am I splitting hairs to see the textbook as oversimplifying to the point of error? How do you teach the Song Renaissance?

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