Jonathan Spence dies at 85

Source: NYT (12/27/21)
Jonathan Spence, Noted China Scholar, Dies at 85
His classes at Yale and well-regarded books explored China’s vast history through details that illuminated bigger pictures and themes.
By Neil Genzlinger

Jonathan D. Spence in 2001. A historian of China, his deeply researched books probed individual lives and odd moments that were representative of larger cultural forces, wrapping it all together with vivid storytelling. Credit…Misha Erwitt for The New York Times

Jonathan D. Spence, an eminent scholar of China and its vast history who in books like “God’s Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan” (1996) and “The Search for Modern China” (1990) excavated that country’s past and illuminated its present, died on Saturday at his home in West Haven, Conn. He was 85.

His wife, Annping Chin, said the cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease.

Professor Spence, who taught for more than 40 years at Yale University, where his lecture classes were always in great demand, found the big picture of Chinese history in small details. His books, deeply researched, probed individual lives and odd moments that were representative of larger cultural forces, wrapping it all together with vivid storytelling.

“This is a delicate spider’s web of a book, deft, fascinating and precise as Chinese calligraphy,” Diana Preston wrote in The Los Angeles Times in a review of his “Treason by the Book” (2001), about a scholar who challenged the third Manchu emperor in the early 1700s. “It is also unnerving because it conjures so much that still resonates.” Continue reading

Translating Early Modern China review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Lucas Klein’s review of Translating Early Modern China: Illegible Cities, by Carla Nappi. The review appears below and at its online home: My thanks to our new book review editor for translations and translation studies, Michael Gibbs Hill, for ushering the review to publication.


Kirk A. Denton, MCLC

Translating Early Modern China:
Illegible Cities

By Carla Nappi

Reviewed by Lucas Klein

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright December, 2021)

Carla Nappi, Translating Early Modern China: Illegible Cities Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021. 256 pp. ISBN: 978-0-19-886639-8 (Cloth)

“This is a history book” (vii), Carla Nappi writes at the beginning of Translating Early Modern China: Illegible Cities. Then: “this isn’t a history book” (viii). She’s right.

I find it a sad irony as a partisan of my discipline that historians are so often better than literary scholars at incorporating daring literary techniques into their scholarly writings—or into their conceptualizations of what it means to write scholarship. Nappi, for instance, has lectured and has a forthcoming book on the art of history as the art of the disc jockey (I think of David Bowie: “I am a DJ, I am what I play”). Even so, this history book is not only not a standard history book, it is also much more than a history book: it is a work of translation studies; it is an appeal to understand China beyond its obvious yet limiting relationship to the Chinese language; and it is a work of literature. In the medium of its mixture of these various aspects and more is its message about early modern China and translation. Continue reading

Struggling for historical truth

Source: China Media Project (12/20/21)
Struggling for Historical Truth
By David Bandurski
Late last week, Song Gengyi, a journalism teacher at a vocational college in Shanghai, was fired for making “erroneous remarks” on the number of victims of the 1937 Nanjing Massacre. Her firing prompted a fierce struggle online between those who saw her as a lacking patriotism and those who believed she was treated unfairly. But online censorship seems to have given the first group the upper hand.

Song Gengyi, a journalism instructor who was fired from her job at Shanghai’s Aurora College on December 16.

The firing on Thursday of a teacher at a vocational college in Shanghai who, according to state media made the “erroneous remarks” on the number of victims of the 1937 Nanjing Massacre, has prompted a fierce struggle online over the right to explore historical truths. But censorship by the authorities has effectively silenced voices in support of the teacher, sending the message that nuance about CCP orthodoxy on history will not be accepted – and that teachers should beware of student informants in the classroom.

The storm began on December 15 as a short video circulated online – apparently shared by a student “informant” – of a lecture in which Song Gengyi (宋庚一) questioned the 300,000 official number given by the Chinese government for the number of victims in the Nanjing Massacre, a tragedy that unfolded on December 13, 1937, as the Imperial Japanese Army captured the capital city of Nanjing during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Song made the remarks during her December 14 “News Interview” (新闻采访) course at Shanghai’s Aurora College, held the day after nationwide commemoration of the massacre’s anniversary.

On the afternoon of Thursday, December 16, the official Weibo account of the People’s Daily, the CCP’s flagship newspaper, weighed in on Song’s remarks. The tone of the post, which called the 300,000 number “iron-clad fact” (铁证如山), was severe. It said that Song was “errant as a teacher” (枉为人师) for “questioning historical truth,” and that she was “errant as a compatriot” (枉为国人) for “forgetting hardships and denying the evil deeds of another country.” Continue reading

Yeh Shih-tao: the writer who ate dreams

Source: Taipei Times (12/5/21)
Taiwan in Time: The writer who ate dreams
After a carefree youth spent immersed in and writing literature, novelist Yeh Shih-tao was jailed during the White Terror. He eventually completed Taiwan’s first literary history
By Han Cheung / Staff reporter

Yeh Shih-tao’s writings and book covers on display at the Yeh Shih-tao Literature Memorial Hall. Photo: Liu Wan-chun, Taipei Times

Yeh Shih-tao (葉石濤) once compared writers to beasts who devour dreams to sustain themselves. For the first 18 years of his life, Yeh’s well-off family could afford to let him daydream, and he shut out the world that was being ravaged by World War II, seeking refuge in the world of literature.

Despite a concerned teacher warning his father that the boy was “useless,” Yeh had penned three novels by the time he finished high school. His third attempt, A Letter from Lin (林君來的信), was modeled after the work of French novelist Alphonse Daudet and caught the eye of Literary Taiwan (文藝台灣) editor Mitsuru Nishikawa. Published in April 1943, it was Yeh’s official debut.

The family’s fortune soon disappeared, however, and the young novelist was forced to confront reality. Not only did he struggle to make a living, he was no longer allowed to write in his native Japanese after the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) took control of Taiwan after losing the Chinese Civil War and fleeing China. The lowest point came when he was thrown in jail in 1951 for “failing to report a communist bandit,” a common charge during the White Terror. Continue reading

Beijing Spring documentary review

Source: NYT (12/9/21)
‘Beijing Spring’ Review: The Politics of Aesthetics
This new documentary chronicles the movement for democratic artistic expression that exploded in the wake of the Cultural Revolution in China.
By Devika Girish

Archival footage, as seen in the documentary “Beijing Spring.” Credit…Wang Rui/AC FILMS

Beijing Spring
Directed by Andy Cohen, Gaylen Ross
Documentary, 1h 40m

Can art effect real change in the world? To this ever-urgent question, “Beijing Spring” — a new documentary about the titular movement for democratic expression that exploded in the wake of the Cultural Revolution in China — responds with a resounding yes.

Directed by Andy Cohen with Gaylen Ross, the film focuses on the Stars Art Group, a collective of self-taught practitioners who seized on the tumult after Mao Zedong’s death in 1976 and deployed their art like Molotov cocktails. They circulated their paintings and literature via underground magazines; papered revolutionary poems and calligraphy on the famed Democracy Wall; and, most notably, mounted a show on the exterior of the National Art Museum of China after being denied permission to exhibit within.

Continue reading

Xi cements his status with historic resolution

Source: BBC NEWS (11/11/21)
China’s Xi Jinping cements his status with historic resolution

Xi Jinping

As only the third leader to have issued such a report, the move establishes Xi’s status as an equal to party founder Mao Zedong and his successor Deng Xiaoping. Source: Reuters.

The Chinese Communist Party has passed a “historical resolution”, cementing Xi Jinping’s status in political history. The document, a summary of the party’s 100-year history, addresses its key achievements and future directions.

It is only the third of its kind since the founding of the party – the first was passed by Mao Zedong in 1945 and the second by Deng Xiaoping in 1981.It was passed on Thursday at the sixth plenary session, one of China’s most important political meetings.

As only the third Chinese leader to have issued such a resolution, the move aims to establish Mr Xi as an equal to party founder Mao and his successor Deng.

Some observers see the resolution as Mr Xi’s latest attempt to turn back decades of decentralisation by Chinese leaders that began under Deng and continued through other leaders like Jiang Zemin – a sign that China might be moving back to a so-called cult of personality. Continue reading

Xi is rewriting China’s past

Source: NYT (11/7/21)
To Steer China’s Future, Xi Is Rewriting Its Past
A new official summation of Communist Party history is likely to exalt Xi Jinping as a peer of Mao and Deng, fortifying his claim to a new phase in power.
By Chris Buckley

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, giving a speech last month in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, giving a speech last month in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Credit…Roman Pilipey/EPA, via Shutterstock

The glowing image of China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, greets visitors to museum exhibitions celebrating the country’s decades of growth. Communist Party biographers have worshipfully chronicled his rise, though he has given no hint of retiring. The party’s newest official history devotes over a quarter of its 531 pages to his nine years in power.

No Chinese leader in recent times has been more fixated than Mr. Xi on history and his place in it, and as he approaches a crucial juncture in his rule, that preoccupation with the past is now central to his political agenda. A high-level meeting opening in Beijing on Monday will issue a “resolution” officially reassessing the party’s 100-year history that is likely to cement his status as an epoch-making leader alongside Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

While ostensibly about historical issues, the Central Committee’s resolution — practically holy writ for officials — will shape China’s politics and society for decades to come.

The touchstone document on the party’s past, only the third of its kind, is sure to become the focus of an intense indoctrination campaign. It will dictate how the authorities teach China’s modern history in textbooks, films, television shows and classrooms. It will embolden censors and police officers applying sharpened laws against any who mock, or even question, the communist cause and its “martyrs.” Even in China, where the party’s power is all but absolute, it will remind officials and citizens that Mr. Xi is defining their times, and demanding their loyalty. Continue reading

Shutting down historical debate

Source: NYT (11/2/21)
Shutting Down Historical Debate, China Makes It a Crime to Mock Heroes
Under a new law, China has zealously prosecuted even the perceived slander of Communist figures, broadening Xi Jinping’s campaign to dominate party orthodoxy.
By Steven Lee Meyers

A painting showing Mao with Red Army soldiers and officers at the National Art Museum in Beijing during the exhibition “100 Years Toward Greatness” in June. Credit…Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times

The young woman in Beijing began her post complaining about mobs gathering online, where recluses vent misogynistic insecurities from the safety of desk chairs. As provocative as it was, it might have passed unnoticed except that she added another beat.

She mocked the toxic masculinity of users imagining themselves as Dong Cunrui, a textbook war hero who, according to Chinese Communist Party lore, died valiantly during the civil war that brought the party to power in 1949.

For that passing reference, the woman, 27 and identified in court only by her last name, Xu, was sentenced last month to seven months in prison.

Her crime: violating a newly amended criminal code that punishes the slander of China’s martyrs and heroes. Since it went into effect in March, the statute has been enforced with a revolutionary zeal, part of an intensified campaign under China’s leader, Xi Jinping, to sanctify the Communist Party’s version of history — and his vision for the country’s future. Continue reading

How China Escaped Shock Therapy review

Source: London Review of Books 43, 20 (21 October 2021)
The Scissors Gap
By Rebecca E. Karl

How China Escaped Shock Therapy: The Market Reform Debate by Isabella Weber. Routledge, 358 pp., £29.99, May, 978 1 03 200849 3

In July 1978, Hu Qiaomu, a sociologist who was working in Deng Xiaoping’s Political Research Office, issued a dire report on the Chinese peasantry. Hu wasn’t known as a supporter of radical reform, but he nevertheless called for something to be done to mitigate the effects of the socialist industrialisation programme. Over the previous three decades China’s agricultural sector had been systematically underdeveloped in comparison to its industrial sector, resulting in what became known as the ‘scissors gap’. The prices the state paid peasants for their produce were so low that relief from rural poverty was systemically impossible. As younger – and bolder – intellectuals than Hu graduated from their rural re-education locations and took up academic and political positions in major cities, a debate began over the best way to lift the peasantry, then still 80 per cent of the Chinese population, out of poverty. Economic restructuring was clearly in order. Within a few years, the debate had spread beyond intellectual circles in China, and was engaging economists and policymakers in Eastern and Western Europe, as well as the US. The market, they determined, would rescue the Chinese people. Continue reading

Stories of the White Terror review

Source: Taipei Times
Book review: Fictionalizing Taiwan’s White Terror
Political persecution is revealed as a violence that extends beyond physical abuse to a trauma that scars the soul
By James Baron / Contributing Reporter

Transitions in Taiwan: Stories of the White Terror, edited by Ian Rowen.

Violence and oppression, we are told in the introduction to this collection of tales, are foundational to modern Taiwan, providing “a legacy that continues to influence its contemporary society.”

It is interesting, then, that an anthology subtitled “Stories about the White Terror,” offers few instances of physical violence, a notable exception being a neighborhood dust-up involving a gossip nicknamed Big Mouth Yang.

This incident, from Sung Tse-lai’s (宋澤萊) “Rice Diary,” is the first snapshot in a montage of quotidian happenings in the village of Daniunan (打牛湳), Yunlin County. The story forms part of a series focusing on life in this village in the 50s and 60s.

At first glance, the squabble is an insignificant personal grievance. Yet, this land rights wrangle points to something deeper. Acknowledging that he could simply divide the disputed property, Big Mouth’s assailant Ban-hok nonetheless concludes that “in this downturn, with so much craziness and thievery all around — well maybe he was thief, too.” Continue reading

The Battle at Lake Changjin

Source: Asia Times (10/11/21)
China’s winter warriors rout US Marines, UK’s MI6
Beijing’s macho nationalism bears fruit as epic Korean War movie sets course to be top global film of 2021

Chinese President Xi Jinping, besieged by crises from China Evergrande to power outages, may take some comfort in recent news: A human wave of enthusiastic citizens is storming his nation’s cinemas.

The historical blockbuster Chinese are watching in record numbers is state-funded Korean War epic Battle at Lake Changjin. Its popularity suggests that Beijing’s drive to inculcate patriotism and machismo is bearing fruit.

Making the story even sweeter for Beijing mandarins, it is based on the true story of a torrid Chinese victory over America’s premier troops.

The December 1950 struggle around the high-altitude Lake Changjin – known in the West as Chosin Reservoir – was fought in one of the harshest battlescapes imaginable. Amid rugged mountain terrain, in sub-zero temperatures, an under-equipped Chinese Army Group forced a division of top-tier US Marines to retreat from North Korea.

And it is not just the US Marine Corps that has fallen to the film’s sword. It has also taken out Britain’s secret intelligence service, MI6. Box office receipts for Battle at Lake Changjin outdid those for the massively anticipated but long-delayed new 007 film, No Time to Die. Continue reading

Journalist detained after criticizing Korean war film

Source: NYT (10/8/21)
Chinese Journalist Detained After Criticizing Government-Sponsored Blockbuster
The police arrested Luo Changping on Thursday, two days after he questioned China’s role in the Korean War, the subject of China’s box office hit “The Battle at Lake Changjin.”
By Steven Lee Myers and Amy Chang Chien

“The Battle at Lake Changjin,” which recounts a brutal American defeat in the Korean War, has dominated the box office in China on its opening week. Credit…Getty Images/Getty Images

Luo Changping built a reputation as a muckraking journalist in China, a place where few dare pursue the calling, until he was forced out of the industry in 2014. Now a businessman, he has run afoul of the authorities again, this time over a critique spurred by a blockbuster movie about the Korean War.

The police detained Mr. Luo, 40, on Thursday, two days after he posted commentary on social media questioning China’s role in the war. The conflict is the subject of a new film, “The Battle at Lake Changjin,” that has dominated the box office over the seven-day holiday known as Golden Week.

The film, sponsored by the government, depicts an against-all-odds American defeat in a battle known in the United States as the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. Mr. Luo’s crime was to question the legal justification of China’s intervention when North Korea’s troops were on the verge of defeat after invading the South. Continue reading

From Rural China to the Ivy League

From Rural China to the Ivy League: Reminiscences of Transformations in Modern Chinese History by Yü Ying-shih, translated and edited by Josephine Chiu-Duke and Michael S. Duke (Cambria Press), has just been published.

Professor Yü’s book, originally published in Chinese, covers the period from his childhood in rural Anhui Province China to his professorship at Harvard University, and it has been read extensively in Chinese, both in serial form in the Mingbao Monthly and in book form. The book sold more than 10,000 copies in the first month after its publication by Yunchen Publishing Company in Taipei, Taiwan, in late 2018. The book was awarded the twelfth Hong Kong Book Prize in June 2019. This book, expertly translated by Professors Michael S. Duke and Josephine Chiu-Duke (University of British Columbia), is much more than the memoir of the scholar who has been hailed as the most important living Chinese historian of our times—it is also an invaluable record of a history of our times, witnessing the cultural, political, and social transformations of what Professor Yü notes as the period of the most violent turmoil and social upheaval in modern Chinese history. This complex period is now made accessible to English-language readers, who will also benefit from the helpful notes by the translators. The book also includes rare photos from Professor Yü’s personal collection.

Read an excerpt (“there were still some people who remembered when I ran into this serious ‘literary disaster’ at the age of thirteen or fourteen.”— Yü Ying-shih) from chapter 1, “Rural Life in Qianshan County, Anhui Province” here. Continue reading

The party’s model emperor

This insightful commentary originally published in The Economist, about the Chinese Communist Party’s embrace of violent, expansionist Qing emperors, is now a “404” — it can no longer be found at the paper’s URL for it,

Not sure what happened, but here below is the text (from a library database).

Magnus Fiskesjö,

Chaguan | The party’s model emperor.
The Economist. 9/18/2021, Vol. 440, Issue 9263, p38.
A Qing dynasty ruler is praised for pacifying China’s borderlands

WHAT WITH his dozens of concubines, his obsession with collecting precious jade and his penchant for inscribing his own (not very good) poems onto ancient paintings, the Qianlong emperor makes an unlikely hero for the Communist Party of China, especially one led by Xi Jinping, a stern ascetic. Qianlong was a man of formidable intellect and will, whose long reign from 1736-95 marked a high point of the Qing dynasty. But he was also a conservative aristocrat, from his passion for genealogy to his love of bowhunting on horseback, an archaic pastime even then. Continue reading

Thinking the Republic of China symposium

Thinking the Republic of China: An International Symposium 《思考中華民國》國際論壇
Time: August 21, 2021 to September 6, 2021 (Local Taiwan Time)
Location: Online
Registration is Open and Preferred
Organiser: The Global Sinology Forum at National Sun Yat-sen University, Taiwan (國際漢學平台在中山)

To register and for program details, please click here and here

In 2015, professor Yang Rur-bin (楊儒賓) published In Praise of 1949 (1949禮讚), a short volume that examined the long term intellectual and cultural impact that the 1949 transfer of the Republic of China (ROC) state structure to Taiwan had on the island. Published at a time of rising nativist nationalism on the island, Yang’s work argued that despite the historic traumas associated with the ROC regime in Taiwan, the 1949 rupture also transformed Taiwanese society in a variety of positive ways, imbuing it with a state structure that not only valued traditional Chinese culture (at a time when it was being openly denounced on the Mainland), but also possessed powerful forces within it committed to liberalism and democracy, grounded in a democratic tradition of thought that went back to the late-Qing.

台灣清華大學的楊儒賓教授在2015年發表了《1949禮讚》,探索了1949年中華民國國體撤退到台灣,長期對島嶼內部文化與知識上的影響。此書出版時,台灣社會的本土意識正在上揚。著論旨在提倡,雖無人能否認中華民國在台灣造成的歷史傷痛,但1949年兩岸的裂解也使得台灣社會開始進行重要的正向轉化。在中國大陸政權否認中華文化的同時,中華民國不僅賦予台灣一個重視中華傳統文化的政體,在其脈絡中亦有重視民主與自由主義的勢力來到島嶼,並以晚清以降的民主主義與民族主義思潮為理論基礎。 Continue reading