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3/26/2007

Asian History News Dump, March 2007

This is a "dump": all the Asia related stuff I've saved over the last.... two months? Anyway, nobody else has blogged about it, so I thought I'd toss it out there. I hope to resume more ... measured blogging soon. [Crossposted at all three Frog Blogs; sorry about the irrelevant stuff.]

The increasingly inaptly named JapanFocus website has a fantastic study of ethnic Koreans in Yanbian, China and their economic connections to both Koreas and Korean diaspora communities. The existence of this community -- the origins of which are rooted in Korean refugee migration from the Japanese incursions of the 1590s and early 20th century -- has provided a conduit for FDI, but has also been a factor in the ongoing historical/territorial debates between Chinese and Koreans (Even Salon has noticed!). Perhaps the most interesting section for me was the last third, where issues of remittances and the social standing of the Yanbian Korean-Chinese were raised: "famliarity breeds contempt" seems to be the theme, as relations between the Yanbian community and both Korean and overseas communities have gone through euphoric phases but generally been lukewarm in person, with the China-based community coming out on the short end.

In related news, JapanFocus also has an excerpt of a new translation by Joshua Fogel of Yamamuro Shin'ichi's Manchuria under Japanese Domination. Prasenjit Duara is not mentioned by name, but his works is, I think, implicitly criticized; Yamamuro's view of Manchuria is closer to Louise Young's ...someone should do a review essay drawing on all three.

It appears that our recent historiographical nightmare is over because Abe has apologized "as prime minister" for Japan's use of "sex slaves" (there was a fascinating debate on the terminology at H-Japan the end result of which is that a really concientious commentator cannot refer to the phenomenon of wartime military brothels with coerced participants except by using quotation marks or by going into long, long discussions of terminology).

I've been staying out of this whole brouhaha, mostly because of the rank ahistoricality of most of the discussion. Abe's initial point, that coercion was overstated and reevaluation is needed, is absurd on the face of it, replacing legalistic standards of evidence for historical ones. Regarding the rejection of the 1993 government finding by nationalist legislators, I can only repeat what I've said before, which is that if your pride or legitimacy rests on a denial the realities of history, it's time to find new sources of pride and legitimacy. The personal testimonies of former sex slaves before Congress, members of the Japanese military, etc.

Of course, the "debate" about the Nanjing massacre goes on: Joint historical committees come and go. Revisionist textbooks in Japan downplay atrocities, and Taiwanese textbooks seem to be focusing more on Chinese crimes than Japanese (and what can I say about the Taiwanese Nazi party? It would take a whole post...). A Chinese legislator even proposed "Humliation Day" as a commemoration of Japan's 1931 invasion.

I was struck by a Korea report of a new planed textbook which would take both Chinese and Japanese historical errors to task, while another report suggests that unique Korean errors are being promoted. This follows Presidential scolding of Japan and a lawsuit over Yasukuni Shrine.

The Matteo Ricci map [via] is fascinating, but I can't figure out why there are katakana readings of many of the place names, unless it is a later Japanese copy. Speaking of Japanese sources, the UC Japanese Historical Text Initiative looks like a great multilingual resource; a password is required to get at the texts, though not for their very detailed electronic publications, including a list of "Basic terms of Shinto" (which goes well beyond basic), their "Shinto Shrine atlas" and Contemporary Papers in Japanese Religion series.

Joe's Brief History of Lawyers in Japan (MutantFrog seems to be having some trouble at the moment, but I'm assuming it'll be back shortly) is a great example of timeline construction.

1854: The second known reference to European-style lawyers in Japanese literature. They are described as "accompanying stupid people to court and writing documents for them."

There's a new history resource, WikiHistory [via]. While I have grave doubts about the wiki "movement" I do think that it could be a good tool for creating valuable resources. This is one such attempt, though the strictly chronological format means that it's going to be useful for people looking for very specific kinds of connections, rather than general users, at least for a while. Still, if you're interested in contributing to a wiki, this wouldn't be a bad place to start. Certainly the only one I've considered, so far.

Clint Eastwood's movies on the Iwo Jima battles have gotten a lot of attention. Ian Buruma cites them as models for humanistic storytelling, and Noriko Manabe chronicles some Japanese reactions (which got a really sharp response on H-Japan). Both of them, I think, miss the point: Buruma cites the exceptional humanity of a few Japanese characters but he seems to ignore the basic inhumanity of the vast majority of them. I don't fault Eastwood for this, mind you: a movie exploring the human emotions and motivations of most Japanese soldiers would be very different indeed. I don't think Shintaro Ishihara's kamikaze valentine is going to quite fit the bill, though. Manabe's piece attacks Eastwood as a cultural imperialist, an essentialist position that would obliterate anyone's ability to do history in any form; she also cites "critiques" of the movie by online Japanese without ever trying to evaluate the strength of those critiques.

Chinese cultural heritage preservation is a huge task, with potentially large payoffs. China is considering legislation to auto-patent indigenous knowledge to prevent western bioprospectors from exploiting China's resources. Great Wall reconstruction is a perennial favorite. Language preservation is trickier, but essential to China's claims to be a multi-ethnic and culturally diverse and responsible nation. 700 year old Korans are great sources, and Chinese can even learn from foreigners. It can even be fun: Han Recreation Society is a huge hit in Beijing, reportedly, reinforcing my belief that in any given large city, you can find a group of people that will do anything for fun. And a new movie commemorates a young Englishman in China during WWII particularly his efforts to help orphans.

New materials from the Japanese Imperial house may shed light on WWII, of course. In case you missed it, George Weller's dispatches from Nagasaki have been published, but a Japanese translation of this expose of the Royal family will not be. And new material from the CIA sheds light on an aborted coup attempt, the postwar careers of Japanese war criminals, and CIA agents imprisoned in Communist China (I highly recommend that last one, by the way, for the great details and real drama, though I think the discussion of "brainwashing" is a bit cavalier). The agents came home right around the time of Nixon's ping-pong diplomacy (There's a whole book about it, now).

Lafcadio Hearn is having a renaissance, as is whaling. There's a new Japan Blog Matsuri which will run at the end of each month. Speaking of blog carnivals, there's a new History Carnival Aggregator, a "One-stop shop for announcements about history-related blog carnivals."

The opium problem in the late 19c US wasn't Chinese. The Moon Cake problem, however is. Former "rightists" are starting to speak out in China.

In southeast Asian monarchical news, archaeologists get environmental and discover that an early Cambodian capitol was abandoned due to water shortages. Vietnam's old imperial city is getting refurbished with lots of help from overseas. And "Balthazar Napoleon de Bourbon, a jovial Indian lawyer and part-time farmer," is the entirely unofficial heir-apparent to the pre-Revolutionary French monarchy. The only way this next item is "royal" is the nature of the pain: Buddhism prevents extermination of poisonous ants. Religious convictions can be inconvenient (no, I'm not ready for Passover!).

Many, perhaps most, of the above links without hat-tip credit came from HNN.

3/15/2007

Sino-Japanese Studies Journal Online

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:43 pm Print
I am happy to announce the completion of a project that I have been working on in my spare time for about a month now: the digitization of the Sino-Japanese Studies Journal. The full journal is available online and downloadable as PDFs at ChinaJapan.org: Sino-Japanese Studies Online Journal Archive This biannual Sino-Japanese Studies Journal was created in 1988 by Joshua A. Fogel, now Canada Research Chair in the History of Modern China at York University and the leading scholar in North America in the field of Sino-Japanese studies. In Professor Fogel's words:
From the start, SJS was conceived as a journal devoted to studies of China and Japan together, irrespective of discipline or time period. For many that would take the form of comparative Sino-Japanese research, while for others that meant actual Sino-Japanese interactions. Everyone involved has been committed to fostering this sub-field which at once covers both the China and the Japan fields while, at the same time, examines where these two meet.
It includes articles and translations in a range of fields: literature, history, contemporary politics, art history, etc. Its last (temporarily we hope) issue came out in 2003. In 2004 Professor Fogel agreed to my proposal that we put the whole run of this journal, which had articles by many leading scholars but a limited circulation, online as PDFs with full Open Access. He approved, but there was a long delay when I realized that issues with the various formats of the available journal files meant that most of the journal would need to be scanned. I finally returned to this project in February, and finished the scanning and processing of the documents this week. The PDFs were OCRed (text recognition) but the accuracy was only moderate. I did not go through and fix all of the OCR errors and the OCR engine was English only. However, using Adobe Acrobat, or through Google, the majority of the roman character contents of the journal issues can be searched. I hope that the availability of this journal online will get much greater exposure for many of these articles. Even a number of current hot button topics, such as the Nanjing massacre (See articles by David Askew and Yang Daqing via the author index) and Japanese gas warfare and drug trafficking in China (See Andrew Markus and Bob Tadashi Wakabashi's articles, for example) are addressed in numerous articles. There are a lot of articles on intellectual history, on Edo period relations between China and Japan, reviews of historical works by Japanese and Chinese scholars, and other interesting pieces such as Fogel's discussion of Japanese terms for China, Wixted's discussion of reverse Orientalism or Zhao Jing's discussion of Japan's Communist Party reaction to the Tiananmen incident.

A Few Small Changes

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 4:33 pm Print
While doing a regular Wordpress software upgrade at Frog in a Well, I have made a few small technical changes to the three blogs: 1) In the list of Frog in a Well contributors to the right, the names now link to a list of postings by that contributor, along with a contact address where you can reach them, and a web page link, if they have one. 2) Each Frog in a Well weblog now has the "Next Page - Previous Page" navigation links at the bottom of the page. 3) I have changed the font to a slightly larger Georgia font.

3/8/2007

Origami Revolution

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 8:25 pm Print

Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Memorial

I can't recommend highly enough Susan Orleans' profile of Origamist Robert Lang, in which she describes not only his groundbreaking technical and artistic work, but traces back the history of origami in the West and talks about the growth of origami clubs and culture in the world.

I got to hear talks, courtesy of the MIT Origami club, a few years back by Michael LaFosse and by the folder of the world's smallest crane. There are some remarkable people out there, doing some incredible things. I've always been amazed at the ability to turn two-dimensional media into three-dimensional art, and if I had more time and energy, I'd really like to get better at it.

I myself got into origami out of self-defense: when my wife and I were in Yamaguchi for my graduate research, a few of her Japanese friends tried to show her how to do origami. Being blind, my wife can't see instructions, and most people don't really understand how to explain things non-visually; she asked me to show her a few things so that the next time it came up she'd have some idea what was going on. So we went down to the bookstore, got a few beginning books and a few packs of paper, and we began working on it. We got a lot of our practice in during those interminable NHK newscasts. I also started -- and still do -- carrying origami paper in my wallet so that we could practice whenever we had some time, especially while waiting at restaraunts. Our work, though basic, got better, and we delighted our relatives by using the stuff we folded for practice as packing material.

While we were in Cambridge, we joined the MIT Origami club for their annual January Seminars, where I learned how to do modular origami, geometric shapes made from simple units. That's where we got to see some of the real masters, the people who will fold a frog for two hours, then unfold it so they can reverse the folds in the center, then fold it back up again, all to get the toes just right!

Lang has gone beyond that, in ways that just weren't possible ten years ago: computer-aided design, laser-scored paper, mathematical modelling and new materials. The artistry is the same though: the wonderful feeling of creation, of surprise.

3/3/2007

Girls’ Day 2007, Hilo

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 10:45 pm Print
The Hawai'i Japanese Center had an open house today for Girls' Day, and I brought my camera. I didn't make my 5-year old sit through the boring speeches, but once they were over we all had fun wandering the exhibits (actually, when you do it with a 5-year old, you're not "wandering" but "examining in great but sometimes random detail") and eating mochi and brownies.

I was expecting the Japanese dolls, though the classic 1932 HinaMatsuri set was more charming than I expected. HinaDollsof1932

The historical materials were a very nice touch -- entirely in line with the mission of the HJC, but I wasn't expecting to see an original contract on display. ImmigrationContract1900

There was also a "Friendship Doll" from the '20s (found, I was told, in a mainland thrift shop) along with documents relating to the whole friendship doll movement (there's even a Shibusawa Eiichi picture in there)

PeaceFriendshipDoll

And, because there's nothing like kitsch to warm the heart,

KimonoCladHelloKitty

You can see the whole set of pictures here.

3/2/2007

The course we all have to teach

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:05 am Print
Alan Baumler, my colleague from next door has sent along this "call to arms"
As some of our regular readers may remember, there is a Frog tradition of posting our syllabi for comments. One class I will be teaching in Fall is Japan in the Age of the Samurai. Here is the description. In this class we will examine the development of Japanese society and culture during the age of the samurai, roughly 1100 to 1550. We will look at the development of the class of bushi, their political, economic and military roles. We will also look in depth at the development of a social identity that was flexible enough to include the courtier-warriors of the Heian period and the ronin of Sengoku. This was also an age of considerable social and intellectual change, and we will look at urbanization, international relations and the development of Buddhism as well as changes in rural society and other topics. Readings will include important secondary sources and some primary sources. The course will also involve a research paper.

I was going to call the class "Land tenure and social status in Medeival Japan," but I was told by pretty much everybody that I needed a better title to attract students. So "Age of the Samurai" it is. Basically we will be covering the late Heian to the end of Sengoku, and it is not a class just about warriors, but they are pretty central to the period. It is a topics class, which means it is mostly for juniors and seniors, and I will be running it more like a colloquium than a lecture class, and all the students will be doing research papers.

So, I need to pick maybe four books to have them all read. I was thinking of using

Helen McCullough trans. Tale of the Heike

Pierre Souyri The World Turned Upside Down

Thomas Conlan States of War: The Violent Order of Fourteenth Century Japan

Mary Berry The Culture of Civil War in Kyoto

Any suggestions? Books to substitue? Things I should be reading as I teach these books? Articles or chunks from other things I should assign? For this type of class I usually make up a reader with a bunch of articles and chapters from other books so any ideas would be most welcome.
I don't have a lot to add: my own version of this is running currently, and overlaps considerably with Alan's choices. I am particularly curious myself about the Berry as a course text, since I'll be getting to it in a month or so. I'm a little surprised not to see any John Whitney Hall or Jeffrey Mass at that level (especially the Mass, for documents). The Cambridge History of Japan for that period might be a good resource, too, though more for the instructor than the students.

So, gentle readers: any other suggestions?

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