井底之蛙

4/22/2014

The internet is awesome-Chinese history in film version

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:39 am

British Pathé  has put some 80,000 of their old newsreels on YouTube. This is a massive treasure trove of cool stuff, and the many hours I will spend looking at them are fully justified as “work”. A lot the commentary is bland, foreigner-centered and uninformed, but the pictures are great.

Civil War in China. (1922) Not much analysis, but a a nice funeral.

Some of these are listed as unknown material with no date. such as. World Faces Crisis As Japan And China Clash In Far East (1938) I suppose I should comment and tell them what this is.

Some of it might be quite useful for research. Would you like to see a film of the official parade at the inauguration of the Japanese puppet government of Canton? With street drama and everything?

Maybe Village Children Of South China (1951) is more your style?

Or Nationalist troops in Nankin in 1927?

China Fish People (1930)?

An opium burning which I think is the one in 1919?

Not only is all this great content searchable, it is also free! This is the type of thing that convinces me that inventing the internet may not have been a mistake after all.

What are your favorites? You can go to the Pathe channel here https://www.youtube.com/user/britishpathe and click on the magnifying glass to search.

4/21/2014

Socialism is good

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:14 am

Finally. Just in time for the end of the semester.

I managed to find an on-line version of Socialism Is Good.

Well, not just a version. There are lots of fairly standard ones out there.

but the first one is, I think, one that was recorded back in the 90′s by the Beijing Modern Art Band or something like that.1 It is a bit more….peppy that you might expect. I remember having a long argument with a Chinese friend over whether is was a bunch of cadre kids trying to make the CCP cool, or a bunch of anti-party types mocking one of the great red anthems. I took the later position, but I will have to see what the kids say about it.

I found it, by the way, from an American right-wing site that suggests that thanks to Obama we may all be singing this pretty soon. Maybe you should learn the lyrics now, while it’s still optional.

 

  1. I swear that cassette is in one of my boxes downstairs. I really need to dig it out. []

4/19/2014

Digital History and teaching

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:12 pm

Yoni Applebaum has apparently taken a break from filming The Matrix 4 to record a clip on The Historian in The Digital Age. For those of you don’t know him, Yoni is a grad student in history who managed to parlay some blog comments into a gig at the Atlantic. In the clip he talks about Digital History as being able to work with the various digital sources that now exist, will exist in the future, and which will become obsolete. He talks more, however, about finding new places to put your stuff, and finding new audiences to talk about the past with. He stresses that most of what he he does for the Atlantic is the same type of thing he does in his academic work. “synthesize the existing scholarly literature, blend it with new primary research and come to a conclusion.” On the other hand with his Atlantic audience he does not have to do a full-blown scholarly treatment of something. He also does not have to be a real expert in the sense you would need to be to publish academic stuff on these topics. I assume he is a fine academic historian, but pretty much anyone who knows the literature can add a lot to most American/internet discussions of…anything.

Listening to this makes me think about a couple things.

-Feedback. He mentions that you get quicker feedback doing digital history. That is true, but not really the most interesting point. How does an academic historian get feedback? Some of it is book reviews and snide footnotes and lack of job interviews, but all of that is very slow. I think it helps a bit to think of Digital History (which to me is mostly blogging) as a form of teaching. Thus feedback is reading the comment section, checking your website traffic, etc.  Or, of course, grading papers. Neither of these are normally listed among the joys of the job, but they really are important. Grading can be unpleasant, but it is far, far, far, more useful in helping you think about what you are doing than student evaluations or peer observations. Grading is better than a comment section because you have a captive audience that you have power over.1 If students are not answering questions the way you would like maybe you are asking the wrong questions, giving them the wrong sources, or not teaching them how to think about the sources the way you would like. Everyone who teaches had gotten halfway though a pile of student writing and asked themselves what went wrong.

With blogging, or any other forms of digital/public2 history the feedback loop is a lot…loopier. Anyone can show up and say anything, and their agendas may not be yours. Heck, some of them may not even have done the reading!  Some of them are telling you that you are the cat’s pyjamas, which is nice, but does not help much. The ones who have engaged with what you are teaching but are not entirely satisfied are the ones you think the most about. Who is your audience? What do you want them to come away with? Sadly, in order to get enough feedback to really think about, you have to ramp things up to the point where you are also getting a lot of crud. You could deploy some sort of moderation system (run by avid readers/TA’s) but that turns it into a whole different sort of thing.

Applebaum talks about all the places you can put things, but it might help to think more about who the audience is, and why were are doing this, and how we assess (that word!) how well we have done it. Is it just hit count? I know it is for the Atlantic, but I suspect Yoni cares about more than that. Getting some citations in paper? Kind e-mails? I would like to think that digital history, like teaching, is a craft that we practice in part because it satisfies us personally, besides pleasing the powers that be, but a blog needs to go beyond a personal intellectual diary if you want to claim that you are really doing history. I am really not sure to think about all the digital stuff people are doing. It it just the old model, only not on paper? Or something else? Why bother having a site like Frog In A Well?3

-It’s really sad how little historical awareness the historical profession has. Applebaum is, like all the digital history people, filled with the spirit and trying to convert people. But writing about the past actually goes farther back than the birth of the modern research university and the modern Great Wall dividing academic and popular history.4 In China, to choose just one place, there were all sorts of ways of writing and talking about the past (or other things) and even in the West and the gatekeeper role of modern academic credentialing/publishing is pretty recent. Obviously lots of people are aware of this, but I would like to imagine that historians would be -more- aware. Not happening, from what I can see. A historical change is happening, and historians as a group are less aware than others about how to deal with it.

Via Coates

  1. Be as fun-loving and interesting as you want, but when you teach you are The Man. []
  2. no, they are not the same []
  3. One nice thing about the new model is that if this were an article a nasty editor would tell me I have not yet figured out what to say about this. In the new digital world I can just hit post, and either people will help me figure this out, or it will just vanish []
  4. I call it a Great Wall because it is supposed to be a sharp line, visible from space, that clearly divides the two, but in reality nobody is sure why it is there, it is often not there, and the people on each side are obsessed with what those on the other side are up to. []

4/5/2014

I made tea eggs today

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 4:29 pm

TeaEggsApparently this makes me both a multi-millionaire and part of cross-straits relations. I have not kept up as much as I should with the current Taiwan protests, but Offbeat China has. and they claim that tea eggs are one of the things that both sides are using as a symbol (both real and snarky) of Taiwan.

Admittedly, mine are not real tea eggs, since

1. I did not meet Dr. Who, steal the Tardis, go back to the Shang dynasty and build a 7-11 and then put the eggs in a crockpot and let them simmer for 3,000 years. That would be a proper Taiwan tea egg.

2. I only made them because we had too many eggs and everyone I know likes tea eggs. No rhetorical points about China, Taiwan, democracy, identity, etc. Just eggs. And tea.

3. They taste good, but maybe I should have used one more star anise. Always hard to judge that.

http://offbeatchina.com/what-a-humble-tea-egg-tells-about-the-gap-between-mainland-china-and-taiwan

3/25/2014

Unearthing the Nation

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:56 pm

Grace Yen Shen’s Unearthing the Nation: Modern Geology and Nationalism in Republican China is a really good book. Shen says that at first “it took a lot of explaining to convince people that the history of Chinese geology needed to be told.” That scepticism seems well-founded. What did Chinese geologists ever do? How does geology connect to anything else? Is this going to be one of those institutional studies where nothing seems to happen other than setting up institutions and then having the members do nothing but complain about lack of funding?

Thankfully, geology is pretty easy to connect to other parts of China’s transformation. Part of this is just dumb luck. The first work on China’s geology written by a Chinese was “Brief outline of Chinese geology” published by former Jiangnan Military Academy School of Mines student Zhou Shuren, who would later go on to considerable fame under the name Lu Xun. It is not surprising that Zhou/Lu went on to become one of the most famous May 4th intellectuals, since

Chinese geologists rejected the Confucian values of the political and social order and associated them with parochialism and complacency. However, they not only accepted the deeply Confucian values of the intellectual as servitor-cum-guide to state and society, but they also managed to identify this role with progressivism and morality by taking it as a call to self-criticism and renewal. ….geologists’ shared sense of Chineseness grew out of their admission of guilt and the dedication to self-transformation. Geology was a discipline that would reshape its practitioners and resuscitate the nation on the verge of extinction. Unearthing the Nation. p.10

You could use that as a nice summary of the May 4th project, and in fact I did so in class last week.

Geology also matters because it ties in with wealth and power better than lots of other fields of study. Locating valuable rocks was something that both Chinese modernizers and foreign exploiters could get behind. Shen shows how Chinese geologists managed to replace foreigners and gradually they became the ones who surveyed an interpreted China’s rocks for both foreign and domestic audiences. Geology had only fitful support from the Chinese state, but it was popular with young Chinese, in part because the emphasis on fieldwork helped distinguish geologists from traditional educated youth “with pale faces and slender waists, seductive as young ladies, timorous of cold and chary of heat, weak as invalids.”1

Geologists also served the nation. They were the ones who found the Tungsten and other rare materials that wartime China exported. They also defined China as they Chinese would like. As Li Siguang put it.

at the time most people in western Europe invariably thought that Tibet was not fully part of China, and to correct this mistaken concept (whether intentional or unintentional) I purposely gave the Tibetan plateau first place among China’s natural regions. p.136

Of course service to the nation came with a price. The geologists did a better job than you might think in balancing a desire to do pure science and to serve China.

 By training their sights on the overall development of geology in China and remaining flexible about details and timing Chinese geologists achieved many of their own goals while catering to the interests of both native philanthropists and foreign funding agencies. When the remains of Peking Man were first announced in 1926, for instance, the Chinese geological community quickly turned its attention to paleoanthropology. Though it had no experience in this field, the Geological Survey convinced the Rockefeller Foundation to fund a Cenozoic Research Laboratory to study both Peking Man and the “tertiary and quaternary deposits of northern China” more broadly. p.185

This fits it with a lot of other examples I can think of where scholars adjusted their research to funding. It would be nice to have unlimited money to study anything, but practice that is not how China, or anywhere else, actually works.

If you want a nice, short, well-written book that explains the birth of a modern science in China and why it matters, this is a good choice.

 

  1. quote from Chen Duxiu. Were there any female geologists? []

3/18/2014

Chairman Xi serves the people

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:12 am

Offbeat China has some official cartoons showing Xi Jinping as an ordinary guy who can sit cross-legged just like folks.

7I guess now that Gary Locke has officially left the building there is an opening for someone to take on the role of high official who is one with the common people. The style of the drawings is pretty obviously intended to make him look like an ordinary person. They remind me in part of some of the old shots of Chiang Ching-kuo, who never tried to pull off his Dad’s spartan military style

Kai-shek.

Nor did he try to pull off Wei-guo’s full-on Nazi look.Chiang_Wei-kuo_wehrmacht_LQ

Rather, while democratizing Taiwan, he chose to look like a man of the people.

Picture2

What the Xi Jinping cartoons remind me most of though is Hua Guofeng. As Mao’s chosen successor Hua had some big shoes to fill.

HuaGuofeng6

And he did this in part through a massive propaganda campaign, which you can learn about at Chinese Posters.

Here we have Hua cleaning a counter and Xi getting his own food. Hua is serving the people, and Xi is being served by them, but times do change, and waiting in line will get you credit as being a man of the people as a Chinese official today.

e13-62712

There are plenty of shots of Hua holding a shovel and such like, but China’s leadership has changed so much that that would just look ridiculous with Xi. Instead, he meets with college students (the future elite) and encourages them to be concerned with the common people. Hua probably would have done that by leading the students out for some vigorous physical labor alongside workers and peasants, but this is 2014.

e13-6239

Both of them mingle with the common folk, and you can see some of the differences in revolutionary charisma. Part of it is the cellphones, but also it is hard to imagine Hua greeting a member of the masses who happened to be female with “Hello Beautiful.”

10  e13-947

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hua had the disadvantage that he was following Mao, and so he had to either put himself in Mao’s place in the picture, or sort of abandon Maoism, neither of them a good strategy. Hua was followed by a guy named Deng Xiaoping, who shied away from the leader-cult thing, and when he did turn up in posters they would focus on him as an individual, someone passing through revolutionary history, not dominating it.

e13-449e16-78

The way everyone gushes over Xi in these pictures (and laugh at his jokes) is the most leader-cult thing in the set, and given that Xi is the leader of the great and successful Communist party of China that is to be expected. Hua could be pretty informal and push the leader-worship off on Mao or the Party. Xi has to be both a symbol of Chinese greatness and an ordinary Jiu. It’s a hard act to pull off, and it will be interesting to see how well he does at it. God forbid he ever ends up in a picture like this.

obamafeet

 

 

3/12/2014

Digital resources

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:16 am

I have been looking through two really useful digital resources lately. One is the Hathi Trust website. They have been digitizing stuff for some time, and the site is now really useful. You can find all sorts of out of print stuff from the 20′s and 30′s (and beyond) and the search features work much better than in Google Books itself. There are also lots of people coming up with collections like Records of the American Colonies that will give you a huge mass of stuff without you having to look for it. Sadly, nobody has done the a collection on the League of Nations stuff that I am interested in.

It is more or less a better front end for Google Books, and it works quite well. This is partially because it is easier to search, has a better interface for reading, and is better integrated with World Cat. It’s still geared more towards English language stuff, but it is a really helpful source.

The other source are the various bibliographies in Oxford Bibliographies. If you are interested in Classical Confucianism would you not want to know what Paul Goldin thinks is the most valuable stuff in the field? John Chaffee on Middle Period China? Kristin Stapleton on Urban Change and Modernity? Alan Baumler on opium?1 This is a type of scholarship that strikes me as being particularly appropriate for the web, since these are supposed to be updated every year.

Sadly, both of these are subscription sites, meaning that you can get some of the functionality just by logging in, but you need to be associated with a major institution to look at things for free. The world of scholarship is changing, but less slowly than one might wish.

 

 

  1. Maybe the last one not so much. []

3/8/2014

Contradictions among the critics

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 2:12 pm

The Maoist International Movement’s movie archives are on-line. They are really fun. You feel kind of silly when you realize that you have never thought of the opening bit of Conan the Destroyer as an example of the Hegelian master/slave dialectic, although of course it is. I think their review of A Bug’s Life could have done more to emphasize the film’s Maoist roots. Yes the ants are the oppressed peasantry, (and thus Flick is Mao) but MLM don’t point out that the ants succeed only when they realize the iron necessity of creating a untied front with the urban proletariat represented, obviously, by the the circus bugs. Maybe they see this as Li Lisan-ism? One can also quibble with them aesthetically on occasion. They claim that the film should make it more clear that the grasshoppers represent U.S. imperialism, but that seems so obvious as to go without saying.

Its an enjoyable read that in general reminds me of being an undergraduate. We had a lot of Marxist history professors, and you actually can get a lot from listening to people who think totally differently from you.

via LGM who link this to Jonah Goldberg, who I find is someone who thinks differently than me but is never interesting and never makes me look at anything differently.

3/6/2014

Exemplary Women

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 2:13 am

A new translation of the Lienu zhuan is out, under the title Exemplary Women of Early China The book was compiled by Liu Xiang, mostly from older sources, so it is both an anthology of Pre-Han stories about women and one of the most important influences on post-Han women’s education.

The translator, Anne Behnke Kinney, says that the organizing principle of the book is dynastics, “an ideology for reinforcing habits of deference to a family-based hierarchy for the sake of its ongoing continuity and prestige.” It is thus broader than the usual understanding of filial piety and is not the same as patriarchy, although it often overlaps with it. Most of the stories portray women dealing with some sort of crisis that threatens the family or dynasty.

Sometimes of course women -are- a threat to the family and dynasty, as in this story from the section on the Depraved and the Favored.

The Songstress Queen of King Dao of Zhao

The Songstress Queen was a singer from Handan and the queen of King Daoxiang of Zhao. At an earlier time, she had brought disorder to an entire clan. When she became widowed, King Daoxiang was struck by her beauty and married her. Li Mu remonstrated with him, saying, “This won’t do. A woman’s impropriety is the means by which state and family are turned upside down and made unstable. This woman has brought disorder to her clan. Shouldn’t Your Majesty be alarmed ?”- The king said, “Whether there is disorder or not depends on how I govern.” He then proceeded to marry her.

Earlier, King Daoxiang’s queen had given birth to a son named Jia who became heir apparent. After the Songstress Queen entered the court at the rank of consort, she gave birth to a son named Qian. The Songstress Queen then became a great favorite of the king and secretly slandered the queen and the heir apparent to the king. She [also] arranged for someone to offend the heir apparent and thus provoke him into committing a crime. The king thereupon dismissed Jia and set up Qian [in his place], and deposed the queen and established the songstress as queen. When King Daoxiang died, Qian was enthroned as King Youmin.

The Songstress Queen was dissolute and immoral. She developed an illicit connection with the Lord of Chunping and frequently received bribes from Qin. She made the king execute his great general, the Lord of Wuan, Li Mu. Afterward, when Qin troops marched in, no one could stop them. Qian was then taken prisoner by Qin, and Zhao was destroyed. The grandees, resentful that th eSongstress Queen had slandered the heir apparent and killed Li Mu had her killed and exterminated her family. Together they enthroned Jia at Dai. After seven years they could not defeat Qin. Zhao was then annihilated and became a commandery [of Qin].

The Odes says, “If a man have not dignity of demeanor /What should he do but die. These words apply well to her.

The Verse Summary says,

The Songstress Queen of King Daoxiang of Zhao

Was insatiably covetous.

She destroyed the true queen and heir,

Working her deceit with guile.

She was debauched with Lord Chunping,

And ruthlessly pursued what she desired.

She received bribes, ravaged Zhao,

And died in the kingdom she destroyed

This story gives a nice sample of both court politics in the Warring States and pretty traditional views about the dangers of marrying beautiful women. It also reflects one of the reasons the book was complied, since Liu Xiang seems to have been worried that too many Han emperors were marrying low-born women who did not understand proper family behaviour. These women needed to be either avoided or educated, and this book could help with either. We also get a sample of one of the verse summaries that one can memorize to keep the lessons of the story in mind.

Much different is this story, from the section on Accomplished Rhetoricians

The Wife of the Bow Maker of Jin

The bow maker’s wife was the daughter of an armor craftsman of Jin. In the time of Duke Ping, the duke ordered her husband to make a bow. After three years it was finished. When the duke drew the bow and shot, the arrow did not pierce even one layer of armor. The duke was angry and was about to execute the bow maker.

The bow maker’s wife thereupon begged for an audience, saying, “I am the daughter of an armor craftsman and the wife of the bow maker. I would like to be granted an audience.” When Duke Ping met with her she said, “Have you heard of Gong Liu’s conduct in former times ? Whenever the sheep and oxen trampled their rushes and reeds, he felt great pity for the common people, and his concern even extended to plants and trees. Would he have countenanced the killing of an innocent person? Duke Mu of Qin encountered bandits who ate the meat of his fine steed, but he gave them wine to drink. When an officer of King Zhuang of Chu tugged at his consort’s robe, she tore off his hat tassel. But the king later drank with him quite happily. As for these three rulers, their benevolence became known to the entire world. Eventually each one was requited [for their kindness], and their names have been passed down to present times.

“Formerly, Yao did not trim the thatch of his roof or carve its mottled beams. He had earthen steps of only three levels.Even so, he felt that his workmen had toiled hard and that he was living in great comfort. Now, when my husband made this bow, his efforts were also laborious. The bow’s shaft came from wood grown on the slopes of Mount Tai, and each day he would examine it three times in both the sunlight and the shade. It is decorated with the horn of oxen from Yan, bound with the tendons of deer from Jing, and glued together with adhesive derived from Yellow River fish. Since these four things are among the most select and extraordinary materials in the world, your inability to pierce even one layer of armor must be due to your inability to shoot. Yet you want to kill my husband. Isn’t this mistaken?

“I have heard that in the Way of Archery, one’s left hand should be held as firm as a rock, while the right hand should be held like a diagonal support beam. When the right hand releases the arrow, the left hand should not be aware of it. This is the Way of Archery.”

When Duke Ping did what she said and shot, the arrow pierced seven layers of armor. The woman’s husband was immediately set free and given three yi in cash. A man of discernment would say, “The bow maker’s wife was able to offer assistance in difficulty.” The Odes says, “The ornamented bows are strong;’ and “They discharge the arrows and all hit.”This phrase describes the methods of archery.

The Verse Summary says,

Duke Ping Jin commissioned a bow,

Which took three years to complete.

But he became angry with the bow maker

And was on the verge of punishing him.

The wife went and spoke tothe duke,

And explained what materials were used in the bow.

She set forth the labor and difficulty involved,

And the duke thereupon released him.

So we have another commoner woman, but this one is an expert on bows, archery, rare materials and persuading rulers. She also has the courage to tell the Duke he is lousy at one of the Six Arts (Archery) and is eloquent enough to both get away with it and improve him. Even men could take her as an example!

As a result this is a really useful book to use when teaching about Chinese women. Students come in with a lot of ideas about women in traditional China being powerless and oppressed. That’s not wrong, but getting them to go beyond that is often pretty hard. These stories mostly deal with female agency, but always in a family or dynastic context, so we are getting neither Passive Lady Plum Blossom nor Disney’s Mulan. It is also a good book for Early China. It’s always had to find something to do for the early part of a China class, given that a lot of the secondary stuff is pretty technical and the translated primary sources tend to be philosophical texts that are hard for undergrads to deal with. This seems just about perfect.

Of course, even if you are not going to teach with it, you could still read it. Its a good book.

3/4/2014

When China was a Great Power

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:05 am

Recently I was Google-ing to find a picture of the statue of Liang Qichao that is, I think, in his hometown.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

No better way to show that someone made it big than to show a shot of their statue. I found the picture as part of an essay entitled “Superpower Empire” which looks at the fall of the Qing Dynasty and its replacement by the Qian Dynasty, tracing the history of China down to the outbreak of war with Japan in 1933. It’s a well-sourced essay that draws on such important works as

-“A Revisionist Assessment of China’s Modern Political Myths” by Geraldine Brandt, Journal of Asian Studies, Volume 55:3, 1995
-The Accidental Revolution: The Collapse of the Qing Dynasty and its Aftermath by Jonathan Spence, 1979 -Lucian Bianco’s 1967 book Revolution and Reform in China 1895-1947

As you might have guessed, it is an alternative history, where Kang Youwei became the emperor Jianguo in 1912, Liang Qichao was his wily Prime Minister, Xu Jinqin, instead of being known only as the first Chinese woman to give a political speech was also the head of the Society of the Daughters of the Yellow Emperor, the intelligence agents/prostitutes who held the empire together (see Gail Hershatter’s work for details) and T.V. Soong had to content himself with being the Shanghai businessman who created China’s first airship line.

It is a lot of fun to read because it is quite good. It is written by David Hendryk, a civil servant from France who has read a lot of Chinese history. Given how plausible much of it is, I am somewhat surprised that nothing from this has turned up in my student’s work.

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