Everyday politics in the Ming

Source: Aeon (4/11/18)
Everyday politics
Imperial Chinese conscription shows how ordinary people exercise influential political skills, even in a repressive state
By Michael Szonyi

It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that because people in the past didn’t live in democracies, they must have faced fewer political choices and had fewer political skills than we do. It is true that imperial subjects did not choose their emperors in democratic elections. But if we think about politics in a broader sense – as encompassing all of the diverse interactions between a state, its agents and its population – we soon realise that ordinary people in the past operated in complex political arenas, and often developed sophisticated political skills. Historians can sometimes reconstruct these skills even for ordinary people in the distant past. Continue reading

Chroniclers of Chinese architecture

Source: NYT (4/12/18)
Overlooked No More: Lin Huiyin and Liang Sicheng, Chroniclers of Chinese Architecture
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In the 1930s, the couple began surveying and recording the country’s overlooked ancient buildings, in an effort to begin preserving them.
By Daniel E. Slotnik

Lin Huiyin and Liang Sicheng on their honeymoon in Europe in 1928.CreditCPA/Picture Alliance

Since 1851, obituaries in The New York Times have been dominated by white men. We launched Overlooked to tell the stories of women who left indelible marks on society, but whose deaths went unremarked by our newspaper. Now we’re expanding our lens to include other notable people — many of them marginalized — who were omitted.

Many of China’s ancient architectural treasures crumbled to dust before Lin Huiyin and Liang Sicheng began documenting them in the 1930s. In China, ancient structures were usually treated like any other buildings rather than being protected and studied, as they were in many Western countries. The husband and wife team were among the first preservationists to operate in China, and by far the best known. Their efforts have since inspired generations of people to speak out for architecture threatened by the rush toward development. Continue reading

Bulletin of the Institute of Modern History no. 98

Bulletin of the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica, no. 98

The latest issue of Bulletin of the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica, Vol. 98 is now available online at: http://www.mh.sinica.edu.tw/bulletins.aspx



The Pride of Public Spittoons? Anti-Spitting Movements in Hong Kong, New York, and Shanghai
By Sean Hsiang-lin Lei

The Transition of North China’s Rural Leadership in the Twentieth Century: An Oral History Investigation
By Chen Yao-huang

A Puppet Organization in Occupied East China during the Early Period of the Anti-Japanese War: A Study of the Zhenjiang Branch of the Daminhui
By Liu Jie Continue reading

Anna Chennault dies at 94

Source: SCMP (4/4/18)
Anna Chennault, China-born Washington power broker and hostess, dies at 94
Anna Chennault’s marriage to a storied American general, three decades her senior, put her at the centre of Asian and US diplomatic, military and commercial circles, and she became a leading figure in the ‘China lobby’
By Agencies

Anna Chennault in 1968, with a portrait of her late husband, Claire Chennault. File photo: AP

Anna Chennault, the Chinese journalist who married the legendary leader of the second world war Flying Tigers squadron and, after his death, became a Republican power broker in Washington, has died at the age of 94.

A doyenne of Washington society in the 1960s, she charmed politicians and diplomats while running her late husband’s cargo airline, becoming embroiled in the Richard Nixon election scandal known as the Anna Chennault Affair, and funnelling large sums of Nationalist Chinese money to Republicans. Continue reading

Historian Shen Zhihua

Source: NYT (3/23/18)
Shining a Cleansing Light on China’s Dark Secrets
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The Chinese historian Shen Zhihua, who has an impeccable Communist Party pedigree, argues that the party need not fear being challenged about its past. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

BEIJING — Shen Zhihua, bon vivant, former businessman, now China’s foremost Cold War historian, has set himself a near-impossible task. He wants China to peel back its secrets, throw open its archives and tell its citizens what went on between China and the United States, between China and North Korea, and much more.

Even before the hard-line era of President Xi Jinping, the Communist Party has acted like a supersensitive corporation, blocking highly regarded historians like Mr. Shen from peering too deeply. Precious documents have been destroyed, stolen or kept under seal by librarians skilled at deflecting the inquiries of even the most tenacious researchers. Continue reading

Archaeologist confident they have found Cao Cao

Source: SCMP (3/26/18)
Archaeologists confident they have found body of fabled Chinese warlord Cao Cao
Experts convinced tomb complex marks last resting place of celebrated historic figure
By Laura Zhou

A statue of Cao Cao at Weiwudi Square in Xuchang, Henan. Photo: Handout

Archaeologists are convinced they have found the remains of Cao Cao, the most prominent warlord in China 1,800 years ago.

Experts at the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archaeology recently concluded that the remains of an adult male in his sixties found at a burial site in central China was Cao Cao, the news portal Red Star News reported on Sunday.

Cao Cao was a central figure in China’s Three Kingdoms period (220-280) and later featured as a central character in the classic novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Continue reading

Sino-British botanical exchanges in the 18th-19th centuries

I would like to introduce this incoming talk about the botanical interactions between Britain and China in the 18th century which I will co-present on March 24th in Oxford.

Botanical Art, Botanical Commerce: Britain meets China at the Dawn of Modernity
Oxford (United Kingdom) March 24th (12:45)


Former director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew Sir Peter Crane, author and expert in the history of science, medicine and culture Jordan Goodman and expert in Sino-British exchanges and China Trade paintings Josepha Richard discuss the John Bradby Blake collection.


The Oak Spring Garden Foundation, Virginia, USA, contains the archive of 18th-century East India Company supercargo John Bradby Blake. Blake first visited Canton in 1767/68 as a trader and, before his death in 1773, his collaboration with the Chinese artist Mauk-Sow-U produced over 150 striking and botanically accurate paintings of Chinese plants. These paintings and the associated archives provide details of an interesting life and previously little-known dimensions of late 18th-century social and scientific interactions between the British and Chinese, including British attempts to secure living plants that could prove useful at home and in its colonies. Continue reading

Who killed more: Hitler, Stalin, or Mao

Source: NY Review of Books (2/5/18)
Who Killed More: Hitler, Stalin, or Mao?
By Ian Johnson

Chairman Mao attending a military review in Beijing, China, 1967 (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)

In these pages nearly seven years ago, Timothy Snyder asked the provocative question: Who killed more, Hitler or Stalin? As useful as that exercise in moral rigor was, some think the question itself might have been slightly off. Instead, it should have included a third tyrant of the twentieth century, Chairman Mao. And not just that, but that Mao should have been the hands-down winner, with his ledger easily trumping the European dictators’.

While these questions can devolve into morbid pedantry, they raise moral questions that deserve a fresh look, especially as these months mark the sixtieth anniversary of the launch of Mao’s most infamous experiment in social engineering, the Great Leap Forward. It was this campaign that caused the deaths of tens of millions and catapulted Mao Zedong into the big league of twentieth-century murders. Continue reading

New Wang Hui translations

Two new pieces by Wang Hui of possible interest to list members were recently published in English online. These translations, which I did with fellow Ph.D. student Benjamin Kindler, cover a wide range of topics in Chinese revolutionary and cultural history.

The first is actually an interview between Wang and the curators of the Guggenheim exhibition “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World”. It can be downloaded here:


The second piece is a lengthy article printed in the special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly (vol. 116 issue 4), dedicated to the Soviet Centenary. The issue was published last October, but just became available online. Please find the article abstract below: Continue reading

Where China built its bomb

Source: NYT (1/20/18)
Where China Built Its Bomb, Dark Memories Haunt the Ruins
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China’s nuclear arsenal was born in Plant 221, a secret facility on a remote plateau in the country’s northwest. Now billed as “Atomic City,” the site celebrates the patriotism of thousands of scientists and laborers, but dark aspects of its history go unmentioned. CreditLam Yik Fei for The New York Times

JINYINTAN, China — Among the yak herds and Tibetan Buddhism prayer flags dotting the windswept highlands of northwestern China stand the ruins of a remote, hidden city that vanished from the maps in 1958.

The decaying clusters of workshops, bunkers and dormitories are remnants of Plant 221, also known as China’s Los Alamos. Here, on a mountain-high grassland called Jinyintan in Qinghai Province, thousands of Tibetan and Mongolian herders were expelled to create a secret town where a nuclear arsenal was built to defend Mao Zedong’s revolution. Continue reading

Controversy over textbook censorship of the Cultural Revolution

Source: The Guardian (1/11/18)
Controversy over Chinese textbook’s Cultural Revolution chapter as state publisher denies censorship
Firm says title of chapter referring to period of massive social upheaval and violence in China changed to ‘Arduous Exploration and Development Achievements’
By Mandy Zuo

Changes made to a middle-school history textbook’s chapter on the Cultural Revolution have sparked controversy in China, with its state-run publisher denying it censored the book.

The furore came after a post widely shared on Chinese social media suggested that politically sensitive content about the political movement had been removed. The post showed photographs of the old version of the textbook and a revised text. The pictures appeared to show that a chapter formerly devoted to the Cultural Revolution had been taken out. Continue reading

Is HK really part of China?

Source: NYT (1/1/18)
Is Hong Kong Really Part of China?
By Yi-Zheng Lian

HONG KONG — One could say that long before 1997, the year that Britain handed Hong Kong back to China, the leaders of the city’s major pro-democracy parties had come to a tacit understanding with the Chinese government. The pan-dems, as these politicians are known here, would support the absorption of Hong Kong into a greater, unified Chinese state on the understanding that in time Beijing would grant Hong Kong genuine electoral democracy. That, at least, seemed to be the intention driving Hong Kong’s foundational legal text, the Basic Law. Continue reading

Chinese official said 10,000 died in 1989

Source: HK Free Press (12/21/17)
Declassified: Chinese official said at least 10,000 civilians died in 1989 Tiananmen massacre, documents show
By Kris Cheng


Photo: Citizen News.

A member of the Chinese State Council estimated that at least 10,000 civilians were killed in the Tiananmen massacre of June 4, 1989, declassified files reveal.

Alan Donald, Britain’s ambassador when the Chinese government sent tanks into Tiananmen square to quell the student-led protests, sent telegrams to the foreign office on June 5, a day after the massacre. He said a person – whose name was redacted from the document – passed along the information from an unnamed member of the State Council.

The documents from the UK National Archives in London were declassified in October and obtained by news site HK01. Continue reading

Taiwan moves to erase Chiang legacy

Posted by: Martin Winter <dujuan99@gmail.com>
Source: South China Morning Post (12/6/17):
Taiwan moves to erase Chiang Kai-shek’s authoritarian legacy with new law
Renaming of streets and schools, removal of related symbols made compulsory under new ‘transitional justice bill’
By Agence-France Presse

Tributes to Taiwan’s former dictator Chiang Kai-shek will be removed across the island after lawmakers voted in favour of the mandatory axing of symbols of its authoritarian past.

The so-called transitional justice bill, which was passed late on Tuesday, means that streets and schools will be renamed and statues taken down.

It also paves the way for a full investigation into Chiang’s “White Terror” – a purge of his political opponents between 1947 and his death in 1975.

As Taiwan struggles with Chiang Kai-shek’s legacy, a look at how China’s rulers treated their predecessors. Continue reading

Teaching the Nanjing Atrocities

Source: Sup China (11/21/17)
Teaching the Nanjing Atrocities

If you’re a history or China studies teacher, you might be interested in two online seminars to be held next week by the nonprofit Facing History, on teaching about the Nanjing Atrocities: November 29 at 8 – 9 a.m. EST and November 30 at 3 – 4 p.m. EST. Facing History has also published a blog post on “Three reasons to explore the Nanjing Atrocities 80 years later.”