Self-Promotion Saturday

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There will be three China Beat contributors participating in an upcoming conference at the University of Southern California. On January 30, Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Susan Brownell, and Kate Merkel-Hess will all be speaking at the USC Center for Public Diplomacy’s conference, “The 2008 Beijing Olympics: Public Diplomacy Triumph or Public Relations Spectacle?” In part, our participation at USC is an outgrowth of the things we have been writing at China Beat this year, as well as the content of our forthcoming volume, China in 2008: A Year of Great Significance.

There are a lot of China-related events in Southern California these days. As proof, the USC conference will be held on the same day as a fascinating-looking event across town, enormously relevant to the “What Should Obama be Reading” feature that we’ve been running (and makes some of us wish we could be in two places at once). Also on January 30, the UCLA Center for Chinese Studies will be holding “Two Systems, One World: US-China Relations under the Obama Administration.” (Since none of us will be able to make it, please get in touch if you are attending and would be willing to blog about the proceedings for China Beat.)

The USC conference will be the first of several opportunities we’ll have this spring to talk about and promote China in 2008. Though we’ll mention these again when they get closer, there will be a number of the volume’s contributors on hand at the annual Association for Asian Studies meeting, one co-editor (Jeff Wasserstrom) will be speaking in March in Shanghai and Hong Kong, while another co-editor (Kate Merkel-Hess) and contributor Susan Brownell will be participating in the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville. In case you forget to mark your calendars, have no fear…we’ll mention it again!

I’m writing this in 2008, but when you read it, the calendar will tell you it is 2009.  That wouldn’t ordinarily be particularly noteworthy, since many blogs, including this one, alternate between running things just as they are written and scheduling them to appear a few days hence.  It just seemed relevant to mention because two pieces I’ve recently had go up online that are linked to and provide teasers for Global Shanghai, 1850-2010 deal with time and forward-looking issues.

One is the concluding segment of a two-parter on Shanghai and visions of the future.  This installment focuses on sci-fi writings with ties to that city, with passing nods to a couple of films, a fantasy poster that imagines Shanghai hosting a World’s Fair in the 25th century, and the actual World’s Fair set to take place there in 2010.  It has something to offer fans of Neal Stephenson and other cyberpunk authors.  But it also, perhaps less expectedly for at least some but not all readers of this blog, spends some time talking about a story written by the late Qing and Republican era intellectual heavyweight Liang Qichao, which has been analyzed insightfully by John Fitzgerald in a fascinating Thesis 11 article.

My other recent online Global Shanghai-related publication with a futuristic dimension was one I did for the wonderfully varied History News Network site.   Befitting an essay aimed more at historians and those interested in the past than China-focused readers per se, it explores the question of why someone belonging to the presumably backward-looking academic guild of which I am a member would include a date set in the future, 2010, in the title of a book.

There’s a bit of other Global Shanghai news to report since my last SPS post, including two reviews I am very pleased with that can be accessed here and here. I’ve also got two other book teasers of a sort up on the web, each on sites I like a great deal.   One appeared on the Campaign for the American Reader website, as part of their “Page 99 Test” feature.  Their invitation to focus on that page gave me the challenge of reflecting anew about the chapter in the book dealing with the year 1975, which was in many ways the most difficult one for me to write.  The other was written for The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus.  I won’t say anything more about that here, however, as China Beat will be running a post tomorrow (the tomorrow of this piece’s publication, not the tomorrow of my writing these words) devoted exclusively to emphasizing how much interesting China-related material that venue, which originally concentrated more tightly on Japan, has been carrying.


By Paul Katz

As China ascends to its place as a leading nation on the world stage, questions have arisen concerning the role of its legal system. As Joseph Kahn noted in a feature article entitled Deep Flaws, and Little Justice, in China’s Court System, “Justice in China is swift but not sure.” Many protests in China today center on the issue of justice, with one blogger responding to the January 2008 fatal beating by parapolice officials of a man trying to videotape a protest by lamenting “Where is justice? Where is the law? Aren’t there any rules in China?

My newest book, Divine Justice: Religion and the Development of Chinese Legal Culture (Routledge 2008) considers these issues by examining the ways in which religious beliefs and practices have contributed to the formation of Chinese legal culture. It does so by describing two forms of overlap between religion and the law: the ideology of justice and the performance of judicial rituals.

The former covers beliefs about how the gods intervene in human affairs in this life and the next in order to ensure the attainment of justice. Because this ideal is rarely realized in earthly courts, many people place their faith in underworld deities who have the power to pass judgment on both the living and the dead.

The latter extends to the realm of practice, and involves instances when men and women perform oaths, chicken-beheadings, and underworld indictments in order to enhance the legitimacy of their positions, deal with cases of perceived injustice, and resolve disputes.

These rites coexist with other forms of legal practice, including private mediation and the courts, comprising a wide-ranging spectrum of practices that I refer to as the judicial continuum. Individuals ranging from high-ranking officials to chaste widows have performed judicial rituals for centuries, and such rites have shaped the legal histories of overseas Chinese in colonies like Batavia, the Straits Settlements, and Hong Kong, as well as those who immigrated to countries like Australia and the United States.

Despite the fact that China is experiencing a period of rapid religious revival, the fate of its judicial rituals is unclear, especially since religious beliefs and practices labeled as “superstition” (mixin 迷信) still face the very real threat of state persecution. Judicial rituals remain largely underground, meaning that the judicial continuum in China today remains fragmentary and inchoate. Inasmuch as the effective functioning of any legal system requires a certain degree of entirety, the extent to which the Chinese government proves willing to tolerate the performance of judicial rites may influence its citizens’ confidence in their ability to obtain true justice.

Penitents dressed as criminals process in front of a Hsinchu police station, with McDonald’s sign in the background

In contrast, judicial rituals are an integral part of legitimation and dispute resolution processes in modern, high-tech nations like Taiwan, where people rely on such rites to deal with problems that are not readily addressed in the courtroom (particularly family tensions) or even resolve disputes that have already entered the formal legal system. The role of such rites in Taiwan’s current political environment remains to be seen, however, as its legal system faces many new challenges. The present state of affairs has prompted Amnesty International to issue a public statement urging the authorities to investigate concerns centering on charges of excessive use of police force, and to conduct legal procedures in a “fair, transparent, and timely manner in compliance with international standards.”

While some Taiwanese prosecutors have been quoted as asserting judicial authority by making statements such as “Suspects in certain cases investigated by prosecutors need not be convicted of a crime, but we can use [the legal process] to teach them a lesson” (檢察官辦案不一定是要當事人被判有罪,但至少要讓他們得到『教訓』), it might be worth bearing in mind the late Attorney General Robert Jackson (1892-1954)’s definition of what it takes to be a distinguished prosecutor: “The citizens’ safety lies in [someone who] tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, [and] who serves the law and not factional purposes.”

Regular readers of this blog may think it is a bit redundant for me to do a “Self-promotion Saturday” post about Global Shanghai, 1850-2010: A History in Fragments, since I’ve managed to slip references to and images of the cover of my new book onto the site already in recent a piece about the 1980s and one about the Beijing Forum, cell phones, and a Chinese Obama joke.

Still, when you’ve worked on a publication as long as I labored on this one (even though it is a short, it took well over a decade to get from first inspiration and initial research to actually having the first copies in hand this week), the actual appearance of the artifact is something you want to mark. (The book should be available for purchase in Britain now, ready for sale in other parts of the world early in the new year.)

I also couldn’t resist the opportunity to mention the first review it has received, a very positive one in That’s Shanghai, which not only has just the kinds of adjectives authors love to find applied to their books but is written with verve to boot. And who wouldn’t like getting five out of five thumbs up?

In addition, just in case there are any China Beat readers who don’t also regularly check out the Danwei site as well, this post gives me a chance to pass on the word that I have a new piece up there linked to the book. It’s the first of a two-part essay called “A Brief History of Shanghai’s Future” (the sequel will follow soon). It isn’t an excerpt per se, but it draws from material in Global Shanghai and should give readers a pretty good sense of what the book is like.

Other pieces that tie-in with the book will be published elsewhere on the web. I’ll flag them in future posts. I’ll also use those posts as an opportunity to give some background on the book (like why a historian like me has a year still to come in its title) and mention places I’ll be giving book-related talks. So stay tuned.

The weekend after Thanksgiving is the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, but if you’d like to avoid the crush at the malls, China in 2008 now has its own webpage, where you can order a copy for all those hard-to-gift friends (especially if they don’t mind it arriving in March–the release date for the book…).

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