A quick note to let our readers know that the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations is holding its fifth annual China Town Hall tonight. At 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time, tune into the live webcast of Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski addressing the Town Hall audience (you can also submit questions for Brzezinski online now). After the webcast, local programming will begin at 50 sites across the United States, featuring a lineup of speakers that include many contributors to and friends of China Beat. See the complete list of Town Hall locations at the link above.
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Many thanks to the members of the informal Xinhai Geming reading group that’s formed at UC Irvine this term for collecting the following links concerning the one hundredth anniversary of the 1911 Revolution:
• With perfect timing, China Heritage Quarterly, which has established itself as a must-read publication for those interested in the varied ways the past can influence the present in the PRC, is up with an issue devoted to the Xinhai Revolution. True to form, it is made up of pieces that come at the topic from varied angles, from a mix of talented writers with a deep understanding of China’s history.
• For a very useful precis of key issues—from contrasting view of 1911 on opposite sides of the Taiwan Strait to reasons Beijing might be playing down the anniversary just now—see this at the Economist.
• “Fear of Dragons,” an op-ed by Yu Hua on the current administration’s nervousness about marking the anniversary. “In the end,” he writes, “the celebration has revealed less about 1911 than about Beijing’s fear of change. Sanctioned commemorative displays tend to be showy distractions that avoid any reference to the transformative effects of the revolution.”
• In Chinese, this website covers one hundred important figures relating to the Xinhai Revolution.
• If you’d prefer a slightly different angle on the revolution, check out one of the new animated features about it. 《民的1911》opened in the PRC recently (trailer here; music video here), while《孫中山傳》will debut in Taiwan on Monday’s anniversary (see news reports about the movie here and here).
• For readers with more time, see this excerpt from David Strand’s new book, An Unfinished Republic: Leading by Word and Deed in Modern China (UC Press, 2011), an impressive work with a 1911 connection. Now is also the perfect time to read (or re-read) a classic about the 1911 era, Lu Xun’s “The Real Story of Ah Q” (perhaps in China Beatnik Julia Lovell’s 2010 translation).
By Maura Elizabeth Cunningham
An urban designer and cycling enthusiast, Amirah Shahid is currently making her way from Beijing to Shanghai by bike, a trip she estimates will take three weeks and offer on-the-ground insight into how bicycles figure into Chinese life. Interested in bringing Shahid’s project to the attention of China Beat readers, I sent her a few questions and she responded during a break in her journey. Shahid blogs about her Cycle China project here, and you can also follow her progress on Twitter.
MEC: First of all, can you tell China Beat readers a bit about the trip that you’re making right now and what you hope to accomplish through doing it?
AS: I am biking from Beijing to Shanghai over a period of 21 days to explore the role of the bicycle in China. I work at SWA Group-San Francisco as a landscape designer with many new development projects in China. I’m travelling to China with the goal of experiencing the country’s transportation infrastructure first-hand in order to gain knowledge and expertise to help inform our projects. I hope that by travelling through established urban centers, future development sites, and still untouched land I’ll be able to understand the past, present, and future states of the bike in China.
There are many questions I hope to answer by observing and talking with locals: As China continues to grow, how can it accommodate both cars and bikes? What sort of highways, arterials and bike paths are needed to make sure people can efficiently and safely zoom to and from the many, many new buildings rising in this Asian superpower? What sort of infrastructure is needed—and how can it be smartly incorporated into landscape urbanism and landscape design to minimize harmful environmental impacts?
MEC: What sort of preparations did you make before starting off on this trip? Did you consult with anyone in China about logistics, or did you work everything out on your own?
AS: I found the movie Man Zou—created by a US film maker about moving through China at the slow pace of a bicycle—and contacted him for advice. He put me in touch with their guide, Doven, who has led several tours in China. Unable to ride with me due to scheduling conflicts, he provided valuable route-making advice.
I work with several Chinese natives in my San Francisco office. They were able to provide me with help finding maps, putting me in touch with others, booking hotels, general advice, and moral support for this trip.
Other than the loose guidance I received, I did all the gear research and logistic coordination myself.
MEC: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered on your journey so far? What’s been the most unforgettable (good or bad) moment?
AS: I have been on the road for 5 of 21 days as I write this. The biggest challenge is definitely the language barrier and not being able to ask all the questions I would like. I have prepared translated phrases to get by, a project description, and a survey about the Chinese biking experience…but I always want to ask more and take conversations further than I’m able to.
The most unforgettable moment in the past few days has been able to help a Chinese woman—similar to my age—with a flat tire. I saw her pushing it over a bridge with the tire obviously completely depleted. I rode past her and had my supplies set up by the time she got to me. I gave the international hand wave for stop and she let me get to work. I found the hole, patched it up, and away she went. I didn’t understand a word she said to me and I’m pretty sure she had no idea what I was saying as well—but it didn’t matter.
MEC: You’ve done bike tours in a number of other places (the U.S., Mexico, New Zealand, and Fiji). How does your China trip compare to previous ones? What do you think some of these places could learn from each other when it comes to developing cyclist-friendly infrastructures?
AS: The rapid growth in China is very unique compared to the other countries. I have never seen so many bikes and so many cars sharing the road. I’m surprised by how smoothly people can navigate through the apparent chaos of busy intersections.
Designated bike lanes are gaining popularity in the US and a lot of work surrounds making sure they are clear to both cyclists and pedestrians to ensure the safety of both groups. The laws are very clear about the cyclists’ rights to certain parts of the road and are enforced (I know people who have gotten tickets for biking through stop signs). The US also has bike advocacy groups in big urban areas that play a critical role in pushing policy and raising awareness about urban cycling issues
The amazing landscape of New Zealand is what attracts most cyclists. It shifts from sand dunes, to rural sheep fields, to snowcapped mountains, to glaciers, to geothermic eruptions from the ground. The Chinese rural landscape in the section I’m riding (the forests, mountains, ocean views, stretching rivers, throughout the rest of the country) are also very special and can attract many tourists and locals if enough of a corridor is left un-fragmented despite all of the new construction and development of new urban areas.
The biggest attraction on the Mexico tour I did was the large number of cultural ruins scattered along my route. China is very rich in culture and historical remains. A designated cultural loop connecting many of these sites to each other could increase bike traffic and touring in these regions.
There has been a huge amount of reporting on the July 23 train accident in Wenzhou that killed at least 39 and incited a continuing outcry among Chinese journalists and internet users, as well as government efforts to silence such criticism. Here, a collection of links connected to the rail crash and its aftermath.
• Many journalists have paid special attention to the role of Twitter-like microblogging platform Sina Weibo in spreading information about the rail accident itself as well as providing an outlet for Chinese web users to express their thoughts concerning the larger implications of the event. See, for example, The Hindu’s Ananth Krishnan on the online activism of middle-class Chinese in the wake of the crash, and Adam Minter’s article on pushback against government propaganda for Bloomberg.
• At China Media Project, David Bandurski’s “China media muzzled after day of glory” explores Chinese journalists’ work on the train accident and the government censorship that has followed, including images of three pages that had to be pulled from a recent edition of Chinese Business View due to censor concerns over their content. For more on government treatment of the Chinese press, see this report at the New York Times.
• In the face of the government’s efforts to impose a news blackout, however, China’s Economic Observer decided to go ahead with a special report on the train crash entitled “No Miracles in Wenzhou.” Josh Chin discusses this defiant newspaper’s actions at the Wall Street Journal’s “China Real Time Report” blog.
• David Bandurski also has an op-ed piece on the train crash for the International Herald Tribune.
• The view from abroad: an editorial from Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun; Michael Sainsbury reports on the accident for The Australian; and Reshma Patil of Hindustan Times discusses what India can learn from China’s tragedy:
While the Chinese chase speed, India is painfully slow and insensitive in modernising a creaking, over-crowded network that transports a Mumbai-sized population per day. The muzzle is now back on the Chinese media with fresh orders to report only positive and official versions on the accident. But the media’s temporary burst of free speech and public sensitivity to the accident is worth noting. In India, we need to keep the railway ministry under the microscope and demand answers to some of the same questions clamouring across China, without waiting for the next tragedy on the tracks.
For Spanish-language reporting and analysis, see the coverage at ZaiChina.
• In Hong Kong, activists held rallies calling for “a thorough and open investigation” into the rail accident.
• At Miller-McCune, Jeff Wasserstrom and Megan Shank write that “China’s High-Speed Crash Leads to Legitimacy Crisis”:
In recent years, China has suffered a series of man-made calamities and natural disasters. Many have been exacerbated by human error. These have led to angry online discourse and sometimes even street protests that ultimately could have posed a serious threat to the government. So far, Beijing has navigated the tumult and emerged with little damage to its legitimacy. We believe this moment is different — and not just because it took Wen Jiabao, the leadership’s go-to guy in crisis situations (also known as “Grandpa Wen” for his bedside manners), several days longer than usual to reach the scene. This time a few compassionate words to families of victims, and the identification of a few suitable scapegoats, seem unlikely to suffice.
This could be the end of the confident era ushered in by the successful hosting of the Beijing Olympic Games; it could undo the post-Tiananmen social contract between the Chinese government and Chinese citizens that has allowed the political status quo to remain in place longer than expected.
• Jason Dean and Jeremy Page explore the “Trouble on the China Express” for the Wall Street Journal, writing that the rail accident “has transformed a symbol of Beijing’s pride into an emblem of incompetence and imperious governance.”
• Time.com has a photo essay of pictures from the crash site.
• After a hiatus, the Sinica podcast returned last week with a new episode, “Train Wrecks.” Host Kaiser Kuo and guests Mary Kay Magistad, Jeremy Goldkorn, Will Moss, and Charles Custer discuss the Wenzhou train crash, the reaction it has provoked on Sina Weibo, and what the repercussions might be for China’s leadership.
• Chinese blogger Han Han posted a commentary on his website that was later deleted, but ChinaGeeks has a translation of the piece, entitled “The Derailed Country.”
• At the Asia Society’s website, see a collection of artistic responses to the train crash.
• Finally, visit ChinaGeeks for a video and translation of an update to Cui Jian’s iconic 1986 rock song, “Nothing to My Name,” which has been reworked into a version responding to the Wenzhou rail accident.
By Maura Elizabeth Cunningham
Yi-Li Wu is an independent scholar and a center associate at the Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan. She is also the author of Reproducing Women: Medicine, Metaphor, and Childbirth in Late Imperial China (UC Press, 2010).
MEC: Your book examines “medicine for women” (妇科 fuke) in Qing China. How did the practice of fuke then differ from present-day obstetrics and gynecology? What has changed in the Chinese understanding of women’s medicine?
YLW: Qing fuke was a subfield of a literate corpus of medical knowledge that formed the basis of what is now called “traditional Chinese medicine” (TCM). This medicine drew its authority from a body of ancient classical texts that explained health and illness in terms of the harmony or imbalances in the body’s “qi,” what could loosely be thought of as a vital force. Doctors explained the relationship between different types of bodily qi in terms of the cosmological concepts of yin-yang and the five phases. You can manipulate and harmonize qi through acupuncture, pharmacological formulas, and regulating your behavior and diet.
Today we think of TCM as alternative medicine, lower in status than Western medicine, and used as a complement to it. But back then, this was the medicine deployed by the social and medical elites, the educated practitioners who could read and write. It was the healing system used by the government doctors who treated the imperial family and state officials. So that’s one big change. Insofar as women’s health is concerned, an important difference with modern obstetrics is that fuke historically dwelt very little on the physical mechanics of childbirth itself. Unlike European doctors of the time, Qing doctors didn’t try to take over obstetrics, and they didn’t develop surgical techniques for extracting the baby. Chinese male doctors might be called in to administer drugs if the labor was prolonged, but otherwise everyone assumed that delivery was the job of female midwives. What doctors did was to focus on the other aspects of female fertility: menstrual health, conception, pregnancy, and postpartum recovery. As I discuss in my book, they believed that childbirth would go smoothly as long as the woman’s health was properly managed during all these other stages. Today’s TCM is still based on the same core principles and therapies as late imperial medicine, but it’s also influenced by Western medicine. TCM gynecology textbooks in China today discuss anatomical science, for example, alongside yin and yang. When I was researching this book, I got the chance to sit in on a TCM gynecology clinic, and I was interested to see that patients would bring in their blood test results and ultrasound reports and the like to show the doctor.
MEC: What are some of the topics you cover in Reproducing Women?
YLW: Childbirth is something that humans have been worrying about throughout history and across cultures. My aim in writing this book was to help readers understand how people in the Qing thought about these universal issues. The first part of the book sets fuke in its historical context, and asks, why did people write and publish texts on fuke and how did male doctors try to establish their authority as experts in fuke? The second part is structured around the key medical issues that various experts and laypeople were actively debating at the time: how to promote fertility by ensuring the health of the woman’s menses and womb; how to ensure a healthy pregnancy and avoid miscarriage; how to protect the body’s ability to give birth smoothly; and how to prevent illness after delivery. Throughout, I also explore the issue of medical change and innovation by examining the continuities and divergences between Qing views and the medical perspectives of earlier eras.
MEC: What did you find to be the most challenging part of researching and writing this book? What types of sources did you use to understand the practice and perception of fuke?
YLW: My main sources were medical texts, primarily Ming-Qing works but also sources dating as far back as the Han. To be sure, there are many other types of sources that one could use to explore late imperial Chinese medical thought, notably literature, local histories, and literati jottings, and I do bring in some of these as well. But there is a staggering amount of pre-20th century Chinese medical literature that is still extant, and scholars are still only in the early stages of parsing out this immense source base. To give you an example, there are some 300 specialized works on women’s medicine and childbearing, and that doesn’t even count all the information on fuke that is contained in general treatises on medicine, medical cases collections, and encyclopedias. So one fundamental challenge was simply to figure out what to do with all this stuff!
One thing that made it both interesting and complicated was that late imperial authors are continually altering and recombining earlier works in new ways. To understand the special characteristics of Qing medicine, therefore, I had to continuously read back and forth between late imperial writings and earlier sources. And then, after spending so much time immersed in the doctrinal minutiae, I wanted to find a way to de-wonk the book, to make it accessible and relevant to people who didn’t have a background in the subject. What I eventually did was to frame each chapter with a medical case. The point I tried to make with these cases was that even if arguments about hot vs. cold medicines seem a bit esoteric to the modern reader, these issues really matter to the man who has just lost his wife in childbirth, or to the woman who has had five miscarriages in a row. These were the ideological and technological resources they had at their disposal during the Qing, and I wanted to find a way to bring the reader into that mental universe. People tend to see Chinese medicine as mystical, and certainly it takes a while to understand the cosmology and philosophy that underlies it. But when you get past that, you have the universal story of people getting sick, and people trying to cure them.
MEC: In a previous article, you wrote about Buddhist monks who were fuke practitioners. What was the relationship between religion and medicine in women’s healthcare during the Qing dynasty?
YLW: Religious healing was a routine form of therapy, not just for women, but for everyone. The classical medicine that I am studying historically arose as a rejection of religious models of healing, and it argued that the processes of health and disease were located in the body, not in the whims of god or demon. But people continued to use prayers, incantations, and rituals of all kinds as a way to prevent or cure illnesses, ranging from eye diseases to plagues and epidemics. Women also regularly visited temples to pray that they would be granted sons. People also performed rituals during and after childbirth to protect the woman and newborn from harmful demons. While some doctors criticized these practices, others included this kind of information in their medical works. What is particularly interesting, furthermore, is the way that medical texts themselves could take on ritual meanings. For example, in the book I discuss the phenomenon of merit publishing, where people printed and distributed medical texts as a way of obtaining karmic rewards. These included a man whose wife started vomiting blood during a difficult labor. He vowed to publish 1,000 copies of a medical text on childbirth if only she could be saved, and she then safely delivered a son. So medical experts are working and writing in an environment in which the boundaries between different healing modalities are both fluid and contentious.
MEC: What are you working on now?
YLW: My current book project is a comparative study of Chinese and European medicine in the 1830s to 1860s. I first got interested in this years ago when a friend showed me the work of Benjamin Hobson, a British surgeon and medical missionary who wrote a series of texts in the 1850s to introduce Western medicine to Chinese doctors. These included a specialized work on midwifery. What I’d like to understand is the factors that influenced Chinese views of Western knowledge at a time when European therapeutics was not self-evidently superior to Chinese methods. For example, neither Chinese nor European doctors had an effective means of treating cholera, which was the major global health issue of the time. Also, caesarean sections were still very dangerous, so Western obstetricians would often resolve obstructed labor by dismembering the baby, techniques that were broadly similar to those used by Chinese midwives. And yet, there were a number of Chinese doctors and literati in the early nineteenth century who were very interested in Western medical writings. The aim of my project is to explore why.