Postings by Jonathan Dresner

Contact: jonathan [at] froginawell.net
URL: http://dresnerchina.edublogs.org

PRC National Anthem

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 8:16 am

In honor of the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic on October 1st, my friend Carsey Yee has sent another video: The Two Chinese Characters do the March of the Volunteers (twice, once with English subtitles). I was a bit surprised to learn that the song predates the PRC by over ten years, that the author was arrested and the song banned for a time (Can anyone think of another case where a national anthem was banned without a regime change taking place?), and, of course, the lyrics changed during the Cultural Revolution.

I suppose it makes sense: the history of the song really is the history of China.

Imperial Visits and Attitudes

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:02 am

I just learned of the Japanese Emperor and Empress’ visit to Hawai’i [via]. It’s not the first time that a member of the Japanese Imperial family has visited the islands, though you would hardly know it from the gushing “historic” reports of the media. Though this is the first visit by Akihito as Emperor, Akihito has visited the islands before, as have other members of Japan’s now-symbolic dynasty. In addition to the Advertiser’s photo gallery, there are some excellent shots on Flickr by “731photo” and “onecardshort”, as well as one picture from the US Pacific Command.1

The continuing connection between the Hawai’i Japanese immigrant community and Japan was a matter of strategic concern from the beginning: The Kingdom of Hawai’i wanted to use Japan as a counterweight against US power; the Republic of Hawai’i used the threat of Japan — which was actively concerned about the treatment of Japanese in Hawai’i — to support the annexation of the islands by the US; in the Territorial era, disputes about immigration and about labor organization often involved the Japanese consulate.2 Chinese Old Man Statue 2 And it’s also true that the Japanese government considered Japanese emigrants to be an extension of the nation3 , and tried, in a fairly blunt fashion, to influence foreign opinion through the overseas communities. By the 1910s and 20s, discussion in the media and halls of power of the Hawaiian Japanese community as a potential “fifth column” was pretty common, and that view was also common on the mainland. It took an immigration ban, a war, Japan’s crushing defeat and entry into the US security system, and the “blood sacrifice” of Nikkei serving with distinction in the US military to overcome those fears, and transform the Japanese immigrant community and their descendants into simply “ethnic” Americans. So, a little over twenty years past the end of WWII, fifteen past the end of the US occupation, the centennial of Japanese immigration into Hawai’i could be celebrated with public monuments, publications and events.

This history is why I was so disturbed to read about PRC policy which sees overseas Chinese as intelligence and lobbying agents. There’s a reasonable argument to be made — as Ichioka does — that Japanese government policy towards emigrants gave support to anti-immigrant attitudes in the US and elsewhere. It’s true that other governments treat emigres as resources to some extent, and urge their citizens overseas to represent the nation well, but the level of coordination, and open encouragement distinguishes pre-war Japanese policy and current PRC policy from the rest of the pack. I don’t think we’re on the verge of a “Yellow Peril” panic in the US at this point, but there’s no question that this has lead to serious negative consequences for individuals, and could lead to wider problems in the future.


  1. That it’s a better shot of the Admiral than of the Emperor is, I suppose, not surprising. []
  2. See Gary Okihiro, John Stephan, also Morris-Suzuki []
  3. see also []

Modern Archaeology

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 9:53 pm

Gansu backyard furnacesGreat Leap Forward era backyard iron furnaces have been unearthed [via] and there is discussion about whether to preserve them as historical evidence, even a cultural heritage. The site is described thus

The backyard furnaces are located on the south slope of a hillside within the borders of Heiyaodong Village in Baiyin Mongolian Township, Sunan Yugur Autonomous County. They are situated in an east-west line and number 159 furnaces in total, most of which have crumbled. About fifty are still largely intact. The largest is 8 meters high and 14 meters in circumference; the smallest is 2.5 meters high and 2.7 meters around. Most are pagoda-shaped, with one or more chimneys. Their insides are lined with clay bricks. Some of the larger furnaces are dug into the hillside and have one or more arched entrances for feeding raw material, lighting the fire, or cleaning out slag, and multiple air vents are set into the floor. Some are made up of ten individual furnaces joined together. The whole group extends for a more than two kilometers, making for an impressive sight. The furnaces were built in 1958 during the Great Leap Forward and ceased operating in 1960. Some of them were never put to use.

That last line captures what is, for me anyway, the essence of the GLF: an immense waste of effort, resources, lives. Wu Zuolai of the journal Theory and Criticism of Art and Literature writes:

People who experienced that time recall that whole forests were cut down to make charcoal to burn, bringing immense disaster to the environment. And because some areas were unable to produce acceptable steel, the people had to break apart their cooking pots and melt them down in the furnaces, and as a result, unusable lumps of iron were all that was produced. One unforeseen consequence was that real cultural heritage was plundered during the steel production campaign. The two-storey tower at the famous Hangu Pass* was torn down, and inscriptions accumulated over the course of two thousand years were destroyed. Wuwei County,* Gansu, was an important northwestern garrison in the Tang Dynasty, and its city wall, built of large bricks, towered for a thousand years. But those thousand-year-old bricks became part of the furnaces.

The past has become a memory and a historical lesson. But has the mentality of the Great Leap Forward been entirely eradicated? Faced with this massive cluster of iron smelters, we have much to reflect upon. Public, scientific, and democratic decision making must not be merely empty words but must be put into practice in every project.

Wu goes on to suggest a “small museum” on the site, and an oral history and records collecting project. Given that this is one of the landmark events of modern Chinese history, I would hope for that much, or more. But given that this is one of the landmark events in the failure of Maoist policy and rapid modernization, I have my doubts.

ASPAC Blogging: Change in Rural China

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:46 am

Flowers of Soka - Pink LotusI heard a few China papers at ASPAC and, though they weren’t all on one panel, they might well have been, because they all dealt with the rural response to changing 20th and 21st century circumstances.

On Friday I heard Soka University’s own Xiaoxing Liu discuss rural responses to the marketization of the labor and agricultural economy in China over the last few decades. She noted that the share of Chinese workers involved in agriculture dropped below 50% in 2003, a critical landmark for modernization theorists: many former agricultural workers have become migrant laborers (more about them below) and the remaining agriculturalists have a great deal of structural and economic trouble: lack of land rights being high on the list. (more…)

Tehran, Tiananmen, Taiwan?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:51 am

There was a post up, briefly, At Edge of the American West Dana captured some of the emerging themes of the discussion [link added] on Iranian democracy, including the fact that Mousavi, from whom the election seems to have been stolen, isn’t really all that nice, liberal or different from Ahmedinajad, especially since the presidency isn’t really the seat of greatest power in Iran.1 There’s a growing call for tough talk and possibly action in support of the protesters, some of which is identifiable as neo-conservatives taking a consistent pro-interventionist line. The post then took that to the next step, noting that we have conflicts with the Iranian regime — nuclear development, Iraq influence, etc. — and that some neo-conservatives have supported military attacks on Iran as a way to force a favorable solution. Near the end of the post was the line that inspired me to respond:

The same groups rending their garments over the murder of Neda will be calling for the bombing of her relatives.2

I don’t think this is entirely true, unless “rending their garments” is supposed to indicate excessive strategic displays of grief. The fact is that the choices in the Iranian election were not all that diverse — the system limits candidates to those who have not, in any way, offended existing powers, at least not without sufficiently powerful allies to pull it off. Nonetheless many of us believe that process matters. Just as the Tiananmen protests were actually about a more open socialism, not democracy, these protests are about an honest Islamic Republic, not democracy. Still, though their rights won’t be all that much greater under Mousawi, it’s clear that their rights have been abridged radically through election fraud and violent suppression of peaceful protests.

Neda, and the others who died, were injured or arrested, deserve better than an Islamic Republic, but at the very least they deserves the preservation of an Islamic Republic.

The literature on democracy development is thin, at least in terms of convincing arguments, but the most likely precursor to actual democracy is faux democracy. It’s the habits of elections and candidates and constitutions and rights that develop under authoritarian populism that can blossom into something like real liberal (in the classical sense) democracy. This is where the example of Taiwan and South Korea is instructive, as well as the transition made by Japan in the mid-20th century. Protests rarely seem to result directly in regime change — though the Romanian and earlier Iranian examples did — but they do express the degree to which the people take their rights seriously.

  1. My apologies if I’m mis-representing the post, but I only read it once before it disappeared. I’m fairly sure I’m close, though. Some blogger more interested in metablogging can discuss the ethics of deleting a post, or of commenting on deleted posts. I didn’t see anything particularly controversial there, or obviously wrong. []
  2. I had copied this into the comment box before the post disappeared, so I’m sure this is correct []

The twentieth anniversary

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:39 am

I have, as it turns out, very little to say that I didn’t say five years ago, but I’ll reproduce it under the fold. Reading this year’s crop of remembrances, and Philip Cunningham’s first-person history, I don’t think my views have changed all that much, except that I see the movement more in the context of the decades before — periodic reformist movements which invariably met with repression whether or not the reforms were eventually pursued — and it’s much less shocking to me now than it was then. Still tragic. And the history since has been, by comparison, oddly quiet.

Revising history: Brief notes

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 9:51 pm

Quick hits:

  • It’s one of the most difficult periods of modern history to teach, and I love using primary sources for the tough times, so I’m always glad to see new oral histories of the Maoist era. In some ways, the flaws the reviewer cites — wandering in particular — could be really useful for students.
  • A new revisionist history of Chiang Kaishek raises the possiblity of teaching 20th century China in a much more balanced and complete way. I’m not entirely convinced, though: the portrait of Chiang as a political visionary is still in great tension with his heavy-handed methods and questionable associates and administrative skills; the idea that Taiwan’s development was charted by Chiang has to contend with both the Japanese legacies and the favorable international environment for Taiwan’s economic development during the Cold War. I want to see some real academic reviews.
  • The NYT “Room for Debate” about Chinese Character Simplification would be a lot more interesting if they discussed anything other than the first-wave simplification carried out by the Communists — the association of language control with early empire, the natural evolution of languages (i.e. the instability of “traditional” characters), the realities of technology and language. I’ve read a couple of their “Room for Debate” pieces, and I don’t see the point.

Fields and Periodization (yes, again)

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 7:40 pm

Jeff Vanke, now blogging at The Historical Society’s THS Blog, was looking for some guidance on how to properly divide up the history of the world into fields of study. He laid out a very ambitious world-wide agenda, including Japan and China fields, and asked for feedback. His original China fields were:

  • to 907 (through Tang)
  • 907-1644 (Song, Yuan, Ming)
  • 1644-1911 (Qing)
  • 1911-

My comment (on the China stuff; you can read the whole thing or just the Japan stuff at Frog:J) was

On China, I’m not as familiar with the historiography, but my impression is that there is a lot more scholarship crossing the Ming-Qing boundary than there used to be, and that the Tang isn’t really separable from the Warring States/Five Dynasties/Northern Wei period. I’d probably break between Tang and Song, or possibly after Song. That latter might work, because then you can take the Yuan-Ming-Qing as a unit, which actually works pretty well. (If you’re thinking that the Qing is the Early Modern in China, because it’s chronologically contiguous with the Early Modern in Europe, you have to give that up. this discussion is as good a starting place as any….)

Jeff noticed that I’d collapsed his system into three fields, among other issues:

For China, if I include Song in the ancient / classical field, do I stop in 1129 when the Jin push the Song across the Yangtze, or do I take the classical China field to 1215, when the Mongols take Yanjing?

That leaves me with only three Chinese fields, which seems paltry. If I put Song in a field before Yuan, is there enough from China’s prehistory to the Song to break that into two fields, and if so, where should I draw the temporal line?

I regrouped — apparently I can’t count — and tried again

For a four-part China sequence, I think I’d do a really Early field (up to the fall of the Han), an “Open Empire” field (Three Kingdoms to Mongol; see Valerie Hansen’s excellent textbook), an Early Modern (Ming-Qing) and a 20th century field.

Alternately, since I’m pushing the third field back to the Ming, you could start the fourth field with the Opium Wars — I have more or less the same historiographical qualms about that that I do about the 1853 break in Japan, but there are a lot of courses and texts which do just that, still. (I can’t recommend highly enough Paul Cohen’s Discovering History in China for a good argument against the Opium War break point, among other historiographical insights; many of the theories he engages were very active in the Japanese historiography as well.)

Jeff wisely ignored my last bit of thinking out loud but seems to think that my four-field sequence makes some sense. If you think I’m barking up the wrong tree or if you want to see how the rest of the world gets subdivided, join the discussion.

Zhou Confucianism? Ming Quality Control?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:26 pm

In an absolutely fascinating article on the modern petition redress system1 focusing on attempts by regional officials to prevent petitions from reaching a national office, the Financial Times sidebar, “Confucian Accountability” says

China’s petition system dates back to the Zhou dynasty 3,000 years ago. It embodies a Confucian tradition that idealises an authoritarian yet benevolent ruler who puts the concerns of his subjects above the interests of corrupt officials.

There’s the obvious point, that the Zhou dynasty predates Confucianism by a half-millenium or more. Confucius never dealt with the issue of petitions2, nor can I recall any pre-Han thinker postulating such an active (and literate) role for commoners. All of them, though, put the welfare of the people and the state above that of individual (especially dishonest) officials. One of the principle concerns of the more institutionally-minded figures (Mozi, Xunzi, Hanfeizi) is how to pick honest officials, and root out (or work around) dishonest ones, but none of them argue for violating the chain of command, even in extraordinary circumstances. They want a monitoring system which works well in normal circumstances, not something which encourages disorder.

The sidebar continues

After the 1911 republican revolution, petitioning was abolished by the Nationalist government. The Communists reinstated it soon after their 1949 revolution.

Experts say petitioning remains basically unchanged from the system in place 500 years ago in the Ming dynasty, when the formal evaluation of government officials began to take into account the number of petitioners who travelled to the capital from their region.

Since the Nationalist government was a democratic/republican system, presumably petitioning wouldn’t be necessary. I’m a bit surprised that the article didn’t take a slightly more critical approach to the idea that petitioning was a normal process over the last sixty years and only recently has started to break down. I can’t imagine that petitioning for redress in the era of Mao or Deng wasn’t fraught with danger for the petitioner, from the problem of unauthorized travel to the assumption that Party officials are always in the right. The responses that the article describes — detention, harassment, false imprisonment under the guise of mental illness — are classic Communist party tools for handling dissension, used widely in the Soviet Union as well as in China.

The last point in the sidebar — the use of petitions as a metric of administrative quality — is central to the article: the extralegal attempts by local officials to suppress petitions and petitioners is rooted in systemic self-protection, the avoidance of the appearance of trouble. Modern transportation technology, as the article notes, makes travel easier for petitioners, and has contributed to the rise in numbers. But, of course, the nature of modern society is such that it is also much easier to identify, track, monitor petitioners now than it was even fifty years ago, much less five hundred. The problem of danson minpi (“honoring officials, despising the people” as the Japanese put it) was intense during the latter half of the 20th century in China: the scaling up of suppression efforts to match the scaling up of petitions is pretty much par for the course, but the information environment is very different now, and the question of government legitimacy more intense.

  1. via, where the discussion quickly veered into the surreal, with participants unsure whether China’s petition system made it a more responsive and fair political system than the republicanism of the US. []
  2. One of the many issues Confucius never dealt with. []

Heartland Mandala

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 7:01 pm

I was surprised to learn, about ten days ago, that PSU was going to be hosting a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks creating a sand mandala. This is a touring company, but somehow they ended up in Pittsburg, Kansas in the run-up to the fiftieth anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s uprising. There was no political commentary around it, as near as I can tell. The school newspaper and city paper reported on it, but didn’t make a big deal about the anniversary. It wasn’t entirely apolitical: The Pittsburg Morning Sun did quote the monks on the subject of the Chinese takeover and subsequent Tibetan cultural endangerment. But the opening invocation, which I attended, included no mention of that; there was a prominent altar with a picture of the Dalai Lama, though.

Unfortunately, I fell ill a few hours after the opening ceremony on Monday1 so I only got pictures of the very first moments of creation — I love the traditional-style plumb-line — and of the nearly-completed mandala on Thursday. I haven’t seen these up close before, and if I’d been healthier I would have gotten more pictures, but I was struck by the texture of the mandala. I’m used to seeing these as two-dimensional images, but the sand is actually laid out in little piles and walls (see here for a detail shot), in a very intricate fashion.

It was, apparently, a variation on the Amitayus Mandala (see also), centered on Amitabha (aka Amida), and emphasizing healing and wisdom. Here are some of the better pictures I did manage under the fold:

  1. I hope my students don’t make the connection between the “driving out of evil forces” and my absence! []

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