Chinese philosophy: The wild goose gradually draws near the tree

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:53 pm

Update-The wild goose is getting closer to the tree

Apparently we are experiencing a Chinese Philosophy Fever. The Atlantic has an article up on Michael Puett’s Harvard class on Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory, as described at Warp, Weft, and Way.

In general I would agree with WWW commenter Bill Haines that “I think it makes sense that a course taught this way would be taught by a historian rather than a philosophy prof.” In part this is because I am a historian, but also because I think it fits better with reasons for kids to come to a class like this. A while back I read something (Chronicle?) about a Renaissance history guy who was ordered to come up with some sort of mass-market class that drew on his period. He came up with something like “How to be a corporate toady and suck-up: Kissing the asses of the rich and powerful in a profoundly unequal society” drawing primarily on Michel de Montaigne

Needless to say the class was a huge hit, and he was horrified by both how many students wanted to take it and how many sections of it the administration wanted him to teach and how useful the class was for student who wanted to find a place in our society.

I don’t think Puett created this class out of spite, but I do think  a historian is in a good place to help students understand how philosophical or self-help texts1 help those who are reading them figure out how they fit into society. The society of Warring States China is a good analogue for ours today, where we like to talk about how the old rules no longer apply, but are still worth thinking about.2 Harvard students in particular are shi, members of the elite who can’t go wrong (in the sense of starving) whatever they do. Plus there are books like Finnegrete’s Secular as Sacred that may not be very strong as sinology or philosophy,3 but do help you make the connection.

So my point here is that if you want to teach a class like Puett’s, which uses examples from the past to explain how you should fit into society now (i.e. get a liberal education) then Warring States China is a good place to look, and a historian is an excellent guide.


Old post

I may eventually post more on this, but better than anything I might add, you should go read this article on Chinese Philosophy in the U.S. (from the Chronicle)

The thing that struck me is that the academic study of Philosophy seems to be broadening out in a way that Religious Studies (which they mention) did a long time ago, as did History. I don’t know of any nice short introductions to the struggle to get Chinese history accepted as history in American colleges, but maybe someone else does. The process seems somewhat different in Philosophy, but there are a lot of parallels.

Via Warp, Weft, and Way

  1. Analects, Zhuangzi, and most of the classical texts are self-help books that really belong on the shelf with Dr. Phil []
  2. I’m not sure how unique this really is, but  undergrads like believing that we live in an unprecedented age of change. []
  3. I am neither a philosopher or a ancient China person, so I can’t say for sure []


When the Chinese went out for Jews

For the benefit of our Chinese readers, as well as anyone else who has not seen this excellent piece, I would like to introduce Scott Seligman’s “The Night New York’s Chinese Went Out for Jews: How a 1903 Chinatown fundraiser for pogrom victims united two persecuted peoples.” For our Chinese readers I suppose I should explain the joke in the title. Americans went out for Chinese a lot. Chinese restaurants were popular in the U.S. for a long time. Jews in particular went out for Chinese on Christmas. Christmas was the day that every single goy in America had a family meal, and so Jews were left all alone, like Americans in China at Spring Festival. I suppose Jews could have stayed in and had a family meal of their own, but they tended to make a point of going out, and the only place that would be open was a Chinese restaurant.1Not as a rule a place that non-Jews would visit on Christmas, but a place where Jews and Chinese could commiserate on their common lack of American-ness.

Given this bond between Jews and Chinese, it is maybe less surprising than it seems that a sort of Pan-Asian solidarity led Chinese to mobilize in support of the victims of the Kishinev pogrom. Chinese donated money, marched through the streets, and attended “a Chinese-language drama entitled The 10 Lost Tribes. Its subject, however, was not the destruction of the kingdom of Israel in Biblical times, but rather the subjugation of the Chinese by the Manchus in the early years of the Ch’ing Dynasty.” It’s a very good article, and rather than my summarizing it, you should go read it.



  1. Yes, the connection between Jews and Chinese restaurants goes beyond Christmas. It’s just a blog post. []


Names and Dates In English and Chinese

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 9:15 pm

I recently discovered Beijing Time Machine, run  by Jared Hall. His recent piece Time over Place: Naming Historical Events in Chinese (ironically, it is not dated), is a striking and useful observation:

In English, we generally recall important turning points in terms of where they unfolded. Simple place names conjure up entire historical epochs. “Pearl Harbor” marks the American entrance into the Second World War and the global struggle against fascism. “Bandung,” the conference in of newly independent African and Asian nations that pledged to stand together in 1955 against imperialism and Cold War division. And then, of course, there is “Tian’anmen.” It is doubtful that mention of the square here in China would, by itself, raise any eyebrows. But try “6-4” (六四) and you are can expect quite a different reaction.

There is also a useful chart of name years in the sixty year cycle, which you can download to put on your desk calendar or refrigerator door.


Delicious spam

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:35 am

I got an e-mail from Online Colleges. It seems to be a semi-scam site that offers to connect you to on-line colleges without actually, from what I can tell, providing any real service. Needless to say, it would probably help them if they could give the site some veneer of academic content, and thus they have a list of 101 lectures on China. The page just links to lectures (academic and popular) already available on I-tunes and elsewhere, but some of them look pretty interesting. So if you are looking for something to listen too this is a good place to start.




Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 12:22 pm

A major problem nowadays is to somehow find that newly published article in a journal you don’t subscribe to – I miss enough articles in the journals I do subscribe to.

The first resort is the Bibliography of Asian Studies Online, only available by subscription (individuals can subscribe but it’s mostly libraries). BAS categorizes hundreds of thousands of journal articles and chapters in edited volumes going back to 1971. The search makes is easy to find an article if you know what you are looking for.  Good enough.

But it’s harder to come across what you weren’t looking for. The most fun way of dealing with the problem is simple: if you have access to a good library’s journal room, stroll up and down the aisles browsing like a deer for acorns. This is good for at least an afternoon and it gets you out of your office but it’s far from systematic and many of us don’t have that access.

So I have been happy in a major way that H-DIPLO has stepped in to organize Journal Watch: H-Diplo Journal & Periodical Review.

The self-description is “H-Diplo Journal Watch monitors leading scholarly journals for articles of particular interest to scholars of diplomacy, foreign relations, and international history, which are listed below by journal title.” Each quarter they post a  .pdf file with Tables of Contents for every journal you ever heard of in those fields, or at least the ones in English.  You can either browse or search for your words. Coverage begins with the year 2007.

Putting this together can’t be much fun, so kudos goes to our new heroes, Erin Black, editor for journal titles from A-I, and Lubna Qureshi, editor for journal titles from J-Z.

Journal Watch doesn’t solve the problem – there’s just too much coming out and there’s no way to search by key words or topic. But every competent project like this is a big help, and you are sure to find acorns which you would have missed.


AAS Blogging: outsourced

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:19 am

I didn’t get to any China-specific panels at the AAS, but the good folks at China Beat have a few panel summaries worth taking a look at. You can find some more at Twitter, but not much. Aside from the primitive facilities — it was $600 to get internet service for a panel presentation, we were told; it was $13/day for hotel room internet, and there wasn’t any wireless in the hotel or convention center — we just don’t have a critical mass of tweeting Asianists yet. Just a couple that I’ve found. I did have a good time meeting Javier Cha, though, the first time I’ve met with someone I met on Twitter!


Source: Chinese Canadian Newspapers

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 4:07 pm

Historical sources of various kinds are making it online all the time. I recently came across a digital collection of Chinese newspapers from Canada available at the Multicultural Canada website.

Chinese Canadian Community News 加華僑報 (1970s-80s)
Chinese Express 快報 (1970s-80s)
Chinese Times 大漢公報 (1910s-1990s)
Hung Chung She Po 洪鐘時報 (1950s)
Ottawa Chinese Community Newsletter 加京華報 (1970s-80s)

There is also some issues of a Korean newspaper:

Minchung Sinmun

We can read, for example, the report of opening of hostilities in July 1937 on the day after the firing began in the July 8th issue, where the news (中日戰爭爆發) reached page 2. Also of concern that day, was the treatment of Chinese within Japan, which also gets reported on.

Though some years and months are listed, I had trouble finding issues in many of them. It would be nice if they had a list of available issues at the home page for each newspaper. The pages, when opened, are embedded into the site, but are simple JPG files which can be made to open in a new window using contextual menus.

Also, via their collection of links, I noticed there are some interesting materials related to the Chinese in Canada on this site:

Historical Chinese Language Materials in British Columbia: An Electronic Inventory

The site includes access to historical photographs, lists of organizations, and links to other Canadian sites containing historical materials.


Confucius through the ages

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:49 am

Although the revival of Confucius in China naturally tends to emphasize a timeless vision of an unchanging Sage and set of teachings, the 儒家 have actually changed a lot over time. Thomas Wilson has put up a nice site that gives a clear introduction to the development of the Confucian cult and is well worth looking at, especially for the details on the development of the cannon. Plus you can find out that among his titles he was declared “Dark Sage and Exalted King of Culture” in 1008. Assuming  Dark Sage is 玄聖that is a really cool title and gives us all something to aim for.


Common culture

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:04 am
Not from the site,

China Gateway has some pictures, with translation, from The Dianshizhai Pictorial the famous late 19th century Shanghai illustrated paper. I say famous because it is rapidly becoming one of the most reproduced and re-packaged parts of Chinese culture. WorldCat shows 69 hits for the keywords 點石齋畫報 which includes full editions, selections (stories about Suzhou or whatever) translations into baihua, and some of the scholarly studies. I assume there is a lot more about it that you could dig up with other keywords.  Googleing yields lots of pictures like the above and even more commentary. It is a very Web-friendly sort of souce, since it is in short chunks, has pictures and a bit of text and above all is out of copyright.  In time the public image of the Late Qing may come to be tied as specifically to this bit of art as the T’ang is to poets or the European middle ages are to the Arthur stories.

Via China Beat


Harvard to Digitize Chinese Rare Book Collection

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 6:02 pm

I just read on H-Asia that Harvard has announced last week that, in cooperation with the National Library of China, it will be scanning its 51,500 volumes of Chinese rare books. Early next year it will begin with its collection of Song to Ming dynasty works, and then move on to its collection of Qing dynasty works in 2013.

They also noted, importantly, that after digitization they will continue to allow scholars access to the works.

Read more about the announcement here.

« Previous PageNext Page »

Powered by WordPress