Rian Dundon, whose photographs have previously appeared at China Beat, will soon be releasing a new book of photography on China, Changsha. Dundon’s book will feature a forward written by friend of the blog Gail Hershatter and includes his photos of and essays on the Hunan province city of Changsha. For more information, and to pre-order a copy of the book, see the book’s website (pre-sales of the book are part of a crowd-funding campaign raising funds for its first run with the publisher, Emphas.is). Below is a special teaser of Changsha material that Dundon has prepared for China Beat readers.

KTV

Off Yingpan Lu in the old city center is a small neighborhood karaoke club. 100 meters down the alley opposite the south entrance of No. 1 Hospital, it sits next to a noodle shop and across from a massage parlor. The sidewalk outside is cracked and littered with cigarette butts and slick with grease from the restaurant next door. Its windowless, white cement façade is punctured by a wide door with an arc of faux stained glass through which you can glimpse the glow of a TV and colored stage lights. The club’s doorframe is draped in thick green sheets of plastic designed to keep the interior air-conditioning from escaping into the hot summer night. Through those heavy curtains is a long bar behind which sits an elderly woman smoking a soft pack of Baisha cigarettes. Bottles and glasses and piles of used ashtrays are stacked on the bar along with other objects: rags and poker cards and packs of cigs, half-chewed betel nut and keys and cell phones, packs of gum. Behind the bar is a refrigerator containing dozens of yellow 600 ML bottles of Harbin Beer. Their labels match those on the empty cardboard boxes strewn haphazardly to the side. In front of the bar is an arrangement of cushioned chairs and couches covered with cigarette-burned upholstery, all dark green like the plastic over the door. Spilled liquids slicken the tile floor and glass knee-high tables where swollen ashtrays slide back and forth, sometimes crashing onto the floor or clanging loudly against empty bottles and thick glass mugs of green tea. In the front of the room is a yellowed big screen TV where music videos play. Their faded images of 1980’s Hong Kong pop stars sporting fashions and hairstyles long forgotten. Alex To is there singing to a woman he’s met at a pool hall:

Baby don’t go ~don’t go~
Don’t go ~don’t go~
How can I wake up tomorrow?
I feel so sad
I can’t trust love anymore
Baby don’t go
Don’t go
Our love will be hard to follow
It breaks my heart
If you don’t love me no more

In the back of the room a woman is crumpled in a chair mouthing the Cantonese lyrics to a song she doesn’t know. Next to her a man is alternating between vomiting into a waste bin and taking shots of beer with his brothers. On the screen a woman runs along a beach, crying and tripping over herself as she chases a scornful lover. ZY, who is pacing at the center of the room and twirling a microphone cord as he easily croons the familiar love song, walks to the monitor and motions as if to dry the desperate woman’s tears before turning to face the packed room. With a wide smile and deep baritone chorus all the stresses of his week and year and life are extinguished into the crowd, absorbed by their loving faces and unconditional affirmation. Singing, more than any other vice, is his release. His comfort zone. Surrounded here by loved ones in a tiny bar on an old street where he grew up in a city he no longer recognizes, ZY is at the center of his world. King of the Old City, master of how things should have been.

Old friends at lunch, 2008

Backstage at the Night Cat gay bar and cabaret, 2007

Sleeping on the bus, 2011

Abandoned construction, 2010

KTV, 2006

Pool hall, 2011

The Confucius Institute, China Studies, and the University of Kentucky

Opening Ceremony of the Confucius Institute at the University of Kentucky, 2010

By Denise Ho

To conclude my Chinese history lecture course at the University of Kentucky, I introduce my undergraduates to the concept of “soft power” and suggest that Confucius Institutes are emblematic of China’s cultural diplomacy, which aims to project a peaceful image abroad. Confucius Institutes are centers for teaching Chinese language and culture overseas; they are organized by an office known as Hanban in the Ministry of Education, though their funding comes directly from the Chinese government’s treasury. There are now over 350 Confucius Institutes in the world, and two of these are in the state of Kentucky.

When my students and I first proposed capping off our “Year of China” guest column with a story on UK’s Confucius Institute, I thought the article would be an incisive look at American perceptions of China and the politics of teaching and learning about China here in the South. As readers of this blog may be well aware, Mandarin lessons funded by the Chinese state have created controversy. Some communities have protested the presence of Confucian Classrooms in American schools; the story of Alhambra, California’s experience was spoofed in the Daily Show’s feature, “Socialism Studies.” In March, the New York Times covered the controversy over Confucius Institutes, showing that the world of higher education—in both the United States and Europe—is split on whether to accept Hanban funding to establish centers, pay teachers and staff, and even to endow university professorships. Even academics are beginning to study the phenomenon of Confucius Institutes. As the anthropologist Jennifer Hubbert explained at the 2011 meeting of the American Anthropological Association, the reality of the Confucius Classroom is far more complex than the media would have it. Hubbert’s ethnographic study of a Confucius Classroom in Oregon suggests that though the Chinese teachers often contest their role as agents of the state, many students continued to essentialize “both teachers and nation as synonymous with the Chinese socialist state.”

My observation of UK’s Confucius Institute in the past month—interviews with Director Huajing Maske, observations of the Chinese 1 and Chinese 2 courses for adults, and attendance at their faculty meeting and campus events—revealed a situation at once more nuanced than the media representation and less political than Hubbert’s study of the Oregon high school. To provide a brief sketch of UK’s Confucius Institute: it was established in November 2010 with Shanghai University as its partner institution and with a particular focus on fine arts. UK’s Confucius Institute supports 10 teachers and staff, which includes four instructors for the community-oriented night courses and the rest devoted to teaching in K-12 programs in neighboring Woodford County. When asked about community impact, Maske estimated that UK’s Confucius Institute serves about 2,500 students (2,000+ from Woodford County public schools), and many more through public programming: over 2,000 in two separate Chinese New Year celebrations, several thousand students in the Children’s Museum and in other community centers, and others on campus through co-sponsorship of UK events such as the Year of China. Though my observations with the UK students have yielded enough for several articles, I’d like to make three observations here:

1. The Confucius Institute has to create its own market. Media coverage of learning Chinese in general and Confucius Institutes in particular has suggested a rush of American interest in studying Chinese. When I sat in on the Confucius Institute’s faculty meeting of April 18, I was struck by how hard the staff is working to generate interest. Much of the faculty meeting focused on publicity, on how to actually get students to come to summer camp or to night classes, on how to get university staff to come out for taiji or what sorts of games would engage small children at public events. I found myself empathizing with the staff as they strategized, realizing that it is not unlike my struggle to make China interesting to the UK community at large. The reality of interest in learning Chinese is reflected in the numbers of students in adult classes; Chinese 2 is significantly smaller than Chinese 1, and of the students we interviewed the most compelling reasons for studying Chinese were personal. Rather than be concerned about or interested in China as a rising power, they were there because they had Chinese students, Chinese friends, or Chinese spouses. The dignitaries at the ribbon-cutting in 2010 spoke as though establishing a Confucius Institute would result in an instant flowering of US-China relations; my primary takeaway from observing UK’s Confucius Institute is that interest is not given, and sustaining interest is hard work.

2. University faculty here and elsewhere must find ways to make the Confucius Institute our ally. One of my central concerns as the Year of China draws to a close is: what happens after the Year of China? For places like the University of Michigan, which had a Year of China in 2007-2008, or Brown University, which had one this academic year, their theme years drew attention to programs of study that were well-established and at least relatively well-funded. At the University of Kentucky there are four tenure-track faculty members in China studies: three in Chinese language and literature, and myself. The Year of China will be over and gone, but the Confucius Institute—with a half-million dollar operating budget—is here to stay. Though I share the concern about academic freedom, after this year we may have no other funds to bring speakers to campus; if the Confucius Institute can sponsor a speaker series (albeit one that avoids Tibet, Taiwan, and human rights), then this is better than none at all. Ideally a visionary university leadership might take this as an opportunity to provide content in exactly these taboo issues, but after my colleagues in Chinese language have been denied funding ($3600) to open a second section of Chinese 201 for two years running, I am not optimistic. For want of a nail…the kingdom was lost.

3. The importance of the individual, one-on-one contact of cultural diplomacy. In preparing to write this article I watched the videotape of the University of Kentucky Confucius Institute Inaugural Ceremony from November 6, 2010, an event I attended in my second year on the faculty. As I revisited the remarks made by representatives of UK, Shanghai University, the Chinese Embassy, Hanban, and former labor secretary Elaine Chao, I reflected on how far removed they were from the classes and meetings I had attended. There are two gaps: the first is between stereotype and reality, and the second between the bureaucrat and the teacher. For the two keynote addresses were chockablock with the very stereotypes that “cultural understanding” purports to confront; Hu Zhiping of Hanban gave a speech on the deliciousness of Kentucky Fried Chicken and how he hoped that Confucius Institutes would be just like KFC in providing a “cultural feast,” and Elaine Chao—despite saying that her talk was based on anecdotes and concluding that “China is not a monolithic country”—spoke entirely in clichés: “The family is the foundation,” “the Chinese respect education,” and “the Chinese value harmony and order.” If these are the caricatures expressed by our own cultural and political leaders, then it is all the more important that members of the community meet Confucius Institute teachers and see them as individuals. As for the second gap, that between politician/bureaucrat and teacher, it seems to me that the former makes the news while the latter—as Hubbert’s research and our observation suggest—is actually where cultural diplomacy happens.

A Chinese class at the UK Confucius Institute

By Jared Flanery

Throughout the course of the University of Kentucky’s “Year of China,” both Western scholars of China and Chinese nationals alike contended with the seemingly interminable question of China’s rise in specially designed courses, seminars, and lectures. Yet the themed year has now come to an end, and the recent conclusion of the spring semester immediately provokes another question: what is next for China Studies at the university? One method of contextualizing UK’s efforts is through comparison with a more permanent organization, the Confucius Institute.

As Denise Ho’s blog mentions above, the Confucius Institute at UK was inaugurated in November 2010. Since then, Director Huajing Maske identified a shift in focus from Hanban from Chinese traditions and cultural studies to K-12 classes. The next strategic phase for UK’s Confucius Institute is “internationalization.” This consists of partnering with Chinese universities like Shanghai and Jilin Universities and participating in academic exchanges (sending academics and students across borders). Yet this does not indicate a reluctance to engage in political controversy on campus. On the contrary, this reconsideration of priorities may reflect another persistent theme – the dearth of demand. While a 2008 article from Xinhua cited the “booming” Confucius Institutes as a result of increasing American demand for language studies, in Lexington reciprocal interest appears difficult to inspire. K-12 classes offer a captive market and audience and comprise the majority of students receiving soft power services. Moreover, most of the scholars and students selected or self-selected to travel to China likely already display interest in the region.

Much of the media discourse on Confucius Institutes surrounds the theme of soft power and the potential threat of an encroaching China. Politically divergent observers, including concerned parent Teresa Macias, who was interviewed by the Daily Show, and historian Bruce Cumings, allude to the purported increase in influence the Institute will afford the interests of the Chinese government. The site of soft power varies according to the critic. For Cumings, the danger lies in self-censorship as a result of a collision of funding interests. For Macias, the good will of the Confucius Institute could not conceal an insidious curriculum bent on indoctrination.

Although in the actual classes the question of nationality arose, it was purely in a linguistic context, while both students and teachers we interviewed said their relationship to Chinese was mainly didactic and apolitical. Furthermore, the majority of students in Chinese-language classes at UK were not even aware that the program was funded by Hanban. Matt Treblehorn, an attorney in Lexington, said he saw the teachers as representatives of the Chinese government, but other students tended to view their language instructor as just that: a teacher. As part of our ethnographic research, a few teachers responded to a questionnaire that asked how they viewed themselves in the classroom context. Bi Yifei, a ceramicist who teaches Chinese 1 at UK, avoided the issue of political representation, and responded that she was “just a teacher.” Simmons Elementary teacher Carol Chen, by way of contrast, claimed her role “as a gateway to Chinese language and culture.” Politics was notably absent from that formulation. K-5 teacher Zhang Huihui admitted that sometimes she is viewed as a stand-in for China, but not the Chinese state. Still, she sought to stake out a sense of personal identity as well: “sometimes, I am just myself.”

Zhang Huihui also informed us about the training process she underwent before arriving in the United States as a member of the Institute’s faculty. There is a two month “intensive training” at Beijing Language and Culture University, in which a variety of mostly linguistic subjects are covered. For Zhang, though, this training is “far from enough.” Though the teachers viewed themselves as apolitical classroom figures, students occasionally ask political questions that must be addressed. Instructors from K-5 and the instructor at UK described their students’ views of China in a similar fashion. Bi Yifei downplayed the potential for classroom discord arising from difficult political conversations, saying she would simply use “her way” to defuse them. Students in the university-level classes noted that while there was no concerted effort to avoid touchy subjects, the instructors exhibited national and cultural pride.

Carol Chen identified the primary political stereotype in the minds of Confucius Institute students as there being an excess of crime and war in China. Most of her students, however, were too young to pose such questions and instead were familiar only with “yummy Chinese food.” The comments of Zhang Huihui essentially accord with Chen’s. Some young students’ comments apparently viewed Chinese people as eating dogs and the Chinese government as killing children. Clearly these topics are sensitive and pose a real challenge to teachers, even those with more than two months of training. Zhang responded by inviting students to maintain an open mind and seek out facts rather than stereotypes. Zhang also emphasized that the vast majority of students here in the American South are focused on other received representations of Chinese culture: “Kung Fu Panda, Karate Kid, and Chinese food.” The faculty of the Confucius Institute, it should be noted, is not engaged in imposing standardized views of China on small children. Rather, the teachers are tasked with addressing the pre-conceptions of the students themselves. At the K-12 level, at least, image supersedes reality.

Perhaps the more practical question is whether pedagogical methods will ever overshadow political controversy in scholarly approaches to the Confucius Institutes. The general sense among students was that their respective instructor was comfortable with questions, as well as “animated” and “encouraging.” The classes also acted as a cost-effective alternative to accredited courses, and attracted students of China from both the university and the wider Lexington community. Yet according to the students, class attendance in Chinese 1 diminished substantially as the semester wore on, and Chinese 2 was even smaller in size. Despite the success of the “Year of China,” it is unlikely that through public outreach alone the Confucius Institute will attract significantly more people. As the cultural, political, and economic motivations to study China proliferate, interested community members are just as diffuse. A long-term strategy would acknowledge that, on the University of Kentucky’s campus, there are multiple actors working toward somewhat similar ends: the Asia Center, the Confucius Institute, and UK’s relatively new China Studies program. Hanban’s resources could be better used in conjunction with these institutions, while simultaneously moving beyond the depoliticized realms of K-12 education and international exchange. A joint center focused on contemporary Chinese history and issues could serve as a diplomatic combination of efforts, without eliding the perpetual need to engage in difficult political discourse.

Denise Ho is assistant professor of history at the University of Kentucky. Jared Flanery is a rising senior from Louisville, KY. This article is the last of a four-part series on teaching and learning about China at the University of Kentucky, a public land-grant institution founded in 1865. For more information about the Year of China, please click here. To learn more about the University of Kentucky’s Confucius Institute, please visit their website. The authors of this blog would like to thank the Confucius Institute, in particular Huajing Maske, Bi Yifei, and Zhang Dandan, for their assistance.

Wang Chaoguang, ed. 蒋介石的人际网络 (Chiang Kai-shek’s Interpersonal Relationships: Perspectives Across the Strait) Beijing: Shehui kexue wenxian chubanshe, 2011. RMB 39.00

By Sherman Lai

This book brings together papers and panel discussions of a conference on Chiang Kai-shek held in Taipei in January 2011 with the joint participation of historians from both the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Taiwan. It reflects new scholarship on Chiang Kai-shek in the Chinese-speaking world and showcases the approaches that historians in the PRC adopt in handling challenges that their Western colleagues do not encounter. While Chinese historians have enormous audiences, they do not share the academic freedom enjoyed by their colleagues in the West and Taiwan. Because their careers and livelihood are dependent on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), this poses certain dilemmas they must face as they address the important twentieth-century figure of Chiang Kai-shek. Therefore, historians across the Strait will benefit from collaboration, as those on each side have different perspectives and approaches.

Beijing leaders are hungering to consolidate cross-Strait ties at the same time that the numbers of mainland-born Taiwan-Chinese who share their vision are diminishing. On Taiwan, younger generations—including newer scholars—may identify themselves with Taiwan more than with the rest of China. In parallel trajectory to this social change, Taiwan’s democratization project has resulted in the open political competition between the Guomindang (GMD), generally oriented toward unification with the PRC, and the independence-oriented Democratic Progressive Party (DDP), which regarded the GMD as an alien regime and accused Chiang Kai-shek of having been a dictator. Due to challenges to the goal of maintaining one-China identity in Taiwan, the CCP is increasingly willing to portray Chiang in a positive light, despite his anti-Communist stance, because he was an ardent nationalist and proponent of the one-China principle. Chiang is thus, somewhat oddly, becoming a shared cross-Strait figure. For Beijing, permitting the publication of a few works on Chiang seems a goodwill gesture. This, however, is a tricky balance, because positive appraisals of Chiang might encourage the mainland audience to suspect the legitimacy of the CCP party-state. Caught between this CCP leaders’ dilemma and the growing desire of readers to learn more about pre-1949 China, PRC historians have responded by providing detailed studies of Chiang’s life, but have not linked those studies to big issues such as modernity or the efforts and achievements of pre-1949 Chinese governments to modernize their country.

A chapter by Yang Kuisong (Huadong Teacher’s University) about the historiography on Chiang Kai-shek in the PRC suggests a course for future research. Yang criticizes the pre-determinism that is dominant among the PRC historians when studying Chiang Kai-shek and Republican China. He points out that there was no academic study on Chiang in the PRC until the early 1980s; the flourishing of scholarly works on Chiang was in mainland China one of the outcomes of Chen Shui-bian’s campaign of de-Chiang-ification in Taiwan during his presidential tenure from 2000-2008. Yang states that it is too early for PRC historians, who do not know fully the factual aspects of Chiang’s life, to assess Chiang’s historical significance. Perhaps out of coincidence or tacit understanding, the essays of the book are the outcome of authors’ detailed research on specific aspects of Chiang’s life, as suggested by Yang.

The essays of Wang Jisheng (Beijing University) and Lu Fangshang (Donghai University) focus on the formation of Chiang’s personality, which they claim to be responsible for Chiang’s rise and fall in mainland China. Wang explores Chiang’s childhood and argues that Chiang’s success came from his search for the patriarchal authority and love that was absent during his childhood. Chiang was only able to experience these when he worked with Chen Qimei and Sun Yat-sen, both of whom, Wang argues, appreciated Chiang’s loyalty and talents and treated him as a son. Wang also explores the origin of violent aspects in Chiang’s personality and attributes them to the overindulgence of his widowed mother as well as the brutal treatment he received from his teacher in the local private school, from his father when he was alive, and, occasionally, from his mother as well. Lu Fangshang argues that these extremes—overindulgence and violence—contributed to forming Chiang’s strong will and his swift responses to any attempt to control him, such as those by Mikhail Borodin in 1926 and Joseph Stilwell in 1944 (p. 29). Lu further contends that it was Chiang’s clash with Borodin that led to his violent strike against the CCP in 1927 and, consequently, to his assumption of a leadership position that same year. His rejection of Stilwell, on the other hand, fatally damaged his relations with the United States and ultimately resulted in his defeat at the hands of the CCP in 1949.

The second aspect of Chiang’s life addressed in other essays in this book is, broadly defined, Chiang’s renpin (人品), a term that might be translated as “morality” or “integrity.” One issue of renpin concerns Chiang’s marital relations, particularly polygamy. Although polygamy was common in Confucian patriarchal societies, divorce without good reason was regarded as an issue of renpin and frowned upon. Chiang, however, divorced his first wife and deserted his concubine and courtesan to marry Soong Mei-ling, a young girl from an elite Christian family in Shanghai who had been educated in the United States. Previous historiography had generally regarded Chiang’s marriage to Soong as a political contract and viewed it as a reflection of his greed and heartlessness. Not surprisingly, this marriage became a topic of fiction in the PRC. Among the most popular of these fictional accounts was the voluminous Jinling cunmeng (A Dream in Nanjing 金陵春梦, 1958).

Luo Ming (Institute of Modern History, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, or CASS) has revised this oversimplified explanation of Chiang’s marriages through her thorough research of related parts of Chiang’s diaries. She presents a complicated picture of Chiang’s encounters with his four spouses and argues that divorce and desertion of his concubine and courtesan were reflective of clashes between Confucian tradition and Western-oriented modernity, not indicative of a moral deficiency on Chiang’s part.1 She demonstrates that Chiang was a victim of custom, which gave parents the power to arrange early-age marriage for their children without input from the future spouses. Chiang, therefore, had not consented to the marriage and his relationships with his three spouses had been in crisis for years before he decided to marry Soong Mei-ling. Luo argues that Chiang truly did love Soong. Although Chiang’s diaries reveal his occasional frustration with Soong, Chiang also admired her: his diaries contain many words of praise and expressions of gratitude for his wife, words which he never used to describe previous relationships. Luo also points out that Chiang took care of his previous spouses to the end.

The third aspect of Chiang’s life that emerges from some of the essays collected in this volume is the structure of his power and its deficiencies. Lu Fangshang argues that Chiang was an outstanding network-builder—a quanzi (圈子, circle), in Lu’s terms—and that Chiang based his power on a series of exclusive networks. The core of these networks consisted of the family clans of Chiang, Soong, and Kong (banker and politician H.H. Kong being Soong Mei-ling’s brother-in-law). The most important network, outside his family clan was that formed by his friends, followed by that of colleagues, birth-place and provincial natives (同乡 tongxiang), and schoolmates (同学 tongxue). The final network drew from the academic world (p. 32). In his essay, Yang Weizhen (National Chung Cheng University, Taiwan) demonstrates that Chiang had regional preferences in appointing and promoting GMD cadres. He defines the Yangzi Valley as Chiang’s “core region,” with the three “extension regions” of Guangdong, China’s southwest (the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Hunan and Guangxi), and Taiwan. Despite such regional preferences to the peoples from his native Yangzi Valley, Chiang developed a sophisticated approach to bringing together regional warlords (pp. 245-246), as argued by Liu Weikai (National Chengchi University, Taiwan) in his essay on Chiang’s networks in various Chinese armies before the Second Sino-Japanese War. Liu found that Chiang used his various networks during his military career, including his study in the Baoding Military Academy and in the Tokyo Military School, Japan (東京振武学校), a special school for Chinese students, to establish his relations with regional warlords. Liu’s article examines the intellectual foundations of the modern Chinese armies—with the exception of the Communist one—as well as similarities, links, and continuities among them. Liu also points out that despite its name, the GMD’s Chinese National Revolutionary Army (NRA), except its “Central Army,” was actually a coalition of forces (p. 56). This was an army based on individual networks, rather than the united chain of command on which a modern military organization was built. Yang Weizhen (National Chung Cheng University) argues that the absence of such a united chain of command forced Chiang, the Chairman of the Military Council of the Nationalist government who was the commander-in-chief of the NRA, to control the troops directly, a practice that handicapped the formation of a nation-wide military institution and was directly responsible for his defeat on the mainland in 1949 (p. 91).

Building on Yang Weizhen’s ideas regarding Chiang’s problems with individual control of the troops, Wang Chaoguang (Institute of Modern History, CASS) and Lin Tongfa (Fu Jen Catholic University, Taiwan) analyze the link between Chiang’s dependence on various kinds of exclusive networks and his defeat by the CCP. Both Yang and Wang agree that Chiang followed the Confucian tradition of providing his clan members with extra care and privileges. For example, it is unknown whether donations to the development projects in his native town were from his own private funds or from the public treasury (pp. 131-132, 139). Wang explains that Chiang was dependent on H. H. Kong, China’s wartime Treasury Minister in fiscal affairs. Frequently, however, Kong acted as Chiang’s willing scapegoat for China’s financial difficulties and for the worsening corruption in the government. Although this relationship between Chiang and Kong helped Chiang’s regime in accessing financial resources before the war with Japan, it badly damaged Chiang’s imagine domestically and internationally during and after the war. In contrast to Chiang’s favoritism toward his clan, the Communists, adhering in principle to the Marxist ideas of class interests and class struggle, did not follow these traditional bonds of clan and regional identity, according to a number of contributors in this volume (pp. 93, 140, 142, 299). Yang Kuisong even attributes the defeat of the GMD on mainland China to this difference (p. 299).

Yang Kuisong cautions against scholars putting forth premature assessments of Chiang’s historical role in modern China as a strategy to avoid potential political risks in mainland China. Lu Fangshang and Yang Weizhen (both from Taiwan), however, have an academic freedom that permits them to try to make just such an assessment of Chiang’s contribution to twentieth-century Chinese history. They show that, in mainland China, Chiang Kai-shek was a transitional figure, contributing to the transformation of China from a feudal state based on personal dependency to a modern one founded on nationalistic and ideological appeals (pp. 253-254). Lu Fangshang uses the term “heritage-starter (继承性创业者 jicheng xing chuanyezhe)” to outline Chiang’s role in the GMD. He claims that Chiang was dedicated to the ideas and agendas of Sun Yat-sen. While Chiang inherited the GMD hierarchy from Sun, he had to face the challenges of a newcomer to a system that had obvious organizational deficiencies (p. 23). Jin Yilin (Institute of Modern History, CASS) refines Lu’s claim, saying that Chiang inherited Sun Yat-sen’s unfinished mission and gave it a new start by establishing a GMD party-state (p. 253). Jin points out that Sun brought into China the concept and practice of party-state (一党独裁 yidang ducai), while the previous administration in Beijing remained simply a “dictatorship by an individual” (p. 253). Because the GMD party-state was based on nationalism, it could mobilize many more resources than the various warlords whose power was built on personal loyalty. The creation of the party-state became Chiang’s source of power and brought about his success.

Jin’s refinement of Lu’s claim serves the purpose of the conference of encouraging cross-Strait academic exchanges. The minutes of the conference illustrate that this goal was achieved, even though a reader might find it difficult to identify arguments in individual essays if one loses sight of the broader context of the volume. The inclusion of the conference’s minutes of discussion, marked by colloquial language with slang—in what the volume’s editor comments is an experimental approach—was surprisingly informative and helpful in understanding the broader conversations across the Strait. They, however, also increased the length of the book and at times distract from its main theme. Nevertheless, this book is a valuable contribution to the field of the study of Republican China and post-1949 Taiwan. Although it is not always an easy read, it provides critical insights into a major figure in China’s modern history while showing the changing historiographical landscape in China today. It deserves to be read.

1 Chiang’s four spouses were Mao Fumei (毛福梅, 1882-1939), Yao Yecheng (姚冶诚,1887-1966), Chen Jieru (陈洁如,1905-1971) and Soong Mei-ling (宋美龄, 1897-2003).

Sherman Lai is a Research Associate at the Leverhulme Program of China’s War with Japan at the University of Oxford.

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

By Xujun Eberlein

One April day in my birth city of Chongqing, I encountered a rare quarrel in People’s Park. The park is one of several places in downtown Chongqing that offer low-cost “baba cha” (open-space tea), where retirees and others with time on their hands lounge under leafy banyan trees with their teacups and bird cages for a good part of the day. Two fiftyish men sat at a plastic table drinking tea and chatting about Bo Xilai, their city’s ousted leader. One of the men said that Bo’s promotion of “people’s livelihood” had been a fake show, because during his four-year rule, prices of meat, food, and other daily goods had risen steeply in Chongqing. Two young women, who happened to be nearby, cellphones in hand and apparently waiting for someone, did not like what they heard and started to argue that Bo made Chongqing better. The man got very upset; his face reddened and he raised his voice, which attracted the attention of onlookers, including me. I asked the man whether his criticism was formed after Bo’s downfall. He was insulted. “This has always been my opinion! I’m not brainless, I was once a journalist!” he yelled.

Tea-drinkers in People's Park, Chongqing

This scene is rare because, seemingly illogically, in the weeks since his downfall, Bo’s local dissenters have been much quieter than his supporters.

Chongqing people’s attitudes toward Bo Xilai range from supportive to condemnatory to “who cares” and everything in between, a broad spectrum with two heavy ends. (For the indifferent, a typical expression I often heard was “The gods fighting is none of our business.”) So far, however, foreign journalists seem to have a hard time penetrating the famous fog of the river-mountain city to find more than one stratum of views. In the English media it is easy to see headlines such as “Bo Xilai Still Admired Locally in China” and “Bo Xilai Remains Popular in Megacity He Once Oversaw.” In those reports quoting “the average people on the street,” the term “average people” generally does not include intellectuals, writers, journalists, academics, and so forth.

In fact, among local intellectuals, professionals, and the middle class, there has been an overwhelming sentiment against Bo’s doings in Chongqing since 2009, according to a dozen such men and women I have spoken to this month, all of whom requested anonymity. One reason their opinions have not been widely reflected in the foreign media is that they are much more reluctant to speak than the “stick men” (棒棒, or porters-for-hire) who roam the streets. When I asked why they were still afraid of speaking up even after Bo was gone, a local journalist told me that the government had issued orders forbidding them from talking to foreign journalists.

There is a long tradition in China of intellectuals being more tightly controlled than any other social class. Their present silence reflects a deep distrust of the government regardless of its position. Though Bo is now officially on the outs, it is still safer not to voice one’s opinions.

A researcher of Chongqing’s Cultural Revolution told me that in early April, within two hours of talking on the phone with the Chinese assistant of a British journalist and agreeing to have an interview about Bo and the Cultural Revolution, two policemen paid him a visit and requested he cancel the interview, on the grounds that it was a sensitive time and speaking to foreign media would damage Chongqing’s image. After turning them down, he was visited by two old ladies representing the “neighborhood committee,” who presented the same request. The next day his boss at his work unit talked with him—again urging him to cancel the interview. He wondered how the government found out about the interview and whose phone was monitored: his or the journalist’s. To their credit, the researcher told me, all of his uninvited visitors were polite. “At least that is progress.”

The local scholars I spoke to view Bo as either a hypocritical opportunist or a ruthless megalomaniac who regards himself as the savior of China, in either case pursuing his own agenda by fair means or foul. Their condemnation of Bo comes down to the bottom line that the system Bo delivered put the ruler’s authority above the law. The billion-dollar gingko trees, expensive police platforms, and subsidized housing that pleased many were all parts of his “face engineering.” My interviewees pointed out that every district of Chongqing is now facing bankruptcy.

Bo’s supporters can be most easily found among housewives, retired workers, “stick men,” and taxi drivers. One reason that many in the lower-income or laboring classes advocate for Bo is that Bo’s violence did not touch them, a university professor said; instead they received small benefits, for which they are grateful. “The poor don’t know that Bo looks down on them in his bones,” the aforementioned Chongqing journalist said. He gave me an example that once, people in a poor neighborhood unexpectedly saw their benefactor inspecting the area, and they ran to him to express their thanks, only to be pushed back by Bo’s guards. Bo simply turned his back, pretending not to see them.

“Chongqing people are very vain,” a local writer told me, giving another explanation for Bo’s popularity. “What made them most happy about Bo is that he dressed the city up with trees and made Chongqing famous. They don’t care what system is behind all this. They don’t care how much the government is spending. Their logic is that since I don’t get to use the money anyway, it is better to waste it on expensive gingko trees than drop it in the pockets of corrupt officials.”

Several scholars have pointed out that Bo drew on a common sentiment among lower-income people today: hatred of the rich, hatred of corrupt officials. Bo satisfied them by killing or punishing some of those people; how he did it or whether anyone was wronged does not matter.

The scholars I talked with are not rich—they do not even qualify as middle class according to the commonly accepted definition of “a house and a car.” But they have better access to information than many people who only see Bo’s propaganda—for example, the “five Chongqing” posters, which were still pervasive in the city during my April visit.

One day during my trip, a middle-aged women sitting behind me in a shared van was talking to another woman about how the police platforms along Chongqing’s streets have made the city much safer—a commonly heard praise of Bo—and how criminals would return now that Bo was gone. I asked what she thought about singing red songs. “Those songs purify people’s souls,” she answered, as if picking a sentence right from a Party newspaper. “Would you like to go back to the Mao era, then?” I continued to ask. “The Mao era was better than now,” she said, “at least poor patients would be accepted and rescued at an emergency room! Nowadays no one cares if you don’t have money.” “But what about the millions of people who starved to death in the great famine?” I had to ask. She replied, “That was a natural disaster!” (The woman is not alone on this—many ordinary people in China are still unaware that the great famine that lasted three years from 1959 to 1961 was mainly caused by Mao’s erroneous policies.)

Other fierce advocates of Bo come from the “CCP (Maoist)” group, a small local organization with no more than two or three dozen members—all retired factory workers. They “elected” Bo Xilai (whose consent was not required) as their “general secretary” in an October 2009 conference at which a number of participants were detained by Bo’s government. After Bo’s downfall in mid-March of this year, a handful (exaggerated by internet rumors to thousands) of “CCP (Maoist)” members held a protest at Chongqing’s riverfront Chaotianmen. A local observer familiar with the incident said that group had tried unsuccessfully to mobilize ex-Red Guards who had suffered imprisonment and other punishment for their activities during the Cultural Revolution. Those past “heroes,” who remain excluded from China’s economic miracle and live in poverty, were disappointed in Bo Xilai after their open letter asking to improve their living condition was ignored.

Bo’s supporters and dissenters all believe their side is in the majority, and each side uses very different logic when interpreting the charges against Bo and his wife. Four out of five taxi drivers I spoke to, for example, said they didn’t believe that Gu Kailai had murdered Neil Heywood or that Bo was corrupt and hiding money overseas. “Think about it,” one driver said in a teaching tone. “Gu Kailai is a very smart lawyer, wouldn’t she know the consequences of murder? Bo Xilai’s interest is in politics, would he care about a few bucks? It is just that simple!” Their interpretation is that all the charges are made-up excuses to bring Bo down because Bo is more capable than Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao, and Xi Jinping. The dissenters, on the other hand, believe Bo is completely capable of murder because he has no regard for the life of someone standing in his way. Curiously, regardless of their stance on the Bo affair, most of those I spoke to suspected that Wang Lijun’s entry into the US consulate was part of a plot to bring Bo down.

The last thing I heard before leaving Chongqing was that Bo has requested a public trial. If this is true, the request is most ironic: Bo himself put numerous people on “public trial” during his “crackdown on gangsters” campaign in 2009-2010 and no witnesses for the defense were allowed in court. A dozen or so of those arrested were hastily executed as results of such trials. In a country without an independent judiciary, there is no reason to expect Bo’s prosecution would be any more evenhanded, and Bo should know this better than anyone. So an interesting question is what his real motive in asking for a “public trial” would be. Presumably, it indicates his extreme self-confidence, a characteristic that has done him much damage to date.

On the other hand, the Party leaders must have known that given the wide divide in public opinion, an open trial would put the Party in hot water. That is probably why Bo has only been charged with a discipline violation, an offense that can be handled completely within the Party.

The public divide reflects two sides of the same coin; it is a social crisis caused by rapid economic development ill-supported by the country’s political system. The purge of Bo Xilai puts China’s ruler—the Communist Party—to another legitimacy test. It will be most interesting to see how the Party comes out of it.

Xujun Eberlein is the author of an award-winning story collection, Apologies Forthcoming, and the blog Inside-Out China.

How a first-ever exhibition on Chinese dissent got noticed in India

By Reshma Patil

The Chinese artist offered a firm handshake and his business card. The Indian curator hesitated for a split second. They were, after all, standing in a men’s loo in Gwangju, South Korea.

The curator returned to Mumbai, a financial powerhouse that several Chinese artists in the study group at Gwangju had never heard of. “What is Mumbai?” they asked him. The artist, who happened to know where Mumbai lies, returned to his studio in Beijing. He and the curator communicated via email for over a year. There were long silent gaps, until one day this year, the curator received a parcel of video CDs dispatched from Beijing.

For the first time, Ai Weiwei arrived in India.

It was an odd occurrence. Cultural exchanges between India and China are limited to one-off exchanges and festivals of diplomatically correct art.

The last burst of cross-border cultural exchange happened in 2010 during the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the rivals separated by a boundary disputed since half a century. The stage shows sprinkled with song and dance from the esoteric Kuchipudi to Jai Ho were more political than popular in outreach. I visited an India-China Friendship Exhibition spread on an 11th floor hall in Beijing, where I found myself the lone visitor, staring at paintings on India-inspired themes by dozens of Chinese artists.

Now here I was, shuffling clumsily into the darkened century-old Clark House (nobody now remembers who Mr. Clark was) showing the activist-artist’s videos. The colonial building on the southern seaside of Mumbai used to be the office of a tea export company that cut-price Chinese competitors made defunct in the nineties.

The entrance was lit by Mumbai-based artist Justin Ponmany’s work of two skirt-shaped lampshades with blood-red maps of India and China on each. An engrossed old lady sat on a Shenzhen-made replica of a Ming dynasty hunting chair. “You’re blocking my view,” she complained about my presence before the screen draped on the wall. If she had stayed at home, she would be flicking channels broadcasting the successful trial of India’s Agni-5, a nuclear-capable missile that can reach Beijing and Shanghai.

“We had visitors who spent half a day here, to watch all four films,” said curator Sumesh Sharma who accepted Ai’s handshake in a loo in 2010, when he knew the man as just a co-designer of the Bird’s Nest Olympics stadium in Beijing. China’s best-known activist-artist became a familiar name in Indian newsprint only during his 81-day detention last year.

Exhibition view from left to right of video by Ai Weiwei, prints by Nikhil Raunak, posters from the Cultural Revolution, video by Tushar Joag and print by Atul Dodiya. Photo credit Clark House.

“It indicates a government strangely unsure of its legitimacy, wary of its own people,” said a Hindustan Times editorial last April. “Which is why New Delhi and other capitals are watching China’s external actions so carefully, worrying and watching out for any evidence that domestic paranoia is feeding into foreign policy practice.” The Indian Express ran an op-ed on the “dangerous artist” by Salman Rushdie. But Ai is not as well known in India as in the West. The screenings in the Clark House gallery from April 13-22 last month may have changed that. They called it “Arranging Chairs for Ai Weiwei,” as a gesture to welcome him to India.

An art critic paced upstairs. Foreign tourists came daily in droves. A video of Ai in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, streamed on a computer screen atop an antique table topped with sunflower carvings. A miniature porcelain ensemble of an “animal farm” sat in a dusty box under the computer. The screens were surrounded by works of half a dozen Indian artists, including Tushar Joag, who rode a motorcycle from Mumbai to Shanghai two years ago to make symbolic linkages between controversial great dam projects in both nations.

Sharma discussed the “cultural indifference” and “hostility” one experiences on both sides of the border, especially when forging people-to-people connections. “Our motive to bring Ai Weiwei to India stemmed from a personal want to bridge the cultural indifference to a neighbour with whom we share our longest boundary,’’ he said in a statement.

Rambling through the rooms, one watched Ai and Tan Zuoren’s campaign against “tofu schools” that buried over 5,000 child victims of the Sichuan earthquake of 2008; the controversial case of Yang Jia who was executed for killing six Shanghai policemen and Ordos 100, where architects were invited to design 100 villas on a piece of desert in Inner Mongolia.

Nearly all Mumbai-based newspapers reported the screenings, but the coverage didn’t make direct linkages with India. Students, artists, journalists, and retired neighbors trooped in to sit on the replica hunting chairs, showing that Indians too want to listen to what the Chinese are talking about. It’s just not Peking Opera.

Both the contrasting civil societies are becoming more vocal in asserting their rights in governance. Chinese netizens last year attempted to launch anti-bribery websites modeled on those in India. Chinese bloggers spread the word on the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption campaign last year, noting that Indians, at least, have the right to protest.

“The critique that we often have of India is that it is inefficient and corrupt for [all that] it is democratic and accommodating,’’ said Sharma. “But through Ai’s movies I felt that the state was failing itself initially through corruption and subsequently through repression of people like Tan Zuoren and Ai who uncovered these failures.”

“The relationship between the police and citizens,” he said, “reminds us of the relationship we in India hold with the state.”

Three unidentified Chinese men also came and took a good look. The organizers wondered why they left without revealing their names.

Reshma Patil works as associate editor at the Hindustan Times. She is writing a book on Sino-Indian relations based on her years as the paper’s first China correspondent from 2008-11.

« Older entries § Newer entries »