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
查看简体中文版 | 查看繁體中文版

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 <>
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.”

Dazibao exhibition

Source: Sup China (11/14/17)
When Words Kill: ‘Big-Character Posters’ Are Testament To Tenacity And Suffering In One Of China’s Darkest Periods

In China in Ten Words, translated into English by Allan H. Barr, author Yu Hua gives a trenchant description of big-character posters (大字报 dàzìbào) as he experienced them as a child:

At the outset of the Cultural Revolution “big-character posters” started to appear. Political screeds rendered in clumsily handwritten characters — and now and again some elegantly written ones, too — these were the first acts of the disenfranchised masses in challenging the power of officialdom. Written on broadsheets are big as decent-sized windows and posted on the walls that ran alongside city streets, shorter versions took the form of two sheets of paper mounted one on top of another, while longer ones involved five or six sheets set out in a horizontal row. In the years to follow, these big-character posters would become the largest exhibition of calligraphy China has ever seen: all across the country, in cities and towns, big streets and small, walls were decorated with them. People would gather in the streets and read the posters with undisguised relish, for although they all employed much the same revolutionary rhetoric, they began to criticize officials and their high and mighty ways. Continue reading

What you didn’t know about Cixi

Source: SCMP (11/15/17)
The woman who ‘ruled’ China: what you didn’t know about Empress Dowager Cixi
The former concubine, who effectively controlled country during late Qing dynasty for nearly five decades, still divides opinion 109 years after her death

Empress Dowager Cixi, who died 109 years ago today.

Empress Dowager Cixi, who died 109 years ago today.

Although it has been 109 years (today) since the death of the Empress Dowager Cixi – also known as the “dragon lady” and the “old master Buddha” – who effectively ruled China during the late Qing dynasty (1644-1911) for nearly five decades, she still divides public opinion.

Born on November 29, 1835, she was chosen as a concubine for the Emperor Xianfeng when she was a young girl. She gave birth to the emperor’s son – the future Emperor Tongzhi – in 1856 and went on to live an extravagant and privileged life in the imperial court without concerning herself with the hardships facing ordinary people. Continue reading

A Village with My Name

New Publication: A Village with My Name: A Family History of China’s Opening to the World (University of Chicago Press, 2017)

When journalist Scott Tong moved to Shanghai, his assignment was to start up the first full-time China bureau for “Marketplace,” the daily business and economics program on public radio stations across the United States. But for Tong the move became much more—it offered the opportunity to reconnect with members of his extended family who had remained in China after his parents fled the communists six decades prior. By uncovering the stories of his family’s history, Tong discovered a new way to understand the defining moments of modern China and its long, interrupted quest to go global.

A Village with My Name offers a unique perspective on the transitions in China through the eyes of regular people who have witnessed such epochal events as the toppling of the Qing monarchy, Japan’s occupation during World War II, exile of political prisoners to forced labor camps, mass death and famine during the Great Leap Forward, market reforms under Deng Xiaoping, and the dawn of the One Child Policy. Tong’s story focuses on five members of his family, who each offer a specific window on a changing country: a rare American-educated girl born in the closing days of the Qing Dynasty, a pioneer exchange student, an abandoned toddler from World War II who later rides the wave of China’s global export boom, a young professional climbing the ladder at a multinational company, and an orphan (the author’s daughter) adopted in the middle of a baby-selling scandal fueled by foreign money. Through their stories, Tong shows us China anew, visiting former prison labor camps on the Tibetan plateau and rural outposts along the Yangtze, exploring the Shanghai of the 1930s, and touring factories across the mainland.

With curiosity and sensitivity, Tong explores the moments that have shaped China and its people, offering a compelling and deeply personal take on how China became what it is today.

Bulletin of the Institute of Modern History, no. 96

The latest issue of Bulletin of the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica, Vol. 96 is now available online at:



Giuseppe Ros as a Scholar-Diplomat in China, 1908-1948
By Chang Li

Joseon Confucians’ “Chinese Identity”: A New Interpretation
By Kang Jieun

The Birth of the Public Spittoon: An Anti-Spitting Controversy in Hong Kong and the Response of the Chinese Community
By Sean Hsiang-lin Lei

[Book Reviews]

Onodera Shiro (trans. Zhou Junyu), National Flag, National Song, National Holiday: Modern Chinese Nationalism and State Symbols, Reviewed by Chang Jun

Tang Yan, The Two Worlds of Ye Gonchao: From Eliot to Dulles, Reviewed by Ya-Hung Hsiao

Posted by: Jhih-hong JHENG

Afterlives of the Nanjing Massacre

We are rapidly approaching the 80th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre. Now that the Party Congress is over and Trump’s visit too, I expect this to be back in the spotlight. Here I chart the journey of the Nanjing Massacre as it pinballed through history, more often filling out powerful agendas than reflecting on the terrible fate of those caught in the crossfire.

The Afterlives of the Nanjing Massacre

Hopefully it will spur some discussion here about what this sort of thing means nowadays and different ways of grappling with it.

Lee Mack <>