“What I Read Over Summer Vacation” (part one?)

I’ve been on something of a tear through my to-read pile in search of… well, I’m not entirely sure some days. A lot of what’s in that stack (conceptually, it’s a stack, a pile, a shelf, whatever. In practical terms, it’s scattered around my office and there’s a branch of it at home.) is there because of my teaching, looking for new books to assign, or new work that might refresh/change my understanding of something which I teach about.

Only one of the books has been about Japan: Unbinding The Pillow Book: The Many Lives of a Japanese ClassicBook by Gergana Ivanova. This is one of a new genre of works – well, new to me, anyway – that I really like: histories of the changing reception and understanding of a work over time. It’s kind of a literary historiography, and for certain works, knowing how those shifts happen really can help immensely in understanding why something’s important. I’ve assigned a couple of the Princeton Lives of Great Religious Books in my South Asian survey – it’s one of my few courses that takes a rocks-to-rockets approach, so connecting the classics to modern reception is a great way of spanning the whole territory – and I thought this one might work for my similarly broad Japanese Women’s History course. In the end, I don’t think I’d assign it, though I certainly got a lot out of it, which will affect the way I talk about it as a source, at least. And as a quick introduction to Edo-era literary publishing and genres, it covers a lot of interesting ground.

China - 6c Northern Western Wei - Acrobat Tomb Figure
I’m always looking for ways to broaden my Historiography course, too: it’s very US-centric, because the vast majority of our graduate students are focused on, or at least mostly trained in, US history, though I do assign Paul Cohen’s History in Three Keys which covers some fascinating ground and basic theory. So I had some hope for The Letter to Ren An and Sima Qian’s Legacy, something I picked up at ASPAC a few years back, I think. It’s not long, but it should have been either shorter or longer… it’s a fascinating project, actually, an edited volume that takes an intense look at the provenance, authorship, and historical meaning of a short, but culturally important, document, though philological, historical, historiographical, biographical, and political lenses. But it’s repetitive, because each scholar has to describe the letter, context, and arguments in their own way, and they do; it’s also so focused on the authorship question that the “Legacy” part of the title is largely implicit, which I found quite disappointing. The authorship question itself is fascinating, and as a window into the immense challenges of talking clearly or even confidently about ancient texts and people, it’s first-rate. (If you’re the kind of person who assigns chapters instead of whole books, you could easily get away with picking almost any of them, because they all address each other’s arguments… like I said, repetitive)

Perhaps most disappointing, in terms of syllabus construction, is the last two books I just read, Timothy May’s The Mongol Conquests in World History (2012) and Valerie Hansen’s The Silk Road: A New History with Documents (2017, revised from her 2012 edition). Not that Hansen’s book was a disappointment: I learned a great deal, and she’s doing her usual thing of drawing on concrete details to sketch out real lives, and her final conclusion is immensely thoughtful (spoiler: the Silk Road was mostly about ideas and skills, mostly transmitted by religious pilgrims and refugee migrations, and mostly not about stuff except when governments like China threw enough resources into garrisoning strongholds to provide the economic stimulus to move large quantities). It’s just that she spends so much time and energy telling the reader the sometimes exciting stories of how the documents were found, and how the stuff was found, and how they’ve been fit into the historiography, and focusing on findsites (a term I didn’t know until I read this book) by organizing the story around specific sites, only roughly chronologically sequenced, that I fear only an extended close reading with students would be pedagogically sound, and when I’m looking for a supplemental reading in World History, that’s not really what’s going to work. I could see making graduate students read it, especially in a methods class, but the disjunction between the historiography-centric chapters and the “let’s assign these to beginning students” questions attached to the documents (which are mostly too short to be really fun for me, but then I assign long stuff) just doesn’t work. But at least she’s making a case, and doing it in an evidence-centered way; it’s good historical work, and even if you don’t like her conclusions, you can’t say she doesn’t show her work.

On the other hand…. May’s attempt to make “the Chinggis Exchange” a thing is legitimately disappointing as a work of history. While Hansen’s attention to provenance and interpretation might be excessive, May’s is nearly non-existent. Except for an early swipe at the Marco Polo doubters (more on that below), the only times May makes anything resembling a cautionary note regarding sources is when they say something bad about the Mongols; otherwise it’s just a straight narrative, plus some topical chapters that are also basically narratives around the idea of the Mongols as positive influences across Eurasia. I had flashbacks to reading Guzman’s argument about barbarians as positive forces in world history but with less historical foundation: May has a way of trying to track Mongol “legacies” through speculative chains of causation that remind me of sophomoric attempts to write final exam essays. Aside from a greater appreciation for the political fractiousness of Mongol rule, I feel like I learned very little, and couldn’t responsibly present this work to students. You could learn more about Mongols as world historical actors from Chapter 4 of Rachel Laudan’s Cuisine and Empire than from this book; in fact, a lot of what is actually presented by Laudan was absent from May’s storytelling.

The Marco Polo problem is still real, though Hansen repeats in this book her concession that she believes Polo’s story, to the extent that we have to believe something, though it’s also clear that she considers it highly unreliable. Unfortunately, Hansen’s engagement with the Mongol period of the Silk Road is almost entirely limited to discussing traveler narratives – Polo, William of Rubruck, John of Plano Carpini, ibn Battuta, Rabban Sauma – though her discussion follows the historiographical/critical vein she established in the other chapters, which does at least put Polo into perspective. But it’s not clear to what extent Hansen’s version of the Silk Road, mostly political and intellectual connections, with weaker economic activity along the land routes than the sea routes (which she acknowledges, but spends very little time explaining), conflicts with May’s maximal reading of the Mongols as economic miracle-workers (and ignoring the sea routes, in the context of economics), because the discussion is so different from her earlier chapters, and her conclusion is somewhat cagey, chronologically.

Still, if I had to assign one of them, I’d definitely pick Hansen for World History, and maybe for Historiography as well.

How’s your summer reading going?

The soldier-archeologist

Among other things, the Japanese empire was an empire of science. Conquest led to (or was proceeded by) masses of geographers, anthropologists, geologists etc. This is not a new thing in the literature of imperialism. I did find a nice example of it yesterday, however.

The Asahi Shimbun dated December 16, 1943, carried a two-column article titled, “Well done, soldier-scholar.”

Special dispatch from Nanjing on the 14′”: In the midst of battling anti-Japanese forces, a single soldier by chance dug up a nearly intact jar-shaped vessel from 3,000 years ago, providing an artifact valuable to the study of culture in Central China in the Neolithic Age. Private Teruya Esaka from the Central China XX Unit (from I 042 Akatsutsumi­cho, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo) studied archaeology under the guidance of his teacher, Ichiro Yawata at the Department of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Tokyo. Furthermore, after working as a junior assistant at the Department of Earth Science at Bunri University, he is now con­ducting research in archaeology at the Department of History, Faculty of Letters, Keio University. He is a young and energetic student who came to the battlefront after being drafted, and participated in XX military opera­tions at the end of this past November. While marching near Matsuryoseki in the Jiangning District approx. 25 km south of Nanjing, he keenly spotted a piece of a jar along a loess cliff facing northwest in the suburb of Shoshyanteo. He dug it out, carried it home, and researched literature to find that this jar dates from around the late Neolithic Age to the Spring and Autumn period and the Warring States period, and is at least 3,000 years old.

The young soldier-archeologist was encouraged to publish his find, although he does not seem to have ever dated it very well. In a later article he would explain the importance of archeology.

Imperial Army stations in the Greater East Asian War are located nearly over the entire Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The majority of these places are uneducated.” The text concludes, “Just as we cannot be neglectful of military service in the current battlefront, we stu­dents of archaeology stationed on the battle lines hope to carry out our duty of aiding the ethnic policy in the Greater East Asia War by being vigilant at all times in our endeavor to gather artifacts.” This communicated the thoughts of an archaeology researcher who found himself on the battlefield. Of course, this was Esaka ‘s impression, but it goes without saying that his profound daily thoughts compelled the discovery of the Shoshyanteo ruins. Esaka said, “There are museums of varying sizes in cities in each area of the Co-Prosperity Sphere. The archaeological artifacts from the areas housed in these museums were roughly organized and reported on by Western scholars in the past.” However, he points out that, “If we who live in East Asia and are researching the ancient culture of this region can view them, we may dis­cover many research aspects not comprehended by Western scholars.”

I assume there are people out there who know a lot more than I do about the history of archeology in Asia, but I found this to be a fun story to discuss in class about the connections between war and knowledge and science and looting.

I found this in the article “The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and Archaeology in Japan” by Hideichi Sakazume, published in The Rissho International Journal of Academic Research in Culture and Society 2: The Academic Canon of Arts and Humanities and Science 2019This volume was sent to me (and possibly to you too) by Reisho University, and I am glad to get some use out of it.

Grand Centennial Best Opening Vignette Contest!

Jonathan’s “On the Opening Vignette” is so fresh and smart that the only response is to turn it into a contest: who can write the best opening vignette of their own. To keep things from getting out of hand, let’s run it only once a century.

Here’s my opening submission:

It was a dark, stormy night. The Qianlong Emperor © looked up, his brow furrowed with idle concern, his hand clutching the Imperial Red Brush. What could these Barbarians have in mind? No matter. Tonight he would dine with He Shen, his favorite enunuch. Minor matters could wait.

Can you do better? Of course!

The Marie Kondo thing

I’ve been avoiding getting into the debate about Marie Kondo’s konmari brand of modernist orientalism, mostly because I’m not that interested, but there are a lot of people making claims about the Japaneseness and historicity of her ideas, so I suppose a comment might be in order.

The most popular article I’ve seen is Margaret Dilloway’s attempt to claim Kondo’s method as authentically Japanese – specifically Shinto animism – and that critical comments are functionally racist, or at best Eurocentric.

I had never seen quite this level of concentrated venom directed toward a self-help/home decor person. Not Martha with her thousand-step craft projects. Not Rachel Hollis telling “girls” to wash their faces and to judge friends based on whether they can keep off weight. Not even Gwyneth when she told everyone to steam their lady parts and wedge a jade egg inside. All received backlash, but none garnered as much misguided indignation as Kondo, long after she managed to sell two million copies of her debut book.

Honestly, I think she’s missed the backlash in all of those cases: they were (and are) ongoing and pretty vicious (and very well-founded, in many cases).

More importantly, she’s making historical connections that don’t exist: Japan’s famously clean cities, and lack of school custodial staff, do not have deep religious roots, but functional and modern elements. As Susan Hanley argued, a society that was based on economically isolated islands (as Japan during the mostly-closed sakoku era of the Edo period) will naturally develop an aesthetic of conservation, minimalism, and efficiency. Though it’s always worth mentioning that there’s also a culture of excess, consumption, luxury, and pleasure, mostly in cities and among elites.

Similarly, when Japan encountered, experienced, and adopted modernism, it became as much of a consumer society as the US or France, accumulating stuff and disposable fashion in ways largely indistinguishable from other industrialized societies.

The concept of “a Japanese aesthetic” is as much a product of modernity as Japanese nationalism: an invented tradition, drawing on existing elements but syncretic, harmonizing seemingly disparate components of Japanese and non-Japanese culture into a distinct brand. 

Eiko Maruko Siniawer’s interview with Adam Mintner highlights the 20th century elements of Kondo’s work: Taylorism, Home Economics, the collapsed Bubble Economy of the 1990s, and the increasingly defunct, toxic idea that there’s infinite storage for garbage and waste in other countries or oceans.

What I’m uncomfortable with is people outside of Japan saying she is embodying these Japanese ideas of minimalism, and these are how Japanese houses kind of look, and so the aspiration is for American homes to look like Japanese homes. But no! She is peddling an aspiration in Japan as much as she is in the U.S. It’s not like Japanese homes actually look like that. In fact, they don’t. Which is why people in Japan, as in the United States, are buying her book.

I would add that Kondo’s work is part of a wave of anti-consumer consumption ethoses, mostly associated with Northern European modernism and fatalism (another invented tradition, but very marketable in the form of funiture line).

Ultimately, as is so often the case, Kondo’s presence in American culture tells us more about American culture than Japanese history or tradition.

On the opening vignette as pedagogy

A passage I wrote for one of my online course discussion boards:

One of my pet peeves about textbook, history, and journalistic writing is the use of the “opening vignette,” a scene or personality introduced at the beginning that somehow humanizes the discussion, and often (as used here) foreshadows something coming later in the chapter. In the last fifteen years, particularly, it seems to have become nearly universal in academic writing oriented to wider audiences — textbooks, op-ed pieces, magazine articles, etc. I find it unhelpful, at best, and often misleading with regard to the chronology, intent or import of what’s going on (I know because of what students write on their tests). The opening vignettes in this book seem mostly harmless, but I’m a little surprised by how obviously “dropped in” these openings are: it’s not clear why these dramatic moments were chosen over others and there’s no reference back to them in the rest of the chapter. I understand the value of storytelling and humanizing in making historical points to wider audiences (and even we historians can be entertained and even educated by good stories) but when it’s an imposed pattern instead of growing organically from the argument and material it loses its power.

Pedagogy In The Wild

In a thoughtful discussion of teaching at USIH, I commented

In addition to all the other qualifications and tensions around teaching, there are gaps between disciplines that are frequently ignored by both pedagogy “experts” and administrators alike. I’ve gotten to the point that I tune out of any discussion of teaching that isn’t centered on history, because there are just no other disciplines that have the same mix of content, skills, sources, and myths. I’ve looked at all the fads and trends, including the ‘lecture is dead’, and there’s maybe one person in ten writing on this that even considers history, much less actually teaches in it.

And, to be completely honest, as a World/Asia specialist, I’ve started just skimming over the history pedagogy discussions that only involve US history. I know, it’s a lot to cover in two or three semesters, that whole 300 years or so, with all those sources in English, and as much as we complain about the lack of preparation on the part of our students, at least they know *something*…. It’s all very well to talk about ‘uncoverage’ (and most discussions of the coverage debate are disengenous, at best, anway, because nobody really tries to cover everything and we all make choices and skip stuff) when the basics of the narrative are part of the dominant culture, reinforced constantly by media and entertainment, but when most of what an incoming student knows about the field is just wrong, you have to work in a more integrated and cohesive manner.

Seriously, if I have to sit through one more “uncoverage” discussion that sets up “teachers who thoughtlessly cover everything” as the strawman on “the other side” I’m going to go running into the night, or at least go back to the book exhibits.

Ichi-F -Japanese workingman’s blues

One of my Christmas gifts was Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

As it says on the cover, it is a worker’s memoir. The book has been criticized as being insufficiently muckraking. The author has a generally positive view of the nuclear industry as a whole. He is not analyzing anything or blaming anyone for anything, other than the journalists who are spreading false stories about how bad things are there.

What I find it most useful for is as a look at Japanese working class men and labor. The narrator is a  semi-employed manga artist who goes to considerable trouble to get work at the Fukushima nuclear clean-up site and to work in the most dangerous parts of it.1 Why does he want to to this? It is not to draw about it, although he does end up doing that. He mentions the money, but that is not really it. It is pretty clear that he wants to do useful work. Lots of people have bullshit jobs. He wants to be a hero worker, boldly building Magnitogorsk or Daqing or the Hoover Dam or something. He downplays this a bit, but his motivation is always to get back to the worksite and get back to work, or, as he sometimes calls it, the front line.

He likes drawing wreckage.

He may not be writing this as an expose of the subcontractor system and the many ways it hurts workers, but all that stuff is in here.

His subcontractor boss. He’s not shady, he’s just drawn that way

He spends most of his time on (unpaid) standby,

the subcontractors charge him for all sorts of stuff, and the entire system is extremely opaque, meaning that he spends much of the book trying to move up to a second or third level subcontractor (Their are at least 6 levels of subcontractors,  so if you want to figure out who is responsible for what or where all the money is going, well, good luck.)

Who does he work with? Other men, of course. Real men who do things with their hands and bond together in manly manlyness. Other workers play a lot of pachinko (which he does not) and drink (which he does, but not that much.) He sometimes comments on the fact that pretty much everyone who works there is male. There are some bits about trying to find shared housing and such, but mostly what they do is work. Some of it is trivial work, (lots of form filling out and safety inspections, but we are all part of the same team)

some of it is heroically rushing into a high-radiation area to move something,

some of it is using a off the shelf video game controller to run a robot, but all of it needs to be done carefully, efficiently, and as part of a team. He had actually paid for his own training as a welder and crane operator before even getting the job, but he is in awe of the skilled workers he meets at Ichi-F.

This of course fits in with a lot of Japanese manga that focus on work, but I think that mostly those have not been translated. If you want a lot of details of nuclear clean-up work, this is the manga for you.

As I mentioned, he is not blaming anyone, other than journalists, for anything. The whole tone is quite positive. More and more areas are radiation free. He can now drive north and eat delicious local delicacies and play folksongs at old folks homes! Our work is achieving something! Every day and in every way, things are getting better and better.

The review I linked to above speculates that the real reason he uses an assumed name is not to avoid getting fired, but because he is a nuclear company shill. I’m not sure if that is true, but honestly, the book would not be that much different if he were.

I don’t think this would work all that well as a classroom book. Most students would drop the class at once if they saw a book this thick on the bookstore shelves. Also, it reads backwards, which will turn off your serious manga students. Still, it is a good book to give a student (or professor) interested in labor.



  1. I will leave aside the question of how reliable a narrator he is  

Huainanzi and teaching Early China

I really liked using Huainanzi in my upper-division Early China class this semester.  I have a habit of switching books a lot in all my classes, in part because I just like to and in part because I am always fiddling with stuff. Early China is always hard, since there are not that many undergrad accessible books out in paperback.1

I kept Lewis Sanctioned Violence in Early China as our first book, since it is a good read (Early China books can get pretty technical) and runs them through a lot of stuff. The big question has always been how to deal with all the philosophy stuff in Warring States. You need to do it, but Mote’s Intellectual Foundations of China is both out of date and out of print. Van Norden Introduction To Classical Chinese Philosophy might work, but it strikes me as being more geared to a philosophy class. Plus, this is your best place to get a primary source in there. The Essential Huainanzi fits perfectly. For those of you who don’t know the text, it is sort of Chinese thought for dummies (well, emperors) compiled in the Han. For those of you who don’t know the edition, they did a full translation and also this shorter version. Students like it, since there is something in here for everyone. The text goes through all of the political philosophy, cosmology, ethics etc. an emperor needs to know, but illustrates a lot of it with fun anecdotes from the histories and classics.  The text is a bit emperor centered (which makes sense) but it does give a synthesis of a lot of different traditions, so you can sprinkle chapters in the Warring States to cover Confucianism or whatever and use the rest of the text when you get to the Han. Since there is a full edition you can seem wise in class by knowing more about the topic than students would expect. Since we have the e-version of the full text you can also get a good assignment out of having them compare one of the full chapters to one of the essential ones. Two thumbs up.

  1. I usually don’t use a textbook, since our students overwhelmingly won’t read a book that “is not required” meaning there is no specific graded assignment attached to it. You can get them to read a textbook by making theme do specific chapter summaries or quizzes or something like that, but if I am going to put that much of the class into forcing them to read a book I prefer it to be a real book. This semester (Fall 2018) I did have them read the Early China bits of Ebrey’s textbook (about 100 pages) and do an assignment on that in the first week. This seems to have helped a bit. 

Teaching with old photographs

One thing that I have started teaching with this semester is

Ed Krebs and Hanchao Lu, eds., China in Family Photographs: A Peoples History of Revolution and Everyday Life, (Bridge 21, USA, 2017).

For those of you who don’t know it,  老照片 (Old Photos) is a Chinese magazine the publishes old photos and the stories behind them that readers send in. The magazine has become quite the phenomenon, and the translators have selected some of the best ones that show how ordinary Chinese understood history and their place in it.1 This is a really good teaching resource, since it gives you well-introduced life stories of all sorts of people and things, from women holding up half the sky, tractors and sewing machines, and political campaigns to geologists, engineers, soldiers and taxi drivers. The focus is on everyday life, but of course since politics was in command in most of this period (Some of the essays discuss family history going back to the Late Qing, but none of them go past the 1980s.) Besides a nice collection of topics, the readings themselves are really good. As anyone who has worked with Chinese memoir literature knows, Chinese are really good at placing their lives in historical context. I credit all that self-criticism and political education. The editors do a great job of pointing out things that would not be clear to a foreign reader in their own brief introduction.

All I am doing with it this semester is putting one of the readings on the final as a primary source,2 but it would work really well as a reader for a Modern China class.

  1. In addition to the introduction of the book, see Edward S. Krebs (2004) Old in the Newest New China: Photographic History, Private Memories And Individual Views of History, The Chinese Historical Review, 11:1, 87-116, DOI: 10.1080/1547402X.2004.11827198 

  2. I often give them a couple short primary source readings to analyze in the take-home part of the final exam. No better way to get students to read a source than putting it on the final  

Pinyin is coming to get you!

Here is a CIA report on Pinyin from, I think, 1961 or so. They lay out the history of pinyin as a method of romanization (or latinization) of Chinese, and from what little I know of the topic it seems fairly accurate. What I find most interesting is the final section, which does not recommend the CIA switching to pinyin, but does suggest that

But we should at least be keeping up with the Communists in our familiarity with the Pinyin forms, and as we set up new systems we should design them with an eye to convertibility to Pinyin. Otherwise we may find ourselves stuck, in a decade or two, with passing the bulk of our material through a superfluous routine of conversions into and out of the then antiquated and artificial Wade-Giles. We have succeeded in remaining for more than eleven years the frightened ostrich with respect to a single Communist rendering, Peking, but we should not try it for a whole language.

This strikes me as a pretty bold memo.1 Adopting pinyin was seen as a pretty radical pro-Beijing step in the West for a long time. Here the CIA is suggesting that they should get ready for the change.

Google n-gram shows us that Bejing was hardly used at all in English before 1975, and only passed Peking in 1985. There are still pockets of “pinyin is Communism” around now,  I expect, so it is interesting (but not all that surprising) to see the CIA bowing to the inevitable so early.

  1. See, I should have worked for the CIA. I may not be James Bond, but I know a bold memo when I see one  

Who are the shi?

Since I am teaching Early China this semester, I am drawing from Yuri Pines, Envisioning Eternal Empire: Chinese Political Thought of the Warring States Period (University of Hawaii Press, 2009) Pines points out a really good story to use in teaching about who the shi,士 were. They were, of course the new class of literate experts who started running China in the Warring States. In 1910 China was still being run by people who called themselves shi, although the social class referred to had of course changed a lot. He gives us a great, much later quote, from Fan Zhongyan on their self-identity.

The heart of the ancient benevolent persons . . . was neither to be delighted in things nor to feel sorry for themselves. At the loftiness of [imperial] temples and halls, they worried for their people, in the remoteness of rivers and lakes they worried for their ruler. Hence entering [the court], they worried; and leaving it, also worried: so when did they enjoy? It must be said: they were the first to worry the worries of All under Heaven, and the last to enjoy its joys. Oh Without these persons, where could I find my place?

– Fan Zongyan 989-1052

Those idealistic shi, always longing for a job at court and always worried about the common people when they get there.

Of course, in the Warring States, they were also free agents looking to benefit themselves, as this story from Zhanguoce shows.

West Chou opens the sluices and Su-tzu takes fees from both sides

East Chou wished to sow its land to rice but West Chou would not open the river sluices. Chou of the east was troubled over this but Su-tzu spoke to its ruler and begged permission to treat with West Chou for water.

He arrived in Chou of the west and spoke to its ruler: ‘My lord’s plans are faulty; by withholding water from East Chou now he is making her wealthy. Its citizens have all sown to dry grain and no other! If my lord would really do them harm he should open the sluices immediately and injure their seeds. With the sluices opened East Chou must replant to rice. Then when you deny them the waters they must come to West Chou as suppliants and receive their orders from your majesty!’

The king agreed and released the waters and Su-tzu received the gold of both countries.

From Zhanguoce 戰國策 Crump 24

Pines spends a good deal of time on another story from Zhanguoce that works really well as a handout to students for us to read and discuss in class and look at what a persuasion is and what the ruler-minister relation was. As I don’t think this is enough to be a copyright violation, I post the handout here for your (and my) future teaching convenience.


Did Chinese women go to opium dens?

Since someone asked me if Qing women went to opium dens, I thought I would answer and put up some of my evidence.

Short answer – I don’t think so, at least as customers. Certainly in the Republic, when they started registering opium “addicts” only a very small number of women registered (although there seem to have been women registered everywhere) In Qing pictures, like the ones below, opium smoking places seem to be male spaces, although we do get a picture of a wife showing up at one looking for her husband. There seem to be female attendants/possible prostitutes smoking with men in the classier place. I also include the picture of Mr. Conspicuous Consumption, which students always like.

These are all from Dianshizhai huabao. Sorry they are reversed. I think I took these from the transparencies I used to use before Powerpoint


Canadian pot and the lessons of opium

Image result for canada flag pot

Apparently Canada has legalized pot. The New Republic is speculating that they may find it hard to get an official distribution system to replace the old illegal one

I agree that this is a concern, but I don’t think de-Ba’athification is a good historical analogy. The old illegal sellers will no doubt want to keep selling, but if no producers want to sell to them and no buyers want to buy from them that hardly matters. Colonial opium monopolies in Asia (and to a lesser extent in China) faced exactly the same problem, How to get people to buy the legal opium when there was an already existing illegal system? This was particularly difficult since in the early period the legal system was run by tax farmers (mostly Chinese) who were in a perfect place to slip illegal stuff into the legal distribution channel. This is a problem with booze as well. Who better to sell untaxed kegs of beer than a legal beer distributor? Today of course that is not a problem, the two channels are, at the distribution level anyway, mostly separate. Few legal sellers of booze or cigarettes are going to risk loosing a valuable license for a tiny profit.

I suspect that if our friends Up North want to really get rid of the illegal market they will need to really legalize pot. From what I know of legal pot in the US 1  it is distributed in special dispensaries (which there are not many of) you need to roll your own and show quite a bit of ID. Buying a bunch and then splitting it with your friends at the Chamber of Commerce or your church group is, technically, illegal. This is not that different from the Asian opium systems in the 20th century, where they drug was still being sold by state-approved channels, but was seen as problematic for moral, public health and public relations reasons.

This is no way to replace a black market distribution system. When you can buy a pack of pre-rolled joints at every Tim Horton’s -then- there will no reason for anyone to use the black market. What I am guessing we will get is a system more like China in the New Policies period. -Legal dispensaries for those rich enough to afford them and go through the hassle, and a system of semi-tolerated illegal sales with occasional arrests for everyone else.


Rush, James R. Opium to Java: Revenue Farming and Chinese Enterprise in Colonial Indonesia, 1860–1910. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990. is the classic work on this. I have not read

Sasges, Professor Gerard, David P. Chandler, and Rita Smith Kipp. Imperial Intoxication: Alcohol and the Making of Colonial Indochina. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2017.  but that might be even more relevant.

  1. which is not much. Maybe I should go to AAS this year. 

Women Warriors in Japanese History? Yes, but…

The subtitle to this article tells you most of what you need to know:

Christobel Hasting, “How Onna-Bugeisha, Feudal Japan’s Women Samurai, Were Erased From History: While most Japanese women were subject to rigid social expectations of domesticity, onna-bugeisha women warriors who were known to be to be every bit as strong, capable, and courageous as their male counterparts” https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/a383aj/female-samurai-onna-bugeisha-japan

My reaction when I saw this on twitter was

“Oh, no, Stephen Turnbull has another book. Massive conflation of eras and classes (Tokugawa-era samurai women described as ‘protecting their villages’!), uncritical use of sources (Tomoe Gozen, of Heike monogatari fame, of course), emergency measures as norms, etc.”

Obviously, I can’t tell until I see the book itself how many of these errors are built into the book and how many of them are the fault of the article-writer (It’s not a review, so much as an uncritical rehash). But I’ve read Turnbull works before, and I have not been impressed by his historical skills. He knows a lot, but he doesn’t know what to do with it.

In this case, there’s almost nothing in the article that isn’t pretty well-known to Japanese historians: Aside from Tomoe Gozen, the main figure in the article is the leader of the ‘women’s corps’ in the defense of Aizu during the Bakumatsu wars, who shows up in Shiba Goro’s and Yamakawa Kikue’s writings.

As usual, Turnbull makes way too much of Tokugawa era martial arts culture, and his argument about historical erasure would be much more convincing if historians hadn’t done all this work already.

As I said, I’ll have to see the book itself at some point – which apparently came out in 2012? (Yeah, it’s on the big river site.) – but this is not encouraging.

I’ve reviewed Turnbull work before:

Chinese Anti-Japanese films

There is a new book out, though sadly only in Japanese so far, about Chinese Anti-Japanese films. There are countless Sino-Japanese war movies and TV shows, and their absurdity has been noted by both Chinese netizens and the government for some time. I was struck by how the Japanese author was attracted to the films specifically for their absurd action, regardless of any supposed anti-Japanese content.

He recalled the “Nikkatsu Roman Porno” format in 1970s Japan, in which directors could make any kind of experimental movie, as long as there were naked female characters to boost box office earnings.

“Some famous directors directed Nikkatsu Roman Porno movies when they were young,” he said. “That’s why I am rooting for those who write shit scripts now – they may become great creators in the future.”

It strikes me as being similar to some of the reasons Americans might have watched Kung fu movies in the old days. Plus there are some great clips in the article if you want to teach with them.

Patriotic comedies? Japanese author compiles an encyclopaedia of Chinese anti-Japan dramas