Li Xueqin dies at 85 (5)

Thanks to Sarah Allen for her comments. I disagree, but let me also repeat that I do think Li Xueqin accomplished many feats of scholarship for which he should be credited and commended.

But not without discussion of questionable sides of his scholarship, which I wrote about, as mentioned. And yes I was there when he told us “I believe the old books,” that is: We should not be skeptical. And I’ll certainly side with those of his colleagues who argued, against Li, that no discovery of excavated texts or the like since the time of the original critical ‘doubts’ of Gu Jiegang and his colleagues, suggest that the time has come for such skepticism to be ‘left behind’ or ‘transcended.’ Continue reading

Li Xueqin dies at 85 (4)

I have been trying to think of how to respond to Magnus Fiskesjö’s remarks, which astonished me because they seemed so totally off the mark and indicated that he was not really acquainted with Li Xueqin’s publications. Thus, his response to Ian’s Johnson’s clarification is useful in at least giving me some idea of where he is coming from. I do not know the context of the statement Li made to this group of Western scholars about believing the ancient texts, but it does show that he was never a sycophant whatever his audience.

Li was not a deeply conservative scholar. He was, in fact, steeped in the Gushibian. He once told me that he had read every word of it as a teenager and it was surely one of his inspirations for entering the field. He was also acquainted with Western scholarship and made a point of introducing it to his students and encouraging them to read broadly. However, he did not see Doubt Antiquity as standing for healthy skepticism, as Western scholars tend to, but as a specific set of arguments about the ancient texts. With the discovery of excavated texts, beginning with Mawangdui, he increasingly began to doubt the validity of those arguments. Nevertheless, Li did not, simply revert to accepting the tradition uncritically. Leaving Behind the Era of Doubting the Ancients (Zouchu yigu shidai 走出疑古时代) is not, as Fiskesjö stated, a book that Li wrote, but a collection of his essays on various topics. In the eponymous article (originally a talk), Li did not call for giving up skepticism and believing the ancient texts (xin gu 信古). He advocated using two-pronged evidence of archaeology and transmitted texts, which he called, shi gu 释古, “explaining the ancients,” after Wang Guowei. He did think that the Xia Dynasty was historical. I am well-known for having written about the Xia as a myth, but there are legitimate scholarly reasons for identifying Erlitou culture with a Xia Dynasty, even if I don’t think they are correct. Continue reading

Li Xueqin dies at 85 (3)

I want to thank Ian Johnson for the clarification. Glad to be corrected on that score (#1). I should not have lumped both obituaries together like I did there. I guess I got hung up on the end where he comes across as a critically thinking scholar, “But now we can see that the past is always changing.” It might be that those things could go together, and perhaps could go together in him.

I feel a bit awkward to bring up criticism so soon after his passing, and so I tried to acknowledge he was indeed a great scholar — but also, deeply conservative, in a truly harmful way. — I’m grateful for the impetus from your obituary — in contrast to the other one, which is also valuable, but does not mention these issues — to look again at the whole idea of “Believing the Ancients,” that Li pushed: One worthwhile piece is Lin Yun’s article 真该走出疑古时代吗?——对当前中国古典学取向的看法 [Should the Era of Historical Skepticism be Transcended?] in Shixue jikan No. 3, 2007, in which Lin argues forcefully and explicitly against Li Xueqin, that no good reason has emerged in the various new discoveries of recent decades (bamboo strip versions of books, etc.) for scholars to abandon their skepticism of the ‘old books’, and the general critical spirit inherited from Gu Jiegang and others. On the contrary, such a stance should to be a permanent stance going into the future.

Yet at the conference on ancient China where I once met and heard Li Xueqin, outside Chicago in about 1992, Li’s chief mantra was ‘wo xiangxin gushu,’ “I believe the old books,” spoken to a roomful of Western scholars as if to correct us foreigners in what he suspected was our wrongheaded stance of looking critically at everything, no matter how revered.

–Magnus Fiskesjö <>

Li Xueqin dies at 85 (2)

Two small clarifications about Magnus Fiskesjö’s post (“Li Xueqin dies at 85 [1]”):

  1. My piece in the New York Times did not fail to mention how Li “actively helped build up and promote the currently dominant reactionary view of culture and heritage.” In fact, I wrote in the 1st paragraph of my New York Times obituary that  Li helped change the focus of Chinese historiography “toward emphasizing the wonders of the country’s past, a traditionalist approach in line with the Communist government’s efforts to identify itself with ancient China.” 

I also devoted a large chunk of the obituary to his work in pushing 信古, including his work on the Xia-Shang-Zhou project and how it was criticized by many scholars.

  1. Professor Fiskesjö’ perceptively asked about the Guardian’s statement that Mr. Li was 86 years old. I wondered about this myself. This was the age given by the official obituary in China, which adopts a way of dating people that I’ve found common in China. It isn’t quite the traditional way, as the person doesn’t gain a year right after 過年, but instead the age is simply calculated based on the birth and death years (in this case, 1933 and 2019). And so the obituary might have simply adopted that. However, Mr. Li was born on 28 March 1933, and as a western publication the Times used the western way of only adding a year to someone’s age after they’ve passed their birthday. Hence, to us, he was 85 years old when he died. 

best regards,

Ian Johnson <>

Li Xueqin dies at 85 (1)

Both the NYT and the Guardian obituary, below, give credit to Li Xueqin for his wide-ranging scholarship, but they fail to mention how Li also actively helped build up and promote the currently dominant reactionary view of culture and heritage. Li helped theorize this view, which holds sway in the wake of how the Chinese Communist party abandoned “class struggle” as its theoretical framework. It’s strange not to go into these aspects when remembering a grand scholar.

Arguing that we should ‘leave behind’ the healthy skepticism of the ‘Doubt the Ancients’ movement (against other outstanding scholars of ancient China, such as Lin Yun, who’s argued we have no reason to give up that skepticism), Li even wrote a book under the title Leaving Behind the Era of Doubting the Ancients (走出疑古时代).

It must have been this refusal to think critically about culture and history (which I once witnessed, live at a conference near Chicago), and instead embrace the classical heritage uncritically, that paved the way for his theorizing of the harmful current biologistic-nationalistic view of cultural relics as the blood vessels of the nation, somehow itself a living organism. Continue reading

Tragic end of Shi Hui (1)

I am probably among a few still around who actually saw Shi Hui’ works. I remember being deeply touched by My Whole Life 我這一輩子 and Joys and Trepidations of Middle Age 哀樂中年 as a child and a teenager. Reading this article prompts me to think there is some similarity between Shi’s fate and that of Lao She–both seemed so eager to fit in with the PRC but both ended with a tragic suicide.

Lily Lee <>

Roderick MacFarquhar: a remembrance

Source: China File (2/16, 19)
Roderick MacFarquhar: A Remembrance
February 16, 2019
By Bao Pu

Ellen Wallop for Asia Society. Roderick MacFarquhar with his former student, political scientist Minxin Pei, at Asia Society in New York, February 28, 2017.

Bao Pu is the Publisher and Founder of New Century Press in Hong Kong, best known for its Chinese-language memoirs and historical and political titles including Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang, The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, and Mao’s Great Famine. Bao is originally from Beijing, but has lived in the United States and Hong Kong since 1989. He studied economics and public administration at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, is a veteran of human rights advocacy, and previously worked in various consulting and managerial positions before becoming a publisher. Bao was awarded the Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award in 2010.

When Roderick MacFarquhar passed away on February 10, 2019, I was left with a deep regret: that our friendship had been too short.

“He can be very intimidating. Don’t be put off by it; it’s just a mannerism,” Nancy Hearst, the librarian at Harvard’s Fairbank Center, warned me before taking me to meet him for the first time.

I had under my arm the manuscript of the memoir of Zhao Ziyang, the deceased former General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, ousted in 1989 for refusing to carry out the military crackdown of the protesters in Tiananmen Square. I had planned to publish it to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen protests, and I wanted MacFarquhar to write an introduction for the English version, which would be published as Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang. Continue reading

Li Xueqin dies at 85

Source: NYT (3/1/19)
Li Xueqin, Key Historian in China’s Embrace of Antiquity, Dies at 85
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
By Ian Johnson

Li Xueqin, one of China’s leading historians, in an undated photo. Credit: Tsinghua University

BEIJING — Li Xueqin, whose political savvy and intellectual brilliance helped shift the field of Chinese history toward emphasizing the wonders of the country’s past, a traditionalist approach in line with the Communist government’s efforts to identify itself with ancient China, died on Feb. 24 in Beijing. He was 85.

His death was confirmed by a government obituary. The official newspaper Guangming Daily paid tribute to him in an article headlined, “A Lifelong Pursuit of History; He Also Wrote Himself Into the History Books.”

That was hardly an exaggeration. For more than 20 years Mr. Li was deputy director and then director of the Institute of History, part of the Chinese Academy of Social Science — positions of unusual influence in a country that has alternately gloried in its history and rejected it as a burden. Continue reading

Tragic end of Shi Hui

Source: SupChina (3/1/19)
The Tragic End Of Shi Hui, Maoist China’s Most Promising Actor-Director

Persecuted and misunderstood, Shi Hui was one of many individuals swept up and destroyed by the Anti-Rightist Movement. Chinese cinema is irrevocably poorer for it.

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Shi Hui 石挥 was one of the most popular actors in China. Shi’s range was wide, and he portrayed a variety of mostly lower-class characters during his film career, playing a school principal, a tailor, a peasant soldier, a pimp, and even a (white) American capitalist. Whatever his role, Shi always brought depth and humanity to his characters, whether they were heroes or not. His performances in movies like Miserable at Middle Age 哀乐中年 and This Life of Mine 我这一辈子 were brilliant, and today, both movies still top lists of the most-acclaimed Chinese movies. Continue reading

Over 1000 exonerated of crimes in 1947 crackdown

Source: Focus Taiwan (2/27/19)
Over 1,000 people exonerated of crimes in 1947 crackdown

CNA file photo

Taipei, Feb. 27 (CNA) More than 1,000 people who were wrongly convicted during a brutal crackdown following an islandwide anti-government uprising in 1947 were absolved of any crime on Wednesday, according to the Transitional Justice Commission (TJC).

A total of 1,056 names were included on the latest list of exonerations published on the TJC website. Among them, 70 were provided by the 228 Memorial Foundation and are eligible for government compensation. Continue reading

Dam collapse that China kept secret

Source: OZY (2/17/19)
By Justin Higginbottom

Banqiao Dam after the catastrophe.

Workers stood along the top of Banqiao Dam, some 150 feet above the valley’s floor, desperately trying to repair its crest as rain from Typhoon Nina fell for a third straight day. After battering Taiwan, the storm had moved inland where it was expected to dissipate, but Nina turned north instead, reaching the Huai River basin on Aug. 5, 1975, where a cold front blocked its progression. Parked in place, the typhoon generated more than a year’s worth of rain in 24 hours.

By the time night fell on Aug. 8, as many as 65 area dams had collapsed. But despite the fact that water levels at the Banqiao Dam had far exceeded a safe capacity, and a number of sluice gates for controlling water flow were clogged with silt, authorities felt confident they’d skirt disaster. After all, the Soviet-designed dam had been built to survive a typhoon — a once-every-1,000-year occurrence that could dump 11 inches of rain per day. Unfortunately, Typhoon Nina would prove to be a once-every-2,000-year storm, bearing down with enough force to cause the world’s deadliest infrastructure failure ever. Continue reading

Li Rui dies at 101

Source: NYT (2/15/19)
Li Rui, a Mao Confidant Who Turned Party Critic, Dies at 101
By Ian Johnson

Li Rui, who died on Saturday at 101, “saw himself as a conscience of the revolution and the party,” said Roderick MacFarquhar, the late Harvard scholar of Chinese history. “But he had grave doubts about the system he spent his life serving.” Creditvia Nanyang Li

BEIJING — Li Rui, who over nearly four decades went from being one of Mao Zedong’s personal secretaries in the 1950s to a Communist Party critic, revisionist historian and standard-bearer for liberal values in China, died in Beijing on Saturday. He was 101.

The cause of death was organ failure, brought on by a lung inflammation and cancer of the digestive tract, according to his daughter, Li Nanyang, who spoke with doctors at the Beijing hospital where Mr. Li had been receiving treatment. Continue reading

Xi’s China is steamrolling its own history

Source: Foreign Policy (1/29/19)
Xi’s China Is Steamrolling Its Own History
The Chinese Communist Party sees the past as a resource to be plundered by the present.

A boy wearing the costume of a Qing emperor prepares to pose for photographs at a park near the Forbidden City in Beijing on Jan. 1. (Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images)

A boy wearing the costume of a Qing emperor prepares to pose for photographs at a park near the Forbidden City in Beijing on Jan. 1. (Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images)

Chinese President Xi Jinping is directing a vast ideological war across multiple theaters—politics, culture, ethics, economy, strategy, and foreign relations. Among its most intense flashpoints is historiography, particularly of China’s last empire, the Qing, which ruled from 1636 to 1912. Historians, whether foreign or domestic, who resist Xi’s determination to design a past that serves his ideology have been targeted repeatedly by state propaganda organs. A new editorial suggests that this attack on Qing specialists is escalating.

Xi has a powerful weapon at his disposal. In 2003, 10 years before his assumption of power, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) initiated an ambitious project dedicated to Qing history. It was granted headquarters in the Zhongguancun district of Beijing, next to China’s leading technology companies. Its budget—never definitively quantified but clearly stratospheric as far as historiographical enterprises go—supported a threefold mission: Continue reading

Lv Ban with English subtitles

Lv Ban films with English subtitles

To follow up on the SupChina post about Lü Ban films, you can find full versions with English subtitles of both The Unfinished Comedies and The Man Who Did Not Bother With Trifles posted to YouTube. The subtitles were done by two of our Chinese majors here at Colgate University.

The Unfinished Comedies

The Man Who Did Not Bother with Trifles

Best regards,

John Crespi <>

Fascism in Republican China review essay

MCLC and MCLC Resource Center are pleased to announce publication of Jeremy Tai’s review of Revolutionary Fascism, by Maggie Clinton, and China’s Conservative Revolution, by Brian Tsui. The review appears below and online at:

Enjoy, Kirk A. Denton, editor

Fascism in Republican China: A Review Essay

Revolutionary Nativism: Fascism and Culture in China, 1925-1937, by Maggie Clinton
China’s Conservative Revolution: The Quest for a New World Order, 1927-1949, by Brian Tsui

Reviewed by Jeremy Tai
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright January, 2019)

Maggie Clinton, Revolutionary Nativism: Fascism and Culture in China, 1925-1937 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017). 280 pp. ISBN: 9780822363620 (cloth), ISBN: 9780822363774 (paperback).

Brian Tsui, China’s Conservative Revolution: The Quest for a New Order, 1927-1949 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018). 304 pp. ISBN: 9781107196230 (cloth).

While many scholars have observed over the past few decades a resurgence of nationalism in the post-Cold War era, political commentaries warning of an imminent return to fascism have also proliferated in recent years as right-wing populism unsettles liberal democracies. Contemporary inquiries into fascism have certainly extended beyond liberal states to also scrutinize authoritarian ones, including China, which are no less entangled in the crises, restructuring, and social dislocation of the capitalist world system that incite desires to protect an imagined way of life. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is, of course, very much invested in memorializing its historic resistance to fascism, for instance, during anniversaries of the “Victory of the Chinese People’s Resistance against Japanese Aggression and World’s Anti-fascist War.” Present-day xenophobia and trade protectionism in the US and elsewhere also provide the conditions for Chinese leaders to take on the cosmopolitan appearance of “going out” and maintaining the global order of free trade. Yet, for all of the Chinese state’s ability to externalize the potentiality of fascism, whether by reference to the socialist past or capitalist present, certain developments in contemporary China suggest the presence of right-wing orientations to the nation and race, the state and territoriality, the role of technology, and political dissent. In particular, the reappearance of a discourse of national revival (民族復興) alongside flagrant examples of Han racism toward ethnic minorities and foreigners, the continuous narration of past humiliation that obscures contemporary power asymmetries, the ongoing Han settlement of non-Han regions and island-building in the South China Sea, the joining of censorship with biometric surveillance, the crackdown on labor and feminist activism, and the establishment of internment camps in Xinjiang all make the time ripe for reconsidering the history of right-wing thought and politics in modern China. Continue reading