Monday, August 23, 2010

Mindmap reading: Leo Ou-fan Lee

August 23, Chapter 3 in formation after reading Leo Ou-fan Lee's article "On the Margins of the Chinese Discourse" (1991)

Lee, Leo Ou-fan. "On the Margins of the Chinese Discourse: Some Personal Thoughts on the Cultural Meaning of the Periphery." Daedalus 120.2, The Living Tree: The Changing Meaning of Being Chinese Today (Spring, 1991): 207-226.


Inspectional Reading: Affect and Emotional Exhaustion

I hope the model had fun posing for this photo I found at this page, which also reports that it can happen to anybody (studies were done!).

This blog by psychology researchers at the University of Sheffield awakens me to the value of scholarly research blogs in inspectional reading. In this entry, we can quickly learn two key terms: "interpersonal affect regulation," or trying to change someone else's feelings, and "intrapersonal affect regulation," or changing one's own feelings.

The researcher's main proposition here is that these affective actions exhaust the subject, which she suspects may have something to do with blood sugar -- emotional work is real work, apparently. I don't know that this proposition would be useful to me, but I am tempted to ask whether "interpersonal affect regulation," represented in literary texts, has some power on the reader. Thus I have a glimpse of how to connect affect to reader response theory.


Inspectional Reading: Affect in Sociology

"Affect" happening live, online?

Jarrett, Kylie. "Labour of Love: An Archaeology of Affect as Power in E-Commerce." Journal of Sociology 39.4 (2003): 335-351

I need to understand exactly what "affect" means if it is to be the keyword of my entire dissertation, so it will have to be the subject of a set of inspectional readings. The big difference that I am putting into inspectional reading this time around is that it must feed directly into real writing, right away.

Sociological studies of affect seem to me to be useful especially in two main sections of my dissertation:

Chapter 1, section 1, "Affect in Chinese Literature"
{identity, symbolic capital, are social relationships always emotional?}
Chapter 4, section 1, "The Role of Affect in Intimate Publics"
{defining "middlebrow" literature, new (online especially) venues for the expression of social identity, user-response reveal the self-interested consumer, the readership as a community, or overlapping communities: do they have power? do they give immaterial labor? is it an example of flexible consumption? What is the role of "love," "goodwill" for the genre? Do they repudiate something? Do they embrace something?}

Here, Jarrett's article argues that social movements, a spirit of volunteerism that resulted from social movements, transformations of the Fordist economy into an economy full of "flexible consumers," and the value given to community among online consumers all work to produce e-commerce consumers "specifically as creatures of affect" with the power to produce creative content (like Amazon product reviews) and to shape production.

This argument has implications for the construction of "collective identity" (Fischer 1996, 181), the emergence of "network economies of scale" (Evans and Wurster, 1997/1999: 29, 2000: 15), modes of resistance to mass-marketing (Miller, 1998: 193, perhaps contra Baudrillard's model, 1981? also Harvey 1990), the productive power of affect (cf. Abercrombie 1991, esp. p. 177), the "love" of brands (Davidson 1992, 26-7, Klein 2001: 7) which leads to immaterial labor (Negri 1996,1999). Perhaps the new communities are a profound challenge to the class-bound identity?

Leisure Reading: Perelman v. Yau in Mathematics

4-minute video version of the story by Ray Uzwyshyn

Thanks to my friend B. for pointing out this 2006 New Yorker story of the solution to a famous problem in mathematics called the Poincaré Conjecture.

I'm fascinated by the figure of Grigory Perelman, the elusive Russian who clearly believes his distance from institutional centers is necessary for creative work -- the problem is that mathematics is in fact a collaborative enterprise, so he still must communicate with people at certain times and in certain places.

But on the other hand, the Chinese mathematicians present an even more urgent problem, the problem of requiring compensation for producing knowledge. Perelman's statement "If the proof is correct then no other recognition is needed" is a beautiful ideal, but more common, and finally more understandable, is Yau's ambition: “We want our contribution understood. ... If you can attach your name in any way, it is a contribution.”


Back to Mindmaps

First Vision of Chapter 3, August 18

After a long break to participate in a conference and suffer generally from paralyzing anxiety, I'm back to writing.

My anxieties are numerous: I read too slow, I don't work hard enough, I'm not very good at abstract, syncretic thinking. But all of these weaknesses are ones that I can and should be working on. And I am, I think. It is very disappointing to see how little I accomplished this summer, but the only thing to be done, I suppose, is push on, and work harder.

My committee members were very disappointed with my writing, I think, and with good reason. The greatest weakness is that I presented little to no critical voice, and instead presumed to simply channel the voice of Yang Jiang -- this, of course, does not count for much academically. To fix the problem, I decided I needed to write a "treatment" of how the chapter would go and what it would accomplish. It turns out I had already written this "treatment" ; it's called a "prospectus." How stupid I was to have forgotten and ignored my own old writing!

Still, the new "treatment" is considerably more detailed and more sophisticated than the old "treatment." So there is that. And more importantly, this "treatment" ought to serve as a map for the rest of the chapter.

Time to get writing!


Friday, August 13, 2010

Reading Friday: "Ethnography of a Chinese Essay"

Wang Meng at the Frankfurt Book Fair, 2009. Looks like his voice is still projecting! (From wikipedia)

Scoggin, Mary. Ethnography of a Chinese Essay: Zawen in Contemporary China. Dissertation: University of Chicago, 1997.

One way to take great heart for one’s dissertation-in-progress is to consider what successful dissertations have done before. After reading Mary Scoggin’s chapter profiling how three different writers use zawen to make political statements, I realize that a dissertation chapter can be short, can leave stories unfinished, and will most likely have parts that are confused and need reworking still. Further, literary considerations seem completely pushed to the side: Scoggin’s writing is often inelegant. And why shouldn’t it be? As an anthropologist, she takes her work more as a report than as a literary project.

Chapter 6: Zawen and Ideology.

Chapter six begins with one example of a parable that is often used for political criticism:
Confucius was traveling through the Tai mountains when he came upon a woman weeping at a tomb. He had his disciple ask her why she wept so bitterly. She said that in the past her father, husband and now her son had all been killed by a tiger. Confucius asked her why she did not leave this place. She replied, “because there is no harsh government here.” Confucius turned to his disciples, “We can see from this, harsh government is more ferocious than a tiger.”
Zawen writers like Liu Jia, Lan Ling, and Wang Meng all manipulate a system of such literary allusions to express social and political content with varying degrees of irony. When we observe closely how these writers work, we can see that all along China’s newspapers and literary journals have been places for them to participate in just the kind of political critique that seekers of civil society in China have called for:
In a typical contemporary Chinese scenario, when a part-time free-lance writer composes and essay and sends it to the literary department at a major paper, the writer is ordinary, while the literary editor is “official.” Then, when the editor submits the essay to her boss, the chief editor, for approval to print it, she is an ordinary office worker, while the chief editor is the “official.” Then again, when the Provincial Committee member picks up the paper just to read it like any other ordinary reader, and sees that an incendiary essay has been published by a writer who also happens to be, or have ties to, a rival in we come full circle we may have outlined a significant political event....The practice of writing and publishing intentionally provocative zawen operates as effective social criticism and a builder of moral communion--”friends” -- and rivalry -- “enemies” -- in newspapers and journals: precisely that public sphere where social analysts often look for “civil society.”

Following, she gives three brief profiles of such writers and the circles of friends and enemies they create.

Liu Jia took over the editorship of the “literary supplement” to the People’s Daily from Lan Ling at the beginning of the “Anti-Rightist Campaign” in 1957. This leftist ideologue carried forward the highly ideological, non-artistic mode of zawen writing that dates to Lu Xun, Mao’s 1942 “Talks,” and Liu Jia’s own theoretical essays from the 1950s, 60s and 70s. During the 1980s, in his retirement, he helped establish a community of leftist zawen writers to advocate for essays in a “New Tone,” “the tone of people who have turned themselves around and taken the power of their own role as masters (Liu Jia 1987: 2)” The main characteristic of this “New Tone” is what Scoggin calls “a base-line emotional state” (236, Scoggin reminds us that music and emotions are deeply connected in traditional Chinese aesthetics); this emotion is one of restraint: do what you can, don’t criticize too much.

Lan Ling actually started the “literary supplement” to the People’s Daily in 1956, during the “Hundred Flowers” campaign; he fell victim to the “Anti-Rightist Campaign” in 1957. Also influenced by Lu Xun’s zawen, Lan Ling favored earnestly critical pieces, such as one of his own against a Qingdao City nursery school that sheltered the children elite officials (243). “The task of zawen, according to Lan Ling, is not to conduct investigative reporting, but rather to reflexively respond to the normal affairs that anyone may encounter in daily life.” After his years of suffering and exile, he emerged in the 1980s to attack “ultra-left” politics, tracking their intensity against the cycle of flowering and withering of zawen publication: his point is clearly that a critical public sphere depends on diverse and sociable zawen production. Unlike Liu Jia, Lan Ling believes that zawen are properly literature, not simply “mules” for politics, though political content is very important.

Wang Meng’s few 1980s zawen reveal an ambitious, even cocky, craftsman of insinuation; Scoggin seems to observe his work only very briefly so that she can establish the great emotional range inhering in the term “tone.” In recent years, the more diverse set of approaches favored by Lan Ling and his followers (and which Scoggin calls “Lu Xun-style zawen) has gained more popularity than Lu Jia’s “new tone” idea.

These profiles are all of ambitious, major political participants; one wants to contrast this with the deliberately reserved Yang Jiang. Can Za yi yu za xie be considered zawen? It is short, impressionistic writing. It does contain literary allusions. It often takes the form of portraits -- I really wonder to what extent Lu Xun, Liu Jia, Lan Ling, Wang Meng, Deng Tuo and Wu Han wrote portrait-style zawen that I might compare to, say, “Granny Lin” or “Lucky and Nimble.” As for political content, we may heed Scoggins warning that “We may look at a sample of social criticism and not see it,” often because of its dense literary qualities.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Select your Passages, Dosie-doe

Torture of Intellectuals during the Cultural Revolution, from here

Today I went back to an already-published translation of Yang Jiang's essay "The Years of the Horse and the Ram," going through all of it very carefully, selecting and typing up passages and ideas.

My reading of the essay will emphasize how Yang Jiang turns the experience of trauma into a story of growth and adaptation, from an escapist, 'helpless little lamb' to a combative, and (above all) intuitive explorer of the affective atmosphere of the early Cultural Revolution. In this narrative of overcoming we see Yang Jiang at first question who she even is, but soon she remembers her humanist values. I will present evidence from the theme of service that show how she continues to invoke one of her mother's values, and so partly continues to see herself as a 'good mother and worthy wife.' Because of the deep literary motif that occurs in this as in all her essays, we might call her 'good mother, worthy wife, and talent of the boudoir (caixiu).'


Monday, August 9, 2010

Beijing Doll: Beijing Bomb, More Like

Beijing DollBeijing Doll by Chun Sue

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

"I knew that this novel, which records my youth and that of others of my generation, would only reveal its true meaning and value with the passage of time."

OK stop right there. I'm wary of the contemporary 'book' (I'm not going to call it a novel, because I demand a story structure for that) that thinks it can simply photograph in writing the way the author and her friends live, day to day, and call that a novel. I'm wary and weary of writing that calls attention to the author in the first few sentences -- if you can't give us some 'why' other than 'It's me!' in those first few sentences, well, increasingly I will put the book down. Lastly, I am now officially suspicious of any claims to represent "a generation." Clearly, what Chun Sue really means is not a "generation" but a group of middle- and upper-class urban kids, and not even most of those, but the ones who get into sex and rock'n'roll. And not even most of those -- just the real losers who can't even practice, and don't even seem to enjoy fucking. No doubt this is still a large portion of Beijing teenagers, but it hardly counts as a 'generation.'

Chun Sue's protagonist, Chun Sue, is mildly interested in writing. She is ever curious about boys. She is bold enough to speak rudely to her parents. She finds high school to be alienating, constricting, and unfair. She's doing her best to figure herself out, and the occasional boy.

Other than that, she seems have little curiosity for the outside world. And this story reflects that: it has little crisis, only one monotonous conflict (teenage girl self vs. teenage girl self, dontcha know), and, oddly, no climax that I can see. Was it her relationship with Mint, or G.? Was it that decision to quit school again after quitting before and going back? Was it deliberate not to have a final moment of growth, to leave her in this late teenager state of being?

What worries me the most is, why did Howard Goldblatt do this piffle? What was he thinking as he plodded through all this stuff? The only thing I can think is that the 70-year-old dean of Chinese-to-English novel translations wants to expand his range to cover it all, and leaped at a work that seemed to 'speak for the new generation.' I hope he wasn't one of those aggravating readers who take Chun Sue's alienation as further evidence of the distinctive changes taking place in China. Bull. shit. If that's the case, then my kid sister's life in San Antonio is evidence of the distinctive changes taking place in China.

View all my reviews >>

PhD Progress: Ye Hanyin's MA

An example of the Chinese aesthetic of "all mixed in" (yunji): Xiao Huisong, "The Grace of Earth" (bronze), from this page

One of the things I have to do to get this writing project done is: read similar writing projects by previous students. This is a task that is always both interesting and painful, because I alternate between feeling in kinship with my fellow writers and in competition with them. I alternate between thinking their writing is much less incisive than mine and thinking that I can't possibly read as well or as much as they can.

That's normal, I'm guessing.

One graduate student thesis of great interest is from Taiwan, by a girl named Ye Hanyin. I'm very impressed in some ways by the thesis -- it takes on the full scope of Yang Jiang's writings, which ranges from drama to translation to fiction to essay, so there are a lot of bending the mind around to try to read some very disparate types of material. In other ways, of course, I don't see Hanyin's writing as having the same insights that I have had, and so she seems inferior. But at the end of the day I think I just like the virtual community created by having in my hands the words of someone else who spoke on the same thing I am speaking on.

A few notes on what I read today:

I'm going to be reading from Ye's three chapters on the essays of Yang Jiang. Today I read a small section from the first of these chapters called "The 'Invisibility' Perspective for Creative Writing." "Invisibility" (yinshen) refers here to Yang Jiang's own self-description in the essay "The Cloak of Invisibility." But where my reading of the essay emphasizes that Yang Jiang wished to avoid ambition and take an "lowly and insignificant" place in society, and that this helps her to intuit what other people around her were thinking and feeling, Ye's take instead emphasizes the form of Yang Jiang's writing:
In her essays, we often cannot see the author’s own happiness, anger, sadness or sorrow, for she selects a cool, collected writing perspective. No matter what the theme, her laughs show no teeth, and her anger makes no sound.
Ye often describes this writing style as a kind of "distance," though it is one through which the reader can intuit the true feelings of the author:
But this writing distance by no means creates coldness, because even though the pieces document the facts objectively 客观地纪实, still we can see the sincerity of the author.
The representative example of this is in Yang Jiang's representation of suffering in life. She speaks of it simply, coldly. "He held my hand and said, 'That was the telephone. Your father is already dead.'" Ye (and, I remember now, others) praise such lines for the great affective force they have by keeping the pain held in reserve. The hint at what she must have really been feeling is enough to give us something which we feel is the truth, as Chinese readers. (Sorry for pronoun confusion -- I'm trying to identify as a Chinese reader.)

Now, here's sort of a random idea that I will try working into my dissertation chapter's conclusion tomorrow:

If we return to Stephen Owen’s Readings in Chinese Literary Thought, we can see that the idea of "latent" (yin, the prefix for yinshen, "invisible;" this is also a female-gendered) expression occurs in the 5th-century work Wen xin diao long (Literary writing and the carving of dragons). In chapter 40, Owen translate and explains the verse as an opposition between “latent” (yin) and “out-standing” (xiu)in poetic language. The “latent” is definied as “the layered significance beyond the text;” the term "beyond" here shows the special value to Liu Xie and his followers, that the "latent" indicates deeper truth; this truth is the affect (qing); it is the “truth” (yi) of the writing.

Developing the idea further, Sikong Tu’s eleventh “category of poetry” is the category “reserve” (hanxu) which praises the category by saying,
Though the words do not touch on oneself,
It is as if there were unbearable melancholy.
In this there is that ‘someone in control,’
Floating or sinking along with them.
(This sentiment has been applied to Yang Jiang many times, not only above, but in Hong Zicheng as well). Here, what remained a vague sense of affect as a mode or something in Liu Xie’s formulation is more clearly an affective subject.

Again, the representative example of this aesthetic form is the technique of reserving expression of unhappiness to encode the intensity of the unhappiness. As Owen says, "[U]nhappiness is revealed as the ground on which one speaks of something else.”(328)

Thus we get back to Ye, who used her section to point out that Yang Jiang gives us the feelings of unhappiness through reserve; or as I like to put it now, Yang Jiang writes so that we intuit the unhappiness there. The technique here is actually quite traditional, though Ye does not seem to know it. She does end her section with an important quote by someone named Chen Yali who has an article from 2002 about the "wisdom" in Yang Jiang's essays. The quote praises Yang Jiang's reserve (hanxu) using the very same term that Sikong Tu wrote about in the 9th century: “be reserved, mixing it all in; contained, and not exposed” 含蓄蕴籍、含而不露. This phrase can't possibly have started with Chen, and shows that somehow I've come round with two lines of thought to much the same place. More on how this works when I figure it out.


Music@Menlo free downloads: Antonio Vivaldi and George Crumb | Classical Minnesota Public Radio

Music@Menlo free downloads: Antonio Vivaldi and George Crumb | Classical Minnesota Public Radio


Monday, August 2, 2010

Mencius was a Racist

King Zhuang: Chineseness, ho! Giddee-yup! This is from the "State of Chu" Theme Park at Mo Hill, Wuhan. Pic from this person's blog

One other thing I did today: finished revising my summary of another paper for the upcoming conference at my university. If you are interested in the perspective of a progressive Confucian on nation and ethnicity, check out the story of of certain Chinese scholars, by all means, read on...The ‘Nation’ Philosophy of He Xiu (129-182 CE)

Professor Huang begins his essay by saying, “Since ancient times, our country has been a collective body of many nations (minzu), with both elder brother nations and younger brother nations that are organic parts comprising the Chinese nation (Zhonghua minzu). As early as the Warring States era (5th-3rd centuries BCE), Xunzi (ca. 312–230 BCE) had already said, ‘All within the four seas is like one family.’”

He Xiu (129-182 CE) also believed that following the progress of society, all non-Chinese “barbarians” would become one with the Chinese. When these barbarians eventually occupied equal positions among each other, and had peaceful and good relations with each other, helping each other in need, then the attachments between nations would be as one family under Heaven. In He Xiu’s work we have thus the first theory of mixing between nations and the unification of the nation-as-family (guojia). Professor Huang points to this achievement as an important sign of progress in Chinese history.

He Xiu was a Confucian scholar of the Eastern Han dynasty (25 - 220 CE) whose main focus of study was the canonical Confucian historical text The Spring and Autumn Annals, and especially the Gongyang Commentary. The Gongyang Commentary is one of three ancient and canonical works that provide expositions on each entry of the Annals; the plan of the Gongyang Commentary is to analyze each event and figure of the Annals by identifying who deserves praise and blame. Professor Huang’s thesis is that He Xiu’s metacommentary to the Gongyang Commentary inherits the true position of Confucius regarding non-Han barbarians. Like Confucius, Huang’s understanding of the concept of ‘nation’ (minzu) predicts progress towards the Great Unity (da tong).

1. The Historical Origins of “Distinguishing Barbarian and Chinese.”

The ancient events recorded in The Spring and Autumn Annals demonstrate that from the earliest times Chinese rulers sought to govern not only the Chinese people, but also various types of non-Chinese, who are called collectively the yidi (“the barbarians of the east and the barbarians of the west,” hereafter “the Barbarians”).

Confucius himself believed that the Collective Chinese (zhuxia) represented civilization and progress, while the Barbarians represented wildness, barbarity (yeman) and backwardness. Confucius believed it was the mission of the Collective Chinese to gradually reform the Barbarians and bring them up to the level of progress of the Collective Chinese, with the final goal of realizing the ideal of the Great Unity.

In the Analects, Confucius said, “The Barbarians’ have their rulers, unlike Collective China, which is without.” As Zhu Xi’s (1130-1200 CE) commentary emphasizes, there is no sense of superior or inferior here, because Confucius allows that the Barbarians at least have rulers, and it is possible that the Chinese might lose good rulership.

The Analects also has an anecdote that goes, “The Master wished to live among the nine barbarian peoples of the east. Somebody said, “But they are filthy, how could you go?” The Master said, “When the Superior Man lives among them, what filth will there be?” Zhu Xi’s commentary explains that the Superior Man will transform the barbarians, thus removing any “filth.” Following Zhu Xi, Professor Huang says this proves that Confucius thought the Barbarians could become civilized, and therefore closer to a Chinese state. Chinese people, on the other hand, were also vulnerable to retrogression back into Barbarians again. Both could change. Thus we see even more clearly Confucius’ attitude of acceptance towards others, says Professor Huang.

But Confucius was not entirely accepting. Inasmuch as the Barbarians were an obstacle to the development of the Chinese civilization, the two groups could never have equal positions. The Barbarians could at best be open to transformation, but the Barbarians could never be allowed to transform China. (Professor Huang notes here that his use of the term “China” refers to an ancient concept of place comprising the lower and middle drainage basins of the Yellow River. When he says “China” throughout this essay, he means this ancient concept, and not the modern nation-state.)

Confucius reveals the attitude known as “Respect the King; Reject the Barbarians” in his comments about Guan Zhong (725-645 BCE), general and chief minister to Duke Huan of Qi (d. 643 BCE). “The Master said, ‘Guan Zhong was the chief minister to Duke Huan. The Duke became hegemon over the feudal lords, bringing unity to all under Heaven. The people enjoy his gifts down to the present day. But for Guan Zhong, we should now be wearing our hair unbound, and the lapels of our coats would button on the left side.” Confucius clearly characterizes the Barbarian practices (unbound hair, lapels folding over on the left) of daily living as backward.

This contradictory stance produced what Huang calls a “doubled” influence on later Confucians. The more progressive Confucians such as the Gongyang School allowed for the mutual transformation of the Chinese and the Barbarians and so emphasized the slogan “Change the Barbarians with Chinese” to advance their plan for working together to realize the Great Unity. Others held closely to “Reject the Barbarians” and worked only to sever relations, to deepen enmity, and to create a strong sense of “self-enclosure” (ziwo fengbi) among the Collective Chinese. Professor Huang calls for readers to spurn this attitude, for it actually obstructs common progress toward the Great Unity.

The Gongyang Commentary inherits this bifurcation. It stands for strong defense against the Barbarians and opposes any transformation to the Chinese by the barbarians. Professor Huang provides a few examples to this effect; this translator will point out the example of Duke Huan of Qi, whose minister Guan Zhong was celebrated by Confucius (see above):

The Spring and Autumn Annals, entry for the 30th year of Duke Zhuang of Lu (664 BCE):

...The Man of Qi invaded the Hill Rong.

The Gongyang Commentary says,

“The Man of Qi invaded the Hill Rong.” Here it refers to the Marquis of Qi, so why does it say “a man?” To blame him. And why does it blame him? Zisi Sima said, “I think he was moving against them too quickly.” This was most likely a war, so why does it not say “war?” Because in the Annals enemies speak of war to each other, and the Duke of Qi’s actions against the Rongdi was only an expulsion, nothing more.


Professor Huang says the tradition interprets the commentary to be in praise of Duke Qi of Huan based on its argument that the affair was not a “war,” which would mean between equal parties, but just an “expulsion,” which means that the Barbarians are not equal to the Chinese. This manner of aggrandizement of nationalist figures and events is very common in the Gongyang Commentary.

However, the basic element of civilization is not to be determined by race, but by certain teachings. The most important of these teachings is that of “humaneness and morality” (renyi daode). As another example from the commentary shows, the Chinese can lose their humaneness and morality, while the Barbarians have the ability to gain humaneness and morality:

The Spring and Autumn Annals, entry for the 30th year of Duke Xuan of Lu (597 BCE):

Summer, in the sixth month on Yi Mao, Xun Linfu of Jin lead his forces in war against the Prince of Chu at Bi. The Jin forces were routed.

The Gongyang Commentary says,

High ministers do not make enemies of the ruler. So how is it that the men named here made an enemy of the Prince of Chu? We must say here that proper ceremony was observed not by Jin, but by Chu.

Chu originally was a Barbarian state, but they demonstrated over these years their humaneness and morality. Here, they defeated the Jin forces but went on to release and return prisoners from the war. Therefore it is Chu that observes proper ceremony, and so must be taken as Chinese. Jin on the other hand is an ancient member of the Collective Chinese, but they hoped to strike at Chu when Chu was at its weakest. Thus they demonstrate a lack of humaneness and no concern for proper ceremony. They were the Barbarians. There are more examples of this self-criticism among the Gongyang historians, which makes more evident their belief that another nation could become Chinese, and conversely, Chinese kingdoms could stray from the Way.

However, a major Confucian tradition throughout this period held just the opposite view. Thinkers like Mencius thought that the Barbarians could never be changed (which makes Mencius narrow-minded and prejudiced, in Professor Huang’s opinion). This distinction based on race and geography continued under the Han, we can see Mencius’ influence in the “debates on salt and iron” for example. (Huang here refers to the gathering of experts to discuss the state monopolies on salt on and iron in 81 BCE.) The Han historian Ban Gu (32–92 CE) famously wrote in his Discourses in White Tiger Hall that “The Barbarians are not born of China. They are not transformable by the rites. Consequently, they are no subjects of China.” This view today, says Prof. Huang, deserves the strictest criticism.

2. “Progressive Barbarians”

Such is the context for He Xiu’s agenda, which is to oppose the perspective tied to race and place and instead advance the ancient Confucian wisdom that the Barbarians could have a role in the Great Mixing (da ronghe) of Chinese nations. This early theorizing now deserves to be celebrated as exemplary, says Huang. As before, it is a two-sided, contradictory theory, one that both maintains a firm difference between Chinese and Barbarian, and yet provides a mechanism for both sides to change. As the saying goes, “The Barbarians will become Earls.”

Professor Huang provides several examples from He Xiu’s metacommentary to the Gongyang Commentary that shows he retains a firm nationalism that advocates strong defense against the Barbarians. But that does not subtract from his confidence that one day, through gradual progress into Chinese culture, the Barbarians would merge with Collective China:

It is because the earth had not met with great cities and great masters that they must be rectified by means of the Middle Kingdoms (Zhongguo). These Middle Kingdoms are the kingdoms of justice, and of proper ceremony. Those who hold them, govern the patterns that lie behind all civilization (wen). The Superior Man cannot govern with justice and proper ceremony by means of a system lacking in justice and proper ceremony; consequently, he absolutely never says “hold.” “Rectifying them,” we speak of as “attack.” The High Minister who ‘holds’ the Son of Heaven and so rectifies using these Middle Kingdoms, and ‘holding’ the Middle Kingdoms is not possible, so how much less is a High Minister who ‘holds’ the Son of Heaven! This is the reason why to downgrade the Barbarians and to respect the Son of Heaven is a proper way to speak.


He Xiu believed that the Barbarians were “born of Heaven and Earth” as much as the Chinese, and that their backwardness was only a temporary phenomenon. He thus changed the position on Duke Huan of Qi’s attack on the Hill Rong from “praise” to “blame,” because Duke Huan’s methods were unnecessarily violent, and even lacking in humaneness.

He Xiu felt that whenever the Barbarians showed any interest, Collective China must welcome them with open arms of encouragement and support. The main figure to demonstrate this interest is King Zhuang of the Chu, whose armies defeated the Jin in the Battle of Bi in 597, as we mentioned above. King Zhuang’s reign was marked all over by transformation of his kingdom into something more civilized, and more powerful. There is a line in the Annals from the 18th year of Duke Xuan of Lu (591 BCE) that says very simply, “On the day Jia-xu, the Prince of Chu passed away.” He Xiu remarks that this death was recorded here because the king’s conduct was worthy. The Barbarian had indeed become an Earl.

In other parts of his metacommentary, He Xiu realizes that with the passage of great amounts of time, cultures that were once perceived as “Barbarian” could become indistinguishably Chinese. Again, Chu provides the model example, from the time of King Zhuang, the same intrepid “Prince of Chu” who defeated the Jin at the Battle of Bi (see above), the Kingdom of Chu became more and more Chinese; by He Xiu’s lifetime, it was fully a part of Collective China. Professor Huang provides other examples here as well.

Finally, Professor Huang admires how He Xiu is able to hold to a vision of the Great Unity that ought to drive forward the progressive connections between Barbarians and Chinese, despite the preponderance of failures in the historical record. For He, this is only reason to continue work for the ideal, “to employ the mind ever more deeply, and in more detail. Consequently we must worship humaneness; we must mock that there are two names [“Barbarian” and “Chinese”].” 用心尤深而详。故崇仁义,讥二名

For Professor Huang, He Xiu’s vision is worthy of consideration as one of the most outstanding examples of in the early developments of a Chinese theory of “nation.”


AAS 2011

Ah, Hawai'i, land of long shiny tables, potted indoor ferns, and bland leaders in pantsuits

I worked a good portion of the day on a proposal for a panel on Chinese writing for the 2011 meeting of AAS (the Association for Asian Studies). It's a lot of annoying red tape, and there is no guarantee our panel will be selected, but it does make me feel ever so professional. Delegating, being a team-player, coming up with ideas, keeping in touch with scholars...

Panel abstract: Chinese Prose Today - The Discursive Power of Sanwen

Chinese prose retains a unique power to serve and shape readers of all ages and all classes. In books, literary journals and on the internet, non-fictional prose writing is the central platform for discourse about the individual, communities, and the environment. But what role does prose writing have in the massive changes taking place in China and around the world today? How does Chinese prose writing serve its diverse and mercurial readership? This panel takes steps to answer these questions by bringing together recent work on the themes, genres, and modes of Chinese prose, along with the theoretical challenges that prose presents. We aim to map prose writing as a diverse art that crosses multiple boundaries including those between fiction and non-fiction, as well as tradition and modernity. Chinese prose reconsidered just might offer the model for a consciousness that celebrates the world in all its multiplicity by portraying the specific attachments that illustrate empathy towards each other and the world they live in. By putting the manifestations of this empathy at the center of our readings of Chinese prose, we push towards a fuller evaluation of the prospects and pitfalls of writing in China.

My Abstract:

The Biographical Essay and Communities of Affect: The Vocabulary of the Empathic Civilization

How do human beings attain a consciousness that is collective and empathic, trans-personal and trans-local? This question, which gains so much urgency in the face of an ever-more densely-connected world population, has been the concern of Chinese prose writers during every period of China's century of revolution. And one literary form they have always turned to is the biographical essay. Now gaining wider attention as the flagship form of the larger field of Chinese "life writing" or "auto/biography" (zhuanji wenxue), biographical prose that takes as its object the life course of representative, exemplary individuals has served Chinese writers looking to change social values.

In this paper I will demonstrate the broad continuity of the biographical essay by defining the "portrait" as the basic unit of expression in major essays of both the early 1960s and of the 1990s. I will also summarize the role of the "portrait" in critical conversations in 1961 (the "year of prose") and in the early 1990s (a period of "prose fever"). What emerges in this examination of "the portrait" is the central role of the exemplary life in building communities of affect in Chinese writing. I argue that, despite wild swings between ideological and subjective, the central concern of Chinese prose remained the same: to provide a discourse of affect that can help readers organize and appropriate sensual memories of crises past, to bring readers together to face the future.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Note: Bad Comedy

Just a few notes to remind myself how difficult it can be to find good entertainment with a netflix instant disc...

Emma (1972) I thought this British television adaptation of the Jane Austen novel would be funny, but it is acted so bloodlessly, we begin to lose interest from the first scene.

How About You? (2004) More accommodating indie film fans will find here a charming story about what youth owes to old age, and vice versa. I tried to like it, but the motifs of pot for pain, strife between sisters, and eccentric old folks were simply too bound by simple convention. I've seen it all before. Vanessa Redgrave's supporting role was entirely underwhelming.

Who's Harry Crumb? (1985) I think I just wanted to remember what it was that made John Candy so famously funny. Answer: utterly pointless physical comedy. I think I was too old for this film back in 1989.

Brewster's Millions (1985) This is the very scene where A. and I stopped the film. It becomes all to clear here that combining Candy with Pryor yields only images of both naked.

World's Greatest Dad (2004) I know better than to ever trust a film that casts Robin Williams as a 'serious' protagonist, but A. hasn't learned, so this one is his fault. As with How About You? the main problem is that the film hopes to construct something meaningful out of a thin tissue of conventions and clichés. Some are extremely old, such as Williams' entire role, which is too close to Dead Poet's Society for comfort. Others are new variations: where DPS gave us queer boy suicide, WGD offers straight boy autoasphyxiation. Who says there isn't progress?


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