November 2009

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2009.

chongqing castle

“In Chongqing, the old town of Ciqikou looms over a more modern addition by the riverbank. This kid was more interested in her bouncy throne than in the juxtaposition of her city’s ancient past and booming present.”

—Alec Ash

I recently wrote an essay called “China’s Orwell” for the Asian edition of Time Magazine. In the article, I deal with the conundrum of Lu Xun’s enormous influence within China yet continued relative obscurity outside of the Sinophone world.  Among other things, I ponder the possibility that an attractive new collection of his complete fiction, which features spirited translations by Julia Lovell and was published as part of the Penguin Classics series (click here for a “Paper Republic” interview with the translator about the book), could help right this imbalance by introducing figures such as Ah-Q to Western readers who had never before come across his name.  As a follow-up to that essay, which set me thinking about both the important work done by translators of fiction and about Lu Xun’s legacy as a writer, here is a top five list of places to go for more on one or both of these issues:

1)   Two towering figures in the history of English language renditions of major Chinese works of fiction have died in recent months.  One of these was David Hawkes, who passed away at the end of July.  Moving reflections on his life and work can be found in the October issue of China Heritage Quarterly, in essays that also have much new information to offer China specialists in fields other than literature.  Before reading that issue, for example, I had no idea that one of the big challenges that faced translators of The Story of the Stone (Hong Lou Meng), the subject of the best-known of all of Hawkes’ publications, is capturing the feel of passages written in “lively (and often difficult) colloquial Beijing dialect.” See, in particular, Geremie Barmé’s “Vale” (a piece that opens with a few lines of verse that remind us of Hawkes’ skills as a translator of poetry as well as prose, and that later mentions the role of Beijing dialect in the novel alluded to above) and John Minford’s “David Hawkes: scholar and Chinese translator,” an insightful overview of the translator’s life and his contributions to Western understanding of China.

2)   The other gifted and influential translator to die recently was Yang Xianyi, who both  translated Western works into Chinese and Chinese works into English.  He was part of a prolific husband-and-wife team (his wife Gladys Yang passed away a decade ago) who were the creative team behind important editions of an amazingly wide range of Chinese texts by everyone from the Han Dynasty historian Sima Qian to Lu Xun.  For details on his publications and also his fascinating life story, which included study at a missionary school in Tianjin and then at Oxford (where he met his wife) and later suffering during the Cultural Revolution and speaking out against the June 4 Massacre, see this wide-ranging obituary by Delia Davin.

3)   Turning from translators to Lu Xun’s legacy, recently ran an interview with Zhou Lingfei, the great author’s grandson.  (Zhou Lingfei was a guest of honor at the Beijing book launch for the latest Penguin Classic, incidentally, a book that is now available in Britain but not due out in the U.S. until January.)

4)   I’ve recently learned about a new book that promises to use Lu Xun’s stories as a multidimensional teaching tool, which provides insights into language, culture, and history.   I have not seen a copy yet but it looks promising from the information provided on its website.  It’s called Capturing Chinese: Short Stories from Lu Xun’s Nahan, and there will likely be more about it in future here at China Beat.

5)   Finally, for a cornucopia of citations dealing with Lu Xun’s work, translations of Lu Xun’s fiction and non-fiction, and even studies of Lu Xun’s own translations (he did a lot of translating himself, including an early rendition into Chinese of a Jules Verne’s sci-fi novel) and ideas about translation, go to the “Lu Xun Studies”  section of the invaluable Modern Chinese Literature and Culture website.   In addition to pointing the visitor to many articles and books, once there you will only be a click away from Chinese language websites filled with discussions of and texts by Lu Xun.

President Obama’s trip to China is now in the past, though there might be a postscript when the U.N. Climate Change Conference convenes in Copenhagen next month, as how China and the U.S. would cooperate (or not) in dealing with environmental issues was a major topic during Obama’s meetings with Chinese leaders. As a final look back at Obama’s first trip to China, here are several readings that put his visit in a larger context:

1. Timothy Garton Ash writes about “Two Ways for West to Meet China”, arguing that Western countries could choose between two strategies when dealing with China:

The first approach, which China’s rulers like, is for the West to say: “You have your traditions, your civilisation, your culture, your values, and we have ours. In a world of very diverse sovereign great powers, the only basis for international order is mutual respect. Inside our respective frontiers, we do it our way, you do it yours. Only thus can we avoid Samuel Huntington’s ‘clash of civilisations’.”

. . . The other approach, which I support, is for the West to start the search for a genuinely universal universalism, in a dialogue with China and other non-Western emerging powers. This could not be a purely Western-defined universalism, with the implication that all the essential universal truths were discovered in the West some time between, say, 1650 and 1800, and all other countries simply have to follow suit.

Rather, it would be a universalism which says something like this: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, but maybe you’d like to suggest some other ones. We say life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; perhaps you’d like to make the case for harmony, security or transgenerational community. Then let us compare the aspirations, and the social realities, in the cool light of reason.”

2. This opinion piece at the Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) compares Obama’s China trip to Richard Nixon’s journey there in 1972.

3. Looking back to the 1870s, China Beatniks Maura Cunningham and Jeff Wasserstrom posted this article at History News Network, detailing similarities and contrasts between Ulysses S. Grant’s meetings with Qing officials and Obama’s talks with Hu Jintao.

4. George Will also went back to the 1870s, but only to mention in passing that Grant, like Obama, met the Japanese emperor during his Asia trip. Will questions Obama’s designation as the first “Pacific President,” pointing out that many Commanders-in-Chief before him have been deeply engaged with the Pacific Rim.

5. Finally, James Fallows has been holding a virtual Obama-palooza over at his Atlantic blog, posting not only a six-part series on coverage of Obama’s visit (“Manufactured Failure”), but also several other articles on the perceived failure of Obama’s Asia trip.


By Alan Wachman

In the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Abraham Lincoln’s stance on national unity during the U.S. Civil War and his opposition to the institution of slavery have been summoned up by PRC officials, media, and elites in efforts to explain and legitimate their own response to those they disparage as “separatists” in Taiwan and Tibet.

To Beijing, vigorously opposing separatism and preserving Chinese territorial integrity is a cause no less noble than was Abraham Lincoln’s resort to war as a way of preventing the secession of southern states. In its quest for moral authority, Beijing has recalled the rhetoric and posture of Abraham Lincoln toward the Confederacy, apparently unaware that it has misconstrued Lincoln’s sentiments by citing his words out of context, drawing erroneous lessons from the example of the U.S. Civil War.

The resort to Lincoln is not new. Prominent Chinese leaders have manifested a touch of Lincolnophilia since the start of the twentieth century. Sun Yat-sen, the Abrahamic forebear of both the Nationalist Party (KMT) of Chiang Kai-shek that was long the ruling party of the ROC and the Communist Party (CCP) of Mao Zedong that established the PRC, explicitly called up Lincoln as a model for his own nationalist creed—The Three Principles of the People. According to Lyon Sharman’s volume, Sun Yat-sen: His Life and Its Meaning, a Critical Biography (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1934), Sun reportedly wrote that his own three principles “correspond with the principles stated by President Lincoln—‘government of the people, by the people, for the people.’ I translated them into … the people (are) to have . . . the people (are) to govern and . . . the people (are) to enjoy.”

Sun’s admiring effort to emulate the bold simplicity and cadence of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address became embedded in the hagiographic record of Sun’s contributions to China’s revolution, even though the Three Principles of the People only vaguely reflect the ideals Lincoln championed. The apparent link between Sun and Lincoln was enshrined in the first article of the 1947 Constitution of the Republic of China (ROC)—a document that remains in effect on Taiwan.  It reads, “The Republic of China, founded on the Three Principles of the People, shall be a democratic republic of the people, to be governed by the people and for the people.”

Indeed, so established was the putative link between Sun and Lincoln that in 1942 the United States commemorated the fifth anniversary of Japan’s invasion of China by issuing a postage stamp featuring the images of both Abraham Lincoln and Sun Yat-sen. The stamp is inscribed with the passage from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address that inspired Sun, as well as the resulting Three Principles—in Chinese—that Sun devised. In 1959, the government of the Republic of China (ROC) produced its own commemorative stamp displaying the two “leaders of democracy.”

Lincoln 1

Issued July 7, 1942, in Denver, Colorado, where Sun Yat-sen had been on October 11, 1911, when he learned of the revolution in China.

Lincoln 2

Chinese communists also associated themselves with Lincoln, among other American political icons. Michael Hunt, in his The Genesis of Chinese Communist Foreign Policy (Columbia University Press, 1996) cites a July 4, 1944 article published in the Jiefang Ribao [Liberation Daily], the official press organ of the party. It  proclaims that “The work which we Communists are carrying on today is the very same work which was carried on earlier in America by Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln.” In addition, Mao Zedong reportedly told a Reuters correspondent in 1945, “a free, democratic China would. . . realize the ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’ concept of Abraham Lincoln and the ‘four freedoms’ proposed by Franklin Roosevelt.”

While references to Lincoln—and particularly to the standard of government that he articulated at Gettysburg—may thread through the political rhetoric of modern China, the effort by leaders of the PRC to invoke Abraham Lincoln’s image and words in support of policy preferences seems to have flourished in recent years. Rather than to use Lincoln’s apparent populism as a way of validating and enhancing the prestige of the party’s political program for just governance within China, PRC leaders refer to Lincoln’s posture during the American Civil War to immunize themselves from criticism about their own unyielding insistence that Taiwan not be allowed to remain separate and Tibet not be allowed to separate from China.

To be sure, the interest in Lincoln waxes and wanes in the PRC. Former president Jiang Zemin, who attended an American missionary school near Shanghai, apparently takes pride in his capacity to recite the Gettysburg Address from memory, in English. He frequently cited Lincoln to reinforce his view that Beijing has an obligation to defend the unity of China—as he understands it—by force, if necessary, against any efforts to divide it. So enamored of Lincoln was Jiang that when Fortune Magazine hosted a glitzy confab in Shanghai in 1999, Gerald Levin, then president of AOL Time Warner, publicly presented the Chinese president with a bust of the sixteenth American president.

Former premier Zhu Rongji drew his arrow from the same quiver. Standing beside President Clinton in 1999, Zhu said “Abraham Lincoln, in order to maintain the unity of the United States and oppose independence of the southern part…resorted to the use of force and fought a war. … So I think Abraham Lincoln…is a model.”

Some years later, PRC premier Wen Jiabao told The Washington Post on the eve of his departure for the United States in November, 2003, “The Chinese people will pay any price to safeguard the unity of the motherland. I assume that you are familiar with the words of President Lincoln, who once said, ‘a house divided against itself will not stand.’ While Lincoln did, indeed, speak these words, the passage actually originated with the Bible, Matthew 12:25, as was Lincoln’s wont. Lincoln used the phrase often, but it is most closely associated with a speech he gave in Springfield, Illinois, on June 16, 1858, after receiving the Republican nomination for Senator. Lincoln then invoked the passage repeatedly during his debates with Stephen Douglas, in the late summer and fall of that year. He also said “the Union (composed of States) is perpetual.”

One wonders what Premier Wen makes of Lincoln’s remarks elsewhere in the speech he cited—Lincoln’s inaugural address of 1861. First, Lincoln describes the Union as emerging from a voluntary compact.

we find the proposition that, in legal contemplation, the Union is perpetual, confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured and expressly declared and pledged, to be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution, was “to form a more perfect union.”

While they oppose Beijing’s expectation of unity, neither the people of Taiwan nor those of Tibet seek to withdraw from any compact they ever made. Yet, Beijing advances the view that it is justified in using force to preserve a single Chinese state of which Taiwan and Tibet are a part. Xu Shiquan, formerly the Director of the Institute of Taiwan Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and then the vice president of the All-China Taiwan Studies Society, cited Lincoln’s brief second inaugural address to highlight this point.

Xu is widely quoted in the PRC press referring to Lincoln as having said, “Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.”  Xu presumably wishes to associate the PRC with Lincoln and the Union, resigned to fight only to ensure that the nation does not perish. However, the crux of Lincoln’s address was not a claim that the Union alone was righteous in its willingness to fight for the preservation of the Union and the Confederacy unjust for making war. Lincoln’s doleful address pivots on the citation of another Biblical verse—Matthew 18:7—which states, “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!”

The verse originates in an account of Jesus warning of the ill consequences that will befall anyone who would “offend” those who believe in him. Lincoln employs the passage to under-gird a statement of humility in the face of a war that he depicts as divine retribution to both North and South for having tolerated slavery on American soil. Lincoln states:

If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him?

This was no boastful claim to moral superiority over a wanton and reckless adversary who had driven him to do what he preferred not to do. It was the resignation of a man who had witnessed the ravage of war and acquiesced in an understanding that the North was in some measure as culpable as the South and was being held to account by a just god whose punishment was the war itself.

PRC statesmen who cite Lincoln seem to imply that American citizens should appreciate the plight of the PRC and identify with it as analogous to that of the Union during the Civil War. They implore their audience to see them as responding no differently to the issue of China’s unity than did President Lincoln when he confronted the secession of southern states. Unfortunately, a shallow understanding of both American politics leading to the Civil War and of the opening chapter of that war make the recitation of Lincoln’s pledge to unity little more than a cheap parlor trick.

* * *

This essay is adapted from “Did Abraham Lincoln Oppose Taiwan’s Secession from China?” that will appear as a chapter in Secession as an International Phenomenon, to be published in Fall 2010.  It is used by permission of the University of Georgia Press.  For more information visit

Alan Wachman teaches international politics in The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

By Scott Kennedy

In the past few weeks, the coverage of the fall of Caijing and the exodus of its staff has read almost like an obituary. During its eleven years in production, Caijing benefitted from protection from patrons as well as the deft leadership of its editor, Hu Shuli, who has a sixth sense for knowing where the boundaries of permissibility sit and how to move them. The result was a record of breaking myriad stories of serious corruption and poor governance. Over the years, a couple issues were temporarily held up for “technical” reasons, but Caijing appeared to have regularly escaped the political storms. But this summer, the good run came to an end when Caijing tried to report on the Xinjiang protests in early July. It sent three reporters 2,000 kilometers to cover a topic distant from finance and business, for which they received a great deal of grief. Against its original pledge, the publisher pushed Hu Shuli to stick to Caijing’s bread and butter, business news. Feeling the walls closing in, the editorial staff gradually abandoned ship, culminating with Hu Shuli’s own resignation.

For a scholar of Chinese politics and business, Caijing was a goldmine. Prior to its emergence, China had a very small number of newspapers and magazines I could look to for an independent take on events and trends. China Business Times (中华工商时报), the paper of the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, where Hu Shuli worked for several years (and where I first met her), contained informative stories about private businesses and emerging industries, written by journalists who did good legwork, interviewing company executives and officials. But such outlets were the exception. For the most part, I used the domestic media as a way to understand the official positions of different parts of the bureaucracy. Caijing, along with Southern Weekender and a few others, provided in-depth reporting and uncovered highly valuable information about the economy, policies, and misbehavior not available elsewhere. For example, in late March this year it ran a story explaining how the Ministry of Commerce developed its rationale for denying Coca Cola’s attempted acquisition of Huiyuan. This type of story was just as important to me as uncovering the corrupt political machine in Shanghai. Although the foreign media do a very good job reporting on macro-economic policy, they rarely dig deeply into individual sectors or companies in the way Caijing could.

Caijing became an institution. In addition to the bi-weekly print version, it launched a sleek website—in both Chinese and English—and other publications. But to me, the clearest sign of Caijing’s heft and authority was its annual Forecasts and Strategies Conference, held each December, around the same time as many of the various official work conferences. The event draws hundreds, if not thousands, of elites from the world of business and government, all attracted like moths to the presence of the others and the glow of Caijing’s liberal light. I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at the December 2008 gathering on a panel about political trends. It was a heady experience: I was picked up at my apartment by a chauffeur-driven Lexis accompanied by a personal assistant. When we arrived, I was greeted by a gaggle of photographers, and then whisked into a private room with the other speakers. I pretended to fit in, but fidgeted like a kid sitting at a fancy dinner table full of sophisticates.

When my panel on political reform arrived, I thought I was going to push the envelope by encouraging policymakers to give industry associations more autonomy, but I was timid in comparison with the other speakers. Qin Xiao, Chairman of the Board of Merchants Bank, and economist Xu Xiaonian called for institutional political reform. Ma Huaide, vice president of the Chinese University of Politics & Law, showed how the new government open information law had yet to yield substantive transparency. And Zi Zhongyun, China’s dean of American studies, cautioned the crowd and Party spinmeisters not to see America’s recent intervention in the markets as proof of socialism’s victory over capitalism; such moves were temporary and would eventually be followed by a return to America’s free-market roots. Although state-owned enterprises still occupy pride of place in most sectors, I left the conference with a similar but more intense feeling than I do when I finish an issue of the magazine: liberalism, even if under regular attack and not victorious in each battle, still had a strong pulse in China.

Caijing’s decade-plus run of investigative reporting and the starry lights of the annual meeting left me as surprised as anyone when I heard that an era had come to an end. I had thought Caijing was immune to misfortune. However, the noose which had tightened around others finally found its way to the 19th floor of the Prime Tower.

Nevertheless, after some reflection, it is important not to misread what has happened. Caijing was not shuttered; its reporters were not arrested. Its editors left of their own accord before any crackdown occurred. Hu Shuli did not go into hiding. Her staff remained loyal and left with her, and investors have helped her finance a new media organization. Although divorced from her original owner and patron, there is good reason to have hope she will successfully build a new venture that will break new ground in the way Caijing did. Moreover, Ms. Hu simultaneously accepted an appointment as dean of the School of Journalism at Sun Yat-sen University, another sign that she is still perceived as an insider critic, not a dissident.

And although I’ve spoken so far of Caijing in the past tense, it is, in fact, still in operation. It is now run by a new group of editors hired away from a Caijing wanna-be who had their dream come true in a way they probably never expected. At least on the surface, the new team is embracing the legacy of the founders. (As of this writing, their names and bios are carried on the Chinese website, though the English version of the website still lists Ms. Hu as editor.) It is quite possible that advertisers will abandon Caijing and follow Hu Shuli, but there is an equal chance the new team will demonstrate their bona fides and achieve respectability.

Hence, rather than see this month’s news as the sorrowful death knell of a reformist institution, we instead witnessed savvy reformers making some unexpected strategic maneuvers in order to continue their same mission of fostering a more liberal China.

Scott Kennedy is associate professor in the Departments of Political Science and East Asian Languages & Cultures and director of the Research Center for Chinese Politics at Indiana University. Hu Shuli is a member of the center’s advisory board. Kennedy is author of The Business of Lobbying in China (Harvard University Press), and he is currently writing a book on China’s role in global governance.


« Older entries