Check for understanding.
Discussion on Mao Zedong’s rise to power:
Imagine you have been tasked with writing an article explaining the relevance of Devils on the Doorstep to American high school and university students of Chinese history.
If you feel stuck, consider these questions to prompt your thinking . . .
Technical set up for Devils at the Doorstep
Nanjing Massacre context:
Discussion on John Rabe’s diary:
(Left) Jiang in the early 1920s, (Center) in 1945 alongside Mao Zedong in Chongqing, and (Right) in 1960 with his wife, Song Meiling, and President Eisenhower on Taiwan.
Check for understanding
Jiang Jieshi through the frame of a virtual gallery
Above (left) Richard Bernstein's article in The New York Times in 1989, and (right) Bernardo Bertolucci in the Forbidden City during filming of The Last Emperor (1987).
Class engagement self-assessment survey
Essential questions for Unit III:
Film and history:
Start today with the third question. In small groups, brainstorm how your assigned medium can provide unique perspective on “truth” about the past:
Next, we’ll bring film into the conversation. We’ll start by reading a short excerpt from Richard Bernstein, “Can Movies Teach History?” in The New York Times (26 November 1989). Once you have finished reading the excerpt below, discuss, with a partner:
Something strange—not new, but ever more conspicuous—haunts the cultural landscape. Movie makers and television producers have become our most powerful, though perhaps not our most careful, historians. It seems fair to say that more people are getting their history, or what they think is history, from the movies these days than from the standard history books. The phenomenon is probably unavoidable, yet, if the history as presented by the movies turns out to be a muddy blur of fantasy and fact, the consequences cannot be good. In the 16th century, Francis Bacon said that history makes men wise. It follows that bad history, trivialized history, history distorted and sensationalized, can make them foolish.
There have been history movies for decades, of course, from Eisenstein's “Ten Days that Shook the World” (with its famous—and unhistorical—scenes of Kerensky hiding under his couch) to “The Babe Ruth Story.” But the latest examples have been particularly big-budget affairs, [including] Bernardo Bertolucci's “Last Emperor.”
In a world dominated by Top Guns, Lethal Weapons and Police Academies, the mere fact that some directors concentrate on critical episodes of our past is in its way heartening. At the same time, there is something disconcerting about the tendency of movies-as-history to construct Technicolored and sound-tracked edifices of entertainment on the slender foundations of what appear to be actual events, or, at the very least, to mingle fact with fancy, history with imagination, in such a way that the average viewer has no way of sorting out one from the other. . . .
Mr. Bertolucci got the costumes splendidly right in “The Last Emperor,” which won nine Academy Awards two years ago [in 1987], but he fashioned a biography designed originally in China’s Propaganda Department to show the benefits of Maoist-style re-education. . . .
One obvious question about this is: Why shouldn’t the film maker, like the novelist, have license to use the material of history selectively and partially in the goal of entertaining, creating a good dramatic product, even forging what is sometimes called the poetic truth, a truth truer even than literal truth? The artist, one could argue, is an interpreter, not a reporter, a seeker after meaning, perhaps a prophet, but not a scribe; so the invention or rearrangement of details doesn't matter. Indeed, the question could be put this way: Does it matter if the details are wrong if the underlying meaning of events is accurate? Or, conversely, does it matter if the details are correct if the underlying truths remain twisted and unsubstantiated?
These are not easy questions to answer, especially given the difficulty, even for historians, of knowing exactly what is the underlying truth in the first place. But any answer has to take into account two things. First, even “poetic truth” is a mere handy justification for historical fabrication if it derives from a willful disregard of the facts of history. We live, after all, in a time shadowed by the great falsifications of the dictators, reflected in literary form by Orwell’s memory hole, or by Milan Kundera’s concept of forgetfulness. The recent past does suggest the sacredness of scrupulous, sober remembering, of the need to treat the past as a vessel that cannot be filled with whatever combination of truth and falsehood can compete with “Top Gun” at the box office.
Second is the plain fact that the movies and television are our most powerful media. “The difference between movies and novels is the fundamental illusion of photography,” says Richard Slotkin, a professor of history at Wesleyan University who has written about the movies-as-history genre. “Even when you know that something didn’t happen, movie photography gives you the illusion that it did.”
Armed with their special persuasive power, many of the latest history movies deal not with distant events but with the central episodes and actors of our era. They deal with colonialism and war, freedom and civil rights, corruption and malfeasance in office—the events and issues, in short, on which public consciousness is forged. And so if you believe with the historian Wilhelm Dilthey that man can know himself only in his history, then the distortion of the past, particularly for motives of profit or politics, becomes a matter for serious contemplation.
Left: photo of the author Lao She. Right: scene from the 2010 CCTV production of Teahouse (茶馆)
Background: Lao She (老舍, 1899-1966)
Performance and analysis
Check for understanding / written reflection
Left: Photo of Lu Xun in 1930 (Source: China Story), Center: A 1974 portrait of Lu Xun by Li Yitai titled "Marxism is the most lucid and lively philosophy: a portrait of Lu Xun" (Source: China Story), Right: A woodcut illustration accompanying "Diary of a Madman" (Source: Harvard).
Background on Lu Xun
Quotes and questions
Lu Xun’s afterlife
The cartoon below, captioned “Down with Cao, Lu and Zhang by the workers, the students and the merchants,” was published in 1919. I have provided translation (the blue italicized text) to help you understand the Chinese printed on the figures.
Based on your reading, answer the following questions using evidence from the image above:
Step 1. You and your partner will receive two cards:
Step 2. Take turns asking questions as you circulate around the room using this pattern:
Step 3. The two partners that hold the bio card should create a brief “TED Talk” that contains elements of the personal introduction that synthesizes the biographical details and the arguments on the document card. Effective TED Talks are clear, narrative-driven, and focused on making one big idea accessible to a broad audience. Both partners should contribute to the short speech. This is also the point where you may wish to consult additional resources if you would like.
Step 4. Deliver your “TED Talk” and take questions from the audience. Every audience member should expect to ask three thoughtful questions over the course of the presentations.
Introduction to New Youth
One of Chen Duxiu’s most important contributions was the creation and editorship of New Youth (Xin qingnian 新青年) magazine.
Start by looking at the table of contents (PDF ) from a 1919 edition of New Youth magazine. As you look it over, consider:
Next, let’s look a little more closely at a few of the articles from this edition. Each team will focus on one document and the "consider" questions that follow. You will be asked to guide your classmates briefly through each text.
Team A. Excerpts from Hu Shi, “Why I write poems in the vernacular,” New Youth, May 1919.
I clearly stated that, “Classical Chinese is a half dead language and should not be taught using a methodology used to teach a live language.” I also stated that “so-called live language is a language that is used in daily life, such as English, French and vernacular Chinese. The so-called dead languages, such as [ancient] Greek and Latin, are not used daily, in other words, they’re dead. . . .
[T]he literary revolution that I propose is based on the current situation of Chinese literature and has little to do with the new literature movements in Europe and America. The reason that I sometimes quote Western literary history, (specifically the part when European authors began to write in their native languages three or four hundred years ago), is only because the need for vernacular literature in China today is very similar to the need in Europe then. If we study what those countries accomplished, we will reduce our conservatism and increase our courage. . . .
There are eight rules in new literature:
1. Do not quote idioms;
2. Do not use set phrases;
3. Do not use couplet format;
4. Do not avoid vernacular words;
5. Do follow correct grammar;
6. Do not write claptrap;
7. Do not imitate ancestors;
8. There must be a point to the writing.
Team B. Excerpts from Li Dazhao, “My view on Marxism,” New Youth, May 1919.
I have not done much research on Marxism; therefore it is bold of me to attempt to talk about Marxism here. However, ever since the Russian Revolution, Marxism is about to sweep through the world. Countries such as Germany, Austria, and Hungary started their revolutions one after another following Marxist ideology. While Marxism has caught people’s attention around the world and has stirred up great changes, it also has generated many misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
Although our study of Marxism [at New Youth] is slight, there has been a great deal of interest in, and criticism of, his works in various countries as a result of the 100th anniversary [of Marx’s birth] in 1918. We have collected and edited these writings to introduce them to our readers in this Marxism edition of New Youth magazine. I believe it is not without benefit for readers to gain some insight into this world-altering theory through our discussions. If there are any errors due to the editors’ limited knowledge of Marxism, we hope our dear readers will offer their corrections.
Team C. Excerpts from Chen Duxiu’s opening editorial, New Youth, December 1919.
(Note: this was published several months after the other selections and is therefore not included in the table of contents above).
We believe that the moral progress of mankind should expand to a standard above the life based on animal impulse; therefore, we should extend a feeling of friendship and mutual assistance to all peoples of the world. But toward aggressive and possessive warlords and plutocrats, we have to be hostile.
We advocate mass movement and social reconstruction, absolutely cutting off any relations with past and present political parties.
Although we do not believe in the omnipotence of politics, we recognize that politics is an important aspect of public life. And we believe that in a genuine democracy, political rights must be distributed to all people. Even though there may be limitations, the criteria for the distribution will be whether people work or not, rather than whether they own property or not. . . . We recognize [political parties] as a necessary device for political practice, but we shall never tolerate membership in parties that support the interests of the few or of one class rather than the happiness of the whole society.
We believe that politics, ethics, science, the arts, religion, and education should all meet practical needs in the achievement of progress for present and future social life. . . .
We believe that to respect women’s personality and rights is a practical need for the social progress at present, and we hope that they themselves will be completely aware of their duty to society.
Check for understanding.
Wrap up activity:
By the 1890s Sun had worked to organize a series of revolutionary associations—eventually culminating in the Guomindang as a formal political party in the aftermath of the Xinhai Revolution. Naturally, he did not have access to social media during this time. If he did, describe an image-driven meme or tweet (140 character limit) that he might have used to promote one or more of his ideas.
Unit I feedback report (5 min):
Timeline overview (5 min):
Questions to consider:
Viewing (20 min)
Debrief (time remaining based on questions)