Cultural appreciation or cultural appropriation?
Today started out with a Committee on Teaching Asia-sponsored panel, "Asia: Cultural Appreciation or Appropriation" that began with a music video (Coldplay/Beyonce) and a set of questions from the moderator, Karen Kane. Where is the line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation? If that line has something to do with unequal power relations, how do we know when one group takes something that does not belong to them? And how do we determine what "belongs" to whom? Is authorship possible for, say, folk traditions? What are the modes or ways that appropriation might occur? How do we reconcile these issues with concepts like a "multicultural society" (Canada) or a "melting pot" (America)? How much does change over time complicate our understanding of culture? And does it matter when money is at stake?
Elisheva Perelman developed these questions further by pointing to Katy Perry's performance as Japanese geisha clad in a Chinese qipao with a miscellany "unauthentic" props for a 2013 live performance her single "Unconditional Love" because, in her words, "I was thinking about unconditional love, and I was thinking: Geishas are basically, like, the masters of loving unconditionally"? Is that the same kind of problem as the Oberlin students who called out the bad Asian food in the dining hall as appropriation?
Melanie King and Farley Richmond seemed to offer two alternative takes on these questions. Professor King viewed the issue as essentially political, arguing that people of dominant cultures not only perform the cultures of oppressed peoples, but restrict or forbid oppressed peoples from performing their own cultures. Gwen Stefani can sport a bindi, King pointed out, but Indian-Americans need to "fit in" to survive financially. Professor Richmond answered that in theater and in film, the primary concern was creativity, requiring the freedom to draws upon – and mix together – inspirations across time and space. Money cannot be seen as merely "dirty," since it is what makes the arts sustainable. All fascinating insights, though it struck me that King and Richmond did not actually address one another, just as Asian-American protesters against the "kimono" exhibit at the MFA in Boston never really came to terms with the Japanese-born counter-protesters when a similar debate unfolded in July 2015.
Nixon in China, Trump in Pyongyang?
John Delury offered an unexpected take on North Korea as part of the panel, "U.S.-Asian Relations under Trump." Above all, he said, North Korea is an "isolated, impoverished state in the heart of Northeast Asia." What would happen if we stopped pretending that the regime is on the verge of failure and instead started accepting the facts as they are and guiding Kim Jung-un toward a future as the North's "developmental dictator," not unlike Deng Xiaoping? Completing the nuclear program, he said, is the "tail end of daddy's program"; Kim Jung-un's task is to "Make North Korea Great Again." While acknowledging it is unlikely that the president is a regular reader of Foreign Affairs magazine where Delury laid out his case, he suggests that no one is better positioned than Trump to pull off a Nixon-meets-Mao moment.
How do we make sense of Japan's Empire?
In a terrific late-afternoon panel, three Japan scholars sought to tackle the view that Japan's modernization-cum-imperialism from the 1870s to 1945 was contradictory, "schizophrenic," or even "absurd." Historians have long noted that after "mimicking" patterns of Western imperialism, Japanese leaders swung between seeking a place in the international order as a great power and attacking the legitimacy of that order as a self-styled guardian of Asia.
All three of the panelists pushed back against this picture of contradiction. Robert Eskildsen offered an admittedly "complicated" alternative explanation of "recursion," by which he meant to shift our focus from the structure of relationships to the logic behind how those relationships were formed. Japan, he argues, was not a passive recipient of Westernization, but rather was engaged in a constant process of adaptation that Westerners ultimately found helpful and adopted for their own ends. Thus, the particular state of relations between Japan and, say, the United States might be different at any given moment, but the longer-term pattern remained the same as Japan sought to absorb and adapt the lessons of the West to avoid colonization.
Robert Tierney and Ethan Mark each sought instead to complicate the structure in which Japanese imperialism operated. They offered what I saw as ultimately complementary arguments on the "triangular" relations (Tierney) between Japan, the West, and Japan's colonies and what we might term "rectangular" relations (Mark) between Japan, the West, Japan's colonies, and some other factor – usually the Chinese. To make sense of Japan's actions at any given point, one simply needs to recognize the role third (or fourth) party actors played in the calculations at a given moment.
Bonus! What did "alternative facts" look like circa 1942?
Trying to navigate these complex web of relationships (see previous section) was tough, as Mark pointed out with several rich textual examples. I have copied out one below from a "China pacification unit" in July 1942:
They argued that Japan and China have the same script and are of the same race (dôbun dôshu), they are brothers, and they should proceed with hands joined. Someone in the audience replied: All right, but China is the older brother. It is said that members of the pacification unit had no words to answer this for some time. How wonderful if they had been able to reply immediately. It is a problem of history – when you are properly aware of Japan's history, the answer is extremely simple. Japan has always been leader of the Asia-Pacific sphere from ancient times – if you know this history, that is enough. Japan has always been constructing China – if you know this is history, that is enough. We are now seeking this truth with our own eyes in the Greater East Asia War. We must be aware that this truth before our eyes had been continuously repeated in China since ancient times. What is true in China is, again, true in the southern regions. Japanese people, take great pride!
6. Dapeng (大鹏) is a type of mythological bird in Chinese mentioned at least as far back as the Zhuangzi. The term has also been used to translate Persian and Buddhist mythical birds, and recently has been a symbol of the "One Belt One Road" (一带一路) project. (Jim Millward)
5. "Ancient" tourist sites are being constructed around China, most commonly reflecting the pre-Opium War eighteenth century "high Qing." Effort to reconstruct the past part of shift from believing that "the past was dismal and the future bright" to "the past is comfortable but the future is scary." (Tobie Meyer-Fong)
4. Contrary to official proclamations on the eve of the Korean War that the peninsula represented China's "little socialist brother," many Chinese at the grassroots distrusted Koreans, who they viewed as "thugs" that "took advantage of China before 1945." And indeed, police reports show 400+ Korean drug dealers were in Beiping (today Beijing) under protection of Japanese authorities in the early 1940s. (Zhao Ma)
3. Child trafficking is a real problem in China, with hundreds of children (many of migrant parents) going missing each week. At least 10,000 – probably more than 70,000 – trafficked each year. (Johanna Ransmeier)
2. Closure of organizations or publications in China less connected to particular actions on part of those organizations or publications than commonly believed. Sacking of Yanhong chunqiu《炎黄春秋》leadership in July 2016 corresponded with arrests of human rights lawyers, church groups, and others. (Rowena Xiaoqing He)
*Bonus: Criticisms of Yanhong chunqiu as representing "historical nihilism" are glaringly disingenuous. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) pretends that the magazine ignored the merits of the past, but instead the magazine was merely recognizing the de-merit of the CCP, meaning it is the CCP that is in fact nihilist. (Perry Link)
1. In 1970 before channels were opened between United States and China, Mao told the leftist American journalist Edgar Snow, in English, that Nixon was the "number one good fellow in the world." This wasn't mere momentary exuberance, because he then ordered perplexed Cultural Revolution-era party cadres to study the statement. (Sergey Radchenko)
Kicked off today in Toronto with "CTA Day" (Committee for Teaching Asia). Seeking peace was the theme, with impressively textured presentation by atomic bomb survivor Setsuko Thurlow, who was thirteen years old in Hiroshima when the bomb fell in August 1945. Toward the end of her talk she recommended checking out her interview with Amy Goodman. In addition, we heard talks on strategies for teaching Hiroshima and the legacies of the partition(s) of British India.
AAS keynote by Zhang Longxi (张隆溪) argued cultural insight only possible if one works from more than one tradition. Cited Montaigne, Reichwein, Leibniz, Gertrude, and Brook showing important role China played in West's intellectual modernity. Also exposed sloppiness of East vs. West essentialism and called out Richard Nisbett (Geography of Thought).
Timothy Cheek and David Ownby led terrific panel on Canadian-Chinese collaboration tackling translation of contemporary Chinese public intellectuals. Cheek said new generation of scholars tasked with engaging Chinese colleagues on equal terms. Good questions on translation practice, e.g. when to keep romanized vs. when to translate? what to do when author makes wild claims? how much to smooth over cultural-specific references?
Calligraphy is among the most recognizable markers of Chinese culture. Even Americans who have never stepped foot in a Chinatown have likely encountered Chinese characters gracing a takeout restaurant sign or peeking out from a neck tattoo. Partly for this reason, Chinese characters provide an accessible entry point to learning about China and East Asia. . . .
Read more here (PDF). Published in Education About Asia volume 21:3 (Winter 2016).
An elderly couple camped outside as most of the city took shelter from the winter chill. They were doused in gasoline, flanked by a box of matches and a coffin. A small crowd looked on solemnly as the pair read posters recounting their story. These were Wang Shibo’s grandparents, whose store on the southern end of the popular Nanluoguxiang (南锣鼓巷) shopping street had been slated for demolition to make way for a new station along Beijing Subway’s newly-extended Line Eight. . . .
Read more here (link to China Beat).
In English, we generally recall important turning points in terms of where they unfolded. Simple place names conjure up entire historical epochs. "Pearl Harbor" marks the American entrance into the Second World War and the global struggle against fascism. "Bandung," the conference in of newly independent African and Asian nations that pledged to stand together in 1955 against imperialism and Cold War division. And then, of course, there is "Tian'anmen." It is doubtful that mention of the square here in China would, by itself, raise any eyebrows. But try "6-4" (六四) and you are can expect quite a different reaction.
The difference stems from the convention in Chinese to refer to politically significant episodes in China's post-dynastic history by date (rather than place), using a truncated month-day pattern. Those with passing familiarity with modern Chinese history are likely to have come across this pattern directly transliterated in reference to
major political movements, for example May Fourth (五四) or May Thirtieth (五卅). If you have spent time in mainland China you may recognize March Eighth (三八) as International Women's Day or October First (十一) as National Day. If your travels have taken you to Taiwan, you might have encountered February Twenty-eighth (二二八), a shorthand for the Guomindang's 1947 massacre of native Taiwanese, or October Tenth (双十), an alternate National Day for a government that traces its origins to the uprising that toppled China's last dynasty, the Xinhai
In logical, if Anglocentric, fashion, I had long assumed that "Xinhai" was a place name. However, yesterday I was introduced to the sixty-year naming cycle often used to reference terms in the late Qing period. This "sexagesimal" system, known in Chinese as ganzhi (干支), combines the ten heavenly stems (天干) with the twelve earthly branches (地支). The system produces a unique name for each year in the cycle. A few of the better-known events whose Chinese names derive from this system include the 1894-95 Sino-Japanese War (甲申战争), the Hundred Days of Reform of 1898 (戊戌变法), the Boxer Uprising in 1900 (庚子事变), the Boxer Protocol the following year (辛丑条约), and of course the Xinhai Revolution in 1911. Although difficult to represent visually with any elegance, I have attempted to illustrate below.
There are some limitations and exceptions to these rules. Natural disasters, as "non-political" events, might be recalled by either the place or time they occurred. For example, the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake is known both as May Twelfth (五一二) and Wenchuan (汶川). The last big earthquake in Tangshan is similarly termed both July Twenty-seventh (二二七) and Tangshan (唐山). Simply on the basis of my own impression, I believe in both cases there is a slight preference for place over time. In addition, even highly political events sometimes take on more
than one moniker. Just as the Xinhai Revolution can described in English as the Wuchang Uprising, the same (武昌起义) can be used in Chinese, especially when referencing to the initial mutiny as distinct from the overall movement to overthrow the Qing.
Still, these two methods are useful to locate sources that might reference particular historical events by what might at first be unfamiliar. Now I know to stop scanning the map for Xinhai and to ask about "Double-Twelve" (双十二事变) rather than the Xi'an Incident.
This post originally appeared on the blog Beijing Time Machine.
As Alec Dubro points out in a recent article for Foreign Policy in Focus, Russia’s fear of its more populous southeastern neighbor is hardly new. Yet, he writes, “[f]or an armchair geo-politician, this seems an easy prediction: Eastern Siberia will soon become Chinese. In fact, the theory seems to be aired every few years, each time with an air of discovery.” Over the years American observers have raised this specter numerous times, from a 2006 Newsweek feature to Henry Kissinger’s 1982 memoir, all the way back to a The New York Times headline in 1892 describing “Russia’s Chinese Worry.”
Below, Sun Jianlin (孙建琳), writing in Culture and History Vision (文史博览), describes how exactly this fear unraveled an ambitious plan by Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev to import millions Chinese workers to help develop Russia’s Far East. Although no specific date is given by the author, the bulk of Soviet experts abroad in China left midway through 1960. In light of the collapse of the negotiations cited above, the Chinese workers in Siberia likely returned home sometime prior to this date.
English translation appears below. The original article can be accessed here.
Soviet Union once planned to import millions of Chinese workers
On 29 September 1954, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev led a delegation to visit Beijing, taking part in the fifth anniversary celebration of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. During his visit, Khrushchev proposed to Chinese leaders that because the Soviet region of Siberia lacked available manpower, he hoped that China could send one million workers to the Soviet Union to participate in Siberian development. However, the Chinese side remained noncommittal.
During the course of the talks, Khrushchev said to Mao Zedong: “Comrade Mao, we certainly do not want to create problems for you. Of course we will not insist on our proposal. If you feel this proposal could harm Chinese national pride, then in that case we should refrain from raising the point. I ask you please not to take this to heart. We can make do with our own workers.” In light of repeated requests by the Soviet leadership, the Chinese government began seriously considering sending workers to the Soviet Union.
On 12 October 1954, the Chinese and Soviet governments signed a cooperation agreement. According to the agreement’s provisions, the Chinese government prepared to send workers to the Soviet Union and to provide assistance in managing their work. The Soviet government would provide Chinese workers the same salary and benefits as Soviet workers. During their period of labor in the Soviet Union, Chinese workers would have the right to to remit up to ten percent of their wages back to China. At the conclusion of three years working abroad in the Soviet Union, each worker could remit up to one thousand rubles of their salary back to China. All items purchased by workers while in the Soviet Union could be brought back, and so on.
At the beginning of 1955, China’s State Council called a meeting to discuss “Sending Chinese Workers to Take Part in the Building of Soviet Communism.” The meeting coordinated specific arrangements for workers abroad. It was decided at the meeting to set a concrete figure of 80,000 workers, including 10,000 soldiers as well as workers drawn principally from Hebei, Shandong, Henan, and other northern provinces. At the same time, participants resolved issues such as the Sino-Soviet bilateral health inspection process and the selection of an entry-exit point. In addition, the Railway Ministry was tasked with holding another meeting to coordinate special trains to transport workers out of the country.
Just as the Chinese side conscientiously worked through these matters, problems arose on the Soviet side.
In fact, inviting Chinese workers to the Soviet Union was quite possibly a mere product of Khrushchev’s whim. He had spoken thoughtlessly without passing the proposal to the CPSU’s Central Committee for study or discussion, an action he soon regretted. Khrushchev’s memoir even goes so far to say: “They (the Chinese) want to occupy Siberia, and to achieve that victory without firing a shot. They want to permeate and take control of Siberia’s economy. They want to ensure that more Chinese settle in Siberia than Russians and other Soviet peoples. Simply stated, they want Siberia to become Chinese and not Russian.” Although it was Khrushchev, after all, that had put forward the initiative, he did not want to publicly go back on his word. As a result he directed his subordinates to shelve the plan.
On 29 April 1955, Pavel Yudi, the Soviet ambassador to China paid a visit to Liu Shaoqi [then serving as the First Vice Chairman of the CCP], tactfully suggesting postponing sending Chinese workers to the Soviet Union. However, the Chinese side did not at all understand the Soviet side’s true intention, remaining ready to provide assistance to the Soviet Union as planned. Liu Shaoqi stated that it would be best to first send several hundred or thousand workers to the Soviet Union to gain experience, and to better prepare for a large quantity of workers to arrive later. Finally, the Soviet government agreed to the Chinese side’s suggestion that initially only one thousand workers be sent.
One thousand Chinese workers reach the Soviet Union
During the summer of 1955, the first one thousand Chinese workers and three managing cadres set foot in the the Soviet Union after a long journey from Hebei’s Qingyuan county. The Soviet side prepared to assign them to three enterprises: 400 to the Irkutsk-Kedong Heavy Construction Trust, 302 to the Molotov Construction Authority, and the other 298 to the Dzhida Combined Enterprise.
On 7 July, the first group of Chinese workers set out on a train from Baoding [in Hebei province], passing Inner Mongolia and continuing onto the Soviet Union. After the Chinese workers entered Soviet borders, the Soviet side gave the workers a can of beef and rice, a can of soybeans, bread, as well as sweets, eggs, and other provisions. Because the Chinese workers were not accustomed to eating bread and canned food, the majority of them did not even finish half of what they were given. Some gave their leftover food to the railway attendants, while others threw it from the train. At this point the workers were overflowing with emotion –– they were afraid that they would not be able to continue living once they arrived at the worksite.
Their fear soon vanished like a puff of smoke as the train dropped the Chinese workers at their respective destinations. Upon their arrival, they were met with welcome receptions organized by members of the local party branches as well as the firms receiving the Chinese workers. Soviet workers and their families were exceedingly gracious and friendly in greeting the Chinese workers. Each of the companies also organized activities for the workers including bathing, film-watching, and walks in the park, all of which the Chinese workers found quite moving.
After several days of rest the Chinese workers were brimming with enthusiasm to begin their manufacturing work in the Soviet Union. Once they began, the Chinese workers primarily assisted with manual labor tasks, including carpentry, painting, bricklaying, digging, and similar jobs. Because the Chinese workers had hoped to gain skills in the Soviet Union, these job assignments engendered discontent among some of the workers. When the time came to designate official work assignments, many of the workers vied to be first to sign up as carpenters, because woodwork was considered a specific skill. Some teams even went so far as resorting drawing of lots to resolve the problem of who would be chosen as carpenters.
Initially, because the workers’ lacked skills, and because many were young or lacked sufficient physical strength, some completely failed to meet their production quotas. Yet as the skill level and translation ability improved, the number of workers completing their quotas rose day by day, and as a result, the Soviet side grew quite satisfied with the Chinese workers. After a period of contact, the diligent and proficiently skilled Chinese workers received approval and praise from the Soviets.
Dormitories had radio and a periodicals reading room
When they first arrived in the Soviet Union, the Chinese workers were not used to eating Western food. The Soviet side was very concerned about this issue. The leading party and union cadres often went to the workers’ living quarters to inspect their clothing, food, and living conditions. Charged with resolving issues related to the workers’ livelihood, the Soviet side sought out cooks among the Chinese workers to improve the food situation.
In the residences, the Soviet side provided the Chinese workers two-story dormitories, with four to six workers sharing each room. These rooms had coated floors as well as heat. About once a week the Chinese workers could exchange their blanket covers, sheets, and pillow cases for a clean set. Each floor had its own kitchen, two washrooms, and two flush toilets. In addition, damp clothes could be dried in the stove room. At the firms based in Irkutsk and Dzhida, Chinese workers even had a rug at the foot of their bed. At the company in Molotov [former name of Perm, 1940-57], each room had an electric kettle.
Each of the Chinese worker dormitories had a “Red Corner” (that is, a reading room) equipped with tables, chairs, a couch, musical instruments, a wall map, board games, as well as subscriptions to People’s Daily (人民日报), Worker’s Daily (工人日报), the journal Sino-Soviet Friendship (中苏友好报), and other periodicals. The Soviet side also gave each person a radio for recreational use. In addition, each work site set up a hospital, movie theater, club house, store, post office, shoe repair shop, and so on. The Chinese workers were quite satisfied with their living conditions.
Chinese workers experience foreign romance
At the various firms, the service workers in the dormitories and canteens, as well as the stop assistants were practically all women. There were also quite a few women workers in the work sites. The Chinese workers’ hard work and sincerity moved the hearts of many of the Soviet women workers who boldly and enthusiastically took the initiative with the Chinese. In this way several foreign romances unfolded. At Dzhida alone, at least eight Chinese workers fell in love with their Soviet female counterparts.
In Irkutsk, Soviet women workers frequently took advantage of meal times and rest time to get closer to the Chinese workers. Others went to the Chinese worker dormitories to drink. Female Soviet translators were also proactive in introducing women workers to the Chinese. Some Soviet women workers, as a result of the language barrier, wrote down the number of the Chinese worker they liked, and later asked the translators for the worker’s name. One Soviet woman worker bought a pack of cigarettes each day for Chinese worker Hu Lansan (胡兰三). After he transferred jobs, she still walked ten kilometers to see him.
Concerning this “foreign romance,” Soviet officials and the company leadership appeared to be rather open-minded, telling the workers that marriage was permitted in principle, but that it would first have to be approved because some women at the work sites had committed crimes in the past. Because of the outstanding work of the Chinese workers, the general manager of the Irkutsk-Kedong Heavy Construction Trust even said half-jokingly: “I do not plan to let these workers return, I think the best way is for them to get married here in the Soviet Union.”
Meanwhile in Moscow
At about the same time the the first set of workers arrived in the Soviet Union, an eight-person negotiating team arrived in Moscow planning to discuss arrangements with the Soviet side for proceeding with sending workers to help the Soviets advance in the building of socialism. However, when they were greeted by the head of the Soviet Union’s Labor Reserve Office, he said said unexpectedly that the Soviet side had yet to formulate a plan for recruiting additional Chinese workers. In the internal report by the Chinese side’s leading cadre, Hu Ming (胡明) could not help but express his surprise: “This situation is completely out of line with our original plan.”
Afterwards, in the wake of worsening Sino-Soviet relations, as all forms of cooperation between the two sides gradually came to a halt, plans to send workers to the Soviet Union also quietly ceased.
This translation originally appeared on the blog Beijing Time Machine.