There’s been quite a lot going on over the past month in the news and in the blogosphere and it’s a real honor to be this month’s host for the 14th installment of the Asian History Carnival. If I hadn’t spent the last month scouring the internet for worthy entries (seeing as I received exactly one submission) I would have been wasting my time with things like teaching, dissertation research, and the all-to-real possibility that I may never spend a day without ramen. Without further ado:
Always great to stop by The Useless Tree. Sam Crane can be counted on to channel the sages in his commentaries on the contemporary. As most people know, the Chairman’s portrait here in Beijing got a little scorched when somebody threw a burning object at the painting last Saturday. Sam references the ‘Madman of Chu’ in his insightful commentary on the incident. (Sam’s gift for the classics extends also into the world of sports. Check out his posts “Derek Fisher: Confucian Gentleman” and “Manny Ramirez: Taoist Sage.”)
Andrew Leonard’s column “How the World Works” at Salon.com is always a good source of China commentary. Andrew’s connections to China go way back and he frequently makes mention of the Middle Kingdom in his writings on a globalizing world. A couple recent posts delve into the history files. Check out his “From Opium to Outsourcing” for an example. A second post this month gave props to Frog in a Well when Andrew blogged Konrad Lawson’s fabulous post about a proposition made by Zhu De to American forces in January 1945. Zhu De requested a loan in exchange for turning over a portion of the 900,000 Chinese “puppet” troops ostensibly under Japanese control. Konrad’s piece is great in and of itself and Andrew adds an interesting counter-historical wrinkle at the end of his post. More to the point, Andrew urges researchers to go the archives “armed with a portable scanner and should, as a matter of principle, upload to the Internet whatever of interest he or she finds.” (Konrad is working the archives overtime and is always adding more good stuff to the Frog in a Well library.)
Speaking of FiaW, Jonathan Dresner posts another useful roundup of Japanese history in the news at FiaW Japan. It’s a mini mid-month carnival for those who can’t wait a full thirty days for your fix of Asian history. (It also lets me–a China guy–off the hook for a whole lot of Japan stuff that I should have been watching out for.)What happens when French Sinologists square off? Well, it gets reported in the New Left Review, that’s what. Henry Zhao has an article in this month’s edition on the debate over politicization in China studies between Jean-François Billeter and François Jullien. Their feud defies simple summarization and worth checking out.
The Times reported this month that Long Xinmin, head of the powerful General Administration of Press and Publication (also known as “censor in chief”), has been sacked as a result of the conroversy earlier this year over eight books banned by the department. The most outspoken of the banned authors, Zhang Yihe, whose book Past Stories of Peking Opera Stars fell under the censors axe, recently applied in court to have her book approved for sale. EastSouthWestNorth in February posted excerpts from Zhang’s book as well as links to statements from the author and from the Chinese press. Richard Spencer, author of the Telegraph story in the link above, later wrote incredulously in his blog about Long Xinmin being awarded the Legion d’honneur by the French ambassador to China. For more about Long see Jonathan Ansfield’s commentary at China Digital Times and the ImageThief’s perspective on the current state of censorship–academic and otherwise–in the PRC.
On a lighter note, those coming to Beijing in the next few months expecting to get their Kaoya fix at the main branch of the historic duck restaurant Quanjude, will have to wait a few more months. The restaurant, like much of Beijing, is under renovation. Word from the restaurant is that the staff plan to keep the oven fire going despite the renovations. The management claim that the same fire has been cooking in the stove for 140 years. (h/t HNN.)
Another Beijing landmark was not quite so lucky, the Guanghe Theater, reputedly Beijing’s oldest opera hall was demolished last month to make way for more pre-Olympic building. The Qianmen-area theater dated back to the end of the Ming dynasty.
Worth noting, via IHT, that April marked the 60th anniversary of Japan’s post-war constitution. PM Shinzo Abe celebrated the occasion by saying that “the country’s supreme law outdated and badly in need of reform.”PeerSee (P.R.C.–get it?) has a great post on missionaries in Asia both then and now.
Andrew Forbes has a piece in Asia Times Online on the long–and not particularly neighborly–history of relations between Vietnam and China. You know you’re in for a ride when an article starts with “For more than 2000 years…”
Mutantfrog Travelogue blogs about a 1937 article from the Far Eastern Survey on the question of whether or not the Japan Times was a “Foreign service organ.”
Not sure what to make of this, but the always fascinating People’s Daily reports on a recent survey of students at “elite Beijing universities” that showed history lives in the eyes of undergraduates. Former leaders Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai topped the list of role models for students with 40% and 21% of the vote. Number 3? That would be Bill Gates.
Also from The People’s Daily, a report that a 2,500 year old tomb containing 40 coffins made of camphor wood has been discovered in Jiangxi. The coffins are to be opened later this month. There were also several other items of note on the archaeological front. 41 tombs dating from the Qing dynasty were unearthed in Hebei. A shepherd in Nepal led an international team of art historians to a hidden cavern containing 55 cave paintings from the 12th century. The paintings depict events in the life of Buddha. (Now if I only had a Nepalese shepherd with me in the archives…) Archaeologists in Yunnan have reportedly uncovered evidence of a stone-age people whose use of tools and instruments that rival cotemporaneous peoples in Europe. From under the earth to under the sea, a team working off the coast of South China has discovered the wreck of a ship from the Southern Song dynasty. Researchers have uncovered over several thousand pieces of antique pottery from the site. Work is progressing on the site, but they better be quick about it. China Daily reported last moth on smugglers and other unscrupulous types using advanced technology to loot undersea archaeological sites. Since it’s the China Daily, the smugglers were, of course, ‘foreign.’ Not to worry though, the Chinese navy is on the case.
Ching-Ching Ni has a long piece in the LA Times on the growing influence of Confucianism in contemporary China. The Old Master’s popularity is helped in no small way by television commentator Yu Dan whose “Confucius-lite” is a perfect fit for the Starbucks generation. Sam Crane at The (aforementioned) Useless Tree, Joel Martinson at Danwei, and Lauren Buckalew at Lost Laowai offer their thoughts on the Yu Dan phenomenon.
Worth mentioning: May 6th was the 125th anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Vanessa Hua has an excellent piece on the subject from the San Francisco Chronicle. There is also a related article on the struggles in the town of Truckee, CA to come to terms with its own past history of racism toward the Chinese community.
A new textbook controversy is brewing, this time in Cambodia. At issue is what should be taught about the death and destruction at the hands of the Khmer Rhouge. Many parents and teachers want to educate students about the country’s recent bloody past. Government officials–many who were involved in some way with the Khmer Rouge–are obviously less enthusiastic. Andrew Bell at the AHA Blog weighs in and you can also listen to an online NPR report by Michael Sullivan on the dispute.
Also on NPR, Anthony Kuhn (son of Qing historian Philip Kuhn and an outstanding journalist in his own right) reports on Yang Fuxi, an ethnic Manchu trying to preserve the ancient art of making bows and arrows from buffalo horns and bamboo.
It might seem out of place in a History Carnival, but China Law Blog is one of the best China blogs around. In this post, CLB blogs an article by John Leonard on Wu Ting-fang, a Chinese diplomat to the United States who wrote a book entitled America Through the Spectacles of an Oriental Diplomat. CLB compares Wu to De Tocqueville and looks at how differences in cultural perception persist a century later.
Great piece by Peter Hessler in the New Yorker on the work being done by David Spindler, an American historian and one of the leading experts on the Great Wall and its construction. Andrew Field writes about Spindler (a former classmate of Field’s) and the Wall on his Shanghai Journal blog. In other Wall news, just when you thought you knew it (w)all…couldn’t resist…Chinese archaeologists have found a new section, the northernmost yet, straddling the Mongolian border.
Global Voices Online has a fascinating piece on the fates of those Koreans who collaborated with the Japanese during the period when Japan controlled the peninsula. On May 2, the Korean government announced it was seizing land from the families of nine Korean families accused of collaboration.
In a piece in the May 14 edition of The Christian Science Monitor, UC Irvine professor Jeffrey Wasserstrom discusses the changing attitudes in Shanghai towards that city’s history. He argues, ” No longer are the histories of individual cities and provinces folded neatly into national narratives that focus exclusively on the rise to power of the Communist Party.” Shanghai’s attitudes towards its past might be shifting, but its focus on the future remains unchanged. Zat Liu blogs at Jongo.com on the fate of the Shanghai Peace Hotel, a city landmark since the early 20th century.
Observing Japan also blogs about Chinese history but with a more jaundiced eye than Professor Wasserstrom. The author writes, ” The vacuum of the modern past seems to be filled, instead, with the hollowed-out and commercialized vestiges of the imperial past, the heirlooms of China’s ancient civilization that the CCP has “naturally” inherited. Tourist sites like the Forbidden City and Summer Palace are undoubtedly major moneymakers for the PRC, but they — and the past they represent — seem more like curiosities of a decadent past than a source of meaning for a China that is wholly uncertain about its identity.”
Michael Turton at The View from Taiwan, taking a break from the Taiwan/WHO controversy, posts photographs and a nice essay on a trip the Erkunshen fort in Tainan. The fort was built in 1874 to consolidate Qing control over the island, and Michael uses it as a nice jumping off point for a larger discussion Taiwanese history.
And finally, because it’s my carnival, I offer this post on the use of history in the ongoing debate over the status of Tibeτ. A useful counterpoint comes from the always insightful DavegoneChina at his blog Mutant Palm who offers “Free Advice for the Free Tibeτ Crowd.” (Check out another great post by Dave, this one a 1952 map of the “Red Menace” from the perspective of Irkutsk.
Okay, I think that should do it for this month. Make sure you keep submitting ideas for next month’s carnival.