ahorbinski: A snakes & ladders board.  (struggle & stagger)
Bibliographic Data: Crossley, Pamela. A Translucent Mirror: History and Identity in Qing Imperial Ideology. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002.

Main Argument: "…the monolithic identities of 'Manchu, "Mongol,' and 'Chinese' (Han) are not regarded as fundamentals, sources, or building blocks of the emergent order. In my view these identities are ideological productions of the process of imperial centralization before 1800" (3). The emperorship was constructed as simultaneous and universal, and the various images of the emperor were constructed to speak to various constituencies.

Through a glass darkly )
Bibliographic Data: Perdue, Peter C. China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010.

Main Argument: The Qing conquests of central Eurasia were a world historical event because:
1) "for the empire's rulers and subjects, these victories fundamentally transformed the scale of their world";
2) "the expansion of the Qing state formed part of a global process in the 17th and 18th centuries. Nearly everywhere, newly centralized, integrated, militarized states pushed their borders outward by military conquest, and settlers, missionaries, and traders followed behind" i.e. 17thC crisis ==≥ 18thC stabilization;
3)
China's expansion marked a turning point in the history of Eurasia. Across the continent, the great empires founded by Central Eurasian conquerors in the wake of the disintegration of the Mongol empire had captured the heartlands of densely settled regions, used the resources of these regions to supply military forces, and pushed back from the heartlands into the core of the continent. When their borders met, they negotiated treaties that drew fixed lines through the steppes, deserts, and oases, leaving no refuge for the mobile peoples of the frontier.

The closing of this great frontier was more significant in world history than the renowned closing of the North American frontier lamented by Frederic Jackson Turner in 1893. It eliminated permanently as a major actor on the historical stage the nomadic pastoralists, who had been the strongest alternative to settled agrarian society since the second millennium BCE. (10-11)

China marches West )
ahorbinski: a bridge in the fog (bridge to anywhere)
Bibliographic Data: Zarrow, Peter. After Empire: The Conceptual Transformation of the Chinese State, 1885-1924. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012.

Main Argument:
The Revolution of 1911 replaced a monarchical system with a republic. The republic was heavily flavored with the taste of military dictatorship and soon fell into warlordism, but the ideal of republicanism continued to motivate intellectuals and activists. At the same time, the range of beliefs that had surrounded the emperorship survived the revolution: the need for enlightened rulers, the power of sageness, the paternalistic responsibilities of the educated classes, and a moralized cosmology. The 1911 Revolution could not have happened unless large numbers of people were prepared to accept an emperor-less world, but it did not only overthrow entrenched views: it built on them as well. […] The fall of the last dynasty, the Qing, represented the collapse not just of a single dynasty but of the entire imperial system, though this was not clear to all in the immediate wake of the revolution. The whole cultural edifice of the imperial system declined together, including: first, the coercive powers of the imperial court vis-a-vis local society; second, the civil service examination system that recruited the bureaucracy and reaffirmed the cultural capital of the gentry; and third, the immense system of classical (sacred) learning upon which the exams were based. (viii-ix)

Historiographical Engagement: Schwartz, etc

Nationalism, republicanism, empire )
Critical assessment: Sentence fragments: many. I think Zarrow is pretty much correct in what he says; my brain is too full to venture much more than that, tbh.

Further reading: Schwartz, In Search of Wealth and Power; Karl, Staging the World; Hevia, English Lessons; Liu, Clash of Empires; Jones, Developmental Fairy Tales
ahorbinski: The five elements theory in the style of the periodic table of the elements.  (teach the controversy)
Bibliographic Data: Hostetler, Laura. Qing Colonial Enterprise: Ethnography and Cartography in Early Modern China. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

Main Argument:
Simultaneous developments in cartographic and ethnographic modes of representation notable for their emphasis on empirical knowledge derived from direct observation and precise measurement suggest that the Qing was not isolated from global changes during the early modern period, nor was it simply a recipient of European knowledge; it was an active participant in a shared world order. … In short, during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries Qing China was more fully a part of what can be called the early modern world than has been generally recognized.(1-2)
Ethnography and mapping were central to these discursive imperial strategies, and early modern states employed both to extend their claims to universal empire. Specifically, "in mapping the territory of the expanding empire, the Qing four purposely chose to use the same idiom, or map language, in which its competitors functioned" and "as with much early modern European ethnography, Qing ethnography was also directed toward use in governance of an expanding empire" (23).

Historiographical Engagement: Joseph Needham, C. D. K. Yee

China's West and Southwest )

Critical assessment: Really this book should have been three articles. Hostetler makes a lot of assertions that she cannot actually prove in the name of making her subject relevant; really she should have spent more time on the early modern.

Further reading: Subrahmanyan, "Connected Histories"; Perdue, China Marches West; Hevia, Cherishing Men from Afar; Mullaney, Coming to Terms with the Nation
ahorbinski: A picture of Charles Darwin captioned "very gradual change" in the style of the Obama 'Hope' poster.  (Darwin is still the man.)
Bibliographic Data: Fan, Fa-Ti. British Naturalists in Qing China: Science, Empire, and Cultural Encounter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.

Main Argument: This book "attempts to explain how Western (especially British) naturalists in China and their Chinese 'associates' explored, studied, and represented China's natural world in both local and global contexts" (2), employing the concept of "contact zone" or "borderlands" to "denote the intersecting zone between the temporal and spatial trajectories of peoples of different geographic origins, cultures, and histories" (3).

Historiographical Engagement:  Empire theorists and historians, naturalists, historians of science

British naturalists in Qing China )

Critical assessment: I wish this book were longer and went into more detail, and that some of my favorite books on the same general topic, such as Hevia's English Lessons, had been around for him to reference and dialogue with when he was writing. That said, it's excellent, both for the dimensions it illuminates and for his insistence that reading the process of empire as entirely one-sided is incorrect.

Further reading: Marie Brennan, A Natural History of Dragons; James Hevia, The Imperial Security State

Meta notes: No man is an empire, entire of itself.
ahorbinski: The five elements theory in the style of the periodic table of the elements.  (teach the controversy)
Bibliographic Data: Mullaney, Thomas S. Coming to Terms with the Nation: Ethnic Classification in Modern China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011.

Main Argument:
These differences in ethnotaxonomy [from the Qing to the Republic to the PRC] cannot be accounted for at the level of the categorized. Rather, what changed over the course of this period were the ethnopolitical worldviews of the different Chinese regimes, the modes and methods of categorization they employed, and the political commitments that guided their respective efforts to reconceptualize China in the postimperial era. There was no single “search for a nation in modern Chinese nationalism”—rather, there were searches, in the plural. (3)
Historiographical Engagement: James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State; others

Finding the minzu in modern China )

Critical assessment: Mullaney is a really smart dude, and therefore it's doubly frustrating that this book is so short. I am reliably informed that he knows a lot more about this topic than he actually says in the book, and even aside from that, he gestures towards some really interesting ideas in his introduction that are never picked up again in the book--indeed, he never pursues most of the interesting implications of his ideas. So, I think he is substantially correct as far as he goes, but this is a short book, and if I were an editor, I would have asked him for the missing 1/3 of the manuscript before I published it.

Further reading: Laura Hostetler, Qing Colonial Enterprise; Scott, Seeing Like a State; Fan, British Naturalists in Qing China
ahorbinski: A snakes & ladders board.  (struggle & stagger)
Bibliographic Data: Rogaski, Ruth. Hygienic Modernity: Meanings of Health and Disease in Treaty-Port China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

Main Argument: "…this study considers the century-long process of how health and disease emerged as a discursive center of Chinese deficiency under conditions of imperialism and traces specific projects of 'awakening' the Chinese nation, race, and body to a state of corporal modernity" (3). This emergence of 'hygienic modernity' was a central part of China's experience of imperialism.

Hygienic modernity in Tianjin )

Conclusion: Argument, Sources, Examples
Throughout the twentieth century, weisheng became an instrumental discourse informing the Chinese elite’s vision of a modern ideal, a vehicle through which they hoped state, society, and the individual would be transformed. As grasped by Meiji bureaucrats, late Qing reformers, and Guomindang modernizers, weisheng centered concerns of national sovereignty, institutional discipline, and government administration on the site of the body. In an uncanny way, the single modern Chinese term weisheng encompasses what Foucault called “ biopower,” a series of techniques through which the state undertakes the administration of life, and “governmentality,” the idea that individuals internalize disciplinary regimes and thus harmonize their own behaviors with the goals of the state. (300)
She concludes that the discourse of Western superiority and Chinese deficiency was centered around weisheng, and notes that Japan played an important mediating role in the elite Chinese adoption of modernity.

Critical assessment: This is an excellent and influential book, for good reason. I particularly like the way she refuses to de-emphasize violence, and the ways in which she points out the unevenness of regimes of colonial control and the adoption/contestation of different aspects of modernity.

Further reading: Lydia Liu, Translingual Practice; Larissa Heinrich, The Afterlife of Images

Meta notes: If biopower is the way we live now, why can't the United States compel its citizens to get their childhood vaccinations?
ahorbinski: an imperial stormtrooper with the word "justic3" (imperial justice)
Bibliographic Data: Rosenstein, Nathan. “War, State Formation, and the Evolution of Military Institutions in Ancient China and Rome.” In Walter Scheidel, ed., Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires, 24-51. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

War & State Formation )

Bibliographic Data: Scheidel, Walter. “From the ‘Great Convergence’ to the ‘First Great Divergence’: Roman and Qin-Han State Formation and Its Aftermath.” In Walter Scheidel, ed., Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires, 11-23. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Convergence & Divergence )

Bibliographic Data:
Turner, Karen. “Law and Punishment in the Formation of Empire.” In Walter Scheidel, ed., Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires, 52-82. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Law and Punishment )

Bibliographic Data: Bang, Peter Fibiger. “Commanding and Consuming the World: Empire, Tribute, and Trade in Roman and Chinese History.” In Walter Scheidel, ed., Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires, 100-120. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Tribute & Trade )

Bibliographic Data: Dettenhofer, Maria H. “Eunuchs, Women, and Imperial Courts.” In Walter Scheidel, ed., Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires, 83-99. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Main Argument: Women and men of humble background surrounded the emperor in both Rome and China; in Rome these men were first freedmen and then equestrians, and then in late antiquity, eunuchs, while in China they were eunuchs throughout the period. Moreover, women and eunuchs were natural allies--or bitter rivals--in the struggle for political influence, made easier by their service to the emperor in intimate matters. Eunuchs came to prominence at the Roman court after the crisis of the 3rdC isolated the emperor from elites both physically and through ritual. Moreover, "eunuchs were unpopular in both societies. They represented a despised group that was only able to exist inside the court and under the emperor's protection" (98).

Bibliographic Data: Lewis, Mark Edward. “Gift Circulation and Charity in the Han and Roman Empires.” In Walter Scheidel, ed., Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires,121-136. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Gifts & Charity )

Bibliographic Data: Scheidel, Walter. “The Monetary Systems of the Han and Roman Empires.” In Walter Scheidel, ed., Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires, 137-207. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Cash Money )

Critical assessment:
These chapters are for the most part very good, although I have several specific complaints. First, the Detenhoffer article is an intellectual fluff piece made actively bad by its completely thoughtless throwing around of terms such as "bisexual" in a totally non-contextualized and untheorized way. I also disagree with Karen Turner's implicit argument that Roman law in the empire or in its successor states was somehow more humane than imperial Chinese law; the fact that England eventually developed trial by jury is totally irrelevant to the actual question. I also think Wally Scheidel's inability to recognize the Second Great Convergence beginning in the 19thC is problematic, since the whole point of--many things, including this book--is that we are now in a unified world system, for better and for worse. Finally, while I take Bang's point, it's a little weird to me to just subsume trade under tribute as the same thing.

Meta notes: Two houses, both alike in equal dignity…
ahorbinski: A picture of Charles Darwin captioned "very gradual change" in the style of the Obama 'Hope' poster.  (Darwin is still the man.)
Bibliographic Data: Jones, Andrew F. Developmental Fairy Tales: Evolutionary Thinking and Modern Chinese Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011.

Main Argument: "This book is a historical enquiry into the development of this discourse [of development] in the Chinese literary and media culture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly as refracted through and subject to criqitue in the work of Lu Xun and many of his contemporaries" (3). "Development" is "a way of knowing, narrating, and attempting to manage processes of radical historical change" although "the term is haunted by its own semantic instability" (ibid). Jones notes that devleopmentalism has become the sovereign logic of China (and of other countries), with ruinous consequences; thus the book also "initiates a genealogical critique of developmental thinking by tracing its origins in the translation of evolutionary biology into Chinese letters in the late nineteenth century…and suggesting how it gave rise to new narrative forms, lent its structure to the historical imagination, and tragically limited ideological horizons" (4). Moreover, Chinese intellectuals were not doing this in isolation; it was part of global process in which evolutionary thinking "was translated and assimilated to local discourse throughout East Asia and a host of other locales" (5).

Historiographical Engagement: Schwartz, In Search of Wealth and Power; Joseph Needham, Science and Civilization in China; Lydia Liu, Translingual Practice; Leo Ou-fan Lee, Shanghai Modern; Shu-mei Shih, The Lure of the Modern

Might there still be someone who hasn't eaten human flesh? Save the children. )

Critical assessment: This is an excellent book that makes some very complex arguments, complex enough that these notes most assuredly do not capture all of what Jones is saying. I think the fact that there is no conclusion as such is very much on point--in its own way, this book is a critique of the present as much as of the past. "'Might there still be someone who hasn't eaten human flesh? Save the children.'"

Further reading: Miriam Hansen, "Vernacular Modernism"

Meta notes: Evolution has no preordained goal, and extinction is the fate of all species.
ahorbinski: A snakes & ladders board.  (struggle & stagger)
Bibliographic data: Spence, Jonathan D. God's Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1996.

Main argument: The so-called Taiping Rebellion of 1850-64 in eastern and southern China was one of the largest wars of the 19thC and one of the bloodiest conflicts in history, costing in the final total at least 20 million lives. Before its bloody final defeat, however, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom promulgated a fascinating, revealed version of Christianity as well as offering a vigorous challenge to many of the gender, social, and political norms of traditional China as embodied by the ruling Qing dynasty, and arguably acted on many of the same dissatisfactions that eventually brought about that dynasty's downfall, in which the near-bankruptcy the Qing court incurred defeating the Taiping played at least some part, at a lengthy delay.

Historiographical engagement: As well as reading the secondary scholarship on the Taiping, Spence also engages with the body of primary, documentary evidence on the Taiping that remains, and in particular with the body of religious scriptures published in Nanjing during its years as the Heavenly Capital and with documents by and relating to Hong Xiuquan himself.

Critical assessment: This book reads like a living, breathing illustration of some of the points that Dipesh Chakrabarty makes about the limits of modern historiographical discourse, or more precisely, like an illustration of how a gifted historian can thoroughly circumvent them using a fairly basic set of narrative strategies--in this case, telling the narrative entirely in the present tense (what in Latin is generally referred to as the historical present). Spence is a master of narrative, and of his sources, and he brings the fascinating, strange, and marvelous (in the medieval sense) story of Hong Xiuquan and the Taiping kingdom to boggling life. It's a prodigious narrative of a little-known historical incident, and well worth the read.

My only major complaint is again, I think, how closely Spence holds the cards of his historiographical purpose to his chest--I think that he is interested primarily in Hong Xiuquan's version of Christianity and its interplay with the times and the circumstances surrounding Hong, and secondarily with the astonishingly bloody cost of that vision, and why it appealed to so many people. As Spence writes,

As the epigraph to this book suggests, in the words of Keats, which themselves build on those of the Book of Revelation, Hong was one of those people who believe it is their mission to make all things "new, for the surprise of the sky-children." It is a central agony of history that those who embark on such missions so rarely care to calculate the cost. (xxvii)

But this gets little explicit play in the text, and the ending is, in some sense, rather abrupt, though in others it's a foregone conclusion from page one. As vivid and masterful a storyteller as Spence is, I can't help but feel that his books would be even stronger, from an academic perspective, with a little more explicit discussion of his arguments.

Further reading: Jen Yu-wen, The Taiping Revolutionary Movement; Dian Murray, Pirates of the South China Coast, 1790-1810

Meta notes: Truth really is stranger than fiction.
ahorbinski: A snakes & ladders board.  (struggle & stagger)
Bibliographic Data: Wong, R. Bin. China Transformed: Historical Change and the Limits of European Experience. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997.

Main Argument: Wong argues convincingly that scholars must seek "to generate the elements of well-grounded comparative history that can identify issues in European as well as non-European history, contribute to projects in world history, and create a new basis for building social theories to replace the great nineteenth-century efforts limited in large measure to European foundations" (ix), and that one way to do this is to incorporate thoroughly into scholarship the historical perspectives, experiences and paradigms of non-Western places. Accordingly, Wong analyzes a thousand years of Chinese history on its own terms and puts it in conversation with broadly similar examples of European history in the same period. In the end it becomes clear that differences are more salient than similarities, but only after similarities have been established through comparison--focusing on differences qua differences yields the sort of meaningless statements that, as one of the people in our class discussion commented, "Europe is different from China, China is different from apples, apples are different from hand grenades, and hand grenades are different from Dwinelle Hall." Yes, and?

The limits of Europe )

Critical assessment: This is a brilliantly analyzed and argued book, and if it gets a little dry at times, Wong succeeds to a greater extent than most economic historians I've read in not ignoring the violence that haunts history--he has an entire chapter comparing the French and Chinese Revolutions with each other, for instance. Let me be frank: as our class discussions around this book made clear, there are some people who just don't believe in comparative history, or at least in doing comparative history as we can now, and this book will not please them. To his credit, however, Wong anticipates that reaction, remarking in his introduction that "Noting items not addressed or inadequately treated matters, I think, only when such absences undermine the arguments or qualify the evidence presented" (8). It should surprise no one, methinks, that I'm with Wong on both the necessity and the value of comparative history, and I think he succeeds brilliantly at the task he sets out for himself, particularly when he reads European examples according to Chinese criteria and destabilizes our received understandings. He's particularly good on the comparative European and Chinese economies and state formations--a lot of what he said led me to rethink things I knew about Europe from 1 CE forward, particularly in the medieval era.

Further reading: Prasenjit Duara, Culture, Power, and the State; Joseph Fletcher Jr., "The Heyday of the Ch'ing Order in Mongolia, Sinkiang, and Tibet"; Edward Friedman, "Reconstructing China's National Identity", Bryna Goodman, Native Place, City, and Nation; Philip Kuhn, "Local Self-Government under the Republic"; Kenneth Pomeranz, From Core to Hinterland, "Protecting Goddess, Dangerous Woman"; Mary Rankin, Elite Activism and Political Transformation in China; Charles Tilly, Coercion, Capital and European States, A.D. 990-1990

Meta notes: Europe isn't everything. Those of us in Asian studies and similar disciplines know that; now we just have to sell everyone else on that fact.

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ahorbinski: shelves stuffed with books (Default)
Andrea J. Horbinski

August 2017

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