November 2008

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One of the blessings of the Internet Age is the availability of valuable information about the past, in this case Taiwanese history. This post introduces a few English and Chinese websites that I have found most interesting/useful. The list is hardly meant to be exhaustive, and people should feel free to recommend other sites that would benefit all those interested in this topic.

1. The Gerald Warner Taiwan Image Collection — Put together by Paul Barclay at Lafayette College, this website contains 340 photographs and postcards gathered by Warner from 1937 to 1941 during and after his tenure as U.S. Consul in Taiwan. Barclay rightly reminds us that many of these images were produced for commercial purposes during a period of colonial hegemony. Nonetheless, they provide precious insights on how Taiwan’s diverse culture was shaped by Chinese, Austronesian, Japanese, and Western influences. The collection covers a wide range of subjects, including flora, fauna, material culture, religion, and Aboriginal life. Users will also benefit from its Supporting Material section (especially the weblinks), as well as its extensive Bibliography. An additional 1,000 images are due to be posted early next year.

A related web source is Barclay’s translation of Kondō “The Barbarian” Katsusaburō 近藤勝三郎’s travelogue/memoir, which is now appearing on Michael Turton’s blog. Kondō was a Japanese merchant and official who married into Aboriginal lineages in the Puli 埔里 area (in today’s Nantou 南投 County), thereby gaining first-hand knowledge of key players in the Wushe 霧社 (Musha) Rebellion of 1930. This gripping account of Kondō’s life was published as a serialized version of 29 installments in the Taiwan nichinichi shinpō 臺灣日日新報 (Taiwan Daily News) between December 20, 1930 and February 15, 1931.

2. Formosa Index — This website, the result of years of dedicated research by Douglas Fix at Reed College, contains an impressive body of largely Western accounts of Taiwan and its people, most of which were published in books and journals during the nineteenth century. Complete versions of travelogues, reports, ethnographies, and general surveys can be found in the Texts section of the website, which also contains useful biographies and annotated bibliographies. The Images section allows visitors to view numerous illustrations about Taiwan’s landscapes, people, and material culture, while the island’s geographical and ethnological features can be readily appreciated by checking out the Maps section.

3. Yang-Grevot Collection of Taiwan Aboriginal Art — Those interested in Taiwan’s Aboriginal cultures might wish to start their inquiries at this website. In addition to a detailed catalogue of well-annotated images, this site also features plenty of links to museums, other collections, and relevant research, as well as bibliographies in English, French, and Chinese.

4. The Takao Club — This website, established by a non-profit organization based in southern Taiwan, provides a comprehensive vista of this area’s history and culture. Some of its most fascinating sections include biographies of renowned rebels like Lin Shao-mao 林少貓 (1865-1902) and Mona Rudao 莫那魯道 (1882-1930), as well as colorful descriptions of camphor, opium, and betel nuts (including betel nut beauties!).

5. Taiwan History Institute, Academia Sinca — THE essential starting point for anyone wishing to undertake Chinese-language research, this website proves especially valuable for its Academic Resources (研究資源) section, which has links to the Taiwan Collectanea (臺灣文獻叢刊資料庫) and Governer-General’s Office (臺灣總督府檔案) electronic databases. This site is also noteworthy for its remarkable collection of digitalized images (圖像資料庫).

6. Taiwan Historica — This organization’s website contains electronic databases for key government documents from the Japanese colonial and early postwar eras.

7. Taiwan History and Culture in Time and Space — Representing the fruits of a pioneering interdisciplinary research effort, this website allows users to better appreciate the spatial aspects of Taiwanese history. While requiring some effort to master its various hi-tech features, great rewards await those with the patience to learn how to use its numerous maps, some of which can be downloaded and modified for one’s own research purposes. This website also contains maps from my own research project on the Ta-pa-ni 噍吧哖 Incident, the details of which may be found on a Chinese-language website that my research assistant and I have prepared.

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…).

By Jeff Wasserstrom

My next posts were all supposed to deal with my recent trip to China, but news about the long-awaited Guns’n’Roses release, “Chinese Democracy,” stirring up controversy in China is something that I can’t resist weighing in on. I won’t go into details about whether or how it has actually been banned in Beijing, as you can find out about that other places, including here and here. And I don’t need to fill you in on the China-related content of the album (a work I hasten to admit I haven’t heard yet), as that is covered thoroughly in an excellent Huffington Post piece by David Flumenbaum.

Still, two things make it hard for me to stay silent. First, I don’t think anyone has so far made an obvious and lame Shakespearean pun (but one that still has a point): I think that this Rose (album) by any other name would have been quite different indeed in terms of impact in China. Yes, as Flumenbaum notes, the title track has lyrics that deal with hot-button topics, but had these words been buried in an album called “Madascar” or “I.R.S.” (the names of two other tracks), it might at least have taken longer to be banned or draw fire from Chinese netizens. (Of course, this isn’t a sure-fire argument. I was amazed to see copies of Cui Jian’s “The Power of the Powerless” for sale in Beijing around the turn of the millennium, at a time when he was still having trouble giving public concerts. Surely, the title is or can at least be read as an allusion to Vaclev Havel’s 1978 work, yet this slipped under the official radar.)

Second, this Guns N’ Roses phenomenon gives me the final item to add to a long gestating “Top Five List” of “The Weirdest Rock Music Moments with Chinese Characteristics” of the last 30 years. When Bjork caused controversy early this year, I blogged about that for China Beat and Shanghaiist, and in doing so brought in some of these moments (the Icelandic songstress making waves with a Shanghai conference reference to Tibet surely qualifies), so there’ll be some repetition here. But this list, in chronological order, will contain some novelties as well.

1) John Denver singing “Rocky Mountain High” (and doubtless other numbers as well) to Deng Xiaoping when the Chinese leader was in the U.S. in 1979. The final moments of that musical performance are immortalized in the Long Bow Group’s award-winning “The Gate of Heavenly Peace,” which also shows Denver telling Deng that the American people wished China success in its newest “Long March” (toward modernization). I later realized that Denver’s performance for Deng is probably one reasons songs of his like “Country Roads” were among the American ones played most often when I lived in China for a year in the mid-1980s.

2) The Carpenters hit it big in China in the mid-1980s. I’m not sure if there is a clear reason for this (can anyone enlighten me?), but their music seems to have had even greater staying power than Denver’s in the PRC. I heard “Top of the World” playing when I first rode the sight-seeing tunnel under the Huangpu River: maybe not a bad choice, as even though the ride has a light show that might seem better suited to a psychedelic band than the Carpenters, and even though when the tune plays you are deep underground, the ride takes you to Pudong where the world’s tallest building now stands. And when I visited the Bird’s Nest stadium earlier this month, the song playing over the P.A. system was “Every Shalalala” (so something about that trip slipped into this post after all).

3) A Jan and Dean Concert Plays a Role in the Student Protests of 1986. This story is told in my earlier post on Bjork, so no need to repeat it here—just wouldn’t be a complete list without it mentioned.

4) Billy Bragg goes to China and wants to talk politics with local rockers, but they steer the conversation to what sort of amp he uses. This is just one of many vignettes that could have made the list that are recounted in Linda Jaivin’s The Monkey and the Dragon: A True Story about Friendship, Music, Politics, and Life on the Edge, a memoir about the pop critic and novelist’s friendship with Taiwan folk-singer turned Tiananmen activist Hou Dejian, and the curious intersections between rock and politics in the PRC in the late 1980s and 1990s.

5) Bjork Goes to Shanghai…again, nothing new to say after Part 1, but no list would be complete without it…

This has been posted concurrently at Shanghaiist.

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Last year, the Association for Asian Studies inaugurated a new series of booklets under their “Resources for Teaching About Asia” branch called “Key Issues in Asian Studies.” The first two booklets in the series were published in 2007: Political Rights in Post-Mao China by Merle Goldman and Gender, Sexuality, and Body Politics in Modern Asia by Michael Peletz. (Those interested in applying to write a “Key Issues” booklet should see the AAS’s author guidelines.)

Goldman’s book on political rights in contemporary China canvases the factions that dominated political discussions in the post-Mao era, and is key reading for those who want a quick introduction to the post-1989 Chinese political landscape. (The booklet clocks in at a very manageable 76 pages.) The primary topic of Post-Mao China is actually politics from the late 1980s to the late 1990s; there is very little discussion of politics in the new millennia. Even so, for those perpetually mixing up their new leftists with their neo-Maoists, this is a good start for clarification. And with protests in the news of late, Goldman’s sketch of the definitions of citizenship participation and varying groups’ access to and engagement in the political process provides useful background information.

Goldman, professor emerita of history at Boston University, has been a prolific writer during her career and is the author of Literary Dissent in Communist China, Sowing the Seeds of Democracy in China, and From Comrade to Citizen, among other books, as well as numerous edited volumes and dozens of book chapters and articles. We chatted with her over email about the topics raised in her booklet:

China Beat: What was your goal in writing Political Rights in Post-Mao China? What kind of audience did you have in mind?

Merle Goldman: The purpose of the book was to reach high school and college students who might be interested in the issue of human rights in China.

China Beat: One of the interesting backdrops to your discussion of the political landscape of the 1990s is the disintegration of the Soviet Union. I’ve heard it said that the 1989 protests provided inspiration for sovereignty movements in Eastern Europe, but hadn’t realized how fear-inducing the Soviet Union’s collapse was for CCP leadership, and how much that fear then shaped the political discussions of the 1990s. When and why did the power of that narrative wane?

Goldman: That is true. In fact, the Chinese students were excited about the trip to China of Gorbachev at the time of the 1989 demonstrations and had wanted to talk with him. That frightened the Chinese leaders, who feared a Gorbachev and his reforms in China. They feared it would lead to the end of the CCP. They were right. The Gorbachev era not only led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, but also the rule of the Communist Party in Russia.

China Beat: One of the issues raised in Political Rights in Post-Mao China is the role of the emerging middle class as a political force. Middle class protest—like the “strolls” that took place in Shanghai and Chengdu, among other places—have received a lot of media interest this year. On the other hand, workers’ protests and farmers’ protests, also discussed in the booklet, have received less attention. Do you think the media is right to pay so much attention to middle class protest? In other words, is this where political change will come from in China, or could we be surprised by peasant and worker coalitions’ ability to effect political change from below?

Goldman: The rising middle class has several components in China. The new entrepreneurs are being inducted into the party and have been co-opted, but on the fringes of this rising middle class are public intellectuals, journalists and defense lawyers who have spoken out on human rights issues. They are the topic of the new book that I am now working on.

China Beat: You note that neo-nationalists-who also received quite a bit of attention from Western media this year in the wake of the Tibet protests and the Olympic torch relay-are focused on “a revival of nationalist spirit” (26). The party has found eagerness for a stronger China (and anger at those who thwart it) useful at some times and dangerous at others. How do you see the Party utilizing young people’s nationalist sentiments in the coming years? Do you see the neo-nationalist ideas as pointing the way toward a new kind of (potentially productive) Chinese political thought, or is this simply an old-and dangerous-path?

Goldman: The rising nationalism is filling the ideological vacuum left by the bankruptcy of Marxism-Leninism. Through most of its history, China has been governed by an overriding ideology. In the pre-modern era, it was Confucianism and in the last half of the twentieth century it was Marxism-Leninism and the thought of Mao Zedong. Thus nationalism is filling that ideological vacuum. It could hold China’s huge population together, especially in a period of great change, but it could also lead to a dangerous xenophobia, which will not only be harmful to the Chinese people but also to the rest of the world.

China Beat: The notion of “rules consciousness”- people using existing rules to justify challenges to local or even national actions (or, as you say in the book, framing “their critiques and demands in terms of the existing rules and regulations in order to exert pressure on the party to live up to its own laws”)-is a regular theme in Political Rights. What are the most important ways that “rules consciousness” is being employed in the growing number of (mostly small-scale) protests today?

Goldman: Those who are calling for human rights and are demanding more political and religious freedom, call on the party to live up to the stipulations in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, which calls for freedom of speech and religion. China has also signed onto the UN Declarations on Human Rights. Whereas the Declaration on Economic Rights has been passed by China’s rubber-stamp National People’s Congress, the Declaration on Political and Civic Rights has not been passed. Those who are calling for human rights in China have urged the National People’s Congress to pass the latter declaration.

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Despite calls several years ago for a Chinese Thanksgiving Day, Thanksgiving hasn’t caught on in China as Christmas has. And with good reason–the holiday hasn’t brought much to China other than (last year) Paris Hilton.

But tomorrow begins the Christmas shopping season (a holiday that has caught on in some places in China–if largely for its commercial meanings), and this new holiday may have more dire implications in China this year. Analysts are predicting slow Christmas sales in the U.S., which may mean a slow season for Chinese manufacturers as well.

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