井底之蛙

2/7/2014

Boxers and Saints

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:56 am Print

I did a class that focused on the Boxers last semester, and one of the things I talked about was Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers and Saints.

gly_bs1This is a two volume graphic novel that looks at the Boxer event. How good is it? Well he has done his research. Cohen’s History in Three Keys was our main text and it is in Yang’s bibliography, as is Esherick’s Origins of the Boxer Uprising. It shows in the text. If you want to show your students pictures of Chinese peasants being flooded out of their homes

Flood

Or foreign missionaries being obnoxious (more…)

1/30/2014

News from the City of Five Rams

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:44 am Print

Everybody on this blog is publishing stuff lately. The scholar formerly known as Gina Russo, now known as Gina Russo Tam, has a nice review up on the archives of Guangzhou. So if you want to plan a trip, this would be helpful.

For what it is worth, this is one of the most valuable features of the very valuable Dissertation Reviews. Chinese archives change constantly, and this sort of post is one of the best ways to find out what is up before you go. With any luck Gina will post something soon on cool things she found in the archives.

 

1/28/2014

Professors as booty

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:51 am Print

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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 Print
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.

1/24/2014

Opium warlord dies

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:47 am Print

If you study the history of drugs in Asia1 the period right after 1945 marks an important divide. Down to maybe 1840 (or in some contexts much later) drugs (mostly opium) were a fairly ordinary trade good. After WWII, dangerous drugs (now also including things like morphine and heroin) were treated like illicit substances in the modern sense. This really began right after the war. Japan’s drug empire was closed down. The colonial powers like France and the Netherlands did not re-establish their opium monopolies after the war. The Chinese drug trade was far less politically significant in 1946 than it had been before the war and the trade was completely eliminated after 1949. The U.N. Single Convention on Dangerous Drugs of 1961 codified the modern understanding of illicit substances as something that only criminals dealt in.

Between 1840 and 1945 is a more nebulous period, when the trade in drugs was often handled by states, or state-connected actors. These could range from Du Yuesheng, the politically connected opium king of prewar Shanghai, to the Japanese pharmaceutical companies who flooded Asia with morphine, to various colonial opium monopolies to movements of national liberation -from China to Indonesia- that were involved in the drug trade.

I mention this because Lo Hsing Han has died. Born around 1935 in the Shan state in Burma he was pretty much the last of the old state-connected drug lords. As the obituary points out he died not in a hail of bullets, but in the capital of Burma, not as a criminal, but as a respected corporate kingpin.

I don’t really have much to add to the obituary, it just struck me as an interesting survival. Sort of the same reaction I had when Molotov died, and I was amazed he was still alive.

 

  1. and you really should. There is a crying need for it []

1/22/2014

American contempt for China

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:41 am Print

As it is the beginning of the semester, I went to dig up the famous quotes from Emerson and Adams on what is wrong with China. If you find yourself needing these, well, here they are.

 From Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Journal & Miscellaneous Notebooks, an entry from 1824:

The closer contemplation we condescend to bestow, the more disgustful is that booby nation. The Chinese Empire enjoys precisely a Mummy’s reputation, that of having preserved to a hair for 3 or 4,000 years the ugliest features in the world. I have no gift to see a meaning in the venerable vegetation of this extraordinary people. They are tools for other nations to use. Even miserable Africa can say I have hewn the wood and drawn the water to promote the civilization of other lands. But China, reverend dullness! hoary ideot! all she can say to the convocation of nations must be –”I made the tea.”

John Quincy Adams, addressing the Massachusetts Historical Society, 184i

The fundamental principle of the Chinese Empire is anticommercial. It utterly denies the equality of other nations with itself, and even their independence. It holds itself to be the center of the terraqueous globe, equal to the heavenly host, and all other nations with whom it has any relations, political or commercial, as outside tributary barbarians reverently submissive to the will of its despotic chief. It is upon this principle, openly avowed and inflexibly maintained, that the principal maritime nations of Europe for several centuries, and the United States of America from the time of their acknowledged independence, have been content to hold commercial intercourse with the Empire of China. It is time that this enormous outrage upon the rights of human nature, and upon the first principle of the rights of nations should cease .

This is the truth, and, I apprehend, the only question at issue between the governments and nations of Great Britain and China. It is a general, but I believe altogether mistaken opinion that the quarrel is merely for certain chests of opium imported by British merchants into China, and seized by the Chinese Government for having been imported contrary to law. This is a mere incident to the dispute ; but no more the cause of war, than the throwing overboard of the tea in the Boston harbor was the cause of the North American Revolution

The cause of the war is the kotow!- the arrogant and unsupportable pretensions of China, that she will hold commercial intercourse with the rest of mankind, not upon terms of equal reciprocity, but upon the insulting and degrading forms of relation between lord and vassal. From Grayson, Benson Lee ed. The American Image of China New York: Frederick Ungar, 1979

The point of using these quotes, of course, is to help students get beyond the pretty standard American view that before being awakened by the West China was a stagnant unchanging place that was the opposite of everything a good society should be. If you want to hear me unpack everything that is wrong with these two quotes you should drop by 232 Keith Hall at 12:20 this afternoon.

From here (and also here) I found this great image of how Americans use  China to stand for backwardness. Would it not indeed be awful if Cincinnati became like China?

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1/16/2014

Underage drinking in Southeast Asia

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:05 am Print

Apparently the Mint Museum of Toys in Singapore is worth seeing. Although I have not been, it seems that they currently have an exhibit up on “Guinness by the decades.” This should not seem too odd. The Guinness folk have a long history of humorous ads that might appeal to kids.

MyGoodnessMyGuinness-Ostrich

The Guinness Book of World Records was an important part of youth culture when I was a wee nipper, since we often had to settle important arguments and needed a source of authority that knew more interesting facts than our parents did.1

Guinness also seems to have been in Southeast Asia for a long time, adopting its brand to the local culture. From the exhibit

SAMSUNG CSC

I wonder how well the whole ‘Guinness for strength’ thing fit in with Chinese ideas about medicine and food. Here is a more modern place mat, which is on my office door

Mulan2

Mulan is trying to convince the other soldiers that she is indeed a man by drinking 11 pints of stout. Just 3 more and she can go surfing!

So not surprisingly there is all sorts of Guinness swag spread all over Southeast Asia

GuinnessbytheDecadesPhoto_zps32cbecee

I don’t know how well the exhibit does with the way Guinness, a brand sometimes associated with Ireland, was acculturated into Southeast Asia, but I will be charitable and assume they did a great job with it.

When will this interesting exhibit come to our Children s Museum here in Pittsburgh? When hell freezes over, of course. In the U.S. any suggestion that childhood could happen in the same places alcohol exists is unthinkable. It may take a village to raise a child, but that village better not have a pub in it. Apparently in Singapore kids are part of the general society, rather than a special Disney version.

  1. Our debates did not take place in pubs, and I don’t think any of us associated the book with the brew, or even knew it existed. []

1/7/2014

Historians fight against the sea

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:56 am Print

Our very own Konrad is featured in an Inside Higher Ed article on the digital embargoing of dissertations. For those of you who are not aware of it, the American Historical Association has called for history dissertations to be embargoed, meaning not circulated for….a while….for…..some reason. Well, the official reasons are that presses will not publish something that is already available digitally. That strikes me as colossally stupid on the part of the presses and the AHA. If your dissertation is available on-line and nobody reads it, then how does that hurt the market (libraries) for the book you eventually revise it into? If people are downloading it insistently that would of course be a problem. Who would want to publish a book when the first draft was being read eagerly by countless fans? Scholars really don’t understand the marketplace like presses do.

Why am I writing about this? Well, partly to say that Konrad Lawson is right, that no matter how the discipline goes forward trying to pretend that the internet never happened is probably not a good idea.  More importantly, I will be using Tonio Andrade’s Lost Colony: The Untold Story of China’s First Great Victory over the West. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011. in my classes this Spring. Why is this relevant? Well, Tonio (who I have never met) teaches at Emory, which is really not a bad school, and has a book coming out from Princeton University Press. This despite the fact that he already published his dissertation on-line as an e-book.

Andrade’s books are on the same topic, but not at all the same book. The e-book is far more technical and academic, while the printed version is far more popular. The Dutch loss of Taiwan is a Ripping Yarn that fits in well with the theme of China’s rivalry with the West. Will this become the model of the future? I doubt it, given that not everyone is Tonio Andrade, and not all topics lend themselves to popularization. Still, it would be nice if there were some sort of national organization of historians pushing things in this direction. When you get down to it, the profession is us, and the presses are us, and tenure at D-1 schools is us. Where do we want to go?

1/6/2014

The pure land of Tibet and the lothesome Han Chinese

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:05 am Print

Washington Monthly has an article up on Chinese tourism in Tibet. It is by Pearl Sydenstricker, who is a western (I assume) reporter who does not want to use their real name “in order to protect sources in China and Tibet.” That strikes me as a good idea, since the Chinese government tends not to like criticism.1 While I agree with a lot of what the article is saying, I found most of it deeply annoying. The general thrust of the article is that Chinese tourism is destroying Tibetan culture “Rather than threatening Tibetan monks with army troops, the government is smothering them with throngs of pushy tourists.” Han Chinese tourists have overrun Tibet, taking pictures inside temples, gawking at sacred rituals, and making a mockery of a culture. One could, of course, replace the words Han and Tibet here with American or German or Japanese and …well, anywhere really. I bet this is an old story with some interesting modern and Tibet-specific twists, but you won’t find that here.

Yes, Chinese tourists are flocking to Tibet, just like they are flocking to Shaoshan and Pyongyang and Paris. Yes, China is an imperial power in Tibet, and the Beijing government treats Tibetans even worse than it treats Han. Yes, lots of Han have deeply condescending attitudes towards the minority nationalities. On the other hand, the whole point of sending someone who knows Chinese (but apparently not Tibetan) to write an article is to get beyond lazy stereotypes.

The article opens with Chinese tourists witnessing a sky burial. How vile.2 It appears, however, that at least one monastery was o.k. with that. Was it just the money? Were they thinking that this would help win converts? There are lots of motives for letting people look at your culture beyond fear of getting shot, but the Tibetans are just as much cardboard cutouts here as the Han. While I doubt that Tibetans are raking in as much of the tourist cash as they would like they are getting some, and a lot of them want it, and the effect would really be no different if the tourist money came from culturally understanding American and Danish tourists rather than those loud Han with their IPhones. Cultural contact is a complex issue, and spitting on the Han does not really advance our understanding much. One of her informants is a Han Chinese.

a twenty-six-year-old Han Chinese backpacker from the coastal provincial capital city of Jinan, who goes by the English name of Sarah. I said that Lhasa feels uptight. “Oh—you mean the military and police?” She laughed and then told me, as if explaining a very simple idea to a child, “We feel very relaxed here. It’s a very safe city. If we feel cheated by a vendor, we can call a hotline and they tend to be on our side.” Sarah wore a pink scarf with Tibetan designs; prayer beards encircled both of her wrists. “I’m a Buddhist,” she said proudly. “It’s in the heart.”

She explained the military presence: “Have you heard of Tibetan independence? People wanted to split the country and oppose the unification of the motherland. We really didn’t like that.” During her weeklong trip to Tibet, Sarah stayed in a Han-run hostel and ate Chinese food for all but two of her meals.

Sarah seems a little less self-aware than might be nice. So does Pearl. I have never actually had a ditzy Chinese female (they have to be female for examples like this) explain how she loved Tibetan Buddhism while having no understanding of her own status as part of an empire. I have seen lots of Americans like that though. The title of the piece is the Disneyficaiton of Tibet. If Americans can’t see themselves in the word “Disneyficaiton” they really need …something. My point is not that the article would be saved with a little “other people do it too” but that the whole frame is built around Tibetans as people who exist only for the better sort of Americans to lament their passing at the hands of the evil Han or (in Mexico) busloads of Americans who work at Wal-Mart.

The Han Chinese may leave melon seeds everywhere, but when they say the Tibetans are poor because they are lazy they are least do them the courtesy of thinking some Tibetans might like cars and money and modern medicine. Very few Chinese are likely to see Third World poverty as colourful the way so many Americans do. At least none of the Chinese analogize Tibetans directly to yaks like Pearl does. Is the Tibetan case different from the other cases of traditional cultures disappearing around the world, as capitalism changes everything and the young people leave for the big city? I would also like Pearl to give us a bit of Chinese context. Is the tourist-industrial complex growing quicker in Tibet than elsewhere in China? There is a massive growth in tourism all over China, and many of the same issues about access, preservation and tacky tourists present themselves there. I don’t doubt that police and paramilitary types are everywhere in Lhasa. Are they more common and more annoying then they are everywhere else in China? I would guess so, but no way to tell from this. Maybe someone should send a reporter to find out. For now all readers of Washington Monthly will get on this topic is some Han-bashing.

Pearl is fighting the good fight here, but this article is really not very helpful.  I would be interested in knowing what she thinks of the reaction to the article. As you might expect, the comments are less then edifying.

This is so sickening – Chinese people are a disgrace. It is the lowest of all “civilizations” on earth.

Does Pearl agree with this? I would guess not, but when you write stuff that fits in with crude anti-Chinese stereotypes you will find yourself with a lot of unpleasant bedfellows.

 

  1. Although my guess would be that Pearl’s access to China is more threatened by this piece than any Chinese or Tibetan acquaintances. []
  2. The tourists, not the custom. The custom is traditional. []

1/3/2014

Teaching Asian Civilizations

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 2:28 pm Print

As I was cleaning out my office I found a copy of Approaches to Asian Civilizations by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Anslie T. Embree.1 First published in 1964, the book is the record of a conference on the teaching of Asia to American undergraduates. 1964 would be about the dawn of what you could call modern Asian Studies in the U.S. The field was being freed from “the incubus of philological Orientalism”2 The De Bary source readers were coming out, Fairbank, Reishcauer and Craig’s A History of East Asian Civilization came out in 1960. Learning about Asia in a serious way was starting to become possible for Americans who did not plan to become professional Asianists and were not at a handful of elite universities.

So, how does it look 50 years later?

Not surprisingly, some things look remarkably modern, and some much less so.

It is rather hard to imagine the Great and the Good of the profession all coming together today to discuss undergraduate education, but part of the reason for that is that there are too many Asianists for that now, unless we met in the Astrodome or something. The field has also fragmented a lot, in part because there are so many more of us. The book deals with China, India, Japan and a bit on the Middle East. The writers include historians but also political scientists and economists, the last of whom would seem unlikely at such a gathering today.

Parts of it seem shockingly old-fashioned. Most of the states of the Middle East (and Asia) “are inexperienced in the conduct of statehood, and most of them are also uncommitted in a literal sense. They do not feel the tug of global issues. Nor have they in fact accepted formal obligations either in degree or variety that the older states have, so that, at times, they behave in a manner we are prone to label irresponsible.” p.135-6

It is also interesting that the assembled professors do not seem terribly concerned about how they will justify having students take courses on Asia. The whole student as consumer/how will you market your program in the undergraduate marketplace thing is still in the future. A bunch of scholars will decide what and education is, and students and administrators will go along.

The American relationship with Asia is quite different, which ties in with the ‘why would undergraduates be interested’ thing. Today there are large groups of students (and granting agencies) who have an interest in Asia before you even open your mouth. There is no reference here to students who are interested in participating in the immense growth of the Asian economies, (not surprisingly) no mention of those fascinated with Asian pop culture (even less surprisingly.) We do get one disparaging reference to “dharma bums,” who may show up in your classes, but that’s it. Nor is there much much emphasis on the idea that being an American citizen should involve thinking in an informed way about the advisability of getting involved in a land war in Asia, even though that was something American citizens really should have been thinking about in the early 60′s.

Asia is pretty much an academic subject here, and the key issue that academics are struggling with is what’s wrong with Asia, specifically, why it is so stagnant and was stagnant for so long before being awakened by contact with the West.

Here is Arthur F. Wright’s periodizaiton of Chinese history

A. The period of genesis: the emergence of distinctive features of a Chinese civilization in the Shang;
B. The later Chou viewed as a “classical age”
C. The unification of state and culture: the founding of the Chinese Empire by the Ch’in, consolidation and development by the Han
D. The first experience of dismemberment and foreign invasions, cultural and political, c. 300-589
E. Unification: a new centralized empire and its culture-Sui and T’ang, 589-750
F. The breakdown of the second imperial order and the beginnings of the new society and culture-late T’ang, Five Dynasties, and Sung; proto-modern China
G. The first experience of total conquest and of incorporation in a larger world-empire: the period of Mongol domination, the brutalization of politics, and the evolution of mass culture;
H. Reassertion of Chinese control over state, society, and culture: the Ming. The failure of creativity. With apologies to Toynbee, “the abortive effort to revive the ghost of the T’ang oekumene” (Toyenbee gets mentioned a lot in here)
I. The second total conquest, continuation and atrophy of Ming institutions and culture under a Manchu-Chinese dyarchy.

The first bit seems not that different from the way we would outline it now. The middle gets bogged down in invasions with the occasional nod at ‘culture’, but the real difference is at the end, where we get lots of atrophy, an end to creativity, and a good 300 years of decline and stagnation. This is not at all how it would be seen today. William Rowe claims that the Qing had “worked out systems of administration and communication more efficient and effective than any of its predecessors.” and had “achieved a level of material productivity (indeed, prosperity) far beyond that of any earlier Chinese dynasty, as well as institutions of economic management probably more ambitious and effective than any seen previously in the world.” It had a “vibrant cosmopolitan culture.” One might almost think that Rowe is trying to dispel a lot of the old myths, and he makes it pretty clear that is what he is doing. It’s a lot easier to explain why people should study Asia when you see Asian history as a success rather than a big mistake its people would be better off forgetting.

While the books approach to Asian societies may seem old fashioned, many of their other concerns seem quite up to date. How do you teach history without getting bogged down in details or skimming over things? When will they publish some better books for students to use? Do comparisons with the West help more than they hurt? How do you deal with the cliches and stereotypes your students come to class with?

Of course some of these problems have been fixed by time and technology.

Arthur Wright mentions that he likes showing slides to his students, but is never sure when to interrupt lectures and show some pictures “Ideally, one should have a slide operator always courteously waiting and prepared to flash five minutes of carefully selected materials whenever they would support or illustrate the subject at hand.” See, Powerpoint does help!

 

  1. No, the office is still a mess. Interestingly, I inherited this book from Tom Goodrich, our department’s Ottomanist and the son of L. Carrington Goodrich. []
  2. p.69 Hellmut Wilhelm points out that the old sinological tradition actually functioned more or less like modern area studies. You are not limited to History or Literature or Economics. You learn the language and then go all over. I guess in 1964 Sinology and Classics were all of a sudden methodologically trendy. []

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