Art and cash

We talked about James Cahill’s. The Painter’s Practice: How Artists Lived and Worked in Traditional China. . New York: Columbia University Press, 1994 in class recently. You might be under the impression that Chinese artists (calligraphers, painters) lived only for Art and Truth, and disdained the material world. There was indeed a cult of the amateur artist that you can read about in the works of, well, James Cahill. He also wrote this book. Here is a quote from a friend on Zheng Min 鄭旼

The master immerses himself in old books, not caring whether it is cold or hot, living tranquilly, uttering few words, magnanimous in disposition, his mind fixed on distant goals [that is, unconcerned with day-to-day affairs]. All difficult questions in the classics and histories he can resolve. He is an accomplished seal carver, using the pre-Ch’in and Han [scripts] as models. His painting style is lofty and antique, completely following the ch’i-yin sheng-tung (“engendering movement through spirit consonance”) mode of expression. Accordingly, he can rival the Yuan masters. In the most refined of his works, whether feelings of sadness and melancholy or complaint and anger, if these were not aroused by his great talents then they must come from his own experience. Cahill Painter’s Practice p.g 4

A true artist. Here is one of his works

This is from an album of scenes of Huangshan He did two of these, one for a friend, and one for a friend of a friend. As he wrote in the inscription “In the future, after all his children get married, if Chuzhen ever travels there, I hope he will take this album with him to check against the actual sites. I will then become his tour guide.” This may make it sound like a gift of friendship, for a friend he has never met. As his diary shows, however, he sold art for money.

[1672] tenth month, fifth day: I did three fan paintings for Fu-wen.

Seventeenth day: cloudy. Yen-ch’ing and K’uan-chung “moistened my brush” [gave me money for painting] and I added bamboo and rock for them [to some previously done painting?]

Eleventh month, eighth day: I went into town and wrote a fan for Yen-ch’ing. . . Keng-yu summoned me, and I added to [retouched?] a painting by T’ang Yin for him …

(1673] sixth month, third day … Mu-ch’ien ordered a painting for Hsu Erh-ming, and I used the money for food.

(1674] second month, sixth day: cloudy. After supper I visited Tzu-yen, and entrusted him with three paintings to sell for me.

Sixth month, sixth day: I visited Hsiueh-hai, where the owner of the I-kuan [an inn ?] … Summoned me to do a painting for him.

(1676] first month, sixth day: rainy. Ssu-jo visited me to order a painting, bringing payment [lit. “moisture,” as above .]

Ninth month, eighteenth day: for my “elder brother“ Yin-nan I did a painting on satin. Also did five fans for . . . [names].

Twelfth month , fourth day: This line [of poetry] came to me: “To get through the year, I need the money from selling paintings.”

Twenty-ninth day. Snow has been falling for the whole month. Fortunately, I have managed to get through my New Year’s obligations with the small income from my paintings. I sit recalling that there are a great many really poor people now, and wish that I had a spacious, myriad-roomed house [to entertain them in]-an empty thought.

I am pretty sure that for enough cash Zheng Min would be your actual tour guide.

The book explains the business of art, but also less blatantly financial ways that art changed hands as gifts and favors. A talented painter who wants to keep eating needs to be able to both crank out the work and understand the social symbolism that his customers want to buy. A fine job for a failed scholar. These were the people who could crank out quick “parting paintings” for themselves or others. The perfect gift.

If you are not sure how to do one, well there are painting manuals for that. From a Japanese edition of Mustard Seed Garden

Of course the truly great artist could do amazing work while cranking things out on a deadline with a lot of patron meddling and pandering to the market.  At a higher level you could get more bespoke work. Cahill talks about the symbolism of of a gift of a painting of plum blossoms, but I talked about orchids instead.

The orchid can grow in the wild, and so it is a good symbol of the under-appreciated scholar.

If an orchid grows in the deep forest, with no one present, is it not still fragrant? A gentleman cultivates the way and establishes his virtue and does not let his integrity whither although hard-pressed by poverty


from 孔子家語 

Put an orchid in a pot and it is a symbol of the wild and free scholar who happens to have a job. This is probably how they are used in this portrait of Yinli, Prince Guo

As a Manchu prince, Yinli was not starving the forest,but he did like posing as a scholar. The inscription on the painting is a poem written by the prince:

Humbled that through my kinship to the throne,
I was allotted a scepter in the prime of life,
I shall hold fast to the Way of antiquity,
And hope to preserve it without transgression.
Availing himself of this fine white silk,
That my figure may be transmitted on it,
The painter was indeed a marvelous hand,
Who erred in neither ugliness or beauty,
What is stored within is displayed without,
He has captured here my character as well.
Refraining from any wanton extravagance,
I shall follow in the footsteps of the former sages,
And by the bright window, at my clean desk,
Thrice replace the worn-out bindings on my books.

(Translation by Stephen D. Allee)

Money may or may not have changed hands here. but the artist is clearly helping both the subject and himself function as an “entrepreneur of the self” (Cahill pg. 144) The artist is selling a sample of his skill and culture and the buyer is buying it.1 This is not the same as loading your calligraphy on a donkey and taking it to town and selling it to whoever and using the money for wine, but it is on the same continuum.


Posted so I can teach this point again someday. And now so can you.

  1. This is not that different from Western art. Rembrandt is the comparison of the  “entrepreneur of the self” Cahill uses here  

Raising Cash for Mom’s Birthday

On 12 December, 1930,  in Shanghai’s International Settelement, a police officer C.D.S. (Chinese Detective Superintendent?) by the name of Wong requested permission to hold a birthday party for his 70 year old mother at a restaurant on Canton road (today Guangdong road) and send out some 70 invitations.

Finding this in a police file in the fascinating collection of the Shanghai Munipal Police records (see this wiki on the SMP archive, with an index), my first thought was how sad it is that even police officers had to request permission to host a birthday party for one’s aging mother.

However, this heart-warming record of a celebration turned into a potential case of police corruption, something all too prevelant in the SMP. A memorandum from the day after the party includes a translation of the invitation for the party, and appeals written on the back of two of them. Apparently, street lottery operators and “every opium smoking den” had received “invitations” to the party asking for donations of $10, in the case of the former, or $6 each for the latter. Interestly, the lottery seller merely asked that the requested amount be reduced to $3 or $4. The amount doesn’t appear to have been on the invitation itself, as translated, which offers attendees a feast, but one can speculate that the recipients knew that a donation was strongly recommended, while attendance to the party not so much.

The memorandum’s introduction writes, “These things are getting more prevalent now. I suggest that some of these detectives should be punished for distributing invitations without permission first being obtained.” On the first of the new year, 1931, an inspector reports that they had interviewed the detective concerned who claimed that all in all 37 invitations were sent out to different detectives and that he denies allegations surrounding them. Rather than local lottery and opium dealers, he “assumed that some of the detectives sent [the invitations] to the [police] as a case of spite in order to get him into trouble.”

How much is that goose in the window?

Another book I got for the holidays is Tim Brook. The Price of Collapse: The Little Ice Age  and the Fall of Ming China. Princeton, 2023.

Oddly enough, I read the whole thing from cover to cover, which is not always how I read academic books. The thing that makes this one such a joy is that it is both a collection of interesting stories and facts about the economic and ecological history of Ming China, and a discussion of price history and the role of the Little Ice Age in the fall of the Ming.

The price history stuff is rather fragmentary, which makes sense since there are really no series of prices like Qing grain prices for the Ming. Instead you (well, Brook), need to comb through various sources looking for data. There are some good numbers on what things were supposed to cost for official purchases in the early Ming, and then a lot of price lists at the end of the Ming, when the wheels are coming off, and everyone was complaining about how much things cost nowadays. In between there are the occasional lists of prices like those compiled by the honest official Hui Rui.

For 1/100 of an ounce of silver (one cent) you could get a catty of cucumbers, 18 eggs, a porcelain soup bowl, 2 exercise booklets a catty of hemp rope or 10 catties of coal.

1/10 of an ounce of silver would get you a wok or a wooden bed, a catty of winter melon or fine tea, a bolt of linen cloth or a visit from a doctor.

A full tael of sliver (1.3 oz to us) would get you a stove, an inkstone, 100 sheets of letter paper, a Spanish style gun, 4  volumes of Tang poetry, two new year door gods paintings,  or a boy singer. I should add that one tael is pretty cheap for a person. 4 to 10 taels was the range for domestic servants, according to the diary of a Shanghai resident of the 1590s, although he got a bargain, getting a housepainter and his wife for only two taels in the famine year of 1588. (pg40-45)

So how much money was that?

For the early Ming, 3 cents of silver a day (20-25 copper coins) or 10.2 taels per year was about the minimum wage. This is about what military laborers got. Silk weavers could get 4 cents a day, 6 if they had their own loom, and by the end of the dynasty 4 cents a day was the standard minimum wage (pp58-60) This is actually a large increase in bottom end wages over the time period. Sailors heading out into the South China Sea could make 20-30 taels a year. For a lot of these groups, (and above all for farmers) the cash wage was probably not the only source of income. The military laborers above were absconding all the time, in part because the pay was bad and the work hard, but also because there was no way to make extra money. Potters at Jingdezhen got 3 cents and 5 coppers a day, which was barely over minimum. They also got a grain allotment, however, which may have been worth 5 ½ taels a year, and would put them into the bottom of the respectable class. They may have also sold off porcelain on the side, which happened a lot at Jingdezhen.  A prison warden (rank 9b, the bottom of the official scale) got 19.52 taels in 1567, although also with a great opportunity to collect bribes and fees.

As you can sort of see from the prices above, the costs of ordinary living were just barely within reach of the poor. Even “capital goods” like a (small) wok were only 1/10 tael. Four volumes of poetry for 1 tael? Mass education here we come. One tael was about the dividing line for tempting someone to commit a crime Ming stories.

Brook ”If we recall the earlier estimates of the cost of living (just over 14 taels for a family living close to subsistence, and just over 23 taels for a respectable family) and compare these with these wage data (a poor wage between 5 and 12 taels, a respectable wage of between 14 and 22 taels” (pg 60)

There was a very different level of living for the rich, however. Officials in Beijing in the Wanli era were said to spend 4-5 taels a month, and a top quality painting could cost 30 – 300 taels, which is far more than an ordinary family would spend in a year.

The painting point is kind of important. Although Brook does not say so, you can sort of see evidence for a growing mass prosperity in the Ming (and into the Qing). True, the first bad dip of the Little Ice Age creates a crisis, but the long-term increase of bottom end wages of about 33% is significant, and recorded prices for necessities are within the range of a lot of people. The price of art, however, especially good art, skyrockets.

Brook does not see the world silver trade as being the main driver of Late Ming inflation and economic chaos, and if you want a good recent summary of stuff on the silver issue this is it. True there were a lot of people lamenting the rising prices of things, but in non-famine years prices of many ordinary goods fell between 1368 and 1590, with rice and wheat remaining exactly the same. (see table below) Some of the things that went up, like firewood and rabbits, might indicate less “waste” land, which fits with the received picture.

Art was going up, maybe, because silver -was- flowing in from the New World, and it was driving up prices, but that was more at the top end of the market, where things like authentic Song paintings were in limited supply. The Ming elite may not have been going in for some of the same ways of showing off new fashions and such that European elites were. So maybe there was growing prosperity at the bottom and middle, with wild inflation at the top. Right where down on their luck scholars would write about it.

Regardless of what was happening in the late Ming, the Qing was convinced that the rural economy was on the brink of collapse form over taxation (See this post) and thus agricultural taxes remained stable throughout the dynasty, and maybe the black-headed people did better than we used to think in the Qing.

Sorry this post is sort of a mess, but I am teaching about this tomorrow, and wanted to save the data points somewhere I could find them.

The Case of the Electric Projecting Killing Machine

Drawing of Electric Projecting Killing Machine

In May, 1939, while the Japanese military controlled the Chinese parts of the city, an “urgent report” was sent to the Louza Police Station (Laozha 老閘) in the International Settlement: “An appeal for your searching investigation of ‘Electric Projecting Killing Machine’”.

Supposed location of the said machine: It is said that in your Foreign Staff quarters of your Police Station. And it is further stated that the location of the said machine lies in the upper story east and north corner of the foreign staff square. Moreover it is heard that there are voices of more than eight or nine Chinese men and boy heard there. The voices of the men & boy are to be heard both day & night. That machine follow me estimate more than thirty years owing it can state my youthold story, the holder are all of your room boys I believe.
That machine is said to be a rarity in Shanghai, the projecting power is very strong, though there is no light or shade visible. It can kill any body’s life as soon as the projecting power gets in touch with him or her wherever one is on the boat or sleeping indoors or going outdoors no matter how far the distance is. To sum up it has the following killing powers:
It can get into human body and destroy the organs.
It can make every body abnormal and kill one
It can make his or her strains in their body feel inclined to drown in the water for death.
It can transmit words through another man’s mouth in order to disturb speaking of others.
It can make one’s intelligence fly away and become a stupid and no-minded person of usefulness.
It can make film picture at a long distance and project its harmful power into human body in order to cripple one’s mind and actions.
It can projecting the noise and voice to long distance
It is said that the machine can make one walk and feel nothing particular after he or she has not taken anything or slept or drunk etc. for more than a week or few days. It can in other hand, however, still one immediately without allowing anybody to help or save him…
…My third daughter has died of the effect of the machine…my fourth daughter is nearly suffered to death on account of the effect of the machine. Most of my family members have more or less received harmful effects of the said machine…
…As it is the duty of your police to maintain peace and safety of the community, so I firmly request you to investigate and search carefully the machine in the foreign staff quarters…as the machine is concealed and carefully hidden there…

The report came from a Chinese man, a Mr. Sung/Seng/Sun (孫) living in a refugee camp dormitory attached to the Yufo temple (玉佛寺 Jade Buddha Temple) on Penang Road (now Anyuan lu 安远路) and is preserved in a 45 page Shanghai Municipal Police file. This file contains over twenty more similar letters, in the same neat handwriting or typed with its distinctive mix of alternating eloquent and awkward English phrasing. All were sent to the Louza station between 1939 and February, 1941, with the same urgent request for the police to investigate a dangerous hidden “Electric Projecting Killing Machine” believed to be located in the station’s grounds.

A Special Branch police report on the letter’s author, dated 19 May, 1939, describes the mental health challenges of the 35 year old from Pudong, said to be suffering from “partial mental derangement.” He apparently worked as a clerk for the American Asiatic Underwriters company (17 The Bund) for some eight years, when “he suddenly became mentally unbalanced” at the end of 1936. A few months later he was discharged. The report, written by one D.S.I. Liao Chung Chian, concludes by noting that a cousin of the affected man says that the “mental disease is not really serious and in fact for many hours during a day his condition is normal.” 

In addition to the early report, there are two police replies included with the file.1 The first reply in June, 1940 says “The subject of your complaint has been thoroughly investigated without result, and I have to inform you that no further action can be taken in the matter” with a handwritten note, “Delivered by chit-book. I hope it will stop him.” A second and last reply in the file from the Divisional Officer, “A” Division, in August, says “I am satisfied that no such machine exists in Louza Police Station, therefore no further correspondence will be entertained.” Eight more letters will make their way into the file.

A few things about this case strike me. One is to once again marvel at the diversity of lived experiences to be found in these SMP police documents (browse an index of open access copies of them I’m working on here), even if they privilege an often problematic policeman’s gaze. Even when we get rich accounts from independent sources, as with these letters, they only allow us to read whatever was preserved by the police, and then later by the American OSS, which ended up with copies of some of the SMP files that, in turn, were preserved in the US National Archives CIA records (RG 263).

I am also drawn to the level of elaborate detail in the appeals of Mr. Sung (as he signs his letters). His death ray is equipped with far more than the usual lethal powers of the genre. In two letters he includes a dramatic illustration of the killing machine beaming its ray (see the first image in this post for one of them), while in several others he offers increasingly detailed drawings of the supposed location.2 In his early letters he appears to believe the machine is under the operation of a number of Chinese gangsters and a boy, or coolie, or servant operating out of a special room for the machine’s use. Later he will merely say that the “murderers” are hiding in the “Indian Police’s dwelling.” Louza station was predominantly staffed by a mixed force of Chinese and Sikh officers and a few Europeans but, despite the fact the latter were often depicted in unflattering terms by Chinese residents, I didn’t see anything detrimental said about either them or any of the police in Mr. Sung’s many letters.3 

Death Ray Popular Science 1936

The centrality of the death ray in this man’s paranoid letters is a strikingly global feature of the case. Though H.G. Wells has a heat ray in The War of the Worlds (1898), William Fanning has argued that the 1920s and 1930s were the high point for interest in the idea of a killing ray in both fiction and supposedly non-fiction contexts.4 There are plenty of sources across these two decades that might have inspired Mr. Sung. Working as he was at an American company on the Bund, I imagine him picking up a copy of the August, 1936 issue of Popular Science in his work place, where he could have seen a depiction (displayed here) of a machine that bears a striking resemblance to one of his drawings. It is at the end of that year that his condition was said to have emerged. 

One thing that puzzles me somewhat, however, is the fact that Mr. Sung is writing this stream of letters to a police station that is almost an hour walk away from his own place of residence. His temple is located in the western part of the international settlement inside the “Pootoo” police district. Even if he ignored the police station in his own area, walking towards Louza police station he would pass through the districts of two other police stations (Gordon and Sinza).

Shanghai 1938 NLA MAP G7824.S5 1938. Why does he believe the electric projecting killing machine is in a station at some distance from himself? His letters often describe his reconnaissance efforts around the station, to pinpoint the exact location of the ray. It is possible, of course, that he has been writing these letters to several stations, and these are the only ones that got preserved in his file, and I suspect we will never know for sure. Perhaps it is just the centrality of the station, located as it is just off Nanking Road, or perhaps its historical infamy. The police station is known for one of the darker moments in Shanghai history, the May 30 incident, or “Shanghai massacre” of 1925 triggering the movement of that name (五卅运动). On that day, police officers of Louza police station opened fire on a crowd of protesters, killing several of them and sparking widespread anti-foreign strikes and boycotts around China. If this had something to do with it, however, it is notable that the neither the police themselves nor foreigners are depicted as the villains behind Mr. Sung’s killing machine.  

There is one more interesting connection between the idea of a death ray, the Louza station and the May 30 movement to be found in Richard W. Rigby’s history of the May 30 Movement. While I have not yet been able to track down the citation5  and read the original source, Rigby describes a story published in a memorial issue recalling the events of May 30, 1925:

The story, ‘The Light of China’, tells of a young man who shuts himself off from the world for ten long years, working on a project to avenge his fallen comrades. He successfully invents and perfects an electric ray, and on 30 May 1935 he emerges from his seclusion to turn it on the foreigners in Shanghai, leaving their persons unharmed but completely destroying all their weapons and warships. Before long, China’s new secret having been made known, the whole world is disarmed and a world government devoted to universal peace and harmony rules from Shanghai. Only Japan, refusing to face reality, stubbornly attempts an invasion, is of course defeated, and her premier publicly scolded. This achieved, our hero departs on his honeymoon, observing that it had all been made possible by science and organization.6

It is hard to see how the above rather optimistic plot, and the relatively benign effects of the story’s ray have much in common with Mr. Sung’s imagined insidious gangster ray, but it is evidence that ideas about electric rays in Shanghai were in the mind of more than one person. Perhaps it is this Chinese language story, and not Popular Science or any other international sources that is the immediate inspiration for Mr. Sung ideas around a powerful ray? Or perhaps Mr. Sung was, in fact, right all along? Perhaps operatives of the Green Gang, with their deep police ties were indeed operating a powerful killing machine out of the convenient central location of the Louza Police Station? Special branch may have buried Mr. Sung’s letters deep in their files, but we can only hope a Netflix special will someday bring the truth of this conspiracy back into the light. 😊 

  1. p24 and p28 of the file.  

  2. p17 and p32 of the file for the drawings, and p7, p9, p13, p19, and p21 for his maps.  

  3. For more on Sikh police officers see Isabella Jackson. ‘The Raj on Nanjing Road: Sikh Policemen in Treaty-Port Shanghai’. Modern Asian Studies 46, no. 06 (2012): 1672–1704. Cao, Yin. From Policemen to Revolutionaries: A Sikh Diaspora in Global Shanghai, 1885-1945. BRILL, 2017.  

  4. Fanning, William J. ‘The Historical Death Ray and Science Fiction in the 1920s and 1930s’. Science Fiction Studies 37, no. 2 (2010), 253.  

  5. Rigby cites Tu-li P’ing-lun no 10, May 30 memorial issue, 30/5/26; pp. 11-14  

  6. Emphasis mine. I only have Rigby’s 1975 dissertation at hand “The May 30 Movement: an Outline” Australian National University, pp316-7. However, google books suggests that the anecdote is also included in his book The May 30 Movement: Events and Themes, p164.  

Obscene mystery solved! (Sort of)

At long last an issue is solved! Did an engraver creating banknotes for a Japanese puppet bank in the 1940s slip in a picture of Confucius making an obscene gesture to the Japanese? I  have asked this question before, and never gotten an answer.

I still don’t have an answer, but it turns out that I do have a locus classicus. Paul Linebarger  (a.k.a. Cordwainer Smith) included this story and the picture of the note in his Psychological Warfare pg 141.

Given his history in the Office of War Information, I would assume that this at least a period myth.


Shoplifting Japanese-English Dictionaries in Shanghai, 1942

I’ve been working on a website to help collect information related to documents in the (International Settlement’s) Shanghai Municipal police (SMP) materials. Since they are mostly in English, they are a wonderful collection for students to explore. This project builds on a resource page I have created here on Frog in a Well related to primary sources on Shanghai history, also with mostly students in mind.

There are so many fascinating, puzzling, and tragic stories in the SMP collections. One I found while browsing today is N-1416, a February, 1942 document “British Subject Arrested By Japanese Consular Police For Shop-Lifting” that includes some details on the arrest.

The international settlement was occupied by Japanese forces on 8 December, 1941. From that point on citizens of what were now enemy nations were in a precarious state of limbo until they were gradually detained and placed into civilian internment camps, especially from March, 1942 onwards, in the Shanghai case. I’m not sure what the fate of the individual in this document is, but on the eve of likely internment by the Japanese, he is caught trying to steal two Japanese-English dictionaries: something I imagine would come in rather useful in the years to come, if he had managed to get away and bring them with him into the internment camp.

British Subject Arrested By Japanese Consular Police For Shop-LiftingRead the full file here: Reports Made 1943-1945 During Japanese Occupation – British Subject Arrested By Japanese Consular Police For Shop-Lifting

Teaching Late Imperial China

Chen Hongshou 陳洪綬, 1599–1652 Great Ford on the Yellow River

So, if the class makes1 I will be doing Late Imperial China in Spring. I was going to do a few weeks of basic stuff, do some Sanyan Stories, set up their research projects, and at the end do the Glory of The Qing and have them read Soulstealers. 

This is a pretty social and cultural and economic class, and there are a lot of things I could put in between. What I was thinking of doing was picking a dozen or so possible topics and then letting them vote for the 6 or so they like best. Here are some early thoughts. Any other ideas?

***update-here are the winners. I think I will consolidate some of these, but these are the final votes.

Bandits and pirates 65
Peasants and rebellions 44
Secret Societies 38
Elite women and culture 25
Common women and law 22
Lineages and family structure 16
Imjin War 15
Art-The painter’s practice 14
Tales of the strange 14
Borderlands 13
Agriculture and population 12
Tumu Incident 10
Opera 10
Jesuits 9
Taiwan 9
Urban life 9
Confucian rebels 9
Novels and popular literature 9
Commerce and silver 7
Tibet 4
Art-Collecting and cultural capital 3
Courtesans 2
Environmental history and the Little Ice Age 2
The Manchu Great Enterprise 1
Religion -popular 1
Salt 1
Local government and Yamen runners 0
Southern Ming 0
Religion- formal 0
Zheng He and Southeast Asia 0
The “tribute system” and foreign relations 0
Manchus and Han 0
Eunuchs and Bannermen 0
Law 0


Bandits and pirates Pretty obvious what this is about, although we will see that the line between bandits and soldiers (and pirates and ordinary sailors) was often blurry.

Tumu Incident In 1449 a Ming army, commanded by the Emperor Yingzong was surrounded and captured by Mongol forces. The ensuing crisis tells us a lot about Ming politics and foreign relations.

Art-The painter’s practice We will not be able to do a unit on Chinese art, but we can do one on people who painted for money, which was one of the ways poor educated people got by.

Art-Collecting and cultural capital Why do people want art? What role did owning and knowing about it play in being a shi?

Borderlands This is a more Qing topic, but throughout the period relations with non-Han people inside the empire were important.

Local government and Yamen runners What happened when the bottom level of the official system met commoner society?

Courtesans Buying sex and culture for money was something Chinese men loved to do and write about.

Tibet Tibet became part of the Qing empire in 1720 and Tibetan Buddhism was the cultural glue that held Qing Central Asia together.

Lineages and family structure The lineage was one of the most important innovations in family structure in the period.

Southern Ming Loyalists continued to support the Ming, and we can do a unit on why this was so important to them.

The Manchu Great Enterprise How did a small tribe become rulers of China?

Jesuits China was one of the great targets of missionary work, and the Jesuits of Beijing were at the center of one of the great examples of intercultural communication in the period.

Tales of the strange Sanyan Stories are pretty realistic. Well, at least they are less weird and supernatural than Pu Songling, and we could do a unit on his Strange Stories.

Religion- formal Buddhism was the most organized and socially important religions in the Ming, and Tibetan Buddhism had a huge political role in the Qing.

Religion -popular “Superstition” and the things people believed and did in their everyday lives.

Confucian Reformers From the Late Ming Donglin group to Qing Evidential Research there were all sorts of reformers around.

Zheng He and Southeast Asia Zheng He’s voyages are one of the famous events of World History, and while he did not conquer much the voyages did create a new relationship between China and Southeast Asia.

The “tribute system” and foreign relations This has been the topic of a lot of work of late, and versions of this system were important throughout the period.

Manchus and Han In the Qing the Manchus were the dominant group, and their relations with the Han majority mattered a lot.

Eunuchs and Bannermen In both the Ming and the Qing the rulers had a separate bureaucracy, but there were some important differences between them.

Women Two possible women’s history units would be

-Elite women and culture-Particularly in the Qing, elite women wrote poetry, produced art and participated in literati culture

-Common women and Law-More ordinary women tend to turn up in the sources when they get involved in a legal matter, so this is more a unit on the legal system and things like marriage, prostitution, etc.

Imjin War In 1592 Japan invaded Korea, and the Ming intervened to protect the Korean state. This is a great place to look at foreign relations and the military.

Opera The most popular art form

Secret Societies From the Red Turbans to the White Lotus these were the way ordinary people organized to protect themselves and get justice.

Agriculture and population Most people in China were farmers, and the rapid expansion of agriculture and population in the period were linked.

Peasants and rebellions A slightly different focus than the topic above

Taiwan Was a center of Ming resistance, a pirate haven, a Dutch colony and eventually a frontier region.

Salt A key source of state revenue, a great thing to smuggle, and something everyone would buy.

Environmental history and the Little Ice Age The Little Ice Age was one of the reasons for the fall of the Ming, and the growing pressure on resources was a major issue in the Qing.

Urban life Beijing, Suzhou, markets, temples, festivals. A huge chunk of Chinese culture happened in the urban areas.

Confucian rebels Li Zhi, and other literati eccentrics and rebels.

Novels and popular literature Love? Bandits? It is all here.

Law Law cases generated a lot of what we know about ordinary life.

Commerce and silver China was the center of the commercial world, and economic growth led to social and cultural transformation.



  1. Our administration is on the warpath against “boutique” classes and majors  

Qing Taxation

My Christmas stuff

Since I got a bit of flak for asking for Taisu Zhang’s The Ideological Foundations of Qing Taxation: Belief Systems, Politics and Institutions for Christmas I thought I would post…not a review but at least some thoughts.

The main purpose of the book is to explain the fiscal weakness of the Qing state, especially the late Qing state. To some extent this is a comparative book, in that Zhang is putting the Qing in an early modern context, and trying to explain why the Qing only taxed the population at a rate of 1-2% a year, as opposed to Tokugawa and Meiji Japan with state revenue making up 15-20% of GDP, England at 10-15%, Tsarist Russia at 6-7 % and Ming China at 5% (pg. 4 and chapter 1). This was the source of all sorts of problems for the Qing  and even into the Republic. Zhang attributes this primarily to a strong ideological commitment to low agricultural taxes,  He sees as being unique in Chinese history, since almost every other dynasty expanded agricultural taxes at some point. So the book fits into both long run Chinese history and early modern global history.

This is all really interesting, but not really relevant to my research, or to my teaching. Even for Late Imperial China, which I am teaching next semester I will probably not get that deep into tax policy, and I will not do much comparative stuff. The book is a lot of fun to read, however, in part because it summarizes a lot of the recent work on state capacity, economic history, demographics the Great Divergence etc. Admittedly, it is written by someone from a Law school, so he spends a lot of time encouraging readers to take ideology seriously and explaining that a crude rationalism does not really work here. Nor does he have much truck with crude theories of “Confucian” aversion to “speaking of profit”. Rather, he argues that Qing taxation was driven by the empirical assumption that higher agricultural taxes were simply not possible.

This book argues that the Qing’s turn toward political pragmatism did not render its fiscal policymaking, at least in agricultural taxation, any less ideological than its Ming or Song predecessors. Instead, it merely rendered it ideological in a different sense: empirical and descriptive, rather than deontological and normative. Qing agricultural taxation was premised on the empirical belief that agricultural production was constantly in real danger of falling below subsistence levels, and simply could not support additional government extraction. By the early eighteenth century, the empirical validity of this belief had become deeply questionable, and would remain so for the rest of the dynasty, but it would maintain a vise-like grip over fiscal politics for another two centuries. Much more than any normative distaste for “snatching profit away from the people,” the longevity and political power of this dubious empirical belief was what made Qing tax policy ideological. In fact, only when we see Qing fiscal ideology through this empirical, rather than normative, lens, can we begin to explain the fundamental differences between Ming and Qing tax policies, or explain the latter’s differential treatment of agricultural versus non-agricultural taxes. pg. 17

The real fun of the book, for me anyway, is how it gets in the weeds of tax debates in in the Ming and Qing courts.1 He discusses the Ming tax debates, especially those over the Single whip reforms, and concludes that in the Ming the empirical link between higher land taxes and peasant rebellion was not as iron-clad as it would be later. (pg. 147) Indeed, the Ming lacked much of a theory of dynastic collapse at all. They blamed the Yuan collapse on them being Mongols, and earlier dynasties were far enough in the past that they did not work well as examples.

The Qing of course had very clear theory of dynastic failure, based on the Ming. In fact, I might say that the Qing was the most historically theorized dynasty in Chinese history. The Ming had just fallen, it was  close match in many ways, many Ming officials served in the Early Qing and the compilation of the Ming History was not completed till 1739. The big lesson that the Qing, and especially Qianlong, took from the Ming was that agricultural taxes, and even land surveys, would lead to peasant revolts.

The land survey problem is particularly interesting. At one point land surveys had been seen as a way of controlling the rapacious big landlords who oppressed the poor and did not pay their fair share of taxes.(pg.205) Surveys came to be seen as a major expense and undertaking (both true) and as something that would lead directly to unrest, as they were seen as harbingers of higher taxes and probably being instigated by local officials who just wanted to collect more money.

as Qianlong put it

If land surveying truly does not burden the people, but instead benefits them, then presumably they would welcome the practice. I have, however, never known this to be true. If land surveying will not lead to tax hikes, then why would local governments wish to spend their funding on it? If the argument is instead that surveying will lead to greater fairness in quota distribution, then why do the people fear land surveying as they fear fire or water hazards?pg. 225

After 1740 it was forbidden for provinces to conduct land surveys on their own authority, and it was pretty clear that the center would not approve them either.  (pg. 226). So the Qing was a modern enough state to have population statistics that told them about the huge population run-up of the High Qing, but not the statistics about growing amounts of arable and land productivity that would make them  less panicked about the pressure on the peasants. Almost the perfect (or imperfect) statistically misinformed modern state.

The book has its problems (including an apparent assumption that ever-growing revenue is the purpose of the state), but there is a lot of interesting stuff in here.

  1. Why yes, I am great fun at parties.  

Grilled Playboy

If you are looking for something fun and useful to teach in a Tokugawa class, I recommend Santo Kyoden  Playboy Grilled Edo Style from Kern, Adam L. Manga from the Floating World: Comicbook Culture and the Kibyoshi of Edo Japan 2d Edition, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2019.

This is actually a piece that has been anthologized a lot.  There is a version in Sumie Jones and Kenji Watanabe. An Edo Anthology: Literature from Japan’s Mega-City, 1750-1850. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2013. (translation by Sumie Jones) and one in Shirane, Haruo. Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology, 1600-1900. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.  (translation by Chris Drake)

I like the Kern version for a few reasons (obviously I can’t judge the quality of the translation) First, it is printed as an illustrated book, with the text in English. The Drake version (in Hirane) is just text with the pictures as illustrations. The Jones version has the English text in the pictures, but I am not crazy about the font1 and the pictures are not as clear. The Kern is either from a better print or it has been touched up or re-drawn. It also reads right to left, which will impress the manga fans in your class.

The real advantage of Kern is that the notes explain all the visual puns and references in the pictures.

The others try to do this, but really don’t have the space for it. The Kern book as a whole is far too difficult to give to undergrads, but he does explain a lot of stuff about the visual culture of the Tokugawa that you can then explain to students and they will think you are smart, whereas really you just read the other parts of the book.

The story is so widely anthologized because it is a parody of the hero’s journey. The main subject, Enjiro, the son of a wealthy merchant, sets off to became a notorious libertine in the floating world.  This of course is what others try to avoid, but he embraces it. Just like those who set out to become master swordsmen or poets he has to train and learn and mortify his flesh and, given that his goal is to be well-known he has to publicize everything he is doing and above all get people to pay attention. Needless to say he fails at all of this, but there are a lot of good jokes and lots of points you can make about Tokugawa culture and how people navigated the new public worlds.

  1. Me a font snob!  

Textbooks and teaching. A new dawn?

Major and Cook’s Ancient China: A history is now available as open access  via Routledge. This is good news, and got me to thinking about teaching and textbooks, a perennial topic. What is workable for assigning to students has evolved a lot over time.

When I was an undergraduate (Gil-galad ruled in Gondolin, Elizabeth II was Queen of England etc. etc.) teachers had to have students buy books. Even things like packets of photocopies were a bit of a hassle, even before the copyright mess. Textbook publishers helped out by not “revising” their books every 15 minutes to kill the used book market, so there were usually cheap copies out there, which students could find by going to the college bookstore. The basic model was that everything the student were going to read, and thus every source they were going to use was selected by the professor. Research, if they did it, would be centered on books, which they could find in the card catalog, rather than articles which were hidden in things called journals.

Now students often don’t buy their books from the college bookstore, and more broadly they learn from a selection of texts, only some of which are selected by the teacher. Just like in the past, teachers lay out when students should be reading things, but in practice they tend to read them when and as needed. -So right before an assignment.1 Mostly these sources are from “Google”, which might mean a JSTOR article, or some old Geocities page. They know that Wikipedia is unreliable, so you should skip that and go to whatever is next on the google list.

Of course textbooks have always been problematic for faculty. Ideally what we want is a real book (i.e. readable, and sounds like it was written by a person) that “covers things” (i.e. gives them a basic narrative and analytical framework) and deals with whatever the current academic concerns are. That is a hard trifecta to hit, as you will realize if you talk to anyone who has ever written one. Of the 6 classes in my rotation I currently only use a textbook for one. Totman’s Early Modern Japan for my Early Modern Japan class. Although it is old enough and cheap enough that I am fine with making them buy it, the book is now free on-line via our library. I think it reads pretty well, in part because it just does, and in part because there is an environmental frame to the whole book, which ties things together. Since Totman is the author it also deals with political structure (the best way to provide continuity) and all that pretty well. Most classes don’t really have a book that works like that. Totman is a bit old, but the only book I know that covers recent scholarship on Tokugawa is Gary P. Leupp and Tao De-min, ed. The Tokugawa World  Only $41 as a Kindle book, but $250 as a hardback (also Routledge). Also, it consists of 60 short essays on topics of recent scholarly interest. A great book to have on hand, either for reference or as a doorstop (1198 pp) but not very undergraduate friendly.

Ideally, open source textbooks would fill the gap, but those tend to be only for US or World history and I have not been that impressed with them. Even at my school more and more books are available free as e-books via our library, so you can assign monographs or chapters, but not textbooks. Major and Cook is a pretty good book, with a chronological structure, but enough sidebar-type things (Changes, Debates on Salt and Iron etc,) to make it work for a more culture and philosophy class, which is how I tend to teach it. Of course, since it is free on-line you don’t even have to use the whole thing. Major and Cook are, not surprisingly, very good on all the recent archeological stuff, but, if I did not want to do all that (I usually start at Anyang and leave the early stuff to the Chinese Archeology class that my colleague teaches) I can have them not read those bits. If Leupp and Tao was also open access I could use bits of that in Tokugawa class. Unfortunately, the universe of stuff that ends up open access or free via our university library does not really work that way. Ideally, it should. Scholars get access to stuff on-line, why not students? Making more stuff like Major and Cook open access should be a major goal of scholars, and a major scholarly achievement for fine people like Major and Cook.

  1. Our students in particular will generally not read anything unless there is an imminent graded assignment attached to it.  

Who were the people in wartime China?

Just for fun, here is a table I found of those who jumped from the parachute tower in Chongqing between April of 1942 and April 1943.


I suppose I should open with explaining what that is and why I care. The tower opened on Boy’s Day, April 4, of 1942. Building the tower was part of the mass aviation movement that aimed to create future pilots and paratroopers but also to spread knowledge of aviation throughout society. Although the Chinese movement was modeled on the Soviet parachute movement, which spread all over the Soviet Union, the Chinese movement only managed the one parachute tower in Chongqing during the war.


Needless to say, if you are going to transform the people you need statistics on how well you are doing. What categories do you divide the people into?

Well, male and female obviously. Although the movement was connected to the war effort and thus training men for the military they were supposed to reach women as well, and did. The age breakdown is about what I would expect. It skews young, in part perhaps because the movement was focused on (though not limited to) schools. They do not seem to have been much interested in mobilizing and transforming anyone over 30, although old geezers of 63 were welcome to try. The categories are about what you would expect. Students 學 are the largest group (are they counting all youth there, or just those enrolled?) Military 軍 next, which makes sense. I would love to know how they are categorizing 商merchants and 工  workers, and for that matter if they are relying on self-identification. Government people is the final large category (1217), which would probably include the female postal worker who is one of the jumpers interviewed in the article after this one. Journalists get their own category as do 外籍, which might be foreigners or also might be Overseas Chinese.

The provincial breakdown is interesting in that they did it at all. Presumably they are trying to show that they were mobilizing all of China. Sichuan of course has the largest group, and Jiangsu the second (all those Shanghai and Nanjing people). The rest follow more or less as you might expect. 外籍 is again at 27, which means that either not a single Overseas Chinese jumped, or that they were all listed under their ancestral province, either of which would be interesting.

I am still looking for statistics for the entire war period, but supposedly over 500,00 (non-unique) people jumped during the war.

Tokugawa Japan-What’s the question?

So, again this fall I will be having students in my upper-level class (in this case Early  Modern Japan) do a group research project. The end of the project will involve them writing an essay in response to a pretty broad prompt from me.

For the Modern China class, the prompt was easy. “Republican China-Abortive Revolution or not?” Modern Japan was also easy. “Taisho-WTF?”. For Early China I had them read Huainanzi and write about it as the Outcome of Classical Chinese philosophy.1 What to do for this class? In general, framing the “big question” at the end is the thing I struggle with most.

Here is what I have now

The purpose of this project is for us to read some things (academic articles, book chapters and short primary source selections) that will help us to understand Tokugawa Japan. Each of you will join a group of 1-3 people Each of you will read one article, book chapter or short primary reading and write a summary of it for your group. Then you and your group will discuss what we can get from these three readings and present on them to the class. You will then each individually write a brief essay (basically your mid-term) answering this question.

The Tokugawa rulers tried to create a system that would prevent or least manage social and economic change. What did they do and how well did it work? How well were they able to understand and shape what was going on in Japan, and how did the Japanese people react to, avoid or revolt against their efforts?

Please note that this is a very broad question, and part of the assignment is thinking about a way to frame and limit your answer for the final essay. You need to think about your readings (and the things other people presented), probably do some research, and write a real essay that gives your answer to this question. You are going to have to figure out what aspects of change in this period you think are most important, or most interesting, or that you understand best.

As you might guess, my goal is to give them a question broad enough that they can fit almost anything they want to focus on in there, but still give the overall group discussion a bit of structure.

I also need to come up with all the little sets of three readings for the groups to do. I think I will do that Akō vendetta myself as a sample So the readings might be

-McMullen, James. “Confucian Perspectives on the Akō Revenge: Law and Moral Agency.” Monumenta Nipponica 58, no. 3 (2003): 293–315.
-Tucker, John Allen. “Rethinking the Akō Ronin Debate: The Religious Significance of Chūshin Gishi.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 26, no. 1/2 (1999): 1–37.
-The primary source stuff on the debate about the case in DeBarry
-The Keene translation of Chūshingura
That is four readings rather than three, and couple of them are too long, but it does give me a chance to present on secondary stuff and two types of primary sources.
Any thoughts?


  1. Hey, I had to read Theses on Feuerbach  as an undergrad  

Hong Kong Education in Chinese Schools 1929

Today I was browsing through US national archives microfilm reels containing state department records related to British Asia, 1910-29.1 There is always fun and unexpected materials in these collections and I thought I would share one that offers a little snapshot of what children in “Vernacular” (Chinese language) middle and primary school students were assigned to study in 1920s.

In February, 1929 the US consul to Hong Kong 1926–29, Harold Shantz composed a report on “Educational System of Hong Kong” which runs to some 34 pages, including a nice (but incomplete) list of the sources used. At the time, the report claims that there were an estimated 977,900 people in Hong Kong, 50,490 students, of which 37,417 students were in Chinese schools. Most of the British government materials can easily be found elsewhere, but I was particularly interested by the enclosures which purported to be (examples of?) syllabi for each year of “the Higher Primary division” and “the Middle School Division” for what I believe are the private Chinese schools for boys and girls. Shantz claims that there were 590 urban and 185 rural schools in operation as of 1927, with a third of the former and over half of the latter receiving subsidies from the Hong Kong colonial government. The report includes the form used to register schools, along the detailed ordinances for their regulation, including the requirement that “floors be washed at least once a week”, desks arranged “so that light falls upon the left of the pupils”, smoking prohibited, spitting only in spittoons, corporeal punishment of girls forbidden, detailed regulations for the administration of corporeal punishment to boys, etc.2

Below I have transcribed the material from the enclosures with the primary school and middle school syllabi, which I think are a great way to explore the focus of education in Hong Kong Chinese language schools, as depicted in these syllabi. It is not clear to me if this is from a particular school’s submission or an example drawn from patterns found across schools. The report doesn’t say anything about the origins of the syllabi:

Higher Primary First Year Class:

(1) Cho’s Commentaries [ Zuo Zhuan? 左傳 ]
(2) Mencius
Chinese History: 高級小學新選歷史教科書 一二册
Chinese Literature:
(1) The Kwok Man Reader with notes and Explanations Book 1 (The World Press)
(2) Selections from 古文評註補正
Chinese Composition & Letter Writing
Arithmetic: 高級小學新選教科書[專?]一册 [incomplete title?]
Geography: 高級小學新選地理教科書一二册
English Reading: “First Year English for Higher Primary School”
English Dictation from the reading book
English Writing – Vere Forster’s [sic Foster’s] Copy Book, Medium Book 1 & 2
English Conversation – daily & common expressions
English Composition – making sentences
Moral Lessons: 朱子小學集解
Nature Study: 高級小學新選自然教科書一二册
Chinese Writing: copying model specimens
Chinese Painting: Flowers & Landscapes

Higher Primary Second Year Class:

Confucian Classics:
(1) Mencius (continued from First Year Class)
(2) Confucian Analects
Chinese History: 高級小學新選歷史教科書三四册
Chinese Literature:
(1) The Kwok Man Reader with notes & explanations Book 11. [2?] (The World Press)
Chinese Composition on simple subjects & Letter Writing
Arithmetic: 高級小學新選算術教科書二册
Geography: 高級小學新選地理教科書三四册
English Reading: “Second Year English for Higher Primary School”
English Dictation – from reading book.
English Writing – Vere Forster’s [sic Foster’s] Copy Book, Medium Book IV.
English Conversation – on chosen subjects or lessons of the reading book
English Composition – making sentences
Moral Lessons: 朱子小學集解 (continued from First Year Class)
Nature Study: 高級小學新選自然教科書三四册
Chinese Writing: Copying model specimens
Chinese Painting – Flowers & Landscapes

Higher Primary Third Year Class:

Confucian Classics:
(1) Mencius (continued from Second Year Class)
(2) The Analects (continued from Second Year Class)
Chinese History: The Earliest Times
(1) 鑑史提綱
(2) 通鑑輯覽
Chinese Literature:
(1) The Kwok Man Reader with notes & explanations Book 111. [3] (The World Press)
(2) Selections from 古文評註補正
Chinese Composition on simple subjects
Arithmetic: 高級小學新選算術教科書三四册
(1) Notes on Hong Kong Harbour [Notes on the harbour of Hong Kong by F.J. de Rome and N. Evans?]
(2) 初中教書地大學
English Reading: China’s New Century Readers, Second Reader [China’s New Century Readers by L. T. Yoen, Hanson Lee and Fong F., 1915?]
English Dictation – from reading books
English Grammar: Nesfield’s Grammar Book 1 & II. [possibly a chopped up school edition of Manual of English Grammar and Composition by John Collison Nesfield]
Conversation – on chosen subjects or lessons of the reading nbook
English Composition – on elementary subjects
Moral Lessons: 朱子小學集解
Hygiene: 生理衛生學 [claims to be translation of Physiology and Hygiene John W. Ritchie
Chinese Writing: Copying model specimens  ([臨碑?])
Chinese Painting: Flowers & Landscapes

Middle School First Year:

Confucian Classics:
The Four Books (continued from Third Year Class Higher Primary Division)
Chinese History – continued from Third Year Class, Higher Primary Division.
(1) 通鑑輯覽
(2) 本國史中學教科書
Chinese Literature – Selections from the following books;-
(1) 古文辞[類纂?彙纂?]
(2) 古文評註補正
Chinese Composition:
(1) Essays on simple Classical & Historical Subjects
(2) Essays on miscellaneous subjects
General History – 中學用教科書西洋史上卷
English Literature: Aesop’s Fables
English Grammar – Nesfield’s Grammar Book III.
Translation – simple exercises
English Dictation – from English text or simple story books
Arithmetic – Beginning with Hall & Steven’s School Arithmetic
Algebra – beginning with Hall & Knight’s Elementary Algebra
Geography – [left blank]
Chinese Painting – Flowers & Landscapes
Nature Study: 中學用教科書植物學

Middle School Second Year:

Confucian Classics:
The Four Books (continued from First Year Class)
Chinese History – continued from First Year Class
(1) 通鑑輯覽
(2) 本國史中學教科書
Literature: Selections from the following books:
(1) 古文辞[類纂?彙纂?]
(2) 古文評註補正
(1) Essays on Classical & Historical subjects
(2) Essays on miscellaneous subjects
General History – 共和國教科書西洋史下卷
Geography – 中學用外國地理教科書上下卷
English Literature: Stories from Arabian Nights
English Grammar:
The parts of speech & simple parsing
Book – Nesfield’s Grammar Book III
Translation of short pieces
English Composition – exercises on simple subjects
English Dictation from English text or story books
Arithmetic – continued from First Year Class.
Book; Hall & Steven’s School Arithmetic
Algebra – continued from First Year Class
Book; Hall & Knight’s Elementary Algebra
Nature Study – 中學用教科書礦物學動物[每?]一冊

Middle School Third Year:

Confucian Classics:
The Four Books (continued from Second Year Class)
Chinese History – continued from Second Year Class.
(1) 通鑑輯覽
(2) 中學用教科書本國史
Literature: Selections from the following books:
(1) 古文[類纂?彙纂?]
(2) 六朝文絜
(3) 古文評註補正
(1) Essays on Classical & Historical subjects
(2) Essays on miscellaneous subjects
General History: Great Men and chief events of the world.
Book: “Scenes from European History” by G. B. Smith
Geography: General Geography of the World
Book: Long’s Geographical Series Book 1.
English Literature: Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare.
English Grammar: The parts of Speech, simple Parsing & Analaysis
Book: Nesfield’s Grammar Book IV.
Translation: E. to C. & C. to E.
English Composition
(a) “Specimens of Short Essays” Book 1
(b) Exercises
English Dictation: Seen & Unseen pieces
Arithmetic – continued from Second Year Class
Book: Hall & Steven’s School Arithmetic
Algebra – continued from Second Year Class
Book: Hall & Knight’s Elementary Algebra
Geometry – to begin with Hall & Steven’s School Geometry Parts I – IV.
Physics – to begin with Gorton’s “A School Course in Physics
Principles of Economics:
中學用經濟學教科書 (supplemented by English Notes)
Chinese Painting: Flowers & Landscapes

Middle School Fourth Year:

Confucian Classics:
(a) The Four Books (continued from Third Year Class; to be completed to cover up [to?] the University syllabus)
(b) One section of the “Five Classics” as required by the University syllabus for the year concerned.
Chinese History:
The Earliest times to the Sui Dynasty or the Tang Dynast to the Ming Dynasty as required by the University syllabus of the year.
(1) 通鑑輯覽
(2) 本國史中學教科書
Literature: Selections from the following books:
(1) 古文[類纂?彙纂?]
(2) 文選
(3) 駢文筆法百篇
(4) 唐詩三百首
(5) 十八家詩鈔
(1) Essays on Classical & Historical subjects
(2) Essays on miscellaneous subjects
(3) Ping Man
(4) Poetry
General History:
The outlines of European History in the nineteenth Century
(this period has been stuck to in order to make the students understand the growth of modern nations & the sources of modern systems).
Book: History of Western Europe by James Harvey Robinson (to be helped by summary & supplementary notes given by the teacher)
General geography of the world as required by the University syllabus.
Book: Longman’s Geography series Book II.
English Literature:
Set book or books as required by the University syllabus of the year
English Grammar:
The parts of speech & their uses; Parsin; Analysis; Explanation of Idioms as required by the University syllabus
Book: Nesfield’s Grammar Book IV. (supplemented by notes on Idioms).
Translation: E. to C. & C. to E. Encluding [sic] passages from the Four Books.
English Composition:
(a) “Specimens of short Essays” Book II
(b) Exercises
English Dictation:
Seen & Unseen pieces
Arithmetic: As required by the university syllabus of the year
Book: Hall & Steven’s School Arithmetic
Algebra: As required by University syllabus
Book: Hall & Knight’s Elementary Algebra
Geometry: As required by University syllabus
Book: Hall & Steven’s School Geometry
Trigonometry: so far no time could be spared for this subject
Book Keeping – so far this subject not yet taught.
Principles of Law:
Book: 中學用法治教科書 (supplemented by English notes)
Book: “An Elementary study of Chemistry” by Mc Pherson & Henderson (Chinese equivalents for technical terms supplied by the teacher).

Interestingly, the report also includes works assigned for teaching training (“normal school”):

Normal School First Year:

Normal School Second Year:

From this we can get a closer look of the distribution of the mix of Chinese classical education with integration, increasingly, of English language materials and Western history in Chinese and English. Some of the textbooks can be found online and I have linked to online editions from before the year the report came out, where I think I have found something similar.

  1. Records of the Department of State Relating to Internal Affairs of British Asia, 1910-29 Roll 18 846g Hong Kong  

  2. Enclosure No. 2 to report of Harold Shantz, “Educational System of Hong Kong”  

Japanese and English Bilingual Seminars and Workshops

Sayaka Chatani, Hiro Fujimoto, and Maho Ikeda are starting a new bilingual Japanese and English research exchange seminar series. The first of these is coming up on 18 May: an online manuscript workshop featuring a manuscript workshop with Yuri Ōkubo, “Ambivalent Aspirations: Okinawan Collaboration with the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”. You can register for this Zoom event online here.

As Sayaka, who was one of our early Frog in a Well members, puts it, “Use Japanese or English, whichever you feel more comfortable speaking in, to participate.” I find this to be a really exciting new initiative that I hope will really take off.1   This kind of multilingual spirit is similar to the one Frog in a Well was founded on back in 2004 (see our first post here). As a starting PhD student, I had hoped to develop an online space where scholars studying Japan, China, and Korean, across several humanities disciplines could post in either English or, for each of three blogs, Japanese, Chinese, or Korean. It didn’t work out that way, mostly due to my own failure to build up and sustain a community of posting graduate students and academics writing in languages other than English.

I have, however, seen great examples of the kinds of events Sayaka describes: truly multilingual spaces for academic exchange around the study of East Asian history. In Japan, I have really enjoyed being part of some small workshops that had both Chinese and Japanese languages as their working languages. In Taiwan, I have enjoyed some roundtables and talks that were bilingual Chinese and English. In Korea, I’ve been to both a Korean-Japanese bilingual workshop and a Korean-Chinese bilingual conference, and numerous events where Korean and English mixed. When they work well, the more free flowing discussion sessions often include lots of code-switching as technical terms and phrases are dropped in with the other language or a switch of language can heighten dramatic emphasis.

The place I have seen the most reluctance to try things like this is the United States – the world’s heart of English language chauvinism. There are certainly exceptions, including some wonderful Japanese studies workshops organised by Carol Gluck at Columbia University over the years. Unlike the fully bilingual events I have experienced in East Asia, these also usually included at least some sequential translation or summaries, especially during open discussion sessions. I think these Columbia workshops were easily the most stimulating academic exchanges I witnessed during my years as a student in the US.

When I have proposed such events myself, or lamented their absence, I’ve sometimes been told that these kinds of bilingual events are exclusionary. I find such responses bewildering. As if, by making an event that is primarily targeting a highly specialized group of experts English only, we are somehow being more inclusive? I think there are two ways to respond to this.

1) The first is what we might call the 最起碼的要求 or “minimum requirement” argument for scholars of East Asia. I don’t think it is an unreasonable expectation for scholars of Japanese history, for example, to know Japanese, as a bare minimum. The Chinese version of this phrase pops into my mind because I can hear the voice of a Chinese student I overheard many years ago commenting to a friend after someone asked whether an upcoming Japanese language roundtable, in Japan, on Japanese colonialism, would include English translation for the benefit of a few foreign students in the audience. Simply put: if you are going to study and publish about the region, learn the relevant language. At the very least be able to read and understand it, even if you are uncomfortable in presenting or publishing in it. Yup, it’s hard. Nope, I don’t want to hear your excuses. What’s that you say? You only understand 75% of what is said in the relevant language when those academics start talking back and forth at a rapid fire pace?

2) This brings me nicely to the second response, which we might refer to as the “Welcome to the fucking party” argument, or without the profanity, the problem of forgotten exclusion. At most international conferences, but to be honest, pretty much any event at a large international institution, your audience is likely to include non-native speakers of English. They may be really fantastic at English. You might never have heard them make an error, and their writing may only occasionally give away the fact that they worked damn hard for many years to master the maddening English language on top of their own. However, many of these participants won’t necessarily catch everything speakers say during talks, and they may have just a bit less willingness to join the fray in discussion if they have to produce polished academic speech on the fly. They may be unfamiliar with particular accents or idiomatic phrases. Their understanding may struggle more when the exchange speeds up in open discussion sessions. They may drift off for a minute only to discover that the loss of context makes it hard to follow the discussion when they re-focus. Their heads may start to pound after prolonged concentration and they may be less confident their fluency in their non-native language will hold up when fatigued.

If these things sound familiar to native English speakers then it is likely that you have experienced something similar in another language you are otherwise confident in, and it should be easier for you to flip the board and view things from the other side. These facts don’t change just because English is some kind of academic lingua franca. By making a specialist event bilingual, choosing a second language that everyone should know given the content/context of a particular event (of course, I’m not claiming general interest events need to do this – context matters), and giving people the freedom to speak the language they feel most comfortable in throughout, you take a serious step taken towards levelling the playing field. The outcome is never 100% mutual understanding and perfect dialogic utopia. A bilingual environment is one in which everyone except the native bilingual participants has to struggle at least a little bit. In that shared struggle is born a kind of mutual compassion that produces the best kind of academic exchange.

  1. I see there is another bilingual event coming in 1 June, with a “new books from Japan” series『医学とキリスト教 日本におけるアメリカ・プロテスタントの医療宣教』by 藤本大士. Register here. Both of these events are through the recently founded Modern Japan History Association.