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 []

1/28/2014

Professors as booty

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:51 am

51zDOAHqEkL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

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.

 

 

1/27/2014

Universal Crime

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 3:53 pm
All of you no doubt remember the drafts sections of his dissertation that Konrad posted here.
Well, the first dead tree article out of the project is on newsstands now.
Universal Crime, Particular Punishment: Trying the Atrocities of the Japanese Occupation as Treason in the Philippines, 1947-1953,
Congrats to Konrad, and for those of you who don’t already subscribe to Comparativ, now would obviously be the time.

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.

 

 

1/12/2013

Japanese Counter-Insurgency: Strategy or Tactic?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:45 pm

Robert Farley’s article on Japan’s WWII Counter-Insurgency planning and implementation begs the question of whether COIN, as it’s called now, was a strategy or a tactic. (Though it also illustrates something I’d like to see more of: blogging on journal articles and book chapters. Yes, I should do more of that, too.) Farley says

[retired Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) Lieutenant General Noboru] Yamaguchi suggests that elements of the Japanese Army and a variety of hybrid civil-military organizations took the problem of COIN quite seriously from a strategic point of view, appreciating that the only way to victory in China was the establishment of a self-sustaining, pro-Japanese Chinese government.

Farley goes on to cite some examples, but he also notes some of the atrocities associated with the Japanese military in China (and elsewhere), and also that resources for “hearts and minds” operations were decidedly lacking. Comfort Women are notably missing, which is too bad: it’s a fantastic example of an attempt to solve the “hearts and minds” problem that goes horribly wrong.

But what struck me about the discussion is the use of the term “strategy”, which suggests a substantial goal, guiding tactics and training. I don’t doubt that there were Japanese who saw the necessity of developing real ties with China, building relationships, any more than I doubt that some Japanese authentically believed the pan-Asianism which underlay the rhetoric of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. What I don’t believe is that Japanese military, political or economic leaders were at all serious about the GEACPS, or that pan-Asianism was more than a theoretical and rhetorical fig leaf for aggressive imperialism. And I don’t believe that “hearts and minds” COIN really rose to the level of “strategy”: military training and tactics routinely ignored priorities beyond raw domination and control. Farley’s right that resource issues and circumstances mitigated against long-term relationship-building, and our colleague Konrad Lawson has been doing fascinating work on Chinese who did develop strategic alliances with Japanese occupiers. But just as Manchukuo illustrates the hollowness of Japanese claims to support Chinese autonomy, the realities of the battlefield and occupation make it clear that winning over Chinese support was far from a serious strategic consideration.

That said, I was also struck by a comment on the article from one “John Chan”

Japan is an unapologetic war criminal; Yamaguchi’s quote is the tip of iceberg of how Japanese systematically white wash their war crimes and gloss over their atrocities.

Thru history Japanese are pirates; barbarism, deceitfulness, and brutality are their way of life. Using atrocity to overcome any resistance is their default choice of action; the conformity nature of the Japanese makes them particular wicked, they will compete in cruelty as an honour, it makes Yamaguchi’s quote about Japanese COIN theory an outright shameless lie and evidence of Japanese has no remorse about its war crimes.

This is not, as I understand it, an uncommon view of Japan from a Chinese mainland perspective. The historiographical accusation is a familiar one — Japan has a long history of denying, downplaying, ignoring, and justifying modern atrocities which is rivaled only by a few other countries1 — but the idea of wartime Japan as an authentic representation of Japan’s essential historical character is something I hadn’t seen before.2 Connecting the wako pirates (I assume that’s what he means) to WWII is an historical and cultural stretch that boggles the historical imagination. But if you’re looking at Japan solely through the lens of Chinese victimization, perhaps it’s not as much of a leap as all that.

  1. China’s official amnesia regarding the Great Leap Forward Famine and Cultural Revolution purges; America’s denial that westward expansion was imperialist and effectively genocidal; the rehabilitation of Stalin in Russian historical memory; etc. []
  2. and obviously, not something I think is historically or culturally supportable as a thesis []

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. []

11/6/2011

The good old days of empire

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:48 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

8/31/2010

It’s a man’s life

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:19 am

From Gawker a set of military recruitment ads from around the world. Representing East Asia we have Taiwanese who gain skills while defending 20 million people from an unknown enemy, a Singaporean battleship that transforms into a giant robot, and an ad for the Japanese Navy that is quite remarkable.

(Japanese ad intercut with an American one)

Lots of American military recruitment ads (which turn up a lot on the type of shows my 15-year old son watches) emphasize how joining up connects you to a glorious history, not just the few, the proud, etc. but pictures of the G.I.s who defended freedom by beating Hitler. They tend to avoid pictures defenders of freedom in blue uniforms shooting defenders of slavery in gray, since that brings up some history that they don’t want brought up.

The British ad is maybe the best and most historical. The ad shows as screaming armed black guy (ohh a native) who is calmed by the sheer stiff upper lip  and steely eyes of a British officer. Remember when Britain was an Empire? Well that was before your time, but IF you could be a real British officer that would be something. Beats sitting around Oldham getting pissed, anyway.

In East Asia military history is a very fraught subject. The PLA has killed lots of people, but many of them were Chinese. Even stirring up anti-Japanese feelings (or even bringing up the Revolution) may not be a good idea.

The Japanese Navy of course also has a glorious history, if one assumes that for a Navy a glorious history means sending lots of foreigners to watery graves. Needless to say they don’t want to emphasize that. Maybe a dance routine is best.

Here is a PRC version. Comparing ads you might think Taiwan and Chinese Beijing were the same country.

Via Tapped

6/18/2010

Private views of Chinese history

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

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

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

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

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

(more…)

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

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