History Carnival #160

Welcome to the November 2016 History Carnival!

Michael Ray Charles, "Liberty Bros. Permanent Daily Circus - Army of Clowns"
It’s been a while since I hosted a carnival, and a while since I was blogging regularly, as well. Unless you count Twitter, in which case I’ve been blogging up a storm. Similarly, if you count the writing I do for my online classes, which is a lot like private blogging, there’s been gobs of that, too, which I really should share more of. These images are all from my various wanderings, and have very little to do with the posts.

But, on to the carnival!

Caroline Rance, Victorian asthma cigarettes: who was Dr Batty? at The Quack Doctor

Ana Stevenson nominated some excellent stuff from VIDA: Blog of the Australian Women’s History Network

Ross Mahoney passed along this series from Johannes Allert,

From Yvonne Seale, The Veil in the Middle Ages Roman Platter, Hercules wrestling the Numean Lion. Nelson Atkins Museum

David Brooks suggested some interesting US history

That was all of the nominated posts, and some solid material. I wanted to supplement a bit with some of my regular reads: Route 69, Oklahoma

And that’s the lot! The December Carnival will be hosted by Christopher Moore’s History News and submissions should go to historycarnival.org.

Norman Rockwell, Rosie the Riveter. Crystal Bridges Museum, Arkansas

Chinese Manhua and social criticism

I have been preparing a paper for a conference here at IUP, but since the conference is postponed as we are on strike I thought I would share some of it with you here. The paper is “Zhang Guangyu’s Xiyou Manji (Manhua Journey to the West) (1945) and the Chinese Tradition of Visual Satire” and I am doing it for a conference on comics that our English department is hosting. Mostly I am just doing it to introduce some stuff about Chinese comics, leading up to Zhang’s 1945 work, which I would claim is maybe China’s first manhua, in the sense of a graphic novel1 For those of you who don’t know the work, Nick Stember has put the whole thing on-line. It is basically a wartime adaptation of Journey to the West.

2015111817002884725I talk about how Xiyou Manji is important in terms of format and design, but also in its criticism of the government. Zhang Guangyu, the author, had a long history as a manhua artist, and I look at the stuff he did and published as the editor of Shanghai Manhua
in 1928-1930. Manhua artists and magazines tended to get into political trouble, and they did post some stuff that would seem to lead to trouble, like this caricature of Chiang Kai-shek.
shanghaimanhuackscover There were a couple of things that kept them on or near the right side of the censors, however. One was the fact that they tended at this point to focus on social criticism of the corruption in Shanghai society,  a topic where Nanjing might agree with them, and they did it is a foreign, modernist idiom that was not likely to get much traction with the masses.


The other thing was that things like caricatures were clearly critical, they were not very pointed. Apparently you could get away with vague criticisms of leaders, but not with specific policy criticisms.

The closest I found to policy criticism in Shanghai Manhua was their treatment of the 1929 Jiangan opium case, in which a shipload of opium that was pretty clearly being protected by someone high up in the government was seized. The case was never never solved, and2

There were plenty of cartoons about it. Here we have “powerful people” grabbing opium moneyjiangan6

and here we have opium as Shaighai’s motor.


What we don’t get is much specific criticism of these important people. Who is responsible for this case? Its a mystery!


We do eventually get some things about minor figures involved in the case, but this is a long was from the type of explicit stuff cartoonists will do later, and that Zhang will do in 1945. A number of scholars have called the Shanghai manhua apolitical, and I think that is clearly wrong, a lot of their social criticism stuff is clearly political. Still, the political stuff they do is far less pointed than what will come later.

Part 1 of …..

And now, just for the fun of it, a 1911 cartoon of Zhong Kui the demon queller on his bike from 19113


  1. I am not that hung up on “firsts”, but for this paper it works. 

  2. There is a bit more on the case here Baumler, Alan. The Chinese and Opium under the Republic: Worse Than Floods and Wild Beasts. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007. p.136. 

  3. from Bi Keguan, Huang Yuanlin Zhongguo manhua shi Beijing: Wenhua yishu chubanshe, 1986  

Books with “Laozi” on the cover

Konrad called my attention to Paul R. Goldin’s “Those Who Don’t Know Speak: Translations of the Daode Jing by People Who Do Not Know Chinese.”1 As you might expect, Goldin is not much impressed with the publications of Witter Bynner, Stephen Mitchell, Thomas H. Miles and Ursula K. Le Guin.2 All of them have consulted some of the many English translations of the work, some of them talked to some Chinese people or scholars about it, and then published a book with “Laozi” on the cover. Goldin is not impressed with the books these people “expectorate”, and spends some time, too much, really, laying out how bad these works are as translations. After some time spent shooting fish in a barrel, Goldin gets on to what I find most interesting,…what it is the that modern English-reading world wants out of Laozi in particular and Taoism/Buddhism/Hinduism more generally?3 Publishers do it because it makes money, of course, and so do at least some authors. Mitchell got a six-figure advance for his book, (in 1988 dollars) and has no doubt long since earned it back. This of course just pushes the question back to why readers buy books like these, and Goldin looks at Amazon.com reviews,4 and finds that

The respondents like the pseudo-translations because, of the available choices, these are the most easily adaptable to their own experience. Scholarly translations seem pedantic to them

Goldin, of course, disagrees, possibly because he himself is a dry as dust scholar who lacks the soul of a poet, or he is just jealous of six-figure advances. Or, possibly, because

The Daode jing is old; it is alien; it is Chinese; and it is difficult. These are the recalcitrant facts that too many readers seem disinclined to accept. Instead, they seek out the most facile translations and consume insipid approximations of the original….. Like any profound work of philosophy, the Daode jing is dangerous. We do it no justice by pretending that it is easy to swallow.

So how do you render Laozi easier to swallow, and avoid the threat that someone might crack their teeth on it?

Here, from C-text is the first line of Laozi 465


Victor Mair renders this as
“When the Way prevails under heaven,
swift horses are relegated to fertilizing fields.
When the Way does not prevail under heaven,
war-horses breed in the suburbs.”

Mitchell gives us
“When a country is in harmony with the Tao,
the factories make trucks and tractors.
When a country goes counter to the Tao,
warheads are stockpiled outside the cities.”

There are problems with the Mitchell just as a literal translation, (天下 as country? ) and also as prose. You loose the parallelism between horses and horses by turning them into factories and warheads, and warhorses breeding (生) seems better than “stockpiling” as a verb here. If you get away from the Dao, warhorses will apparently breed without you having to do anything more. Stockpiling shifts the focus to whoever is stockpiling.

Still, if unlike Goldin you don’t find Mitchell’s changes “jarring” this is more or less a translation, and it saves modern readers the trouble of having to consult a footnote to find out what a horse is by putting things in a modern idiom. Sometimes the modern book-issuers flat out edit the text.

Here is Wing-tsit Chan’s translation of the end of Laozi 25
Therefore Tao is great.
Heaven is great.
Earth is great.
And the king is also great.
There are four great things in the universe, and the king is one of them.
Man models himself after Earth.
Earth models itself after Heaven.
Heaven models itself after Tao.
And Tao models itself after Nature.

Le Guin deals with this unpleasant mention of a king by taking the whole section out, explaining “I think a Confucian copyist slipped the king in. The king garbles the sense of the poem and goes against the spirit of the book. I dethroned him.”

This is actually a problem for a lot of these book-issuers. All of them dislike the idea that a book that they all know the meaning of might have references to kings and political power. Indeed, they have problems with the whole de aspect of the Daode jing.6 I actually like that ‘part’ myself, since I am usually, either in class or in my own head, trying to connect this book to other Chinese books of the period, most (all?) of which, like Laozi, are concerned with politics and ordering human societies. They are trying to connect it to themselves and what they already feel.

The Amazon reviews remain a rich source for understanding how book buyers (and my students) want to approach Chinese texts. The Penguin edition of the D.C. Lau translation of the Wang Pi text is a seminal work in part because it was the first one I ever read. It has 855 reviews at present. Like Amazon itself, many of the reviewers are in fact reviewing other editions, but never mind that. Here is one of the reviews of Lau that the Amazons found most helpful.

on October 30, 2005
Format: Paperback|Verified Purchase

I’m amazed at the storm that Mitchell’s version of the Tao Te Ching has churned up. Reading previous reviews, there seem to be two factions: those who find Mitchell’s version thought-provoking and soul-stirring, and those who focus on what they see as its poetical liberties with the original. The first group is primarily interested in using the text as a catalyst for reflective insight into the nature of reality. The second group is primarily interested in the text as an historical document. The first group seeks transformation. The second group seeks scholarship.

Ok so far…

I don’t know that there’s any intrinsic dissonance between the methods of scholarship and the goal of transformation, but I do know this: as a professor of philosophy who wants his students to read texts as tools for discovery rather than as sacred cows to be worshipped, I’ll take Mitchell’s version over more “scholarly” translations any day. For the nonspecialist who’s not interested in parsing Chinese, which is really more important: entering into the spirit of the Tao Te Ching so that the reading of it becomes a lived, integrated experience, or memorizing a lot of scholarly footnotes? Mitchell’s version breathes new life into a 2500-year-old text that most people today would find too arcane if they read a more literal translation. What a pity to begrudge contemporary readers an opportunity to discover the Tao simply because we don’t think that the vehicle made available to them is “scholarly” enough!

So, sail with Ursula K. LeGuin on a dragon over the skies of Pern, or memorize a lot of scholarly footnotes? I think this gets at the main conflict in liberal education, is it about discovering yourself, or discovering other people? If it is all about you it does not much matter if you get the words in the text “right”, you already know what it means. Indeed, you don’t really need to read the book at all, and you don’t need a teacher or any “scholarship.” To me liberal education has always been mostly about meeting other people, and sometimes other people who are very different from me and from each other. This is hard, and I need help. This is not always what students  come to class wanting to do, and that is fine of course. Still, I think as teachers we should be encouraging students to at least take a stab at understanding what some dead Chinese person was saying, as that is the only way to use a text as a “tool of discovery”7 I will be facing this issue again in the Spring, and I have decided to deal with the complexities of helping students engage with Laozi in two different ways by…assigning Zhuangzi instead.

  1. Asian Philosophy 12, no. 3 (November 2002): 183.  

  2. He identifies Le Guin as “the daughter of the famous anthropologist A.L. Kroeber” which I did not know, but which I would also not think of as a way to define her.  

  3. All of these are the same, by the way  “Although [Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism] comprise a vast number of subtly interwoven spiritual disciplines and philosophical systems, the basic features of their worldview are the same”  

  4. in 2002, no less. Is this the earliest scholarly citation of Amazon reviews? 

  5. 46 is Wang Pi, yes? Lau’s Everyman edition says this is Mawangdui Te Ching 9 

  6. As Goldin points out, this is one of the most difficult terms in the text  

  7. None of the books Goldin talks about seem to have any questions about the existence of Laozi and his relationship to the Daode jing  

Going to college in China and the U.S.

Via Facebook, (somehow) I found this

Chinese parents sleep in “tents of love” outside their college kids’ dorms to make the goodbyes easier

The thing I found interesting about it is that the US media is comparing these Chinese parents who camp out when they drop the kids at college with US “Velcro parents” who refuse to let go of their kids. That is a comparison that works, and it fits in with China’s concern about Little Emperors and spoiling all these kids from one child families.

The thing that struck me, having just watched kids get dropped off at college, is how geographically and class bound American colleges are. Most Americans go to state schools within a few hours drive from home, and only the elite go all over the country. Thus hotel prices rarely matter, and you have not just spent 10 hours on a train. The two parents in the article who’s jobs are mentioned are a farmer and a factory worker. How do the farmer/factory worker parents of Princeton pay for hotels on drop off week? Easy. Both of them have generous scholarships, and the University will even loan them a valet if they forgot to bring theirs. I suspect having all these family members come along is also in part due to what a social shock it is to be the first one to go to college in your family, which of course happens in the U.S, but nowhere near as much as it does in China, and when it does happen it is likely to be close to home.

I’m not sure if anyone has written anything on this, but it would be interesting to see what impact this mass national elite mobility is having on the Chinese society.

Where’s my Flying Imperialism?

While googling around looking for advertising posters for Asian airlines of the 20’s and 30’s I found this.

SiberiaIt is from a series of prints showing the Japanese expedition to Siberia in during the Russian Revolution.1. I of course found the plane interesting. What the heck is that thing? I am not much of a plane spotter, so I guess maybe it actually existed. More likely, however, it is a fantasy plane that was made up by the illustrator. This would not be the first time that an illustrator just made something up, rather than doing the research. Given how uncommon planes were in Japan in 1919, it is not event that surprising that he came up with something pretty fantastic, although I expect he could have found a picture of one.

Still, this one is instructive. Aviation was supposed to change the world. They would  make war unthinkable or make armies and navies obsolete as all fighting moved to the air. This did not work out quite as predicted (Where’s my flying car?) but the idea that miraculous machines would dominate the world just by flying over it was common with westerners from H.G. Wells to Charles Lindbergh. From the evidence of this picture plenty of Japanese people thought so too even before Hayao Miyazaki came along.





  1. (( I found it on Wikipedia, although the original is from Library of Congress


    http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/ppmsca.08201/  You can see the whole set at LOC  

Who will Xi Jinping be?

If you have been following the Olympics (which I mostly have not) you probably watched the closing ceremonies, and saw Japan’s Prime Minister Abe zip through a tube and appear dressed as Mario as Tokyo accepted the Olympic torch from Rio. There has been some commentary on this. It is somewhat odd to see Abe, who is a pretty right-wing figure, play along with this pop cultural representation of Japan. On the other hand, it is not that odd. Queen Elizabeth was escorted to the London games by James Bond, so the idea of emphasizing popular culture as part of your national identity is not new, especially for countries like Japan and Great Britain, who have long established great power status and also lots of places that would not care for it if they came out with a more militaristic view of the themselves.

The interesting question for me is what about China? The next winter games will be in Korea, but after that it is Beijing. What will Xi come out dressed as? If we assume China will want to emphasize it’s soft power side (not a very safe assumption) what can he do? I welcome suggestions, but I think it depends on the audience. Who are they really trying to reach? Here are some possibilities.

  1. They only really care about the China audience, and maybe Xi’s own attitude. Mao Zedong is the obvious choice here. Maybe Qin Shihuang. Pluses with Mao include the fact that if Xi does not want to show up himself they could always get Andy Serkis.mao-zedong-10-1961-swimming
  2. Reaching out to the Overseas Chinese. The Stone Monkey? Not that the low energy Xi looks much like him. Jackie Chan?  If so, why not use Jackie himself? This would seem to be the easiest audience to reach out to, but I can’t think of much.
  3. Reaching out to the world. No clue here. A panda….? For all China’s emphasis on soft power diplomacy, they do not seem to have created much of an identity. China’s gross national cool is pretty low. and I really can’t think of anything that would represent the nation. China needs to work on this. Or just chuck the whole non-threatening thing and go with a grumpy panda.

Protests, national identity, and food

Via LGM I find this piece on anti KFC protests in China. KFC was once known as Kentucky Fried Chicken, but they have changed their name to KFC, in part to make themselves more generic and less American. It has not worked. For those of you who have never seen the great documentary The Colonel Comes to Japan KFC is a bit different in Asia than it is in the U.S. They were one of the first American chains to bring “modernity” to Asia, and the the opening of the KFC on Tiananmen Square in 1987 was a huge deal for Chinese consumers, who were utterly unaware of the joys of Western style fast food. KFC remains a major “American” presence all over, in a way that some other U.S. firms are not. Thus it is not surprising that when Chinese nationalists were looking for a place to protest the United States because they had lost a court case to the Philippines in the Hague that they would pick KFC. The government is not happy about this of course, since while they like stirring up nationalist resentment on-line they don’t care for it to spill into the streets. Apparently American imperialism is a paper tiger that is more difficult to ride that you might think.

What interests me is that the protests revolve around food. To some extent that makes sense, since the places ordinary people encounter that try to advertise their authentic foreignness are likely to be restaurants. The protests against Carrefour , the French grocery chain, before the CHINA OLYMPICS probably fit here as well, as well as all the freedom fries nonsense in the U.S. Now that I think about it, I wish I paied more attention to the presentation of Japanese food in China, and I am wondering if any of you have? I know that you can find sushi all over, but that it does not seem to be linked to Japan. Plenty of Yoshinoya Beef Bowl joints, but how Japanese do they sell themselves? Or is it just that food matters so much in identity?

Multi-cultural Chiang Kai-shek

CKS MultiCulturalHere is a nice picture of Chiang Kai-shek and his government’s outreach to minority nationalities. It comes from 蒙藏月報1935,3(6) (Mongolia and Tibet Monthly). Here we have Chiang being congratulated for his hard work of travelling all over the country. Or at least that’s what it says in Chinese. I assume that is also what it says in Manchu, Mongolian, Tibetan and Arabic, although I don’t know that. There was a quite a bit of outreach to these borderland nationalities later, although 1935 seems a bit early for this to me, although I have not really done work on this.

Chiang also gets bonus internationalist points here, as the plane is one the Mussolini gave him as a gift, in part to help drum up aviation sales in China, although the text does not mention this.

Chinese government graphics

One thing that you notice when you look at Chinese government reports and such from the 20’s 30’s and 40’s is how amazing the graphics are. I have no idea why this is, but even in unpublished reports they do amazing full color graphics. even during the war, when print standards really went down, the were still doing it. I have seen lots of examples of this, but since I just saw some in 四川省檔案管. 川人抗戰:檔案文獻圖集.四川人民, 2015 I thought I would pass them on. So here are statistics on Japanese bombing of Sichuan in 1940. Information is conveyed, but it is so dull


Far better are these, on the comparative number of bombers, casualties, and bombs dropped by province.

IMG_20160612_104014856 IMG_20160612_104019273 IMG_20160612_104033897

These are not any better in terms of information, and arguably worse, but they are much more striking. I have no real point to make about these, but I did want to put up an example.


To love the nation, you must buy a poster

A while back I posted about a poster from the Chinese Posters site, lamenting that they did not seem to have a copy of “To Love the Country You Must First Know It’s History” available for sale. I found out that they will apparently print almost anything in the collection for you if you ask, so here it is, framed and ready to hang.


To love the country one must first know its history – the deeper the knowledge, the more eager the love
Designers: Sha De’an (啥德安); Li Yang (李阳)
January, 1984
Publisher: Zhejiang renmin meishu chubanshe (浙江人民美术出版社)
Call number: BG E13/489 (Landsberger collection) Direct link here

I got it because we have been asked to order a few posters for the hallway in our new office area. Everyone is of course trying to come up with cool things that make their field look more interesting than China. And they all just lost. Visually striking, a nice link between history and nationalism, encourages kids to do the reading.  You should get one for your office. The reproduction quality is excellent. I also, via, Amazon, got this

“Jami Masjid, Delhi (Derii no Juma Mashiddo)” from the India and Southeast Asia Series by Yoshida Hiroshi

Besides being a nice picture, I am supposed to cover all of Asia, and since this is a mosque, in India, done by a Japanese person, this touches a lot of bases.





David Todd Roy has died


This saddens me a great deal. I saw him speak years ago when only one volume of his Jin Ping Mei translation was out, and I wondered if he would finish. He did of course, and my attitude was a pretty obnoxious one for a reader of an author or translator to have, but also a pretty common one. As you can tell from this interview. it really was his life’s work, not an academic move forward in your career thing, and I am glad that he got to finish it and hear the entirely justified plaudits he got for it.


P.S. If you are interested, the whole thing is available as an e-book, if like me you increasingly tend to read novels as e-books.




Visual Digital History

Laura Putnam has an article out in the new issue of AHR “The Transnational and the Text-Searchable: Digitized Sources and the Shadows They Cast

One of her points is the modern, digitally searchable sources make it easier to do transnational history. It used to be that doing transnational history meant going to several archives and learning several sets of sources. That’s why so few people did it. Putnam is of course not opposed to the new “drive-by transnationalism,” but she does want to point out some of the problems it creates. Scholars in the global south, or at smaller schools, can’t really participate. More importantly, you loose a lot of the context for the sources you are looking at. It is easier to collect sources that you don’t really understand when all you need to do to find them is push a button.

I of course agree with this, and I would expand on the problems a little. Digitization really does encourage the use of the type of sources that are likely to be digitized and made available. Newspapers are a good example. Many years ago Lloyd Eastman claimed that the China field should be getting beyond the point where finding the references to an event in the major Shanghai papers counted as good research, but we are sort of moving back that way. Of course there is nothing wrong with that, or rather there are some good things about making it easy to find out what Shibao said about something. This is just a new version of of the old fact that historians use sources that are easy to find. Putnam even quotes E.H. Carr about historians and fish.1

Most of what Putnam is talking about are the cooked digital sources. Things like digitized newspapers and archives, where someone has done the work to figure out was this is, classify it, and make it cite-able. Some of these are lightly cooked sources, like a digitized archive, where you are just looking at the same thing you could see on paper, only on a screen. Some are cooked a bit more, like newspaper archives, where they may have done OCR to make things searchable, and even added keywords, but is still the same stuff you could have found the old fashioned way.

What about the raw sources? The things that you can find with a google search that don’t turn up in libraries or archives? As an undergraduate my professors never had to spend time explaining to me how to assess sources I could not find in our library, since I was not going to find anything like that. Undergraduates actually make a good example of how things have changed. As an undergrad, I always liked books. Easy to find under topic headings in the card catalog, or even by shelf reading. Journal articles meant looking for bibliographies or indexes or something. Now JSTOR is step one for undergraduate research. Well, maybe step two. Now people find all sorts of things out in the wild. This is sometimes true of texts with things like Google books and Internet Archive, but the best example is pictures. Google Image search will find you lots of things, but what are they? Nowadays even modern historians are becoming like archaeologists sorting through a bunch of Victorian loot. It’s cool stuff, and you really want to use it, but there is no chain of custody. What is this stuff?

My example here is China Postcard, who I have posted about before. I have no idea who China Postcard is, but they have a Flickr account where they post…all sorts of China pictures. I mostly use this for teaching. There is all sorts of stuff in here, but it is not always easy to make sense of.2

Here we have foreigners, ready to defend Shanghai in 1937

WarComes to Shanghai

and posing under a poster for the film “You Only Live Once.” This is obviously a staged shot, in the sense that I am sure they chose to pose under that poster for a reason. More importantly, you can’t really cite it, since it is clearly taken from a book, but they do not tell you which one (although I suspect you could find it.) For teaching purposes this does not much matter. If you need a picture of the Marco Polo Bridge WITH CAMELS…here you go. Well, I think they are camels.


A lot of the stuff here is old press photos, and they are pretty good at including the captions. So here are Chinese female pilots learning something in 1973. If you are working on aviation in China, this is a nice find.

Press Photo 1058 1973-FemalePilots

Some of them tell you what they are, but you still can’t make sense of them. Here is a foreigner, walking through a Beijing park in 1967…with a copy of Playboy. Press Photo 1230 Playboy 1967

With this even knowing the caption does not help you figure out what is going on.

Most interesting to me, and most relevant to Putnam, are the less sourced things. Here is a photo taken by a British sailor outside the military harbor in Qingdao in the 1930’s. Or at least that’s what China Postcard says.


I assume anyone interested in the cult of Sun or GMD propaganda would find this interesting. Was the Will posted all over China? Just on the borders? Always in both Chinese and English? They might want more information, but place, decade and taken by a British sailor is actually pretty good. Some of them are a lot more vague. These are Chinese police in Shanghai in the 1910’s. Obviously some of the New Policies police reforms have happened, but the physical infrastructure of modern policing is not quite there yet. Cops seem to be a popular topic for both photos and commercial postcards, so someone interested in the New Policies could find a lot of data.

1910s Shanghai Police Station in Chinese City

All I have for this is 1930’s, a family shrine, probably in Dongbei.

Family Shrine 1930s Manchuria

This is a really interesting photo, and it makes me think of all sorts of questions about popular religion. Is this really a family shrine? It looks public to me. Are some of the painted-on worshippers non-Chinese? Does it say something in the upper right? Is this even a Buddhist shrine, or is it one of the New Religions or something else? Without more context it might be hard to figure out what to make of it, however. China Postcard seems to have gotten it from a blog post, so the trail runs cold.

So, to sum up, you should read the Putnam, because it is good, but there is more to it then that. Digital history not only making it easy for us to find things quickly, even if we don’t know what they are, it is also making it easy to find things that we have no clue what to make of, or even how to date. Modern historians are becoming ancient historians, at least in some ways.

We are like this little guy, fleeing China in 1949, with no clear idea where we are, where we are going, or how to make sense of it all.


Admittedly, most of us are not as cute as he is.

  1. The facts are really not at all like fish on the fishmonger’s slab. They are like fish swimming about in a vast and sometimes inaccessible ocean; and what the historian catches will depend, partly on chance, but mainly on what part of the ocean he chooses to fish in and what tackle he chooses to use – these two factors being, of course, determined by the kind of fish he wants to catch. By and large, the historian will get the kind of facts he wants. History means interpretation. What is History p.23. Why do I include this quote? Well, its a good quote. Also, I found it by googling to wikipedia and thus could drop it in here without having to dig up a copy of Carr and type it in.  

  2. It is also not all that well key-worded, so you have to do old fashioned look at everything research.  

Memory Politics and Memory Drama

Jordan Sand’s A Year of Memory Politics in East Asia: Looking Back on the “Open Letter in Support of Historians in Japan” is immensely timely: I spent a few hours just yesterday arguing with people on twitter about the Comfort Women issue. I had tweeted about a new documentary, testimony from some surviving women, and got … well, the usual pushback, using the usual arguments.

The film is called “The Apology” by Tiffany Hsiung of Canada and it sounds fascinating.

The Apology follows the personal journeys of three former “comfort women” who were among the 200,000 girls and young women kidnapped and forced into military sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. Some 70 years after their imprisonment in so-called “comfort stations,” the three “grandmothers”– Grandma Gil in South Korea, Grandma Cao in China, and Grandma Adela in the Philippines – face their twilight years in fading health. After decades of living in silence and shame about their past, they know that time is running out to give a first-hand account of the truth and ensure that this horrific chapter of history is not forgotten. Whether they are seeking a formal apology from the Japanese government or summoning the courage to finally share their secret with loved ones, their resolve moves them forward as they seize this last chance to set future generations on a course for reconciliation, healing, and justice.

Jordan Sand writes, regarding the counterattacks on the Historians’ Statement (of which I was a signatory, as was my colleague Alan Baumler) “With regard to the comfort women issue, the Japanese right continues, on the one hand, to be highly selective in its use of evidence, and on the other hand to treat any criticism of wartime Japan as a personal insult. … a defensive nationalist bias that privileges the state and seeks to minimize the suffering of its victims has no place in either the historical profession or the classroom.” This was very much in evidence in the twitter discussion: “we Japanese” and “testimony alone is not evidence” and “objective proof” and “identified incidents.”

What finally put an end to the discussion, aside from exhaustion, I suppose, was asking the anonymous/pseudonymous tweeters … why it matters so much? “I don’t understand what dire consequence results from the Japanese state apologizing for what you’ve already admitted happened.”

In fairness, I do know why it matters, or at least there are a number of fairly obvious reasons. Jordan Sand discusses quite clearly the implications of ‘mainstreaming’ Japan’s wartime experience:

If you believe, as many Japanese conservatives do, that Japan at the time was engaged in a necessary war of national defense, then it will be easier to accept the view that the comfort station system was simply an unfortunate by-product of war, and that reports of abduction and rape by the Japanese military are either false or rare aberrations.

Similarly, since many Japanese conservatives believe wartime Japan was not abnormal, and in their view a “normal country” (with the United States often providing the implicit model) is one for which citizens are prepared to give their lives, it becomes natural from this perspective to treat all Japanese deaths in the Asia-Pacific War as noble sacrifices. In this context, the wartime slogan “suppress the individual, serve the state” (messhi hōkō) becomes simply an expression of national duty, rather than of an ultranationalism that abrogated private rights and ultimately led to forced mass suicides.

Tenno 1988 - Right Wing Trucks - mergedAs I’ve suggested before, I think that the historical denialism and conservative revisionism that we have seen in Japan is part of a larger right-wing turn in East Asian and global affairs (obviously, my previous list can easily be updated with reference to rising European right-wing parties, the dramatic turn of the US Republican party and historical revisionism aimed at the Civil War, Putin, etc.). Jordan Sand points out that his students read the Japanese historical revisionist manifesto positively, believing that nations have a right to a positive self-understanding. I see in my own students the same conflations that attacked me on twitter: the conflation of state and nation and self, the conflation of useful and positive and true history, the difficulty of changing minds with even the best evidence….

Well, I have to grade now, and it’s not like I’m going to solve this problem anytime soon. It does sound, though, like Hsiung’s “The Apology” is a film well worth seeing and sharing, and I hope it does get good distribution.

The Oriental and its readership

Here are two pictures


The one on the right is a cigarette ad from the 1930s. The one on the left is the Chinese aviatrix Lee Ya-Ching, who I have mentioned before. As you can see, they are pretty much the same picture.

The picture of Lee is from the cover of the Oriental, which is a Spanish language magazine from Lima, and it is obviously connected to Lee’s wartime fund-raising tours in South America. Other than that I knew nothing about the magazine, but luckily for me at AAS this weekend I heard a very good paper by Ana Maria Candela, where she discussed the magazine. It is, as I mentioned, in Spanish, which I found odd, since North American Overseas Chinese published a lot in Chinese. She explained that the Peruvian Chinese were raising a generation of mostly Spanish speaking kids, and so a magazine that defined Chineseness in Spanish was useful to them.1 The magazine circulated well beyond Peru, although that was the center of it. They often had these sort of photoshopped calender girls on the cover, and wanted to portray a very modern Chinese woman with lot of athletics, and, of course, flying. It was a very interesting paper and panel. You should have been there.

  1. That’s what I took from it anyway  

Archives, China and America: A Review of Wang Chengzhi and Su Chen

  Columbia University Press sent me a copy of Wang, Chengzhi, and Su Chen. Archival Resources of Republican China in North America. Columbia University Press, 2015.1 9780231161404

As a reference book it is incredibly handy. As you might guess, it is most useful for the types of topics where you might find archival sources in the U.S., which means diplomats (considered broadly), journalists and missionaries. They also pay a good deal of attention to photo and film archives. Some of this is merely useful, saving you the trouble of going to the Hoover Institution website to remind yourself about some of the major things they have, or checking out all the Columbia Oral History stuff. More significantly, the authors have done a pretty good job of digging up obscure archives you may not have been aware of. Did you know that Harrison Forman’s papers are at the University of Oregon? Forman was “a U.S. explorer, aviator, photographer, journalist and author” who interviewed Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, and, given his time in Tibet, was the technical director for the Oscar-winning film Lost Horizon. You may remember him as the author of Report from Red China and How to Make Money With Your Camera. Wang and Su describe the collection, tell you that there is an on-line finding aid here. Parts of it have been digitized by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries. Diaries are here Photos here.

So if you need pictures of pre-1937 Red Army soldiers playing croquet, posing with their bicycles, or learning to denounce Japanese imperialism (in both characters and cursive pinyin. Why cursive?) you can find them.




The whole book is like this, providing you with both descriptions of the collections and links to on-line finding aids and also to related collections. It really is an invaluable tool if you are trying to track down sources in North America. Many collections are in the process of digitization, and this volume is really helpful for finding out how far the process has advanced and where to find things.

There is an introduction by Joseph Esherick,2 and he points out, correctly, that having all the entries in both English and Chinese may encourage Chinese scholars to use these collections, which is of course all to the good. Esherick also points out that access to archives in China is becoming more and more problematic. In his own work on Chinese archives, Esherick discussed the openness of various Chinese archives.3 Today you can track openness, to some extent, through Dissertation Reviews.

On the one hand, I wondered why this book was published in dead tree form at all. More things are going to be digitized, there are plenty more archival sources that could be included. The authors mention possible future editions, but why not just do it on-line so you can update constantly, like Dissertation Reviews? That would be particularly helpful for questions like “Did anyone actually get to look at anything at the Number Two last summer?” On the other hand, given that these are North American collections and under the North American archival culture, I’m not sure how much that matters. All these collections are open, and will almost certainly remain so. The only question is how much digitization has been done, and what is the URL. Twenty years ago it was possible to hope that China was on a path towards open archives (also, democracy) but it is harder to hope for that now. Chinese archives are being digitized, but this is not to increase access. I have blogged about the digitization process before.

But today I am less hopeful that digitization will lead to more open archives.4 China’s archive culture is quite different than that in North America. Esherick mentions the many Chinese scholars (academic and not) looking at Chiang Kai-shek’s diaries at Stanford. This book is, among other things, and invitation to Chinese scholars to use other North American archives. I hope they do. The Chinese archive culture does not seem to be moving in the direction of greater openness, however. I remember visiting one Chinese archive, ready for the normal process of negotiating access, and having my heart sink as a saw a giant calligraphy scroll declaring

保护档案 (Protect the archives!

Protect them from what? People looking at them, of course. Will we end up with with a situation like we had before 1976, where the best place to do research on Chinese history was outside China? I hope not, but if we do, this book will be even more valuable than it is now.




  1. Do you know if you are part of a group blog publishers will send you cool books to review/comment on? Nice work if you can get it. And you can. Drop me a line. 

  2. There is also an introduction by Eugene Wu.  

  3. Ye, Wa, and Esherick eds. Chinese Archives: An Introductory Guide. Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 1996.  

  4. For what it is worth, after I was invited to look at the digitization process in Shaanxi, I ended up banned from the archives for a few days while, I assume, a power struggle took place about openness. I got better.