Circles of Historiography

Today our World History Reading Group met to talk about a new AHR forum introduction on the history of Oceans. The reader included a series of essays on the historiography of oceans, including the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, and Pacific. Braduel's famous history of the Mediterranean was the overarching model: if the others scholars weren't trying to employ his model, they were arguing against it. The study of oceans and other similar spaces (deserts, steppes, mountains) occupy the field of world history now; how can we reconfigure our conception of geography to include these spaces as actors in our histories?

As is apt to happen in reading groups, our discussion migrated to the topic of methodology: how is world history actually done, especially with "Oceans" as a theme. A colleague of mine then made an interesting observation. He told us that the way these histories, and other similar histories, were written were quite similar to methodologies of the early twentieth century. He found it amusing that these histories, that are considered so "cutting edge" in the our field, were including frameworks that shaped histories written 100 years earlier.

After my initial surprise at this observation (and, let it be noted, I can't necessarily attest to its accuracy, I don't often read histories of oceans and geography from turn of the century European scholars), I realized more importantly the assumptions that lay behind my surprise. After cultural and linguistic turn, history as "linear" became outdated. We could no longer blindly assume that history consistently moves not only forward but upward; in essence, that human development is constant progression. We also cannot look at history as a line of events; it is not only outdated but purely inaccurate to describe any event as being caused by one other singular event. History is not a line, but a series of trajectories that meet and then create another series of repercussion trajectories. This spatial metaphor, as fuzzy as it may seem, is probably the best example of how our discipline conceives of history today.

Yet it seems that we do not apply this framework to historiography. J. P. Bayley offhandedly wrote in The Birth of the Modern World that historians make their living and sustain their profession by overthrowing accepted wisdom once every generation or so. I think most of us believe, if we would not be ready to eagerly verbalize, the assumption that the way we write history now is better than it has been in the past. It's more developed, more sophisticated, and if not a more accurate than certainly a novel way of looking at the past. I think that this borders dangerously on a linear framework. Yet, if it's not linear, then really, why do we all praise cultural history? Why do we have to include the most novel, the most "in-vogue" theories of the day, if not because they are considered the best? We can't go back and write what Braudel wrote, knowing what we know now. We say that good scholarship stands the test of time, but even the most respected pieces of scholarship, Norbert Elias, or in our field Fairbank or Levenson, still seem "outdated" to us now...

I do not have an answer to this, more just the musings of a grad student caught up in the headache that is post-modernism. It is, however, something interesting, and perhaps hypocritical, to think about. But if we take post-modernism to its logical and extreme end, we require some degree of hypocrisy to get out of it...


China and the Middle Ground

This week, our East Asia History reading group, which meets once a quarter, had the fortune of discussing Richard White's The Middle Ground with Professor White himself. The purpose of this book was to write the history of Native Americans and Empire in the pays d’en haut, the area around the Great Lakes, from the years 1650-1815, a region Professor White has termed the Middle Ground. Professor White presents the Middle Ground both as a spatial and theoretical construct. It is both the area where Europeans and Indians coexisted and created a new cultural space, and also a theoretical term meant to point to the process with which Indians and Whites mutually accommodated each other, constructed together a mutually comprehensible world. He traces through 2 centuries the creation and destruction of this process, and the ways in which alliances, wars, trade and empire affected the ability of Indians and Whites to maintain a status quo. He also complicates the traditional narrative of empire. A narrative of the conquerer and the conquered obscures the complexities of the relationships between and among Indians and Whites, and while violence was present, the middle ground appeared and “depended on the inability of both sides to gain their ends through force.” The Middle Ground, he points out, is not a pretty place. He has often been called an apologist for colonialism because he pointed out the compromises and concessions each side had to make. This, however, is obviously not the case; the Middle Ground was created out of destruction and violence, the description of which was nauseating.

The reason we decided to read the book is because the concept of the Middle Ground can be used in other contexts; it has been cited numerous times in books about border regions in China, specifically Yunnan, Xinjiang, Tibet, and Qinghai. Once I started reading the book, an exhaustive 500+ pages of Native American history, I became confused as to the extent to which his theory could be applied. Were all colonies Middle Grounds? Does it work outside borderland situations? Does it even work outside of the pays d'en haut?

Our discussion with Professor White helped to clear up a lot of the confusion. He told us that, despite the fact that he did not want to be the "judge in the court of the Middle Ground," he did think that both the physical space and the process did have some distinguishing characteristics. First of all, it needs to be a situation in which the two opposing groups could not overwhelm one another by force. At the same time, it needed to be a situation in which both sides needed the other. Finally, there needed to be a set of institutions in place to sustain this balance of power. In the pays d'en haut, this included Jesuit priests, a system of posts, a gift giving system in place, etc. Professor White pointed out that it is these institutions which distinguished other parts of the Americas from the pays d'en haut; they were not a Middle Ground, simply areas of cross cultural contact.

Professor White stressed that the one way in which the Middle Ground did not work in later colonial situations is that if one side has the overwhelming power to dictate, there was not a Middle Ground. He stated that the French and British did not break local power and rule, in fact, the didn't rule much of anything. This description rules out a lot of European empires. The Middle Ground is also not, as Professor White claimed, a place where everyone came together and loved each other. Nor is it another term for cultural compromise. Misunderstandings actually played a large role in the creation of the Middle Ground. What he meant by this was that each group tried to argue with one another based upon their understanding of the other sides' cultural premises. As an example from his book, he shows how Indians tried to make arguments with the French based upon their understanding of Christianity, and at the same time, the French attempted to spread Christianity by using terms they extracted from local religious practice.

The Middle Ground is also historically contingent; it, like all things, has a starting point and an end point. There are many reasons the Middle Ground of the pays d'en haut came to an end, mainly because the Americans of the frontier no longer needed Indians. He also brought up an interesting argument which he mentioned slightly at the end of his book, which is that ethnography and anthropology helped to erase the Middle Ground. These studies, which for the first time introduced race, created a group of "others" that could not be dealt with in an equal level (this is not to say the French did not see the Indians as "others"; but the otherness came from the fact that they were not Christian, it had nothing to do with race). The example he gave to us was the issue of marriage. In the pays d'en haut, temporary marriages were quite common. Once the marriage came to an end, the father mattered little; the woman would simply take her child, half French and half Indian, back to her village. The issue of race, or difference, was not important. In fact, towards the end of the 18th century, identity was a matter of personal choice; no one could be said to be completely French or Indian. This changed in the 19th century, when these Indian women were told by their villagers to leave their husbands and their mixed children behind because they were not pure "Indian." This was done in the name of tradition, when really it was a quite radical statement. In this way, as professor White claimed, when Middle Grounds disappear, they become black holes, sucking everything into themselves, including historical memory.

At this point we should ask, how applicable are these theories to China? Some of us in our group pointed out that these theories are very helpful in describing situations in borderlands, where neither the central Chinese government nor other bordering empires had any control over the local population. The situation in China, however, is much more complicated. The 司土 system in areas such as Qinghai and Tibet created a system of local warlords which administered these regions. In some of these regions, the local imperial appointed warlords had much more power than others, so the use of Middle Ground is contingent on a case-by-case basis. There were some areas in which local leaders ruled in succession for generations, and others where power was determined by the ability to mediate and communicate, thus creating a Middle Ground.

Another issue that distinguishes the system in China from other contenders for the Middle Ground is the fact that there was no real clear starting or ending point like there was in the pays d'en haut. These groups on the frontiers of China had been interacting for centuries, and there was no clear starting point that would help us trace the creation of this Middle Ground (if there was, perhaps the Song or even the Han dynasty). Nevertheless, framing the trade and relations in these areas within a Middle Ground framework it seems would be useful for analysis.

I admit, when I first went into this discussion, I was hoping to see how this concept would apply in a colonial setting; after discussing the book with Professor White, it seems that the Middle Ground does not work in the later British empire, specifically Hong Kong. When the British first gained control of Hong Kong, they set out to create a population of successful Chinese they could subsequently rule. The situation was not an inability on either side to rule the other through force; it was simply that the Chinese businessmen in Hong Kong cooperated with the colonial government so that force was unnecessary. The authority between empires, Qing and British, may have been fuzzy at some points, but it was more an argument of semantics; Hong Kong was conceded to Britain as spoils of war, and there was no question on the ground who held authority. This was the case for much of the later empires. Similarly, as professor White pointed out, ethnography and anthropology made the Middle Ground impossible, and these techniques for distinguishing the "other" was central to later colonial politics.

I do think, however, that Professor White's description of cultural misunderstandings could be helpful in understanding the interactions between the British and Chinese in Hong Kong. I feel like I see this a lot today. Hong Kong is rife with food, activities, and trends that they consider "Western" when we would not. While I do not know of any historical examples (though perhaps a reexamination of the creation of the Tung Wah hospital with this theory in mind might bear new fruit), I do think that taking this framework of "cultural misunderstandings" could shed new light on the ways in which British and locals interacted within the colonies.


Well, I'm not Amy Adams, but... (aka, and now for something completely different...)

I realize I normally use this blog to pontificate upon research-related brilliance, but (now this may come as a shock to some of you readers) I am brilliant in other ways. Among my many talents (including my ability to be incredibly modest) I'm a pretty good cook...and I'm always up for a challenge. So for a recent dinner party, I felt the need to practice so I could one day perfect the zenith of Italian ridiculousness: the timpano.

My dad made said timpano for Christmas this year, and it was a two day affair. After recovering from the food induced pleasure-coma, I did some searching of my own. Other bloggers have embarked on such an adventure, however their interest was spurred by a Stanley Tucci movie called "The Big Night," in which two Italian-American brothers open a restaurant (and then I think they close it? I didn't see the movie), and the grand finale to their ostentatious feast was none other than the timpano. The timpano is a dome of homemade dough filled with just about every Italian food you could think of: meatballs, pasta, sauce, salami, eggs, cheese, etc. See pictures below.

So it was a "big night," if you will, for Stanford history grad students. We had a first-year party last quarter, and I cooked dessert: a barrage of pies thrown together in a last minute tornado that nearly destroyed my kitchen (in the end, it merely covered my kitchen in chocolate). This time, I was appointed as one of two hosts, and the timpano felt like the perfect experiment. I used my dad's recipe (I'll post the recipe in full at the end) but I made some last minute adjustments.

The first major challenge was finding a pan. I should have listened more carefully to my dad when he told me that a stainless steel mixing bowl would work out just fine; instead I spent more time than necessary on the internet trying to find bowls that might work, and deciding whether or not to simply order the timpano bowl from the Kolorful Kitchen website, which had reasonably priced products but ridiculous costs for shipping. Finally I stormed into Sur la Table in a frenzy, telling the saleslady "Ok, I need a bowl, it needs to be between 6-8 quarts, it needs to be domed shape, and it needs to go in the oven." The very kind lady pointed me to (ironically) a stainless steel mixing bowl, 20% off. And all that time I spent on the internet...

The day before the dinner party, I made the marinara and meatballs, making the meatballs smaller than normal. Step 1, accomplished. :) I also prepared all the ingredients, including the salami, provolone cheese, 20 eggs (yes, 20 eggs. Did I mention that timpano is Italian for cardiac arrest?), romano cheese, 2 pounds of rigatoni, and other important ingredients I already had on hand.

The next afternoon, after a major exam and dance class, I ran to meet a classmate who lent me a rolling pin (another important thing I needed that I didn't think of until the last minute), and then spent nearly 2 hours transferring ingredients, cooking utensils, plates, the kitchen sink, etc. to my co-host Andy's apartment, an apartment in the brand new graduate housing, complete with 2 fridges, a dishwasher, and 5 times as much space that I have in my kitchen.

Then began the work. I started by chopping up the salami and cheese into small pieces while cooking the hardboiled eggs. The recipe called for block provolone, but I couldn't find any so I had to use slices. I also stuck in some asiago cheese, since I had some on hand. I then began to cook the rigatoni (it is important that the rigatoni be super al denti, since it still cooks more in the oven) while making the dough. The recipe said I should use a mixing bowl with a dough hook to mix the flour, eggs, olive oil and water, but what graduate student has such a fancy accoutrement? So I kneaded it by hand. For awhile, I began to be quite worried that the dough was coming out funny; it seemed far too sticky. But the more I mixed it, the more it came out ok. I did end up having to add a little bit of extra flour including the flour I used to roll it out to 1/16 of an inch. This was probably the most exhausting part of the whole process.

Then came the second major panic. I only bought 2 pounds of rigatoni, thinking that already sounded ridiculous enough. But the more I thought about it, the more I became concerned that the 2 pounds wouldn't be enough (the recipe called for 3, and said to use a 6 quart bowl, while mine was 8). So I began asking Andy's roommates for any pasta they had on hand just in case. Very quickly the third panic followed: it seemed I did not make enough sauce. This problem, however, I very quickly solved. I had read a series of recipes for this crazy dish online, one more complicated than the next (one called for 4 different homemade sauces and meatballs using 3 types of meat! Yikes!). But many of them called for at least two types of sauces: one layer of pasta with meat sauce and another with a layer of beschamel. This seemed not only creative and delicious, but an easy solution to my lack of bolognese sauce. So I whipped together a beschamel based upon Mario Batalli's recipe, a white sauce with the complex ingredients list of butter, flour, and milk. I also added a shallot (which I had on hand) salt and some cloves (the recipe called for nutmeg, but I didn't have any).

Finally, the dough was rolled, the eggs were cooled, the sauces were complete, the ingredients chopped, and my feet were screaming in pain and I was covered in flour: it was time to throw it all together. I generously (and by generous, I mean dripping) greased the pan with some melted butter and olive oil, and then draped the dough over the bowl, pressing gently to mold it to shape.

I started with a layer of rigatoni with beschamel, followed by salami and provolone. My friend watched with fascination as I heaped handfuls (using both hands) of salami and cheese into the bowl, wiping the grease from my hands onto my skirt. I giggled and looked up and said "you know, this is almost gross..." He laughed and told me I probably shouldn't sell it with that line at the party.

I then topped the cheese and salami with pieces of chopped hardboiled eggs (there were 12 in all, though I didn't end up using them all), neatly arranged meatballs, and a few ladlefulls of bolognese. I then began with the second layer of pasta (this time mixed with red sauce) when I yelled out "damnit, forgot the romano!" So that layer was slightly out of place. The layers then repeated: salami and cheese, eggs, meatballs, sauce, and romano cheese. To my relief, 2 pounds was more than enough rigatoni, I ended up eating the leftover pasta with sauce all weekend. As I was pouring the final touches, four beaten raw eggs, onto the top, Andy commented "this isn't even a dish, this is a science experiment. It's like, 'what else can we fit in here?'" I laughed again as I folded the excess dough over the top, cut the edges, and got it ready to go into the oven.

Here is where I encountered mistake number 1. I was on a bit of a time crunch: the timpano needed to bake for an hour and a half, and then sit for at LEAST an hour and a half. The party started at 7 (although we probably wouldn't eat until later, no one seems to be on time for anything anymore) and it was 4:15 as I went to put it in the oven; seemed like perfect timing. I opened the oven and said relatively non-chalantly, "Andy, can I have some oven mitts, I need to take one of these racks out of the oven." He exclaimed that we couldn't do that while it was still hot, and I began to panic: there went my perfect timing. I quickly shut the oven off and opened the door to began cooling the oven down, and then we tried to take the rack out just to see what would happen. Turned out the rack wasn't heavy at all, and it was a quick process. So I stuck the timpano in the oven, turned the time to an hour, and began to clean and help Andy prepare his butternut squash ravioli.

The timer rang an hour later and my heart filled with panic as I opened the door to the oven: I had forgotten to turn the oven back on. I moaned, turned the oven on to a slightly higher heat, and mentally kicked myself. I put the oven to 370 instead of 350, and baked it for 45 minutes instead of an hour, thinking that it had at least been in a hot oven for 15 minutes as it cooled. After 45 minutes, I put tin foil on top to keep the top layer from burning, and left it in the oven for an extra 10 minutes (so a total of 85 minutes). I had no more time to be mad at my own stupidity. Andy and I quickly whipped together homemade ravioli, cleaned his apartment, and made ourselves look presentable. At 6:40, I took the timpano out of the oven, and let it cool. By 7:30, most people had arrived, and it was time to try flipping it over. I had seen my dad do it with two hands, but I struggled to even carry the massive bowl filled with food; I had no idea how I was going to flip it upsidedown. But with the help of a nearby friend, we flipped it over onto a cookie sheet, and to my complete and utter delight, it came right out of the bowl, perfectly golden and beautifully shaped (not a crumb stuck to the bowl. I guess I greased it well enough!)

I wanted to postpone dinner as much as I could so I could let the timpano continue to cool, but by 8:10, people were ready to eat. So I held my breath, closed my eyes, and began to cut into it. I cut a hole around the center to try and maintain a point of stability, and then I cut the first piece. And then came my second squeal of joy for the night: it came out beautifully, all layers in tact.

The timpano had to feed a lot of people, so after the first beautiful piece I couldn't continue to serve full pieces: not enough to go around! But most people did get to see the inside (see picture), and those who wanted a nicely shaped piece got the half shaped by the pan rather than the messier pieces I cut.

The response, if I do say so myself, seemed pretty positive. Some of my favorite quotes of the evening were: "Wow, everything you could possibly crave is in this thing! 'I feel like pasta...' well there it is! 'How about some salami?' it's there! 'Hardboiled eggs?' in there too!" And "Um, Gina, could you cook for us every night?" By the time I stopped cutting it and sat down to eat myself (not only the timpano but also Korean braised ribs, butternut squash ravioli in a brown butter sauce, and some awesome salad) there was still a pretty big chunk left. But that quickly disappeared; Andy's roommates, all healthy male law students, stood around the remains and finished it off pretty quickly. I am glad it was so popular, but I kind of wish I had a piece right now, writing all of it out.

I guess the only question that remains is, how will I top myself now?

Here are the various recipes:

I made my grandmother's sauce and meatballs, with my own kind of touches. I would double this, I wish I had had more sauce on the side.

One piece of some kind of pork, or Italian Sausage (just for flavor)
4 cloves of crushed garlic
3-4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
2 cans of tomato paste
Dried oregano, parsley, and basil to taste.
Salt and sugar to taste (ok, I just do this by flavor. I'm sure that somewhere you could find real measurements, but I've never used them)

Sautee garlic and brown pork in oil. Add crushed tomatoes and tomato paste, and then fill each can of tomato paste with water and add. Mix and bring to a simmer. Add meatballs (see below) and spices. Cover and simmer for 2 hours, making sure that you stir occasionally to keep from sticking.

Meatball recipe (again, I do a lot of this according to flavor, and I don't know the exact measurements):
1 lb. ground beef
4 slices of bread, soaked in water
2-3 eggs (I just mix it until it is slimy, sometimes that is two or three eggs)
1/2 cup of grated cheese
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Chopped parsley to taste
Salt and Pepper to taste

Take the water soaked bread and ring out excess water (should be an interesting sensation!) Mix all the ingredients together, mixture should be pretty slimy. Coat the bottom of a sautee pan with olive oil, and cook one or two to make sure that it is to your liking. Then, make the meatballs (pretty small for the timpano) and brown them in olive oil, set aside. Then, once your sauce is cooking, add the partially cooked meatballs.

Beschamel sauce (courtesy of Mario Batalli):
5 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg


In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden sandy color, about 6 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate pan until just about to boil. Add the hot milk to the butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth. Bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat. Season with salt and nutmeg, and set aside until ready to use.

**My personal touch: I added a shallot while cooking the butter and flour, and I added cloves. Tasted pretty good!

And below is a copy of the basic recipe for a Timpano. If you click on the picture, it will become bigger so it is readable.


Am I a colonizer?

In my Colonialism and Collaboration class, we recently discussed Albert Memmi's Colonizer and the Colonized. Our class decided that, while he may have a lot to offer discussions of colonialism, there are some real problems with his work.

But I'm not going to discuss right now the various inconsistencies and generalizations of Memmi's work, but rather, one topic that made me think about my own experiences in China, my role as a Chinese scholar, and then finally, why I think his theory is problematic. He claims that a person from a colonial power living in a colony has no choice but to be a colonizer as there is always an implicit hierarchy, even if the colonizer is perhaps less wealthy or has less social capital than the colonized with whom he interacts. This immediately brought me back to my time in China. I am guessing that when I lived in China, I lived on a lower-middle class income (by Shanghai's standards, mind you, not by all of China's standards). Yet I often found myself implicitly being treated as though I had more money, that I was wealthier, and that socially, I was higher up on the hierarchy. People were much kinder to me, showed me more respect, than I think they would an average person, and assumed that I had much more money than I did. There were other smaller, institutionalized symbols of this hierarchy, such as nice apartment buildings that would only accept foreigners who looked like foreigners, free gifts and better service at restaurants, etc. More than anything, however, I recognized the special treatment I received, even though I was by no means really a special person in any way.

Now, I realize there are a series of differences here. China is not a colony, technically it never was. I am not and could not be a colonizer, even by his loose definitions. And I was not in China for economic opportunity, certainly I was not there to be exploitative. But just from the subtlety of my interactions with others, I felt a certain hierarchy. If I were to take my experiences as any kind of proof or lack thereof of Memmi's theory, I do think there is an area where his argument falls apart. He makes the assumption that because people treated colonizers with this hierarchy that this hierarchy was either a product of an internalized hierarchy on the part of the colonizer or ultimately caused an internalized hierarchy. I can speak for myself to say that this was not true, I often felt the opposite, if any kind of hierarchy materialized in my mental framework. While I cannot in any way speak for actual colonizers, I do believe it is presumptuous to assume that just because a hierarchy materializes in a peoples' treatment of the other does not mean that that other has necessarily internalized that hierarchy and placed themselves above others.

But then again, I could be wrong. Like I said, I'm not a colonizer.


Putting Denver on the China map!

I'm not normally in the business of stealing, but this picture was just too cool to pass up posting on my own blog (and I am providing a reference for this picture...I think it's fair, Chinabeat has pulled stuff from my blog). This commemorative stamp was issued in 1942, in Denver, where Sun Yat Sen, in 1911, read in the Denver Post in his room at the Brown Palace of the revolution he was supposedly leading (I've even made a pilgrimage...who would have though Denver would make it on the map of modern Chinese history?). Leaders comparing themselves to historic figures is nothing new, it's quite common. But this is a comparison I would not have expected to find. The Chinabeat article does a fantastic job of analyzing this strange tendency of Chinese leaders to compare themselves with Lincoln (currently a common comparison for policy in Tibet); I won't repeat it. But what an awesome picture!

Chinese nationalism in Hong Kong...?

Scholars who write about early 20th century Hong Kong seem to be fascinated with nationalism in Hong Kong. A few examples include John Carroll, Jung-Fang Tsai, and Ming K. Chan, to name a few. These three scholars in particular all write about protests in the early 20th century in Hong Kong. Chan was one of the first to write labor history in southern China, so his approach to Chinese nationalism in Hong Kong is more reserved (simply because he does not draw as large a distinction; his focus is on the Pearl River Delta). John Carroll's Edge of Empires talks about the growth of Hong Kong due to contributions Chinese businessmen and collaborators.

Of the three, Tsai seems to be most concerned with Chinese nationalism in Hong Kong. According to his work, we see a strong Chinese nationalist movements among laborers in the 1913 boycott of the tram in Hong Kong, in solidarity and support of the 1911 revolution, and even earlier, in anti-foreign and anti-French protests in the late 1880s and early 1890s.

Reading these works, I'm slightly suspicious of the term "nationalism" here. Tsai defines nationalism as "a sense of collective identity with and loyalty to China as a sovereign nation-state.” The problem I see is that, while we certainly see cultural solidarity for reform and revolution in the mainland among Hong Kong Chinese, there is no discussion as to where Hong Kong fits in. The emotional fervor in Hong Kong both in support of mainland China and against foreign invaders never included a tangible place for Hong Kong. Hong Kong was placed in a nebulous space between empires, never fully belonging to either.

It could be the case that protesters and laborers in Hong Kong felt no need to define Hong Kong's place in China: it was already part of this newly imagined Chinese nation. There is, from the books I've read, no evidence to the contrary. The one person who spoke prolifically about Hong Kong, China, and colonialism was Sir Ho Kai Ho. An important Hong Kong businessman and Chinese reformer (a teacher of Sun Yat Sen) Ho argued ardently for republican reform in China, but cited as an example colonial Hong Kong. Carroll argues that Ho represents the complexity of identity in Hong Kong: being both loyal to a nation and loyal to a city.

But it seems to me that as much as Carroll tries to layer this sense of identity, there is a real schism here. How can Hong Kongers seem themselves as citizens of a separate nation when they live under colonial rule in a separate space? Space becomes a crucial issue here: where is the divide, and how does that divide correspond to internal and psychological borders of identity and place?

My personal opinion (based, currently, on no research of my own but only interpretations of secondary texts) that this support of the Chinese nation through protests and symbolic gestures has more in common with Chinese-American support for the Beijing Olympics a couple of years ago. Certainly there were strong emotional ties to a common identity, but was it nationalism? Would cultural solidarity be a more correct term?

This is something I would like to explore more. But this question keeps coming back into my mind. If this is nationalism, where did that sense of belonging to the Chinese nation go after 1949? Did it disappear? I would argue it holds little presence in the minds of Hong Kongers now. So what happened?

New quarter, new year, new research!

I've done it! I've survived a quarter of graduate school, relatively unscathed (my existential/career-based crises numbered in the single digits; I think that is success). Hopefully, I will take more time to blog this quarter, especially since I will be starting a research seminar on modern China this quarter that will run until June.

Also, happily, I've spun left and right and round and round and finally came to the conclusion that I should start to follow my heart (research-wise...perhaps follow my analytical mind would be a better phrase here?) I am fascinated, frightened, intrigued, excited, and pretty much in love with Hong Kong. I've always had a secret desire to do a People's History/Wang Zheng Women in the Chinese Enlightenment-esque book about 1980s Hong Kong Chinese and their identity struggles with the handover. Unfortunately, this idea is a.) inchoate; b.) already done by some people and c.) not really history yet.

But a class on South Asia made me ask a lot of questions about Hong Kong that actually pertain to history. What was going on in Hong Kong in the early 20th century? Were there anti foreign protests to match those in the mainland? Were there anti-colonial protests to match those in other British colonies? At what point did people in Hong Kong go from being citizens of the emperor to colonial subjects to citizens of China to citizens of the global economy? (Perhaps not all in that order). With all these questions bouncing around in my head, my adviser and I thought it would be fruitful for both of us if I did a historiographical survey of work on colonial Hong Kong. 40 pages later, I have a lot of new ideas, and I'm probably more confused now than I was before. But one thing is sure: I'm not putting this pull to Hong Kong in a drawer.

So this quarter, I want to explore these ideas and hopefully find some insight. I don't know if I have readers, but if I do, and you see something interesting that pertains to my research, please post a comment (or email me if you know me). I always appreciate ideas and directions.

Happy year of the tiger (raar!)


Edward Said and Me

In our Approaches to History class, a sometimes dry, sometimes exciting, often frustrating, journey through late 20th century historiography, we recently had a lively, heated discussion about Said's Orientalism. As a group we were highly divided, some of us loved the book, others hated it, some loved Said in general but hated the book, some realized his contributions to the field but found the actual scholarship itself vitriolic and unprofessional. But aren't these just the conversations that lead to the best kinds of reflection?

One of the most frustrating things about Said is his ambiguity about a way forward. He very clearly defines the problems of the study of the Orient (in his book he refers exclusively to European essentialization of the Near East and Islamic world), demonstrating not only the problems of very obvious Orientalist practices (such as "scholars" who write books called "the Origins of Muslim Rage," or histories of British India meant to show the backwardness of the people and their inability to rule themselves), but also how vestiges of this practice have seeped into almost all of the scholarship produced about non-European cultures and societies. His way forward, he claims, is humanism. But he spends very little time talking about what this means in practical terms, in other words, how do we escape these vestiges of internal hierarchies that place ourselves above the other? One person (ok, me) pointed out that perhaps the best way to do this is to approach the study of a group that may be considered the "other" by looking at them not for their differences, but for their similarities. The conversation then moved into the feasibility of such an exercise: if we ignore all differences, then we as scholars are not having a dialogue with our subject of study, it becomes simply a monologue.

Perhaps I should have qualified this statement. Perhaps the problem is instead our definition of what constitutes the "other." The "other" can be an exotic East, or it can be our next door neighbors, our siblings or families. We can become other to ourselves. So where is the boundary, how do we solve this issue?

From my discussions with other East Asianists, and my own experience, I have certain preliminary thoughts on how we go from essentializing the other to having a dialogue with an other. I've talked briefly in other blog posts about what initially drew me to China. It wasn't its exoticism, its religion or culture that was so drastically different from ours. It was China's struggles with nationalism, something that I myself struggle with every day (if anyone reading this actually has an interest in these struggles, I expounded upon this more in my previous blog post). It was a reflection of something I see in myself that drew me to China, something that manifested in a much more extreme way in China than it does in my own experience (I do get emotional when I hear the national anthem, but I don't see myself getting swept up into a Cultural Revolution type fervor...then again, the frightening prospect is, perhaps if I were Chinese and in China during that time, I would have. But these are just thought exercises, and there is no way to know). At the same time, Hong Kong continues to be a source of complete fascination with me because of their lack of emotional attachment to anything called a nation. It doesn't make sense to me that, as described in the introduction to John Carrol's book Edge of Empires, Chinese people in Hong Kong would feel happier about British colonialism than being a part of the motherland, mainland China. Aren't the colonized supposed to feel one way about the colonizers? Especially after all of the anti-colonial movements across the world led to the rise of decolonization and nationalism?

So while China's experience with nationalism and identity that mirror in one way or another my own experiences, I was actually repelled by the exoticism of China. I never had the fascination with eastern religions, eastern cultures, eastern thought in the same way as a lot of people who study the same things I do. In fact, that sort of exotic fascination irritated me, and I went out of my way to not care about the things that have recently become popular in the American imagination about East Asia (such as kungfu, Daoism, Buddhism, yin/yang, Japanese anime, etc.) These sorts of things continue to hold little interest for me. I am incredibly attracted to Buddhism, but my attraction stems from a fascination with the way that history influences culture on a global scale, not from a fascination with a completely unknown and exotic frame of mind. It was a difficult journey for me to begin to enjoy Buddhist philosophy and cosmology, simply because I was repelled and frustrated by the way it was talked about, exoticized, and orientalized in the West.

I don't want to say necessarily that my approach to studying Chinese history as an American with no connection to China is the best way, but I do think that it reflects upon Said's argument. When we write about the other, its not enough to simply shed the hierarchical framework. A more nuanced view of the problem of "romantic orientalism" which I somewhat allude to above is seen in Robert Inden's work, but in essence he argues that romantic orientalism is still orientalism, even if the exoticized difference of the orient is lauded rather than scorned. Of course it is not always easy to discard things that interest us, nor is a scholar whose initial interest in East Asia stemmed from an orientalized fascination with Eastern culture doomed to be an orientalist. But I do not think that focusing on similarities among culture results in a monologue. If I were to study Italian American culture in the midwest, a group to which I very much belong, I would still find issues with the group identity that challenge my individual identity. If I were to study American history, of course I would stumble upon ideas, politics, cultural practices, or other things I don't particularly like or ascribe to. This is what makes it a dialogue. But at the same time, I should not immediately approach them as my opposite, as the other. I think this is the best way to approach any area of study, by viewing them as humans first, and then dealing and balancing the differences afterwards, rather than going into our scholarship with the opinion that the subject is our opposite, in a negative way (hierarchical dominance of European culture) or positive (romantic orientalism).

This is easy to say, it is not as easy to practice. While my initial interest in China began with these humanistic leanings, that is not a static or unchanging sentiment. We all struggle with what we study, regardless of how culturally similar they are to us. Also, there is a hegemonic discourse that we as scholars of the non-West are trying to overcome, and unfortunately, in some ways this is impossible because of who we are and where we are coming from. There are real problems with being an outsider trying to understand another culture, especially when the political implications of such a relationship are so heavily politicized. But this is a topic for another post.


Is research fundamentally selfish?

In a recent discussion about research topics, a professor of mine commented to me that research is always fundamentally selfish. Perhaps we really are "fascinated" or "intrigued" by unknown history of far reaching parts of the world, and perhaps we really can't get enough of whatever strange topic picques our interest, be it Suffi inscriptions, diaries of an old 18th century Chinese intellectual, or (in my case) Chinese elementary school textbooks. But what my professor claimed is that whatever research interests pulls us in the most is that intriguing to us because it addresses a personal and existential crisis of our own, either directly or metaphorically.

An example of this actually presented itself today in one of my classes, ironically completely unrelated to aforementioned discussion. We were discussing Fernand Braudel's historie totale, his overwhelmingly large work on the history of the Mediterranean. While we didn't read all 1200 pages of this massive undertaking (truthfully, we only read introductions and reviews), from what we did read we caught a glimpse of his approach and from that, the reason he decided to take on this massive history of the Mediterranean sea. His approach was almost entirely structural; he talked at length in his introduction about the need to take away agency from individuals, and deemphasize the individual. Individuals do not make history, history makes the individual. Instead, he pointed to anthropomorphized structures such as economics, trade, and most importantly, geography. It is these structures that change history, not individuals, though it takes this "total history" approach to see structural cycles.

Braudel's personal history had a large influence upon his work. He studied at the Sorbonne, and there became immediately turned off by their emphasis on diplomatic history, individual history, and the history of the French Revolution. During WWII, he spent time in a Nazi prison camp, which is actually where he drafted much of what would become his history of the Mediterranean.

Our discussion led us to wonder his reasons for taking on this historie totale, and why he took the approach that he did. Clearly he was reacting against the traditional narrative approach that emphasizes individual agency. But we discussed that perhaps it was more than that. By shifting agency from the individual to non-living structures, we take away from individuals their legitimacy for holding immense amounts of power. In essence, through this kind of history writing, we demonstrate that really no one leader can fully change history. This clearly has political implications considering the time within which this was written. We posited that perhaps Braudel felt that diplomatic and individual history was in fact irresponsible. This way of thinking about history, that a few agents can change it, created disastrous results. We paved the way for people like Hitler and Mussolini to take the power that they did. By stripping those in power of their effective agency, we strip them of their total power. And sitting in a Nazi German prison camp, we can see why a "recreation" of historical thinking was so attractive and vital to Braudel.

So what about me? I never sat in a Chinese prison (thank goodness). This is really never something I have thought about. I've never needed to justify my interest in China; most people either point to China's growing economic hold over the world order or a personal (often) orientalized interest in the exotic. But thinking about it now, China is a very far away place. I have no vested interests in China, I have no relatives there; my personal identity is not directly tied to China in any way. So what existential crisis am I trying to solve in my own research.

Perhaps I should leave China for a moment and take a more thematic approach to this question. One area of history that my questions always seem to come back to is education, and more specifically, textbooks. I tried to think back about my own education, looking for answers there. The root of my interest in education, actually, comes back to a book I remember reading my freshman year of college called Lies My Teacher Told Me. The author came and spoke at our school, talking to us about the problems with American history textbooks (this lecture also made me very thankful for my American history textbook in high school, it did not have a lot of the problems Loewen outlined in his book). This book, and later on classes and discussions I had with others in Hong Kong, made me wonder how we come to believe what we do about our own countries. There was a specific moment when I had a huge wake up call and became self aware of my reflex-patriotism. A professor in a class about Japanese nationalism gave an introductory lecture about nationalist theory. He claimed, very bluntly, that the two most nationalistic countries in the world right now are America and China. To make his point about America (most people in the class, Europeans and Hong Kongers, did not need to be convinced of his argument about China) he asked me, the only American in the class, to stand and say the pledge of allegiance. Almost reflexively, without thought, I stood and said it at light speed, like I always did when I was a child, not even thinking that this would be strange to others in any way. The reaction from my peers shocked me; they looked at me wide eyed, and their shock and judgment was clear as day on their faces. I became suddenly embarrassed (and angry at the professor; it seemed like he knew the reaction I would incite). This got me thinking about my reflexive response. Why could I say the Pledge of Allegiance in my sleep? Why do I actually unconsciously believe that the US government is always a force of good? Why do I feel guilty if I don't immediately answer yes to the question "would you die for your country?" Where do these subconscious feelings come from?

Perhaps my existential crisis I want to solve by looking at education is my obsession with my own country and my subconscious patriotic spirit. The emotions I feel when people insult my country, the guilt I feel for not defending her, the fact that I automatically refer to America as a person (a woman, no less), all point to an instilled patriotism. More interestingly, if I were to study these emotive knee-jerk reactions in another time, I would probably subconsciously think of them as brainwashed (which, admittedly, I catch myself doing from time to time while researching China). Why, in my subconscious, is American history education objective and other countries' are not? The truth is, I couldn't imagine not feeling patriotic. So to be more specific, perhaps my existential crisis is related to my inability to see a world with no countries, and more importantly, an inability to see myself as anything other than an American patriot. And in some way or another, I want to find out why my subconscious automatically reverts back to this emotive patriotic reflex.

There is a very real possibility that this is not it at all. Similarly, I have a lot of interests, most recently in the province of Xinjiang (part of me wonders if this is just my travel bug yearning for Uzbekistan). But I hope to, throughout the year, take some time here and there to explore not only possible research interests, but also their connection to me. As my professor pointed out (and I agree), this can add a whole new dimension to my research, and allow me to see things I might otherwise not see.


My Year in a Quantitative Summary

I thought a lot about how to think about my year in Shanghai, its ups, its downs, its great Chinese craziness. So here is (what I think) a creative analysis of my year broken down into quantifiable terms. This is all just in fun, but if anyone wants to know stories behind some of these "categories" if you will, feel free to ask.

The Academic:
Number of document folios looked at and used: 52
Number of documents copied: 134
Number of sets of textbooks looked at: 48
Number of years of People's Daily looked at: 10
Number of conferences attended: 6
Number of binders filled with materials: 3
Number of books read (non-fiction academic): 12
Number of Chinesepod podcasts downloaded: 130

And the Not So Academic:

Number of new cities visited: 35
Number of new Chinese provinces visited: 8
Number of new countries visited (officially): 4
Number of new countries visited (unofficially): 5
Number of new countries visited (unofficially and including airports): 6
Number of Mosques visited: 7
Number of Christian Churches visited: 4
Number of Daoist Temples visited: 4
Number of Confucian temples visited: 1
Number of Buddhist temples visited: 31
Number of passport stamps: 35
Number of visas: 4
Number of Chinese visas: 3
Number of mountains climbed: 5
Number of trips to the Terracotta Soldiers: 2
Number of concerts: 2
Number of museums visited: 10
Number of trips to Hong Kong: 3
Number of new Lonely Planets bought: 4
Number of plane rides: 24
Number of train rides: 14
Number of boat rides: 12
Number of nature reserves visited: 4
Number of non-academic books read: 22

The Great:
Number of new languages can now use to say hello: 4
Number of new alphabets learned: 1
Number of Chinese New Year dinners: 4
Number of Starbucks Caramel Macchiatos: I actually could not even calculate this, and if I could, I wouldn't do it out of shame
Number of late night movies with neighbor: 7
Number of great new Chinese friends made: 8
Number of great conversations with cab drivers: 13 (probably more, but these are the ones that stuck in my head)
Number of Fulbright Couches crashed on: 4
Number of dinners with my neighbor's family: 4
Number of Christmas dinners: 4
Number of dinners at the American Consulate (Shanghai and HK): 2

And the...not so great:

Number of Swine flu fever checks: 7
Number of swine flu fever checks that included Chinese people in full white ET suits, masks, and booties: 1
Number of trips to clinic: 5
Number of trips to hospital: 1
Number of injections in the rear end (despite weak and sick protests): 1
Number of times reread Twilight out of sheer boredom: once per book
Number of months of straight construction outside my window: 6
Number of nights kept up because of fireworks: 7

And finally, the "this could only happen in China"

Number of trips to the local police bureau: 9
Number of trips to the exit-entry bureau: 4
Number of trips to the exchange office at East China Normal: 8
Number of those trips that ended or began with tears of frustration: 2
Number of times hired driver crashed into inanimate objects: 1
Number of times hired driver crashed into animate objects: 1
Number of "we do not accept foreigners" hotels we encountered: 1
Number of "cutting in line" arguments: 4
Number of live chickens killed on the street: 1
Number of donkeys harmed in the making of this trip: 1
Number of midnight raids by Chinese police: 1

Peter Hessler and laowai nuzi

I'm ending my year long China adventure with I guess what could be called "China detox": aka, lounging around Hong Kong. The nice thing about Hong Kong is that it allows me to reminisce about China while not having to deal with *most* of the frustrations associated with living in China.

So as I am lounging around enjoying friendly people, effective transportation, and fantastic pineapple buns, I'm quickly reading through Peter Hessler's River Town, the story of a young American man teaching English in rural Sichuan as a Peace Corps volunteer. To begin with, anyone who is interested in life in China through a young person's eyes should absolutely read this book. I only have three frustrations with this book. The first is the comments on the back which read: "To come across a Westerner patient enough and tolerant enough to try and understand the immense, exasperating and ultimately loveable entity that is China is always a pleasure." I find this almost demeaning both towards Westerners and China. It doesn't take a Mother Theresa to love China the way Peter Hessler does; I can think of 65 people right off the top of my head who have a similar relationship with China (Fulbright and the Peace Corps do have this in common). Which comes to my second frustration: I could have written this book. Yeah, I wouldn't have had quite the same stories about teaching students whose heads are already filled with propaganda, and I certainly never took a boat where rats crawled all over my face. And obviously living in Shanghai in 2008 and living in rural Sichuan in 1996 are two drastically different worlds. But I could point to a number of pages that explained my exact experience.

I don't want to take the time to explain all of the passages and experiences, such as learning Chinese, getting constantly cat-called, having one's name essentially be "foreigner" or "helloooooooo!" What I would instead like to talk about is my third frustration with this book, which is by no means Hessler's fault: his lack of discussion of not only the racial awareness but also the gender awareness that comes with being a foreigner in China. He talks briefly of women in China, and specifically about relationships between men and women in China (and how this overlaps with racial differences). One thing I've learned this year is that racial identity and gender identity are inextricably linked, and I'd like to take this post to talk about my personal experiences with the struggles associated with being a laowai nuzi, or a foreigner woman, in China.

I think my awareness of how most Chinese people see me comes to discussions about Sex and the City. I won't deny that I love that show, but the dangers of exporting such a liberal hyperbole of American male/female relationships became clear to me when Chinese girls began telling me that life in America is very "kaifang" or "open," just like Sex and the City. Statements about this show often are accompanied by a look of both interest and disdain; most Chinese girls admire the independence and openness with which American women can live their lives, but also consider them to be a bit too morally degenerate, which is why Chinese society is better. At first, I found these statements funny, but this quickly became something that made me incredibly angry and defensive. As a woman who is quite proud of my independence and my personal choices, I hated being pigeonholed into this "morally degenerate" category. But it seemed like a losing battle; for everyone I told that this was not the case for even most American woman, 10 other Chinese people would continue to have this same stereotype. Over time, I came to hate that show and the way it represented white American women.

And this stereotype was furthered by advertisements found all over Shanghai. Thinking about it, it is absolutely incredibly how many advertisements depict white women instead of Asian women; it has to be well over half of the advertisements, clearly not indicative of the population. Furthermore, almost all advertisements about lingerie or sexy clothing had white women; advertisements showing good wives or girlfriends in cutesy scenarios were more often than not Chinese. One particular advertisement made me feel naseous; it showed a man and a woman on top of each other, and he is about to touch in her in a way that should be R rated, and not all over the subway (meanwhile, of course, she is all bust). I thought about how the Chinese would react if that girl were not blonde, but instead Zhang Ziyi or some other Chinese star; it would have looked completely out of place. I actually wrote about this when I was writing my thesis last year, as photos in women's magazines from the 1930s had similar patterns of putting white women in more liberal situations. What I argued (and would argue still) is that this allowed the Chinese population to live vicariously in this liberal, modern society without feeling to threatened by too MUCH moral openness. In a sense, they enjoyed the idea of the liberalism, but also wanted to maintain their own standards of morality and culture, and by seeing white women act this way, their own ideas about morality weren't under threat.

Nevertheless, it was frustrating walking around and knowing that this was how everyone saw you. The frustration not only came from the fact that just by looking at my face, people were making assumptions about my own personal life and my moral compass, but that no matter what I did, people would make these assumptions. Furthermore, the steps I took to give off a certain impression of myself in America were no longer valid in China; dressing a certain way made me seem professional and serious in America, while in China it furthered the morally degraded stereotype.

Being a white woman in China also made me aware of the plight of Chinese women. Before I came here, I was well aware of the statistics surrounding underemployment for women, and the importance of getting married for women. But this became a whole new reality as I came to know and love a few Chinese female friends. I had a few discussions with Chinese female graduate students about being a Ph.D. in China. I had heard that when a woman decides in China to pursue a Ph.D., she is essentially deciding to never get married. When I asked other graduate students about this, they would giggle and often awkwardly avoid the question. I came to understand this as tacit acknowledgment of the situation. As a woman planning to pursue her Ph.D., this invariably made me very angry, that women who wanted to think and act independently were punished romantically for their decisions.

At the same time, I also began to recognize the expected behavior of Chinese women. Hessler mentions a certain "xiaojie" that puts on her "cute xiaojie" behavior as she tries to flirt with him. His reaction is one of discomfort and fear. My reaction to such behavior (albeit I am an observer, not an active player in these exchanges) became one of frustration and sometimes disgust. I have learned to approach feminism and gender roles with a balanced attitude; blaming men or blaming women for subtle inequalities really never seemed to help solve any problems, and I have always believed that an active attempt to be more aware of societal assumptions about the roles of men and women would be the best way to change things. However, watching these women "sajiao," the Chinese term for this kind of cutsey childish behavior, whether it be happy cute or pouting cute, made me feel like women were asking to be put in a role of submission. I knew this whole year that logically women should not be blamed for these behavioral expectations, but I found it difficult not to get frustrated when I saw a woman pout by sitting down in the middle of the street and forcing her boyfriend to beg her to stand up, all the while playing up a cutsey pout. I wanted to go and scold this girl, and tell her that this sort of behavior puts her in the position of a child, while her boyfriend takes on a dominant role. I became equally frustrated when I would talk with my neighbor, a bright, mature educated woman with a bright future ahead of her. She and I would have great and insightful conversations, but she fully admitted that she would "sajiao" in front of her boyfriend; sure enough, when they were together, I got to witness the whole show.

I realize as I look at this in retrospect that this is not their fault; this expectation of cutsey-ness is a social expectation that needs to be tackled by all members involved. My disgust, however, also made me look at my own culture. I never particularly liked feminists who burned bras and refused to put on make-up. But by painting my face, or being flirtatious, wasn't I doing similar things? While I don't think of flirting as acting childish, it made me become much more self aware of my exchanges with men, both Chinese and Western.

There were, however, advantages to the intricacies of my gender and racial identity, as oftentimes, Chinese people would see me only as a foreigner and not as a woman. This allowed me access into what some may call the "male world," specifically in terms of academia and politics. At the small archive where I did my research, every afternoon a group of middle aged men would sit around and discuss current events from the newspaper. The other female librarians never participated in these discussions, always busying themselves with other things, but the men actively engaged me in conversation. What did I think about Obama and McCain? America's democratic system? Sarkozy's recent criticism of China's human rights? This not only gave me a way to chat with local Chinese people, but also gave me an in to ask the kinds of questions I wanted to ask about my own research. I found through other conversations that while the hyper-sexual stereotype of Western women probably still existed, many Chinese men actually admired the independence and intelligence of many Western women. I was told on multiple occasions, oftentimes by middle-aged, educated men, that they really admired me, with my giant backpack that I carried myself ("too heavy! too heavy!" they would always tell me), my conversational Chinese, and my research interests.

I guess having this layered identity in China came with its goods and bads, which Hessler ultimately came to accept about his identity as a foreigner in China. There are frustrations with the way we are treated differntly, and the way that just the way we look comes associated with really heavy assumptions about our personality, our behavior, our way of life, and even our country. And when reactions to our identities often come at our benefit, it caused (at least for me) a wave of guilt, knowing that Chinese, or even Chinese women, were treated worse only because of their race, or that I got benefits only for mine.

Famen Temple and the Trouble of History

Of the many temples I visited recently (over 2 dozen in the last 3 weeks) the one that struck me as the most interesting in terms of its past and present is Famen Temple outside of Xi'an. I already wrote a bit about its modern history, but now I would like to write about its early history, as I think it demonstrates quite a lot about the difficulties of creating ancient history.

According to legend and recorded history from the Tang Dynasty, the original pagoda of Famen Temple was one of 19 stupas donated to China from Prince Ashoka of India, who ruled India from 273 BC to 232 BC and was one of the first great Buddhist evangelists. It was he who really did a lot to spread Buddhism throughout Asia, and he did so by donating relics and stupas to countries and kingdoms all over Asia. While the other 18 stupas reportedly donated to China did not survive, Famen stupa and its Buddhist finger bone relic did. This is also the story told at the museum of the temple. The vice abbot of the monastery told us over tea that the stupa was built in the Eastern Han (220 BC to about 0 AD), which would be after the death of Prince Ashoka. Similarly, a professor we met at Northwestern University told us his theory about Famen temple, which saw its construction before the Qin dynasty.

According to the museum, however, archeological evidence that suggested the temples' existence did not appear until the Sui dynasty. From that point forward, the temple and its finger bone relic became a crucial Buddhist pilgrimage site as well as one of the biggest monasteries to receive imperial patronage. The Tang dynasty saw the golden age of Famen temple. The temple spanned nearly 24 blocks, and pilgrims came from all over China to pay homage to the important relic. It was also largely significant because it was so interconnected to the imperial court; every 30 years during the Tang dynasty, emperors themselves came to the stupa to give gifts to the monastery and the relic. During the Tang dynasty, a large stupa was placed over a chambered reliquary that housed the Buddha finger relic. In addition to the 9 layered boxes that protected the relic, archaeologists also recently discovered underneath the stupa chambers filled with imperial offerings to the relic; these treasures, according to a written inventory on the wall, numbered 2499. They are now on display at the national museum.

Most scholars would agree at this point that there was no possible way that the original Famen stupa was built during the Zhou or Han dynasty. In the most practical sense, the dates don't add up. The brochures as well as the museum date the original pagoda at the Eastern Han, but by that time Prince Ashoka had already passed. More than this, there is little to no evidence of Buddhism entering China until the later Han, let alone a full temple and finger relic at the capital.

But for the temple, or the Bureau of Religious Affairs, to admit to the inconsistencies would mean the complete collapse of the prestige and religious power of the relic. The relic's entire legitimacy is based upon it being a gift from Prince Ashoka, and without that, all of its supernatural power would dissolve with the myth. When we study religious history, this is often a source of contention; how do we create a history that is true to evidence without challenging or destroying contemporary faith? While I know very little of the history of Christianity, I do know that much of their legitimacy is also based upon a certain understanding and reading of history. Once that history is challenged, the faith of millions of believers today is also challenged.

Another interesting point brought to light by this contentious history is the problems of creating ancient history. While archaeological proof of Famen temple didn't appear until the Sui dynasty, that does not necessarily mean that was when it was created. Archaeology does not give us all of our answers. At the same time, legend and written documents does not tell us everything either. In the modern history field, we have different challenges: points of view, reliability of facts in documents, unspoken histories. But in ancient history, these challenges are exacerbated.

So while most scholars would not give a lot of weight to the Han dynasty Famen temple idea, that does not necessarily rule it out. Similarly, just because archaeology points to one story, it does not mean that is the only accurate story to be told.

Buddhism and Communism: A Case Study

I recently participated in a program sponsored by Fo Guang Shan Monastery in Taiwan that allowed me to study the history of Buddhism by visiting Buddhist sites in and around the ancient Chinese capital Chang'an (modern day Xi'an). This program taught me a great deal about Tang Dynasty history, as well as about the relationship between Buddhism and Chinese society and politics today. I hope to post a few posts about some of the things I learned there.

In the west, we have this conception of Communism in China and their relationship with religion in largely Marxist terms. Religion is the “opiate of the masses” and the Communist government took expedient measures to control and then, come the 1960s, outlaw religion. While this may be a mostly accurate, albeit simplistic, history, the situation then, and now, deserves a bit more analysis, especially since the last 10 years has seen a large divergence from former policy.

Actual government involvement in religious affairs began large scale in 1958 when the government collectivized land owned by monasteries. Since monasteries were in all economic terms owned by the government and therefore forced to conform to collectivization and taxation policies, many monks were forced to disrobe, drastically decreasing the sangha. This continued into the 1960s until the cultural revolution, when a full scale attack began on the vast majority of temples throughout the country. Buildings, statues, and relics were destroyed, and all except a few monasteries who managed to avoid persecution because their monastery had practical purposes, such as international and historical importance (a few prime examples would be the Llama temple in Beijing and Nanputuo temple in Xiamen). Nevertheless, nearly all monastics were forced into lay life as their temples were overtaken by party members.

Within the last 30 years, almost all of the temples destroyed during the 60s began renovation (nearly all the temples we visited, over 25, had been rebuilt in the last 30 years, many of which are still in the process). Much of this was funded by the government. Furthermore, more and more Chinese people began to join or rejoin the sangha. However, the government did not simply rebuild temples and leave them to their own devices. All temples active temples must register with the bureau of cultural affairs, who has jurisdiction over appointments of head abbots. Similarly, they must register with the Buddhist Association of China. This relationship is sometimes, though not always, antagonistic. In the case of most things in China, the relationship between a monastery and the government depends almost largely on the personalities involved. In Jiangsu, for instance, it seemed from those we talked to that the provincial director was quite responsive and open, wanting to have a harmonious relationship with the monasteries there. Other temples have had more negative experiences with this power struggle. Another interesting rule in the creation of monasteries is that no new monasteries can be built, monasteries must be “rebuilt.” However, the definition of “rebuilt” can be quite flexible, as we heard of temples being built upon two stone steles that happen to be found at the site.

A case study that represents the complexities of this relationship, I think, is Famen temple, 115 kilometers outside of Xi’an. This temple, in its heyday during the Tang dynasty, was one of the most famous and important monasteries in China, housing a Buddhist finger bone relic given to China by the Indian Prince Ashoka (according to legend). Today only about 1/24 of the size it once was, this temple saw a procession of emperors and other government officials who came to pay respects to the relic, offering a total of nearly 2500 priceless artifacts as offerings.

This monastery went into decline after the Tang dynasty, though it continued to function well into the 20th century. After the 1949 revolution, the Famen temple received the same treatment as many of the temples in China. It was hit particularly hard in 1966, when red guards stormed the temple and destroyed all buildings except for the central pagoda which housed the relic. As the guard prepared to dig into the pagoda, the one monk still residing at the monastery, a venerable Liang Qi, stacked wood infront of the pagoda and proceeded to light himself on fire in protest. Frightened, the guards abandoned the stupa, leaving it intact. At the monastery today, this monk is revered as a brave and honorable protector of the temple, of 2500 years of history, and Buddhism as a faith.

Beginning in the 1980s, the temple began restoration after the main stupa collapsed. After it had collapsed, monks and archaeologists discovered beneath the pagoda treasures left behind by emperors as well as the relic itself (and its 9 layer cage). This began heavy restoration of the monastery to the way it is today, buildings, stupa, and Buddhist college in tact.

Considering the importance, historically and spiritually, of this temple, it is no surprise that the government has taken a heavy interest in the managing of this temple. While there are very clear borders to the monastery, outside the monastery the government has constructed a vast public space reminiscent of an even larger Tian’anmen which leads to a new main shrine, topped with a gold monstrous statue and lined with gaudy gold statues. Within the last 10 years, the monastery has battled with the local tourism board, who wants to house the relic as well as all the treasures in their museum beneath the main shrine (and charge a hefty entry fee). While they lost out on the latter, which are housed in a museum within the monastery, they succeeded in the former. Currently, the relic sits within the compounds of the large government created shrine, and it emerges itself twice a month for large ceremonies for the gaggles of pilgrims coming to pay respects (and take pictures, of course).

Conversations with the vice abbot very clearly demonstrated the antagonistic and hopeless attitude of the monks at Famen temple. Out of sheer practicality, they play the government’s game by sending 4 monks a day to oversee the main shrine and the relic, and they all participate in the bimonthly rituals (though no dharma talks are given). At the same time, they have refused to allow their monastery under full jurisdiction of the tourism board, which wants to include both sites under one entry ticket (currently, they own the control over the entry ticket into the monastery, and 1 million RMB is donated monthly to the monastery). He also mentioned, in passing, that the monks have committed other very subtle signs of protest against the current situation.

While many of the temples in Jiangsu demonstrate the possibility of amicable relationship between the government and religious authorities, Famen temple is highly representative of the pulls between political power, tourism, and religious faith. While the government certainly likes the idea of having a part (a large part) in such a highly influential space and ritual, they also see the economic benefits of being involved. Meanwhile, the temple sees the current relationship as a threat to their ability to write their own history, significance, and spiritual doctrine (for example, who writes the placards explaining the history of the relic?) It is unclear what the future will hold for this monastery, and many others like it, but from the monks’ perspective, it seems quite clear that they don’t like the situation, but they don’t feel totally powerless either.


Louis Vuitton and Roast Duck

Just a short post on the recently opened Louis Vuitton exhibit at the Hong Kong museum of art. The exhibit was really fantastic (even for those who are clueless, apthetic, or even hostile towards luxury fashion), highlighting recent artistic additions to the Louis Vuitton team and other contemporary artists from around the world and even home grown in Hong Kong that the Louis Vuitton international company deemed fitting with the rest of the exhibit.

One of the things this exhibit highlighted for me was the crossing of art with fashion. I think in our minds we more often than not separate the two, when really many in the fashion world consider themselves artists. Particularly interesting was Takashi Murakami section, highlighting this new Japanese designer's contribution to the line (ever wonder where the traditional LV print in multicolor or with cherries came from?) Examples of Murakami's prints were accomapined with (in my opinion, kind of trippy) animated videos that show the collision of his ideas with the 19th century LV brand.

Richard Prince not only got his own room in the exhibit, but the museum itself is currently stamped with big seductive posters of various cities "after dark" (often with prelude sexual scenes as the subject). In the actual exhibit, we see this theme as well as silk screen prints of layered designs, harkoning somewhat to Andy Warhol.

A few other mentions that stuck in my head was an installation piece by Cao Fei, which was a strange "China Island" where he took all of the elements of China, interpreted by him of course, and stuck on an island. The maglev went zooming around an Oriental Pearl Tower with pink baubles; Tian'anmen square had trees, and Mao's likeness was replaced with a panda; Buddha and other discarded buildings floated in a basket out at sea, as did a giant statue of Mao; and pollution hovered over the city as the camera zoomed in and out of its inner workings.

And finally, the name of this particular post comes from an exhibit about the lost 1909 Hong Kong film "Stealing a Roast Duck." I did some googling to find out more about this movie, and what I found was well, not much (other than speculation as to whether or not it existed). What I found out at the exhibit was that it was filmed in 1909 by a revolutionary society, and while it was a comedy, it was meant to be shown to expatriates in San Francisco and give them hidden messages about the revolution through symbols in the movie. The installation art that told this story was 2 mechanical talking ducks, who told the story of the film makers, their various subversive techniques (such as hiding messages in duck meat sandwiches; apparently the grease from the duck meat helps to break down the cellulite in the paper after the recipient consumes the message), and of course, the ignima movie. A narration by a male American (the artist perhaps?) was alternated with quacks from the ducks. My interpretation is that it was meant to show how the code was portrayed through the movie; what sounds like duck quacks to us may actually be a hidden message.

This is a really fascinating piece of history, and if my google search indicates anything, no one has really talked about this (of course google search is not the end all of information. If anyone knows anything else, let me know!) Even more so, the bigger topic of international cooperation to spur on the 1911 revolution would be a fascinating topic to explore.

Another thing this exhibit made me think about was the difference between local Hong Kong artists and Chinese ones. As a disclaimer, I admit my experience is quite limited. But nevertheless, it seems that most of the contemporary Chinese artists who are becoming popular, like Cao Fei, are popular because of their critique of China, the communist party, CHina's history, China's consumerism, etc. Hong Kong artists, on the other hand, seem to be largely nostalgic and proud of their own city. I come to this opinion not only from this exhibit, which included 7 local Hong Kong artists all either exploring Hong Kong's history or showing the city's beauty through art (thereby proving that Hong Kong is not a cultural wasteland), but also through an exhibit I saw over a year ago at the same museum called "Made in Hong Kong." This exhibit was essentially a defense to the "cultural wasteland" claim, and included artists representing "their" Hong Kong essentially through sculpture, photography, painting, and installation art. One man painted huge oil paintings of scenes from movies that represent Hong Kong peoples' identity (such as a scene from a Jackie Chan movie where he is saying 'all I know is that I have 6 passports.') Another was a series of black and white calligraphic paintings in a traditional style with "Hong Kong" elements, such as captions on paintings of chickens about avian flu, or a landscape with a few scattered coke cans, or a painting of the crocodile that was loose in the pearl river and no one could catch him.

Personally, I love Hong Kong, and I found all of these exhibits representative of the Hong Kong that so few people outside of its native population get to see. But comparing Hong Kong artists with mainland ones is incredibly striking. Perhaps it is government attitude that causes this difference, or more likely it is because pain and suffering often causes release of that pain in the art scene. It will be interesting to see what happens to the art scene on both sides as time progresses.


China's First International Gender Studies Conference

Last weekend, Shanghai's Fudan University hosted China's first ever International Gender Studies Conference. Due to the historical significance of this event, the participant list was really quite impressive, including great scholars of gender studies from the United States, China, Japan, Canada (and I'm sure others, those are just the ones I saw). While much of the discussion centered around China, I learned quite a bit about gender studies issues in other countries as well, including Canada, America, and even Iran and India (thanks to the "jingcai" keynote speaker).

Besides all of the information I absorbed from this conference, it also affected me in a very personal way. Before this year, I had really never been "gender conscious" so-to-speak. Of course I know there has never been a female president of the United States, or other statistics that indicate female equality, but I really believed growing up (perhaps in part thanks to our education system) that men and women were really equal. And from my small experience in the world, why shouldn't I? In my gifted program in school, women outnumbered men (in high school anyways) women got better grades, most of my teachers were women. My mom even had a higher position in her work than my dad.

It wasn't really until this year, when I started to notice these small inequalities in China, did I start to notice them in my own country, culture, and even in my own mind. This opened up a whole new way of looking at the world; the way that small things, like stereotypes, can affect a person, a group, a culture. It is for this reason that I wanted so much to attend this conference (well that, and shamelessly networking). I wanted a more in depth understanding of who I was, and how I fit into the world I lived in.

But before I talk to much about the personal, I would like to summarize some of the most interesting presentations I attended (Disclaimer: this is by no means a list of the ONLY interesting presentations I attended, just the ones that really stuck out in my head). On the first day, I attended a session on male studies (the conference was heavily female-centric, which I think is fair due to historiography's male bias...still, we should talk about men...) The first presentation was about Aluba (what? you say) an all male ritual in Taiwan which in Hong Kong is called "Happy Corner." This particular game which adolescent males play involve many men seizing another man, some grab his legs, others grab his arm, and they spread his legs and jam him into a pole, standing blackboard, other similar types of objects. I had actually witnessed this in Hong Kong; this was one of many cultural activities that us foreigners witnessed and would afterwards get together and say "what the hell was that?" Another such example would be Senior Photo Day. However, this presentation was really interesting, as the presenter explained that this type of game was not the same as "hazing" which we do in America, but instead, the most populat guy is the actual victim, and it is all out of fun, inclusive even, instead of exclusive. It is also a way to be ostentatious in front of girls. Another presentation from that session was about male prostitutes in Shenzhen. The presenter argued that even though we commonly think that the power politics in the customer-client relationship would trump the power politics in traditional gender relationships, oftentimes male prostitutes and female clients would not switch power positions, but instead the gender roles would be maintained, and men would often tell women what to do, or even reject them. I found this particularly fascinating, that in sexual relationships, nothing really changes the power relationship. I wonder if this is true in America as well (certain Law and Order episodes would imply otherwise).

The second day I went to many, many presentations. One panel that stuck out in my head that was really interesting was a panel on women during World War Two in Asia (or the Greater East Asian War). When I think of women during WWII, my mind immediately is reminded of Rosie the Riveter, women working in factories, selling their jewelry, etc. However, the first presentation by Susan Glosser addressed this particular ideological trope we have in our heads about women during the war and argued that, due to the immense amount of strain put on people of Shanghai, it is almost impossible to think that women even had TIME to think about the war effort. Women could barely afford to feed their families, often sleeping in just to avoid having to eat breakfast (and, by the way, sleeping in in houses with often 20 or more people). I found this break from discourse really incredible, as this was probably true not only in Shanghai, but also Britain, or even Japan. We know Japan was incredibly strapped for resources during the war, yet we still have this image of everyone in Japan, including women, throwing all of their energy towards the war effort. It would be fascinating to find out if that were really true. Other presenters on that panel including Cong Xiaoping (fellow Fulbrighter!) who talked about divorce laws in the border region under communism. She talked about the way that oftentimes, women would use the new divorce laws to their economic advantage, and would marry men and then immediately divorce them for finanical gain. She claimed that normal discourse paints the reforms to the divorce law in 1942 as the Communists compromising with patriarchy (as it put certain restrictions on divorce, including a waiting period for wives of soldiers) when really it was dealing with these problems that May 4th ideology never prepared them for.

Another interesting panel was (once again) on male sexuality. While a couple of the presentations were way over my head (about Tang dynasty poetry! Yikes!) one presentation I found really fascinating was about Chinese prostitutes in San Francisco's Chinatown in the 19th century. Zhao Xiaojian took a new perspective on this topic, and instead of focusing on how the women were treated, she focused on how the men understood their relationships with prostitutes. As her source, she looked at the diary of one Chinese immagrant who, in detail, discussed his meetings with prostitutes. What was interesting was that he didn't describe the danger, or excitement, but instead saw it as a necessary regular activity meant to keep men healthy and manly, somewhat like going to the gym. This was an entirely different way of looking at these encounters, especially since mainstream America viewed the Chinese prostitute situation with disdain and disgust, arguing that Chinese were "unfit" for America because they were so uncivilized they treated their women like slaves. While this does not take away from the way women were treated during this time, I find it important to look at the other side, as it illuminates what makes Chinese men "manly" and how that manifests when Chinese move to a different culture.

The next day, I barely made it to the first session (8:30 is early when one lives so far from Fudan) but I'm glad I did, because I managed to catch Feng Jin's presentation about Danmei fiction. Danmei fan fiction is one of many types of fan fiction that Chinese youth read online, and it is particular because it include homoerotic, male and male, love stories, oftentimes using familiar characters from such stories like the 3 Kingdoms, popular TV shows, or even Harry Potter! The interesting thing about these stories that overwhelmingly, they are written by heterosexual women FOR heterosexual women. Feng Jin postulates that perhaps one reason they are so popular is that it allows for women to explore these kind of sexualities in a more removed sense as they are not yet ready to explore their own sexuality in the same way. Similarly, while the heroes are male, they are often idealized, containing characteristics that are extremely feminine (she showed us pictures, and I couldn't have told they were male). In a sense, it was about idealized love, love that transcends genders and the harsh realities of life. It reminds me actually of many of our fairy tales, where heroes or heroines are turned into animals (swan princess?). Their love transcends these types of boundaries, just like some of the heroes in Danmei fiction. This is a fascinating cultural phenomenon, especially since we think of China as being so conservative and even homophobic.

However, the session that I think affected me the most personally was the last session called "Defying the Odds: Lessons from Women of Color in American Women's Studies." The panelists included three African American women, one Taiwainese woman, and one Puerto-Rican American woman, who discussed how feminism and race intersect in American discourse. These women talked about how feminist discourse, at least the discourse that is heard, is almost entirely written by white women. While this does not discredit their views, they are not the only views. I admit, I have certainly always thought about my own self this way, that my racial or ethnic identity and my gender identity are separate parts of my self. But in fact, these sections of our identities cannot be easily separated, and the way that Hispanic women and Black women and Native American women understand feminism varies dramatically. These women argued that all of these discourses need to be brought to the forefront, and by understanding this diversity within feminism we can better understand feminism as a whole. These views were supplemented by incredibly stories, and the journies all of these women have traveled as they watched America change in terms of racial and gender equality and inequality over the last 30 years.

I found this session incredibly eye opening. I always knew that racism has always been a problem in America, and still is. But I don't think I was ever really conscious of race until this year, until I was the racial minority, or the "other." That's not to say I never understood the racial tensions in my own country, but it is very different to live it oneself. And being a white woman in China is complex, and certainly not always easy. Ruth Zambrana, our Latina panelist, explained that one of the problems plaguing Latina females in America was the media representation as being hypersexual (i.e., Jennifer Lopez). While obviously there are many, many, many differences between Latinas in America and white women in China, I could personally emphathize with this sentiment, as I feel I am constantly battling with the "Sex and the City" portrayal of white women. Whites in China are very rarely treated poorly, or discrinimated in a negative way (I've gotten laowai discounts at coffee shops before) but it feels personally frustrating to be seen as Samantha from Sex and the City. It disintegrates our culture, or behavior, and our sense of being feminine to an exaggerated stereotype. And while I will never understand the battle that the panelists have fought in my own country, it gave me a personal connection to the way that gender and race are inextricably linked.

I also found this panel a great way to sum up the entire tenor of the conference itself. The keynote speaker argued that instead of bringing gender into a global context, we should be bringing a global context to gender. In other words, feminism is plural, it is not one separate issue. And by learning about its manifestations around the world, we can better understand our own feminity or masculinity. Of everything I got out of this conference, I believe that this would be the most important piece.