July 2010

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By Kenneth Pomeranz

A short trip to China earlier this month took me to Beijing to give a talk, to Shijiazhuang for a conference, and, briefly, to the Hebei countryside — my first time in quite a while in rural North China. And it once again proved that every trip teaches you something, but often not on the expected topics. (One little detail that I found telling: most of the Beijing-based academics who were at the Shijiazhuang conference told me it was their first time there. True, Shijiazhuang is not a tourist hot spot, but it is a provincial capital, with over 2 million people in the city, and it’s barely 2 hours away by fast train.)

One of the talks I was giving was on environmental history, and I’ve become more or less obsessed by North China’s water shortages — so naturally I arrived in the middle of summer rains with everything looking green. That doesn’t mean the water problems aren’t real, of course, but this time around I didn’t learn much about them. (There was a desperate shortage of life-giving fluid — I went without coffee for two and a half days — but that’s another matter.) On the other hand, I learned an awful lot when our hosts in Shijiazhuang took us to a place that I hadn’t expected to find all that interesting: Xibaipo.

Xibaipo, in Southwestern Hebei along the edge of the Taihang Mountains, was part of one of the CCP’s 19 base areas during the war against Japan; it became the party’s principal headquarters after a Nationalist offensive drove them out of Yen’an in 1947, remaining so until March of 1949. (Mao arrived in May of 1948.) It was the site of the key national conference on land reform, and the place from which some of the Civil War’s decisive battles were planned. It was opened as a museum in 1978, and if I heard correctly, it has logged 240 million visitors since then. (Very few of them are foreigners, according to our guide, and I saw no other obvious foreigners during our visit.) Americans can think of it as a sort of cross between Valley Forge and Independence Hall, or what such a place might be if it were plunked down in Appalachia — Pingshan is on the Chinese government’s official list of poverty-stricken counties.

main office of xinhua

Xinhua office

Much of the site is taken up by reconstructions of the homes and offices of major CCP leaders who were here: Mao, Zhu De, Zhou Enlai, Dong Biwu, and others. (The originals were destroyed as part of a dam-building project — OK, you knew I’d get water issues in there somehow.) Jiang Qing’s room is also clearly marked, but was locked during my visit. All of these are quite Spartan — simple beds or kangs, chairs, and desks, and very little decoration besides a photo of the couple in each residence and some maps, which did not look nearly detailed enough to plot any campaigns on, in the military headquarters. Many also featured some very simple tool suggesting participation in manual labor: a spinning wheel near the bed, a grinding stone in the courtyard. (I have no way of knowing how closely this corresponds to what the place looked like in 1948.) The photos — some probably wedding pictures, some not — are among the most interesting details. Most show the couple standing or sitting close enough that one can’t be sure whether they are touching, both looking straight ahead, only the woman smiling. One wonders whether this is coincidence, or whether, like so many aspects of CCP family and gender policy in these years, they were carefully calibrated compromises between the urban, May 4th heritage of so many CCP leaders and the much more conservative values (at least as the leadership saw it) of their peasant base. The explanations that were provided — both by signs and by our guide, a local middle school student — were generally matter-of-fact. The crowds that filed though were pretty quiet and serious: I saw no expressions of great revolutionary fervor, but I didn’t hear any jokes, either, and one of the most popular places to take a photo of oneself seemed to be by the plaque that had the pledge recited by people joining the Party.

Portrait of a CCP couple at Xibaipo

Portrait of a CCP couple at Xibaipo

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In addition to checking out the Expo (something I’ve blogged about before and will blog about again) and hosting a series of dialogs at M on the Bund’s Glamour Bar (the last of which takes place this Sunday at 2:30 and will find me in conversation about writing for the web and for print with Evan Osnos of the New Yorker magazine and the excellent “Letter from China” blog), I’ve been trying to take advantage of any opportunities that come along in terms of local cultural events. On the whole, I think I’ve been very lucky with my timing.

Sure, the weather has been terrible (no surprise for late June and July), with a long stretch of rain and then blistering heat, but some unusually interesting things have been going on. Highlights for me have included Abigail Washburn coming to town (the subject of an earlier post) and getting to tour a fascinating new museum in Xujiahui in the company of some of the local scholars involved in its creation and a lively, well-informed and eclectic group of academics and freelance writers (one of the former, Lisa Movius, wrote a great piece on the place, the site of an orphanage that played an important role in the development of the Shanghai art scene in the late 1800s and early 1900s, for the Wall Street Journal: to read it go here).

I did have one bit of bad luck, however, in the timing of a short trip out of Shanghai. This is because, while I was gone, the film-maker Jia Zhangke 贾樟柯 came through to take part in an event sponsored by the local Foreign Correspondents Club, which included a screening of his latest movie (“I Wish I Knew” [Shanghai chuan qi 《上海传奇》], a film about Shanghai that is showing in local theaters and also at the Expo grounds in its UFO-like cultural center) and a Q and A session with the director. I wasn’t there to hear him on July 14, though, as this year’s Bastille Day (which used to be celebrated with a good deal of pomp and circumstance, incidentally, in the part of Shanghai where I’m staying, the former French Concession) found me in, of all places, a Daoist monastery atop a mountain in Zhejiang Province. I wouldn’t have traded that monastery stay (part of a very memorable two-day group trip hosted by the CET study-abroad program that is sponsoring my time in China) for anything. Still, I would have loved to have been able to be hear what Jia had to say. Fortunately, I’ve just learned by checking out Shanghaiist that even those of us who couldn’t be there can find out what Jia was asked and how he responded that night, as they’ve posted a recording of the proceedings.

As for Jia’s film itself, I may have more to say at another time, as I’ve only seen part of it so far. For now, I just have two thoughts to pass on.

First, though it is tied to the Expo, one of the most attractive things about watching it after spending time at the fairgrounds is how it works against the grain of that event, which has been billed here as a sequel to the Olympics. What I mean is that it engages with parts of the local and national past that tend to be missing from the mega-event of the moment–and were missing from the high-tech Zhang Yimou-directed performance that opened the 2008 Games. This is clear from its very beginning. The film opens with a street-level reminiscence of 1960’s childhood lane life in Shanghai (an individual-focused and human scale perspective that is the opposite of the approach taken in the Bird’s Nest on 08/08/08) and how things changed when the Cultural Revolution took place (that’s an event that was not alluded to at all in the Olympic spectacles and is not something you are reminded of in anything else I’ve seen with an Expo tie-in).

Second, while there have been many references in discussion of the film to how it fits in with other works in Jia’s filmography, I’ve yet to come across anyone making what to this World’s Fair-obsessed observer would seem a basic point. Namely, “I Wish I Knew” is in some ways much less of a World’s Fair movie than one of his earlier productions. The World’s Fair tradition, after all, as I’ve noted before and other scholars have stressed as well, is carried forward into the present not only by Expos but also by theme parks. Like Epcot Center…and like the Chinese variation on the genre that is the focus of “The World” (Shijie 《世界》), my favorite Jia Zhangke film.

In bringing this post toward a conclusion, I want to point those who have made it this far to two readings and one video that would be particularly appropriate to turn to when trying to put “I Wish I Knew” into perspective. One of the two readings is Xu Jilin’s smart and provocative look at Shanghai’s past and present status as a hub of cultural activities (the author is one of the people whose reaction to Jia’s latest film I’m most eager to learn), which appeared originally in Chinese and now is out in an English language version thanks to the good people at China Heritage Quarterly. The other reading, which can help locate Jia’s documentary-meet-fiction approach within a Chinese cinematic context, is past China Beat contributor Paola Voci’s essay on the “quasi-documentary” genre (the author, by the way, has a new book out worth knowing about). The video to check out is this one that ran online to accompany a New Yorker profile of the director. Since that profile was written by Evan Osnos, it probably won’t surprise anyone that one topic I’m likely to bring up when we share a stage on Sunday is Jia Zhangke, not just because of the local angle for a Shanghai event but also because the way that the magazine’s website could use clips from the director’s film to introduce him to foreign readers unfamiliar with his work stands out in my mind as a perfect illustration of the potential for symbiosis between the print and online versions of a single publication.

Finally, I want to note that before I get to talk to Evan about Jia and other matters, I’ve got a day trip to Suzhou on July 24 to speak at that city’s Bookworm Bookstore . . . I was going to write that I hoped the Shanghai FCC would take pity on me and refrain from scheduling anything too interesting on that date, but then I remembered that whatever they do, there will be at least one interesting local event I’ll miss when I head out of town this time: an afternoon talk at M on the Bund by David Henry Hwang and Leigh Silverman about their recent collaboration on a project called “Yellow Face” about Chinese American identity.

Too bad that, despite all the hype about futuristic technological breakthroughs that accompany this Expo, as they have accompanied all previous ones, there’s still no machine that allows one to be in two places at the same time. I could have used that technology to good effect on July 14–and again this Saturday.

• At the Wall Street Journal, Shefali Anand explains why India’s stock market is currently outperforming China’s:

As India’s stock markets hit two-year highs this week, Chinese stocks are losing money — and how. This year Bombay Stock Exchange’s Sensex is up almost 3% through the end of Wednesday, while China’s benchmark Shanghai Composite Index is down 25%, putting India ahead by a whopping 28 percentage points.

So, why this stark differentiation between the stock markets of the world’s two largest emerging countries?

Even as the developed world fears another recession, both the Indian and Chinese economies have been growing very rapidly in recent months. Local companies have been reporting double-digit profit growth. China’s gross domestic product was up 11.9% in the first quarter of this year while the Indian economy grew by 8.6%. However, Chinese growth has slowed in the second quarter of the year to 10.3%.

Investors fear that there could be a further slowdown over the rest of this year. Meanwhile, India has not thrown any major surprises so far in 2010 — making it a haven for investments.

• At the Financial Times website, Anjli Raval and James Lamont report that Indian policymakers have recently announced that if India is to match China’s double-digit economic growth rate, it must improve the output of the country’s agricultural sector, rather than imitate China’s export-led growth model.

• A hat tip to Shanghaiist for pointing us toward this McKinsey Quarterly report on urbanization differences between China and India (free registration required):

In 1950, India was a more urban nation than China (17 percent of the population lived in cities, compared with China’s 13 percent). But from 1950 to 2005, China urbanized far more rapidly than India, to an urbanization rate of 41 percent, compared with 29 percent in India. New research from the McKinsey Global Institute expects this pattern to continue, with China forecast to add 400 million to its urban population, which will account for 64 percent of the total population by 2025, and India to add 215 million to its cities, whose populations will account for 38 percent of the total in 2025.

• Every weekend, Reshma Patil posts a piece about China and India at the “Middle Order” blog of the Hindustan Times. Read her recent essays on observing a village election in China, Chinese influence on Indian culture, and the similarity of sitting for university exams in China and India.

• For a more in-depth look at China-India comparisons, grab a copy of Pallavi Aiyar’s Smoke and Mirrors: An Experience of China (HarperCollins, 2008). And see our interview with her, plus read an excerpt from the book, here.


By Peter Zarrow

Wang Hui is a cultural historian and critic, and professor at Qinghua University in Beijing. He was for several years editor of Dushu, a serious general interest magazine perhaps roughly — very roughly — equivalent to the Atlantic monthly in the US. He is also known as a leader of the so-called “New Left” intellectuals, who highlight the costs of economic liberalization, global capitalism, and rigid Western-style modernization policies. Early this year, charges of plagiarism began to appear concerning some of some of Wang Hui’s work. He has since been subject to numerous attacks, including ad hominen blog attacks.

This month I signed a letter/petition that was organized by several Western scholars who know Wang Hui and his work. The letter was sent to Qinghua University and defends Wang Hui’s “scholarly integrity.”

This week I received an email from somebody whose name I didn’t recognize. This person asked if I was aware that my name was on a letter of support for Wang Hui in his plagiarism case, and forthrightly asked, “How would you know if Wang did plagiarize or not?”

Good question, but it is not the main issue to me. Our letter does not, technically, state that its signers are sure Wang did not commit plagiarism. What it says is that those “charges have been contested and discredited” and that his translators in the West and Japan have “never found any indication of plagiarism no matter how loosely this word is defined.” Granted, this does come close to categorically denying the plagiarism charges — but not quite.

What follows are my opinions alone, and I do not speak for any of the organizers or other signatories of the letter to Qinghua. Much of the discussion of the case, especially but not only in the West, has dealt with the academic-political context, and suggests that the “real reason” Wang Hui came under attack was his political opinions. I do not know enough about Chinese academic politics to have an opinion on that issue; my concerns are simply about “due process” and the essential ambiguity of plagiarism.

For me, as a wishy-washy liberal, the issue is that Wang Hui should not become victim of an academic witch-hunt. Or to switch metaphors, judging from my browsing of the internet, I do not want to see web lynching or a media circus. There is something truly weird about many of the attacks. I am not sure whether Wang Hui has ever committed “plagiarism.”

So what is to be done? Plagiarism charges are serious and should be investigated by impartial scholars familiar with the materials. In the United States, in my profession, the American Historical Association has conducted such investigations through its Professional Division.

For the record, I have met Wang Hui briefly, on one occasion at a conference. About two years ago, I began reading his 4-volume Xiandai Zhongguo sixiang de xingqi (2004) to my considerable gain and occasional befuddlement. I have not read his earlier work on Lu Xun, which is the main target of the plagiarism charges. One of my colleagues alerted me to the plagiarism debate when it began popping up on Chinese websites, so I have been following it for some time.  (My colleague and I have also discussed why, of all the substantial work being done in China today, Wang Hui’s should have attracted unique attention in the West. Doubtless this has to do with scholarly trends, academic fads, personal relations — issues beyond the scope of this piece.)

It’s always fun to play academic “gotcha,” and indeed we scholars collectively rely on our mutual surveillance system to weed out bad work. This highlighting of the issue of plagiarism may have good effects in China in the long run. On the other hand, our letter to Qinghua has already provoked a reaction on some Chinese blogs that I would call defensive parochialism. Who are these foreigners to interfere in a Chinese affair? Why are they covering up Wang Hui’s “crimes”?

But it is important to keep some perspective. Our letter to Qinghua does not oppose calls for an investigation. It notes our belief in the essential importance (and, yes, “integrity”) of Wang Hui’s work and decries the way charges and enemies’ lists are proliferating.

I have read Wang Binbin’s original article, which shows that several paragraphs of Wang Hui’s dissertation on Lu Xun were copied/paraphrased from Western theoretical works with at most a vague “See X” kind of citation. I have seen less-documented charges of plagiarism concerning some of Wang’s other works. My understanding is that the publications that printed Wang Binbin’s article did not ask Wang Hui for a response; if this is the case, it would seem to be a lapse of professional standards on their part.

In historical perspective, if I may digress as a historian, Chinese scholarship has consisted of nothing so much as what we today call plagiarism. It advanced by the battle of the unattributed quotation. Quotation vs. quotation: one’s own position was revealed by the classical and post-classical quotations one chose to repeat, chose to neglect, and tweaked slightly. One’s interlocutors, being equally well educated, didn’t need to be guided to the source. Among modern intellectuals, my hero Liang Qichao was perhaps the greatest plagiarist of them all.

The point? To put it a bit simply, vague standards of what constituted plagiarism existed at least through the 1980s, when Wang Hui was writing his dissertation. Now, even Wang’s most die-hard supporters admit he was guilty of sloppy footnoting. I can further see the case of calling it plagiarism — depending on what you mean by that term. What Wang apparently did leaves me distinctly uncomfortable. I am not prepared to see him purely as a victim (not yet, anyway).

But I am not prepared to say, with some scholars, that Wang Hui absolutely committed the academic crime of plagiarism. Nor am I prepared to say, with other of my colleagues, that he certainly did not. In the absence of a real investigation, I am ready to conclude that size does matter. A few paragraphs at the beginning of a vastly productive career need to be understood in context.

One question I have asked myself is, suppose this were a case of a Western scholar at a Western institution. It is discovered s/he translated several paragraphs from another language in his/her dissertation and — sort of — seemed to write as if they were his/her own words. He or she is a tenured member of the faculty at a prestigious university with a rich record of publishing in their academic field and outside of it as well. Yes, now what? In American Historical Association investigations of plagiarism charges, there were real consequences: some people lost their jobs and some publications were withdrawn, but only after the texts in questions were literally laid out side by side. And some people were cleared. One good feature of the AHA’s Professional Division that Chinese might pay attention to, is that it was not an ad hoc committee set up for any particular case but was prepared to investigate any charges brought to it on the basis of clearly-written standards.

Pending a fair investigation of these charges, I’m prepared to leap to a wishy-washy conclusion on the basis of the limited evidence I’ve seen. If Wang Hui committed plagiarism in several paragraphs in an old piece of writing, let’s publicly humiliate him. OK, job accomplished. But let’s also note that he has written a great deal of undoubtedly original and thought-provoking scholarship since then. If the university and professional authorities in China can organize an open and transparent investigation based on hard evidence, more power to them. In the meantime, I’m moving on.

Peter Zarrow is a historian at the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica. His work focuses on modern China and he is the author, most recently, of China in War and Revolution, 1895-1949 (Routledge, 2005).


Joan Hinton

By Charles W. Hayford

Joan Hinton died last month in a Beijing hospital at the age of 88. It was surprising that so many mainstream American newspapers ran detailed obituaries. Hinton had lived in China since 1948, mostly running dairy farms, and she didn’t go out of her way to address Americans, as did her brother, William, author of the classic Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village (1967). She did publicly attack American imperialism — in 2006, she displayed a T shirt reading “F—k Bush” in Chinese.

The obits play up these contrasts, though not the anti-imperialism: this piece by William Grimes is titled “Physicist Who Chose China over Atom Bomb Is Dead at 88” (NY Times, June 11),  while Valerie J. Nelson’s sympathetic obit is headlined “physicist joined Maoist revolution after helping develop the atom bomb” (LA Times, June 21). In the anti-Communist hysteria of early 1950s America, Hinton was labeled “The Atom Spy Who Got Away.” The death notice written from China finally mentions her actual occupation: “atomic scientist turned dairy farmer” (China.org; June 21), while the National Democratic Front of the Philippines called her “Comrade Joan Hinton, proletarian revolutionary heroine.”

The Wikipedia article about Hinton features quotes and references, including to a biography published in the Philippines, Silage Choppers & Snake Spirits, by Chou Dao-yuan.

The story here is of a progressive physicist attracted by Maoist ideals. Her mother, Carmelita, learned social work with Jane Addams at Hull House in Chicago (where Joan and Bill were born), then founded the Putney School in Vermont based on John Dewey’s theories of work and learning. Joan got hooked on skiing and physics, went to Bennington College, then did MA work at University of Wisconsin. She was denied access to the PhD program because she was a woman, but Enrico Fermi, “father of the atomic bomb,” welcomed her into his inner circle at Los Alamos. She was shocked to learn that tens of thousands of Japanese were killed by the bomb which she had helped to make. She didn’t want to spend her life figuring out how to kill people, Hinton said, so she went to China to help them. There she married Sid Engst, a Cornell-trained specialist in breeding cows, and settled into pastoral obscurity outside Xi’an, where their two sons and a daughter learned only Chinese.

She never gave up her American citizenship or joined Chinese atom research, and used her physics only to design automated milking and continuous-flow pasteurizing machines. Not until she and Sid were summoned to Beijing as interpreters during the Cultural Revolution did they get involved in national politics. Living at an elite hotel did not seem right, so they publicly demanded that foreign experts and their children should share the hardships of the masses. Chairman Mao granted their wish.

Hinton told Seth Faison of the New York Times in 1996 that “Mao started the Cultural Revolution to cure the disparity between the few and the many” and asked “How could that be wrong?” She dismissed as revisionist history the charges that Mao’s policies led to the deaths of millions following the Great Leap Forward. “We were in the countryside then, and there was malnutrition, not starvation,” she said. “Without socialism, we would have starved. We banded together, sharing grain coupons.” The reform policies after Mao’s death in 1976 had nothing to do with revolution, she said, and led to consumerism and class division.

In 2002, Rob Gifford of National Public Radio asked Hinton if she regretted either the hard times during the Cultural Revolution or the disappointment of the post-Mao reforms. No, she replied, with an incredulous, almost querulous laugh — she had taken part in the two greatest events of the 20th century, the invention of the atomic bomb and the Chinese Revolution. “Who could ask for anything more than that?”

These stories allowed us to see her as a curiosity, a feisty Rip Van Winkle who gave a juicy interview, with little mention of Mao’s actual politics.

Jonathan Mirsky would have none of this. Following Hinton’s death, his Wall Street Journal opinion piece was titled “Deifying Chairman Mao: Joan Hinton, atomic physicist and Hundred Percenter, idolized Chairman Mao and his actions until her death.” (June 21; subscription required). Mirsky groups her with other “deifiers”: Edgar Snow, who wrote Red Star Over China (1937) as a “message from Mao” and denied the famine reports when he returned in the late 1950s; John Service, a Foreign Service officer dispatched to Yan’an in 1944 (the WSJ says “1948,” surely a typo); and Sidney Rittenberg, one of the few foreigners admitted to the party. Mirsky asked: “What kept them from recanting?”

… the Hundred Percenters—or are they Three Hundred Percenters, as some have styled them?—were truly stranded in the often surreal Maoist world-view. They had to approve or excuse horrendous acts. That often inspired a fierce courage among the “foreign friends,” since they were Maoists by choice rather than birth. …

To look deeply within one’s self, to consider the tortures and deaths one had condoned could be shattering.

He also states that Hinton condemned her children when they came to the States and learned English, though she told a reporter that they would have stayed in China if the bourgeois rightists had not abandoned the egalitarian policies of the Maoist era.

Mirsky is right not to condescend to Hinton as a figure of nostalgia, a quaint and blameless fellow traveler, or victim of McCarthyism. Yet his no-nonsense stance also turns her life into a minatory, almost bullying fable, not the messy life of an individual. Mirsky lumps her with quite different people. Snow met Mao first as an anti-Japanese nationalist hero and never adjusted; Service was never a Hundred Percenter, not even a red-hot Maoist; and Rittenberg did finally re-think things, though only after the Great Helmsman was safely dead.

It strikes me that Hinton took on a hard farm life in much the same spirit as the protestant missionaries of earlier years. While she did not come “to change China,” in Jonathan Spence’s now obligatory phrase, she did want to find a pure and meaningful new life far from home. She was righteous and judgmental, but it was no small thing to build an industrial dairy farm in a country where milk had long been regarded with suspicion. (As a final irony, she told one reporter that she stayed on the farm only to prevent local officials from taking the land for a housing development.)

All I know is what I read in the papers. Those who know more may want to weigh in.

Charles W. Hayford, a Visiting Scholar, History Department, Northwestern University, is Editor of the Journal of American-East Asian Relations and blogs at Frog in a Well. Among his proudest achievements is winning China Beat’s 2009 “Prettiest, Wittiest, Grittiest” Quiz.

Photo from china.org


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