February 2012

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The following message was sent to us earlier today by a reader who requests to remain anonymous; it has also been posted to the MCLC listserv. If you have experienced similar problems accessing the Renmin ribao database, or if you have any information about why the database is problematic, please contact us by writing to thechinabeat[at]gmail[dot]com.

On Friday (Feb. 24, 2012), I attempted a search of my university’s library-subscribed, full-text-searchable database of Renmin ribao (People’s Daily), provided to us by OriProbe Information Services. The term I was searching for was “xinao” (洗脑, brainwashing). Although the search produced a list of results, each time I clicked on an article title or attempted to navigate to another page of results, I lost my connection. At first I thought that the OriProbe site was simply experiencing technical difficulties. However, subsequent searches using other terms proceeded smoothly. Suspicious, I began testing the database with a variety of searches, some politically sensitive and some not. Searches for “Falungong” and “June 4” (六四) consistently resulted in terminated connections; searches for other terms (e.g., “very good,” “labor,” “class struggle,” and “newspaper”) were fine. I have been checking repeatedly all weekend, and as of this morning (Tue., Feb. 28) the problem remains.

I have alerted the East Asia librarian at my university and have begun spreading the word to others in the field. China scholars may not have much power to change the PRC state’s practice of Internet censorship within China, but we should have some influence over the policies governing the very expensive databases to which our libraries subscribe.

If your library subscribes to this or other databases (Duxiu, for example, seems to have the same problem), would you please run some test searches and then inform your librarian of any restrictions you face?

Please note that the search may produce a list of results; make sure to follow through by clicking on an article title—that will probably be the point at which the connection drops. Of course, it’s possible to copy the titles of the articles in the search results and then start a new session in the database and search for individual titles in order to access the articles. It’s usually possible to get around this kind of thing one way or another. But there is a larger principle at stake here, and it would be good if we could make a collective fuss about this.

By Stephen R. Platt

A big new China book to hit shelves in recent weeks is Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War, written by University of Massachusetts, Amherst historian Stephen Platt. Platt places the Taiping Rebellion in a global context, emphasizing its importance to American and European observers of the conflict, whose economic ties to China made them keenly interested in the country’s domestic situation. Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom also offers new insights into how the Taiping Rebellion tied into Chinese internal politics, particularly the ways in which the Taiping rebels sought to justify their planned overthrow of the Manchu Qing rulers on ethnic grounds. In the excerpt below, Platt describes how foreigners pieced together small bits of information about the early Taiping Rebellion to offer their own interpretations of what the conflict signaled for China—and the world

The Preacher’s Assistant

Hong Kong in 1852 was a diseased and watery place, a rocky island off the southern shore of the Qing Empire where the inhabitants lived in dread of what one described as “the miasma set free from the ground which was everywhere being turned up.” A small British settlement sat between the mountains and the bay, but the emerald and sapphire glory of the scene belied the darkness below the surface. Leaving the concentration of godowns, military barracks, and trading firms along the colony’s nostalgically named central streets (The Queen’s Road, Wellington Street, Hollywood Road), one could find the grandest vistas in the gravel paths that led up the coast into the hills, but the European settlement soon gave way to scattered Chinese houses among fields growing rice and sweet potatoes unchanged in the decade since the British took the island as their prize in the Opium War. Some of the wealthier merchants had built opulent mansions in those hills, with terraced gardens commanding a view of the harbor and town. But as though their builders had strayed too far from the protection of the settlement, the inhabitants of those houses sickened and died. Marked as “homes of fever or death,” the ghostly manors sat silent and abandoned, their empty gaze passing judgment on the settlers below.

One of those settlers was Theodore Hamberg, a young Swedish missionary with a thin chinstrap beard that set off his delicate, nearly effeminate features. He was blessed with a lovely voice, and in his youth in Stockholm he had sung together with Jenny Lind, the “Swedish Nightingale.” But while Lind went on to conquer the opera halls of Europe and America, bringing suitors such as Frédéric Chopin and Hans Christian Andersen to their knees along the way, Hamberg’s life took an entirely different path. His strong tenor found its destined outlet in preaching, and in 1847 he left his native Sweden to sail to the opposite end of the world, to this malarial colony of Hong Kong, with the sole purpose of bringing the Chinese to their knees after a different fashion.

Theodore Hamberg might well have lived his life in obscurity, for his proudest accomplishments meant little to anyone beyond a small circle of Protestant missionaries. He was one of the first Europeans in his generation to brave the Chinese countryside, leaving the relative safety of Hong Kong to preach in a village outside the Chinese trading port of Canton a hundred miles up the Pearl River (though for health reasons he finally returned to the colony). He was also the first to learn to speak the dialect of the Hakka, or “guest people”—a gypsy minority thickly populous in south China. All of that might have meant little to anyone in the world outside except that one day in the late spring of 1852, one of his converts from the countryside brought a guest to meet him, a short, round-faced Hakka named Hong Rengan who had a remarkable story to tell.

The strangest thing about this Hakka, Hamberg recalled from their first meeting, was how much he already seemed to know about God and Jesus despite the fact that he hailed from well beyond the narrow reach of the Hong Kong missionaries. Hamberg listened with curiosity as Hong Rengan gave a baffling account of the events leading to his arrival in Hong Kong. He spoke of visions and battles, armies and congregations of believers, a heavenly prophet from among the Hakkas. He had, or at least so he claimed, been hunted by the agents of the Qing dynasty and had lived in disguise under an assumed name. He had been kidnapped, had escaped, and had lived for four days in the forest, six days in a cave. None of it made much sense, though, and Hamberg confessed, “I could form no clear conception of the whole matter.” Not knowing what to make of the story, he asked Hong Rengan to write it down, which he did, and then—though Hamberg had expected him to stay for baptism—he left without explanation. Hamberg put the sheets of paper with Hong Rengan’s story into his desk and turned his mind to other matters. He would think little of them again for nearly a year, until the spring of 1853 when the news came that Nanjing had fallen in a torrent of blood, and Hamberg realized that the strange events sketched out in Hong Rengan’s tale meant more than he had ever imagined.

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Read the rest of this entry »

Schneider, Helen M. Keeping the Nation’s House: Domestic Management and the Making of Modern China. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2011. xii, 321 pp. $94.00 (cloth); 34.95 (paper)

By Elizabeth LaCouture

In 1940, China’s Nationalist Ministry of Education issued a decree from its wartime capital of Chongqing. At a time when Japan occupied China’s eastern seaboard and the Communists controlled the north, the Ministry called on educators and homemakers to “cultivate children’s happiness.” Doing more with less, teachers and mothers were supposed to make children believe that “even if the food is unsatisfactory, the clothes are inadequate, or the habitation is insufficient… it is still very good” (p. 1). In Keeping the Nation’s House, Helen Schneider explores how Chinese educators and the Chinese state transformed the seemingly frivolous and individualistic bourgeois concept of domestic happiness into a political ideology that promised to save the Chinese nation. Schneider’s methodically researched monograph charts the rise and fall (and rise again) of home economics in twentieth-century China, arguing that home economics became an academic discipline when it introduced new modern and political meanings into the Chinese home. Using women’s magazines, educational debates, and home economics curricula as evidence, Schneider suggests that happy homes in Republican-era China were hygienic, healthful, efficient, and above all, the cornerstone of national salvation.

As Schneider notes, the idea that the household was central to political authority was nothing new in China. During the late imperial period, Neo-Confucian socio-political ideals connected household to state through an ideology of “inner” and “outer,” in which the health of a household (“inner”) helped determine the political stability of the state (“outer”), and vice versa. Recently, Susan Glosser (2003) has argued that family continued to be central to both Republican and early Communist political ideology. Schneider builds on Glosser’s arguments about ideology by factoring in the materiality of home economics, explaining how educational practices transformed discursive ideas of a happy home into concrete plans to re-engineer Chinese society.

Through illuminating sources and captivating anecdotes, Schneider reveals the twists and turns that led Chinese people to focus on “keeping the nation’s house,” suggesting that the rise of domestic science as a force for national salvation was not a foregone conclusion. The story begins in the late Qing, when self-strengtheners called for educated women to take the lead in raising the next generation of Chinese citizens. In the wake of the Sino-Japanese War, these early reformers turned to Japanese models of female education, particularly the “good wife and wise mother.” Educational reformers of the early Republic uniformly advocated for schools to educate girls and women outside the home, but they lacked consensus on what that education should look like, and on how female education could best reform Chinese society. Should education enhance women’s natural talents, or tianzhi, as housekeepers, caretakers, and mothers? Or should women receive the same education as men, training them to enter society in a variety of careers?

In the 1920s and ’30s, home economics educators forged a compromise by developing a curriculum that transformed the “natural” female talents of domestic nurturing and management into new public careers for women in education, nutrition, and health. “Keeping the nation’s house” no longer simply meant asking women to modernize their own homes to serve the state, but instead meant calling upon women to pursue professional careers that could reform the nation’s house at all levels of Chinese society. Infusing social reform into domesticity, home economics thus emerged as a formal academic discipline in the 1920s. Schneider suggests that this social turn in domestic education was due in part to an epistemological shift in female education away from Japan and toward the United States. The American Christian-founded Yenching University, for example, established the first long-running department of home economics in 1924, and like their colleagues in the social sciences, home economists at Yenching promoted social scientific education as a vehicle for enacting social change in China. But it took the crisis of war to transform the home from a site of social reform to the center of national salvation. In wartime, the Guomindang state asserted the power to mobilize all levels of society, right down to individuals and homes, leveraging patriotic nationalism to demand that female citizens serve the state by helping their families deal with wartime scarcity. Indeed, Schneider posits that the academic discipline of home economics had become so intertwined with Guomindang political authority that once the Communists came to power, they swiftly disbanded all home economics departments—even as they continued to employ home economics professionals in education, public health, and early childhood development.

The breadth of Schneider’s research opens the door for further studies on female education, female careers, domesticity, and housing in Chinese, East Asian, and world history. Schneider has combed local and national archives in Beijing, Chongqing, Hunan, Nanjing, Shanghai, and Tianjin, revealing how extensively home economics stretched across China. Yet at times her sources seem in tension with this evidence. For example, Schneider cites the 1919 observations of Ida Belle Lewis, an American authority on Chinese education, suggesting that domestic science played only a minor role in Chinese girls’ schooling, and notes that as late as 1932, only 10% of female students at Hebei Provincial Women’s Normal College majored in home economics (pp. 83, 127). Thus, further studies might examine the extent to which this new discipline actually filtered into Chinese homes. And while the global history of home economics is beyond the scope of Schneider’s research, she offers tantalizing examples of the ways in which Chinese home economics education played out on regional and global stages: China not only translated knowledge from Japan, Europe, and the United States but also introduced curricular innovations at the same time as the United States.

By illuminating how politics built the nation’s house and how home shaped national politics, Schneider effectively demonstrates that home economics education meant much more than lessons in swaddling plastic dolls. But perhaps her greatest contribution lies beyond politics—in the histories of the individual women we encounter inside the nation’s house. In listening to the voices of girls who took home economics courses to save their country and professional women who toiled at keeping the nation’s house long after their academic discipline had become politically incorrect, Schneider shows us that while intellectuals and government elites may have been the architects, Chinese women built the nation’s house themselves.

Glosser, Susan L. Chinese Visions of Family and State: 1915—1953. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Elizabeth LaCouture is Assistant Professor of History and East Asian Studies at Colby College.

© 2012 by Twentieth-Century China Editorial Board. All rights reserved.

By Kate Merkel-Hess

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping’s visit to the US took him across the country, from Washington, DC, to Los Angeles (where, sadly, despite spending some time with a sartorially-challenged David Beckham, he did not show off his soccer skills, as he did in the subsequent Irish leg of his trip):

But it wasn’t the visits to the coasts that dominated human interest stories on Xi Jinping’s trip, but the days in the middle, when he spent a little time in Iowa. Xi first visited Iowa in 1985, when he was an official in Hebei province, and this trip was a triumphant if low-key return.

I grew up in Iowa—as a fifth-generation Iowan—and so I was particularly interested to see this rare juxtaposition of China and Iowa in the national media. And the coverage was fascinating, characterized by a dismissive tone (such as The Atlantic’s David A. Graham, who wrote of the Iowa visit: “Apparently would-be Chinese leaders have to go through the same somewhat humiliating corn-country rituals as would-be American presidents before they can take the reins of power”) that seemed to overlook that China is now the largest market for U.S. agricultural products.

In China, where over the past 25 years a growing wealth gap between city and countryside has become a yawning chasm, where farmers barely manage to turn a profit, and where rural corruption and corresponding unrest are a persistent concern, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao have made rural modernization a central part of the government’s policy and rhetoric. “Corn-country” problems are foundational concerns for the top levels of Chinese government, whether those problems are in China or the US.

Nevertheless, the story of China’s future president in Iowa—considered a quaint Americana setting for most people in the US—was ready-made for media (as Xi certainly knew). Here are a few of the stories that highlight not just the heartland setting but the complications of the Iowa-China story.

1. NPR did some solid coverage of Xi’s visit, including this piece, which gives an overview of Xi’s 1985 stay. If you can’t get enough, here’s one from after the visit, that discusses the Tibetan protestors who were present at Xi’s stops throughout the US and also details of the gala dinner in Iowa. (Weekend Edition, meanwhile, did a story on Xi’s wife, the singer Peng Liyuan.)

2. Des Moines Register writer Kyle Munson gathered together a series of anecdotes from Xi’s visit that didn’t make it into news stories, but it was this juxtaposition that highlighted Iowa’s two conflicting recent moments in the national media: “People kept remarking on the odd contrast: One month we see caucus-crazed Republicans scurrying around Iowa railing against President Barack Obama’s socialist regime. The next month arguably the world’s top Communist becomes the toast of conservative business and political circles.”

Munson was also interviewed on Talk of the Nation about Xi’s visit.

3. “Xi’s Iowa Dinner Serves Porkfest With Side of Dietary Nightmare,” Bloomberg (h/t China Digital Times): Banquets are a big deal in China and food—its quality and quantity—matters. So it was surprising to me that the journalists who wrote this piece chose to emphasize the expansive nature of the official dinner for Xi in Iowa (tying it to Iowa’s obesity epidemic). The nutritionist they interviewed said, “It’s a lot to have appetizers, two courses, dessert, soda, wine and beer.” My reaction? That is not nearly enough food.

Also, it’s worth noting that they served an edamame-and-corn salad not only as a marriage of “Asian” soybeans and Iowan corn, but also because, while corn is Iowa’s number one crop, soybeans are second.

In fact, one of the important bits of business conducted during Xi’s trip was a $4.3 billion agreement signed by Chinese officials—to purchase 8 million tons of soybeans from the U.S.

4. The New York Times ran a piece that explored Iowans’ responses to the visit, including their urges to make a buck. Here’s an excerpt:

And with reporters and cameras swarming in town—the Chinese news media were especially keen to get shots of the various houses and bedrooms where Mr. Xi stayed—Muscatine’s moment in the spotlight, many residents said, was not to be squandered. It is the sort of rural wisdom that Mark Twain—a local hero who lived briefly here on the banks of the Mississippi River and wrote for The Muscatine Journal in the 1850s—might well have praised or parodied: When opportunity knocks, shake it by the lapels until the coins fall out.

“We’ve displayed to this world leader our work ethic, No. 1, and our value for friendship; that’s No. 2,” Mayor DeWayne M. Hopkins said in an interview at City Hall. “If that message can be disseminated into the rest of the United States in encouragement for people to be interested in Muscatine and perhaps relocate here—and I mean people all the way from households up to retail and manufacturing—then that’s a plus.”

At the Long John Silver’s fast-food restaurant, the sign out front said, “Welcome back to Muscatine Xi Jinping” on one side, and on the other, “Original menu available, fish sandwich 2 for $3.”

Inside, the general manager, Michelle Cacho, said that good buzz was good business. “It’s kind of propaganda, but if it helps folks in Iowa we might as well roll out the red carpet,” she said.

Other residents said they believed the compliment that Mr. Xi paid the town by coming back was real, and that residents should be honored.

“He could go to Nebraska, or anyplace else in heartland America, but he chose to come back here, which shows well for Muscatine,” said Dennis Figg, 62, who had stopped in at the Phillips 66 gas station on the edge of downtown to visit with a friend and buy some chewing tobacco.

5. The Wall Street Journal ran a series of short videos about Xi’s trip that provide glimpses of footage from Iowa:

By Sebastian Veg

During a recent trip to Taipei to observe the January presidential and legislative elections, like many people with little first-hand knowledge of Taiwan, I was struck by the unique traits of Taiwan’s democracy. The elections also seemed relevant to many debates in China, not only because they were closely followed and tweeted by critical voices on the mainland, but also because of their significance against the broader historical and geographical context of the history of modern China, a connection which holds true even if one subscribes to the view that Taiwan had no previous connection with this history before 1945 and was drawn into against its will. While Taiwanese democracy is usually discussed as a model of post-authoritarian transition (which of course it is, as demonstrated by the peaceful and consensual electoral process this year), possibly for China to emulate, I believe Taiwan’s experience also fits into a wider timeframe reaching back to Republican history.

I attended the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party)’s final campaign meeting on the eve of the election in Banqiao, held almost entirely in Hoklo and culminating in Lee Teng-hui’s emotional statement “entrusting Taiwan” to Tsai Ing-wen. The candidate then appeared on stage, and began speaking almost exclusively in Mandarin, at which point a sizeable number of people around me began to ostensibly leave the stadium, highlighting—albeit in a rather anecdotal way—Tsai’s difficulties in appealing to the green grassroots while positioning herself as a responsible candidate attractive to “light green” or “light blue” urban elites. The political polarization along the blue-green divide highlighted by Tsai’s difficulties may seem puzzling or parochial to the visitor, recalling the similar bipartisan divide in Hong Kong between the pro-Beijing parties and the pan-democrats, the latter often appearing to have nothing to offer to the voter beyond their endorsement of universal suffrage, sorely lacking a more coherent agenda on social and tax policy, environmental or cultural issues. In Taiwan however, the DPP is not only a nativist, Taiwan-centred (or pro-independence) party: it has progressively acquired a double identity as an advocate for political democracy (as well as social, labour or environmental rights) and a party deeply rooted in local identity, in a way that the Hong Kong pan-democrats (despite their own variety of colonial history) are not.

This somewhat paradoxical combination (local politics are rarely seen as a stronghold of democratic values) of course has undeniable roots in Taiwan’s own particular history, marked by its double colonial experience in the two halves of the last century. However, the binary that the DPP forms with the KMT (Kuomintang, “nationalist” party) also echoes and makes sense within a century-old dichotomy in Chinese history: as early as May Fourth times, the political debate at the republican end of the spectrum revolved around whether democracy should be based on a nation-state or on local polities. Today’s KMT in Taiwan remains (despite its occasional neo-Confucian leanings, in particular its moralistic attacks on Chen Shui-bian) an heir to the pro-Western modernizers of the late Qing and early Republic, who believed that establishing a democratic regime on Chinese soil would depend on the Chinese people’s ability to reproduce the political structures that had emerged in Europe and America since the late 18th century. The first necessity in this perspective was, as is well documented, to transform China from an Empire into a nation-state, forging the somewhat fanciful idea of a Zhonghua minzu 中華民族 (or “Chinese” nation), encompassing the five ethnic groups materialized by the stripes on the new Republican flag. An entirely different streak of democracy activists took inspiration from the egalitarian traditions in local culture to oppose Confucian hierarchy and advance a utopian social agenda that did not predicate achieving a democratic polity on the existence of a nation-state. These Jeffersonian activists, many of them inspired by the early Zhang Binglin (who coined the name of the new state, Zhonghua minguo 中華民國, before inventing the expression liansheng zizhi 聯省自治 or federal self-government) and his esoteric commentaries of minor heterodox classics, took part not only in the New Culture movement in the late 1910s, but also in the provincial autonomy movement in the early 1920s. The provincial constitutions they drafted, as argued by Prasenjit Duara, were seen by some as a more principled base for democracy than an uncertain nation-state dominated by Beijing power politics. Many May Fourth intellectuals joined forces with their former classmates who had entered the military and were styled “warlords” but in fact shared a common background with them, like Chen Jiongming, recently discussed as a possible ancestor of self-governing experiments in Lufeng (Wukan). This federalist movement for the realization of democracy through provincial constitutions was subsequently vilified as “separatist” and effectively airbrushed out of history books, in the narrative forged by Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT in the 1930s, much of which was recycled by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) after 1949.

Therefore, while it would be hard to deny that the DPP is deeply Taiwanese, one might argue that it is not entirely surprising that the first stable institutionalized democracy in a culturally Chinese context was realized by the democratic accession to power of a party whose agenda is at odds with the nation-state paradigm consistently advanced by the KMT, and inherited from the late Qing (and hence shared by the CCP). As Frank Muyard writes: “the DPP has a bottom-up, grassroots concept and practice of the nation and nationalism, like all small/local territory-based and democracy-based movements of national self-determination against colonialism or ‘alien’ domination; there is no claim to rule over other territories/national groups ‘stolen’ or part of a former imperial state.” This raises a series of questions about the concepts of modern Chinese politics. The usual translation of the name of the KMT as the Nationalist Party, while well-entrenched, may be worth a moment of reflection. In theory, “National Party” might have been a more appropriate choice, or even “Citizen’s Party”; in practice, however, the English translation put forward at the time (which must have been approved by Sun Yat-sen), demonstrates the perennial subordination of the citizen (guomin 國民) to a guo 國, a nation-state on the Western model.

Incidentally, this point was raised recently when critical voices in Hong Kong opposed a project to step up guomin jiaoyu 國民教育 in Hong Kong schools, translatable as “citizen education” or “national education”, but which was widely rendered in English as “patriotic education,” in a telling revelation of how many Hongkongers continue to view the notion of guo as imposing some form of lip-service to patriotism (while Hongkongers tend to favour the word siman/shimin “citi-zen” 市民; on the mainland, the preferred term is now gongmin 公民). In this sense, this debate and others raise the question whether Hong Kong, although it shares its local identity with a much larger Cantonese-speaking area on the other side of the border, may also develop a truly democratic culture based more closely on its local identity and unique historical experience, which reaches deeper than the “rule of law” discourse that all too often serves as a convenient stand-in for political democracy. In Taiwan, while the KMT victory also points to the reassuring security of a well-tested historical model offered by China’s oldest political party, which has succeeded in shedding most of the stigma of its long-time single-party status, the DPP’s encouraging result, which for many commentators points to a possible victory in four years, raises the question of how a more “respectable” DPP will fit into the cross-straits political game. Can the DPP complete its transition to a party that promotes Taiwan as a full-fledged nation-state without reproducing some of the exclusionary traits of the KMT? Can it embrace, as it sometimes did in the 1990s, a more culturally open, inclusive conception of the polity? Can it perhaps, in this way, even serve as a model for a new type of citizen activism in China, tracing its roots back to the early years of the Republic? In this sense, the strategic dilemmas of the DPP over the coming years, however disconnected they may be from Chinese politics, also point to the challenges that the democratic movement continues to face on the mainland.

Author’s note: I would like to thank my colleague Frank Muyard for his generous guidance on this occasion and feedback on the present essay. All opinions expressed here are of course purely my own.

Sebastian Veg is the director of the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China (Hong Kong). He has published a monography on Lu Xun and European modernism, and his current research interests are in the area of literature and intellectuals in modern and contemporary China.


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