Note on Nikan
I have not read a convincing etymology of nikan, and I don't
have one myself. But in a forthcoming issue (58) of CAJ, I share some observations that have puzzled me over the years. It basically comes down to the fact that there
seem to be two credible routes to the term as it was used in seventeenth century, and they are not mutually compatible, at least not easily.
The basic plot is: We have
the approach that nikan is han 漢 --not only in meaning, but in derivation. This makes a lot of sense to me, and I concluded that with some modifications it
is the preferred explanation today. There is one logical objection, which is that the attested Jurchen word corresponding to han was han (the character in the image). If
there was already a good Jurchen word for 漢, and it was the character in the image (my citation was from the Yongning si), then why was a new word needed? And
there is a related objection: If a new word was needed, then why stick ni- on the front of it? My initial response would be that there is no reason to think that Jurchen
monuments could be easily read aloud by sixteenth-century Jurchens. They could be looking at the Jurchen character and see, essentially, nothing. Or, they could be looking at
it and read it out as nikan. How would that come to be?
Still thinking of this same approach, I relate nikan to a series of other words I have seen in
Jurchen over the years, all starting with ni- and all relating in some way to the trade in goods with China. They all were formed basically by putting ni- in
front of a loan word from Chinese, and by the seventeenth century a few had acquired an ending that got phoneticized in Manchu as -ke or -he. The post-positioned
particle I had no theory about, but the initial particle might be explained by the finding of Yamamoto Mamoru and Toda Shigeki, as well as few of their colleagues, that Jurchen
scribes sometimes used a written particle, which they speculate represented a nasal sound, before Chinese proper names. It is an intriguing finding, and it is not a stretch,
from my point of view, to assume for discussion that this could have been generalized to Chinese loan words whether proper names or not. A greater problem, but perhaps not
insuperable, would be explaining how this scribal convention, which in origins might have been unvoiced, would become part of popular speech. And that would not necessarily provide a chronology for Jurchens forgetting their perfectly serviceable term for han --han, in fact-- in favor of the new term. I have no easy explanation for
either, but the coincidence in sound is pretty compelling. As a minor loop in this approach (that 漢 is the root of nikan), there is always the possibility that it
is not this prepositioned nasal sound (from my series of Jurchen loan words) but Ming 明 that is represented by ni- (or, to knock it down a little notch, that
明 is the inspiration for the nasally-voiced particle noted by Yamamoto and Toda). Here I am leaving out the more ludicrous explanations for ni- but I do
mention them in the article.
Then there is another approach, which so far as I can see puts the origins of nikan in a different context. This relates to the
Manchu verb series nikembi/nikebumbi, which relates loosely to ideas of providing physical support, being subordinate or dependent, being crude or inferior. As I note,
terms like this sometimes have a tendency to take on an honorable meaning, as one sees in the case of Jurchen/Manchu Šigianu 史家奴 or --possibly-- the
common Manchu name, Nikan. There is a phonological issue with this approach, which is the slide from front e to back a if this is etymologically-related to
nikan, but such issues are not always absolute impediments, if the historical context is strong enough to suggest a relationship. In this case, there is plenty of
observation from the nineteenth and early twentieth-century observers that the term nikan was a popular term for a servant, an inferior, or a bumpkin, which puts at
least some of its meanings closer to the nikembi axis than to the 漢 axis. I am also bound to say that I find this possible source for nikan consistent with
my interpretation of the phrase ujen cooha, which I have explained both in Translucent Mirror and in The Manchus.
There is something else here,
too, The nikembi undertones of nikan would be consistent with the theme running through all my work, from Translucent Mirror to my current book on nomadic
rulers in the settled world, and a longer book on the sources of modern identities. I am able to fill in a bit of that arc in my recent article on Liao identities in
Sung-Yuan Studies, where I argue that current archeology (even more than the fragmentary Liaoshi 遼史) demonstrates that the ascription of cultural
identities in the "medieval" period (I explain that a bit in the new book) was very poorly developed, especially in systems with strong aristocracies and weak rulerships, as in
the Liao case. There was essentially no cultural ascription among the aristocracy (that is all done retrospectively by us), but there was legal ascription to subordinate
classes, particularly those incarcerated in the trusted proprietorships and the personal estates. There resided the 漢, the Balhae, the Fan, and so on. The ability to
make these distinctions legal and eventually political above the rank of the dependent populations (or, to extend dependency to all ranks through the imposition of cultural
identity) was a function of the development of much stronger rulerships, and particularly those sustaining long and wide periods of conquest --to wit, the Qing (but also the
Ottoman and Russian empires).
So, to me, nikan is a term of that transition from a long history using cultural designations (outside of very specific
terms such as Ming i nikan) for dependent populations (the sort with a cozy relationship with nikembi/nikebumbi) to the state construction of the Hung Taiji to
Qianlong periods, in which the state very particularly was determined to impose cultural identities upon the aristocracy as well as the elites in land ownership and trade whom
it was carefully taming. This imposition of cultural identities upon elites by centralizing rulerships equipped with formidable tools of media was well as law and military
mobilization --that is, extending to elites a condition that centuries before was characteristic of dependent populations-- is what I have argued time and again is the true
burden of our term "ethnicity," only one reason I have disliked the indiscriminate use of "ethnic" to describe any cultural identity or the quality of any group suffering the
imposition of the identity or internalizing it on their own (none of these can be well distinguished by the term). If that is so, then nikan is one of many terms
carrying with it the long history of imposed cultural identities as a characteristic of dependent populations together with the eighteenth and nineteenth-century denotation of
a particular group, without reference to status (though, in Qing, the possible status of nikan was always limited; those rising above a certain level before the
nineteenth-century could expect to be translated to manju). So I am willing to believe that both these approaches have something to do with the historical process producing the
term nikan and its employment in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Language is osmotic and shapeless, and a word like nikan is certainly capable of
floating on the surface either the 漢 or the nikembi/nikebumbi derivations. I would, however, prefer an elegant derivation that does not depend upon a folk conflation of at
least two different signifiers. As I lament in article, I simply couldn't find a better one.
Was the Qing Empire
A good deal of the criticism of “New Qing History” revolves around the imputed argument by the New Qingists that the Qing empire as a
spatial entity was not “China,” and that by implication the current PRC is an illegitimate/unjust agglomeration of historically independent, culturally distinct
regions appended to China. I don’t actually know any self-described “New Qing History” practitioners who make such an argument; as i have said before (below),
the idea that current geopolitical contours anywhere can be justified or repudiated by the centers or peripheries of centuries ago is not one that makes a lot of sense to
professional historians outside of China. The issue appears to arise solely from sensitivity by the CCP operatives regarding possible uses, even remote and vanishingly
improbable ones, of scholarship on the processes by which current PRC territories were acquired in the Qing period. Everything from philology to historical geography to
comparative religions to environmental history can be seen as dangerous.
Can we use Qing documents to arrive at a conclusion that the Qing saw themselves as
“China,” or that all acquired by the Qing was regarded as seamlessly “Chinese”? All historians of the Qing period have a legitimate interest in how the
empire described itself, and whether it referred to itself as “China.” The sad news for those who want the formulaic answer is that there is none. First, I do not
know of an instance in which the empire referred to itself. In the language usually found in edicts and prolegemena of imperially-sponsored publications, the emperors
(sometimes explicitly representing the imperial lineage) took a sort of subject-object posture with respect to the government, the territories, and the residents; the imperial
entity (emperor or lineage) was the owner (usually not necessary to specify, but sometimes hyper-limned with ejen), and the rest were possessions. 大清 was
the totality possessed by the imperial entity. There were plenty of logical substitutes, mostly 本朝 or 我朝, the idea always being fairly unmistakeable
that the animating and directing force was the imperial entity, not the institutions, territories or residents of the empire.
Several scholars have, over the decades,
raised the question of whether 大清 was ever, in Manchu or in Chinese, equated in court expression with “China.” Among most recent arguments the best
known is surely Zhao Gang (in "Reinventing China” a Modern China article from 2006 --do read his interesting new book, The Qing Opening to the Ocean), in
which the Treaty of Nerchinsk is offered as an in situ demonstration that the Qing referred to their empire as “China,” which Zhao equates with
中國 and the Manchu phrase dulimba-i gurun. Due to the influence of Zhao’s article it has become common to cite the Treaty of Nerchinsk as
demonstration that the Qing thought of their empire as “China,” but there are some problems with this chain of reasoning. The treaty was negotiated in Latin and the
ratified text was rendered into Manchu and Russian. There was no Chinese text that the Qing emperors approved. (National University of Singapore has the texts online http://www.fas.nus.edu.sg/hist/eia/documents_archive/nerchinsk.php). The treaty’s formal
designation of the Qing ruler (who with the Russian emperor is noted as having sent the negotiators for purpose of working out the treaty) in Russian is
великих азиацких стран
управителя, дел общества
хранителя и славы,
настоящаго богдойского и
высочества, which hardly translates to “Emperor of China.” In Latin the emperor is designated Sancti
Sinarum Imperatoris, which is a little closer to “Emperor of China,” and in Manchu dulimbai gurun i enduringge hūwangdi, which corresponds closely to
the Latin Sancti Sinarum Imperatoris and which Russian китайского
бугдыханова высочества is probably meant to
invoke. The first problem is that the genitive cases in all three languages leave it impossible to resolve whether this phrase means what we mean by the “Chinese
emperor,” or what we mean by “emperor of China.”
Here I would quote from my article in Crossroads a couple of years ago on the Dayi juemi
lu (yes, the article that Zhong Han hates): “Jesuits acting on behalf of the Qing designated the Qing as Sinarum Imperatoris, with “China” in the genitive
case and “emperor” in dative case – “Emperor of/over/in China”. In the Russian text, the Qing empire is referred to as Chinskogo gosudartsvo
Хинского государство (nominative), in Russian convention
using “Qing” as the modifier for “state” as paired with the Russian state Rossi’iskogo gosudartsvo
Российского государствo (nominative). And the
Manchu text is exactly parallel: Dulimba-i gurun i enduringge hūwangdi – even to reproduction of the genitive case.” --interjection here: after an
exchange on Twitter with Mark E and others I would amend this for clarity to say: The genitive relationship in the two terms between an ower and a place are exactly parallel;
that is, the place is taking its identity from the owner, not the owner taking identity from the place; can't change the quoted text now. -- “But these are formal terms
used to designate the entities engaging in the treaty. Territorial discussions much later in the treaty use “Sinico” and case variants, since the logical framework
of the negotiations only required distinction between Russian territory on the one hand and Qing on the other and precision in proper names was of no value.
in the treaty the occurrences of Sinico are infrequent in comparison to the instances of Хинского in relation to territory
–“of the Qing”. Translations into Chinese, which did not occur for perhaps two centuries, and were never ratified or reviewed by any state, are not important
evidence of the Manchu use here of dulimba-i gurun and cannot precisely reproduce the sense of dulimbai-i gurun i because modern Chinese does not easily translate
this use of the genitive case.”
And case issues are again at work in Zhao Gang’s assertion that “Tulišen [in Lakcaha jecen de takūraha
babe ejehe bithe] often uses meni Dulimbai gurun, Manchu for ‘our China.‘ Zhao has evidently capitalized “Dulimbai” here for effect; there
are no capitals in Manchu and no way to indicate a proper noun by such means. Even in English genitive case “my” and “our” can have several meanings.
They might specify a state of identification: “my country”. Or, they might specify a state of ownership: “my car.” If Zhao had found (he did not) that
Tulišen 圖麗琛 used musei (the inclusive “we”) rather than meni (the exclusive “we”), that might have given
Zhao’s assertion here some support, but even then Tulišen’s true meaning would be ambiguous to a modern reader.
If the Treaty of Nerchinsk is a poor
proof of either the Qing or the Russian court’s thinking of the Qing empire as “China,” and texts such as Tulišen’s also do not supply an answer,
is there some other way to show a consistent and deliberate Qing self-description of the empire as “China”? Zhao is impressed with the frequent use of dulimbai
gurun in Manchu to refer to China. Lexicographically it is the exact equivalent of 中国, and in many cases it appears to be semantically equivalent as well. In
others, it doesn’t. First, there is the small but important point that earlier forms of dulimbai gurun as a designation for the state owned by an imperial lineage
was established in the Northeast long before the Qing. Danny Kane has recently explored this in a Journal of Song-Yuan Studies article (“The Great Central Liao
Kitan State”), and given the dearth of surviving Kitan and Jurchen materials its familiarity and frequency may have been considerable. No doubt following the example of
empires based in China, the Kitan and Jin states (and perhaps earlier northeastern states) often referred to themselves as “central.” Whether or not any dulimbai
gurun or 中國 was specifically what we mean by “China” was a matter of context.
Related, but more important, is the question of whether or
not Qing references to dulimbai gurun/中國 always or usually or normally meant the empire as a whole, and not a region within it. If it was intended as a
state designation, it would surely remain stable over time. Zhao’s argument, after all, was that “China” in the way we mean it —a state— was
already present in Qing imperial usage. If this were so, one would expect a recognition of “China” as a state presence independent of the Qing empire itself. But
before the conquest of Shenyang, Manchu documents show a normal use of Ming-i gurun or Nikan gurun to refer to what we would now call China; dulimba-i gurun
became more common after Qing occupation of China, which suggests again the traditional Northeastern use of “central” country to mean the place where power is
The Yongzheng emperor captured a lasting imperial perspective in the phrase, “Our dynasty considers itself Manchu, yet China is our place of
residence.” (Benchao zhi wei manzhou, you zhongguo zhi you jiguan”
本朝之為滿洲猶中國之有籍貫). This is probably connected to the Qing habits of using dorgi
to refer to China and the Northeast, but tulergi to refer to almost all other parts of the empire. Like dynasties before them, the Qing represented their hegemony
over all outsiders in a zhigongtu, a catalogue of the peoples supplying “tribute.” The presentation of tribute directly to the ruler (through his court) had
for centuries been the overt ritual representation of a bond with the emperor based in China. By the eighteenth century, tribute for the Qing came from within the empire as
well as without, and peoples of all indigenous and minority cultures of China, as well as of Mongolia and Dzungaria, Central Asia, the Himalayas, continental and island
Southeast Asia, and Europe were represented in the catalog. Repeatedly, the text uses dulimba-i gurun to mean the continuing space, culture and history of China, but
specifies past empires ruling China by name --Han i gurun, Tang i gurun, Ming i gurun, and so on. [See Hartmut Walravens,"Das Huang Ch'ing chih-kung t'u
also der Werk der mandjurischen Literatur" in Tumen Jalafun Jecen Akū: Manchu Studies in Honour of Giovanni Stary, 2006]. Context suggests that the regime
considered itself to be based in a historical China that was central to its empire, but not that the empire itself was Chinese or even that “China” had a continuous
political or geographical history independent of the empires that had ruled it.
And why would we expect it to be otherwise? The court used the term dulimbai gurun
in Manchu as an occasional way of referring to the empire, particularly in communications with Russia during the treaty negotiations of the eighteenth century. But it is
unwise to leap to a conclusion that this can be globally glossed as “China,” or that international relations were understood as describing the position of China
with respect to outside entities. Earlier Northeastern empires before the Qing used "central" as part of their state designation, and "central country" as a reference to
themselves or their empires when they were clearly distinct from or hostile to China. References to "China" as an emblematic cultural tradition and geographical space were
frequent in Qing usage, and could be used to represent the empire figuratively; this was normal early-modern imperial expression, not greatly different from using "England" to
represent the British empire (which is exactly what was done in normal Qing Chinese references). But the conceit that any contemporary “nation” has had a stable
political identity over centuries —let alone millennia— is modern. If we think of “China” as regionally and culturally coherent —the constituency
to which the Qing huangdi addressed himself— we can find all kinds of references to it in official Qing discourse. But if we think of it as a uniquely unified and
continuous political entity, one that the Qing thought they were temporarily ruling without having created it, we can find few or none —the same situation that would
apply in any of the early-modern empires that were later succeeded by national republics hoping to claim their legacies but not their histories of violence.
[6.6.2015 --edited as of 6.7.2015 as a final response]
"Who does Crossley think she is?"
This is a question asked by Axel Schneider in a new
blog ("New Qing History and Pamela Crossley — message
to the readers of this blog") that, somehow or other, I thought would not be too long in coming.
How antiquated is it to treat social media as a game and claim no
responsibility for knowing the content of what one propagates? I never thought of this as something relevant to real life before, but Axel's comments raise what are, to me,
kind of alarming questions.
In my comments protesting the long personal attack on Joshua Fogel that Viren Murthy and Axel posted to MCLC as a punishment for Fogel's
critical review of their edited volume, I connected Axel's role in that attack to his otherwise unrelated role of maximizing the circulation on Twitter of personal attacks on
me by Professor Zhong Han. Together, they gave a vivid impression. I said, which is quite true, that I don't know Axel. I said I had the impression that he enjoyed seeing
personal attacks of the Zhong Han kind perpetrated. What I did not say what was that I had no intention of responding to it until I saw the peculiarly personal attack that he
then helped to perpetrate on Fogel.
Axel writes "I also do not know how she comes to the conclusion what kind of person I am."
I didn't come to any
conclusions. I said I had an impression. What I can say now is that I had credited Axel with knowing something of what he was circulating, and I was wrong about that. According
to him, he has no knowledge of what he circulates, and indiscriminately tweets whatever he becomes aware of, like Google Alerts or Drudge Report. I surmise that it was a
coincidence that he was one of a very small number of people maximizing Zhong Han's attack on me. But I am surprised that somebody who so freely offered a deep and searching
public conclusion on what kind of person Joshua Fogel is, or indeed what kind I am (see below) finds it inexplicable that anybody could form impressions of him. I haven't come
to any conclusion and I don't expect I ever will. But when somebody unreflectively undertakes to amplify or generate personal denunciations of his colleagues, I do form an
impression. My current impression is that Axel has very little experience of handling criticism and primarily responds with indignation that it is offered, but thinks nothing
of contributing to the hypercritical environment from which he expects to be exempted. Not a conclusion. Just making a logical inference about a very specific issue.
In the whole give and take about "New Qing History," still going on, there has been some --not a lot-- of what Axel describes as throwing "light on Chinese debates on what
history is or should be." Such writings have now been prominently contributed by Yao Dali, Ding Yizhuang, Yuan Jian, Wong Young-tsu and others. Is that what Axel thinks was
happening in the Zhong Han attack pieces with my name in the headline? Yao Dali and his colleagues do not think so. It could really be true that Axel thinks that anything with
"New Qing History" in the title instantly becomes substantial --after all he put "New Qing History" in the title of his blog but it really has no content beyond a long
indictment of me for protesting his personal attack on Fogel and his (as it happens, mindless) amplification of personal attacks on me. And I suppose that if you think social
media is a toy, and that you have no responsibility to sift the professionally meaningful stuff from the hit pieces, that you are performing a service by shoveling out links to
material whose content you have no knowledge of, you might consider it useful to just dump everything you see into the hopper. Axel explains that whether or not posts are
politically motivated does not matter to him: "Whether that’s the case here I do not know and in fact I do not care as far as the decision of whether or not I post a text is
concerned, simply because the position of a PRC academic commissar is as much part of the debates in China on history — in fact a powerful part — as the position of anybody
else." So, the transparent political attacks (in Zhong Han's case, planned for more than a year), are at least as significant as --perhaps more than?-- the considered comment
of renowned and credible scholars. I respect that as Axel's opinion. I hope Axel can respect that people who get hurt by his wholesale propagation of drek may not like it. But,
as I say, I would never have commented on it had it not been accompanied almost instantly by the long personal attack on Fogel. It is not an assault on Axel to accept his own
characterization of his intentions. Nor is it an assault to protest against his results. Still less can either impinge upon his freedom to continue to do exactly as he pleases.
[--added 6.7.2015] There is another aspect of Axel's response to which I think I must reply firmly, and to avoid further back and forth I add it here so that it can be
clear that I responded. Axel writes, "Crossley seems to assume that somebody of Chinese background criticizing her research is doing the work of PRC academic commissars." He
either didn't read my comment or doesn't understand the context he is addressing. My comment about doing the commissars' work was directed to him and others like him who use
blogs and tweets (in his case I am referring to tweets only, so I have no idea why he spends his reply describing his blog) to give attacks including Zhong Han's the greatest
possible circulation. Whether Axel is of "Chinese background" I have no idea. As for Zhong Han himself, it is well known how long and under what kind of encouragement he worked
to write his very short piece; if Axel knows nothing of it, that may be because there are much more important things going on in the world and it wouldn't surprise me if his
attention were elsehwere. But his suggestion that I make any judgments based on anybody's "background" is nothing short of implying racism. In this whole mess, what Axel calls
people "of Chinese background" have been my supporters. It is the senior experts in China who have addressed themselves to Zhong Han's attack and in various ways derided it. It
has been Chinese scholars from around the world who have offered me personal support. My comments were nothing that can be generalized to anybody on the basis of any
"background." I was specifically referring --and on reading it I find it very clear-- to the mindless circulation of such an attack with my name in the title instead of the
thoughtful and knowledgeable reading given it by scholars in China. This self-serving deflection of my criticism of him to try to make me look like some suspicious racist is
unworthy of professional communication, and resembles the denunciations of Fogel as an angst-ridden reactionary. While I find the whole of Axel's reply to me vague, distorting
and disappointing, this particular remark strikes me as well outside the bounds of any debate, and makes me pleased to be finished with this one. I urge Axel to move away from
denunciation of his critics by charging them with irremediable moral debility and toward discussion of scholarship and its criticism. If a concrete example would help, he could
study Suzanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik's professional and effective response to Fogel.
I am instructed by the nature of Axel's response to my response. Once again, my name
in the headline (but of course that's nothing personal), just as in the case of Zhong Han. As in the case of Fogel, a totalizing personal attack, this time more than implying
that I am racist. Once again, as in the attack on Fogel, the indignation at being criticized and the towering denunciation of people who express disappointment or disagreement.
I particularly like the question, "Who does Crossley think she is?" (a slightly odd question in relation to somebody you make headline material of).
Just a real
person, Axel. Just somebody unreal to you, who has had a few experiences that you are not likely to understand. Just somebody recommending that social media be used by
professionals in a professional way. And a colleague suggesting that instead of trashing critics by questioning "who" they are (that is, their standing to question you), their
relevance, their contact with reality, their imputed racism, their right to say what you don't want to hear... instead of all that, you could find out what the content is --the
content of random materials you tweet, the content of criticisms of your work-- and direct yourself to that. Who I am is, I am one of those people who have no choice but to
deal with content, and I am puzzled by colleagues who express no interest in the content they purvey. We have, after all, computer programs to massively aggregate and circulate
keyworded entries. I am depending on you to supply the intellect. I live in hope that my impression can improve.
Twenty-five years ago, I started telling an anecdote to acquaintances from China:
来接我怎么不是到我的名字？我说 "Pamela Crossley."
，不劝说改名字到 Bubba 或者 George
他们很有耐心， 听我讲， 讲好了说
I tell the joke partly as a self-parody; of course giving Chinese names
to foreigners is largely friendly and benign, no more than a courtesy, and hardly worth a rant. But I am also a bit queasy that the existence of a Chinese name means that it
becomes preferable to a foreigner's real name. It was true then and may still be true that hearing a foreigner speak her own name was as if hearing nothing; the Chinese name
had to be adduced in order to register that a person was present. That isn't a wonderful greeting, regardless the intent.
How did it happen that a Chinese name for me
made it to China ahead of me in that instance? I had a brilliant first teacher of Chinese who worked hard at studying students in order to give them a Chinese name that would
reflect their personality and be their own. These names were for purposes of studying Chinese, particularly in the immersive environment in which constant references to foreign
names could be disruptive. Many of these names, including mine, had a certain childish quality. In most cases, foreign scholars of China have the option of continuing to use
these names as adults when introducing themselves in China; or they can make up their own new names; or they can acquiesce in having some portion of the sound of their names
represented by Chinese characters. In my case, by a coincidence my Chinese teacher was in Beijing before my own visit and was pleased to tell her own colleagues there that
柯娇燕 was coming, and they told mine, and so on. I had been in China a decade earlier, but from the time 柯娇燕 came to town, she
unceremoniously pushed me into the background.
Over the years, 柯娇燕 has become pretty well known in some quarters of China, and I have had to watch
her adventures with some surprise. It turns out, her opinions are often the opposite of mine. She is an advocate of ethnic sentiments, and thinks that the Qing was a Manchu
empire. She's a founder of New Qing History, I'm a critic. In quotes, she often makes no sense at all. Only a few of her works have appeared in Chinese; Professor Ding Yizhuang
has cited some of the hilarious back-translation failures（失去怙恃的武士 for 孤军) from a few of them, and there
could be much more hilarity on that score alone (my favorite is 没有父母的军队 for 孤军). More often,
柯娇燕's writings from English are paraphrased at second-,third- or fourth-hand; what can be understood at all often does not remotely resemble what I have
actually written. I would say that I wish I could debate 柯娇燕 in some peaceable forum, except that I'm afraid she could not hold her own, as her opinions
are obviously simplistic, contradictory and turgid, all at once.
I don't want to suggest that there is anything unique about the Chinese tendency to refuse to allow
individuals to control their own names. American society is extremely aggressive in seizing control of individual names. Since it is my preference, as with very many other
people, to be called by the name I was given and that I accept, I regard it as abusive when people take it upon themselves to reduce me from Pamela to Pam. Not because one form
is long is one is short, but because one is the name I introduced myself by (and sign emails by, sometimes pointedly) and the other was one slapped on me by people for whom the
chosen name didn't register. In the USA, people take it upon themselves to make others "regular" or "familiar" by putting their names in the diminutive. Why do people assume
that using an individual's given name is unacceptably pretentious, elitist, or otherwise offensive to the masses, and that all must be reformed through diminution? It isn't
really likely that they all got that idea themselves; they are clearly being induced to believe it by something deep and old in American media and education. To make somebody
subordinate and unthreatening, first reduce their name to something they didn't ask you to call them.
The recent tyranny of bureaucracy has introduced new forms of
name abuse. My university has decided, evidently inspired by the IRS, that I am to be identified as "Pamela K. Crossley." This is a mangling of my name, and makes me sick at my
stomach on sight --because it is a clear manifestation of my helplessness in identifying myself. This is not merely the name that is indelibly on my tax forms and pay stubs.
The university goes further, to make it the uneditable name on my email account. Okay, no problem, I just use outside email, to avoid the nauseating. But wait. There are
actually editors in this world, otherwise humane and probably logical people, who will cross out the name written on an essay, an editorial, a book chapter and REPLACE it on
their own with the hated machine name imposed by the IRS and by my university. No matter how I felt about the piece when I was writing it, on seeing this inexplicable cruelty I
profoundly regret the publication, and for a time regret living. What can possibly be the explanation for such behavior? It is not only impermissible to be known by the name
one uses to introduce oneself, it is also impermissible to publish under the name recognizable to oneself; instead, the machine publishes the work under the name it chooses to
impose. The editor conspires (unconsciously and unintentionally, I assume) with the IRS to subvert the writer's identity. Incidents like that result from the casual acceptance
by Americans (including editors) that names do not belong to individuals, not even to writers.
Names are there as a medium of regularization and containment of the
individual. Historically we study many contexts in which the cooptation and abuse of names -and the contrary struggle to reclaim them-- has been a salient field of
dominant/subordinate interaction; we can interpret the importance of name claiming by individuals publicly struggling with conventional prejudices based on race, religion, or
gender. We understand why Muhammad Ali did not want to be Cassius Clay, and why Chelsea Manning does not want to be Bradley Manning. We just don't recognize it in what looks
like the civil, friendly, unexceptional champs of American professional life; making a stand on one's name --resisting even casually the usual dynamics of name
assigment--is always regarded as making a "statement," even if nobody can figure out what it is. The USA can welcome all the Jims and Bobs and Bills and Toms and Barbs and Kims
and Joanies from all over the world, but those who want to be called by the names on their birth certificates must be detained for interrogation regarding their motives.
Americans do not ask themselves, am I being friendly, or am trying to make this person acceptable by taking control of her or his name? Because, for most Americans, what's the
The case of my Chinese name has been injected with surprising significance by the Internet, after Wong Young-tsu, with whom I am indeed slightly
，可略见她厌恶汉化之甚。I'm assuming, on no particular evidence, that Young-tsu's comment is based in
some way on the joke I quote above. He has made a new and interesting connection: For a critic of the English-language discourse on "sinicization," is there an ulterior meaning
to preferring one's own name to a childish Chinese name briefly used in Chinese language instruction? That inference was quickly taken up by the twit-flunkies who make it their
business to spread nastiness as quickly and widely as possible, and soon one reads that 柯娇燕 is so angry (maybe she is, she sounds like that kind of
person to me) over recent criticisms that she has rejected her name and has chosen to be known subsequently as 克劳丝蕾. There is a bad joke in
there somewhere. What exactly would an ostensible angry anti-China critic of sinicization gain by rejecting one Chinese name and taking on another? In any event, I am not angry
and I have not on account of anger rejected any Chinese name. People who know me have heard the anecdote at the front of this comment probably too many times, over too many
years, and know that my wish to be known as Pamela Crossley has nothing to with anything except that it is my name. As for Young-tsu himself, he is completely at home writing
in English and can certainly manage to type out "c-r-o-s-s-l-e-y" on his keyboard. Why even come up with some new monstrosity such a 克劳丝蕾? But as
the universe would have it, some Chinese commentators are now politely and solicitously writing me as 克劳丝蕾, since I seem to have suddenly shed the
skin of 柯娇燕.
"Pamela Crossley" is a pretty common name. There are hundreds of us across North America, Australia and northern England. Some of us
write, and I like my writings to be attributed to "Pamela Kyle Crossley" because, of all the hundreds of Pamela Crossleys, that one is me. Why, one has to wonder, would it be a
struggle in both China and the USA to be recognized by such a simple name? Why is it that merely asking to be known by one's name, and not a name tacked on one by others, is
regarded as challenging, disruptive and anti-social? Why when we should be thinking of making as many things in life as easy as possible, would people make something as that so
To the extent that a name has any significance outside the fact of identity and existence (not negiglible, then), I do think it is a kind of a problem that
Chinese scholars are often very familiar with the work of foreign scholars whose names they cannot recognize. If real names cannot register unless filtered through some series
of Chinese conventions, that doesn't help. With so much for Chinese and foreign scholars of history to learn from each other, actually recognizing real names --both their
existence and their particulars-- would be an advantage. Maybe I was right to suggest that 名字就是名字.
WHO'S ALLOWED TO SAY WHAT?
When you are given a platform by CASS to criticize American historians of China, you
can clearly say anything. Nothing is over the top or under the belt, and nothing is beneath the dignity of the speaker or the target. Sort of strange as some of us --well, me--
are going through this, nastiness of an apparently unrelated sort has broken out in our own ranks, yet the connections are intriguing, perhaps even disturbing when they hint
that the dynamics of denunciation in our profession might be unintentionally imitating those of the CCP/CASS: The question is, when is trashing a person a good substitute for
refuting their interpretations or conclusions?
MCLC had apparently asked Joshua Fogel to review the book The Challenge of Linear Time edited by Viren
Murthy and Axel Schneider, and when he completed the review, they published it. Fogel said in the first lines of the
piece that he hated the book but intended to provide an honest review. He then proceeded at length to harshly criticize the editing, the writing, and the conception of a
majority of the book, while ardently praising the essay in the volume written by Haiyan Lee. A few writers were criticized for vapidity of thought and incomprehensibility of
expression. The review ended with the conjecture that "postmodernism" and what many writers contend is "Marxism" may have some kind of reciprocal relationship. Postmodernism,
according to something or other Fogel read (we don't know what) and reported to Fred Wakeman, emerged in "1972;" at that, Fred exclaimed that Marxism had died at just the same
time. Perhaps now, with postmodernism moribund or dead, whichever the case, a re-animated but inauthentically constituted ("zombie") Marxism was bound to stalk the theories
people attach to East Asian studies again.
The essay was studiously gutted of all the polite nothings that conventionally stuff book reviews, and was vibrating with the
author's outrage at what he clearly considered the pretentions and pointlessness of most of the book. It was so vividly negative that when Fogel used the phrase "[t]o his
credit" in relation to one of the editors, the words were fairly wreathed in neon. I admit he got me curious about the book and I read it when I otherwise would not have. What
the review was not was ad hominem. Fogel explained the reasoning behind all his objections, and I found that he got through the exhausting exercise without offering a
single assessment of any author's psyche, ulterior motives, personality quirks, dress sense or credit rating. That is not to say that he did not wax satirical about what he
considered the posturings and sometimes limited erudition of individual writers. But any of them could show up at the next AAS with dignity intact. This is a profession,
populated by adults. Intellectual give and take is part of the enterprise --maybe the essence of it. If you contribute to the universe of published research and commentary in
the field, somebody will stick the knife into you sometime. The only safety lies in refraining from contributing, and waiting for the chance (usually a book review) to stick it
to those who are doing the work.
Some readers were shocked at Fogel's harshness. Rebecca Karl posted a characterization of the review as a "hatchet job," saying twice
that she had not read the book in question, but condemned Fogel's review as written in the "most sarcastic, most ungenerous, most uncollegial way possible." It was indeed a
review that was touched here and there (mostly not) by sarcasm, and was not outstanding for generosity. Does that make it uncollegial? Is unvarnished criticism, even when
delivered with no particular consideration for the feelings of the author(s) criticized, really uncollegial? At my university, "uncollegial" is a fighting word. People can get
fired for it. And it is generally understood to mean making an individual, and not his or her work, an object of rejection and criticism, perhaps by promoting falsehoods that
discredit him or her. It means creating an environment in which professional intellectuals are deliberately obstructed from doing their best work or receiving a fair hearing.
As for hatchet jobs, I have a little idea what they are, having recently had one slice into me from the hands of Professor Zhong Han under the encouragement of CASS. A
very small number of individuals have been busy in the social media making sure that this screed is circulated as widely and as often as possible; let us assume that it never
crossed their minds that they were doing the work of the PRC academic commissars for them. One of these people is actually called Axel Schneider; he not only gleefully tweets
and retweets, but makes a point of prominently displaying passages he particularly relishes. By a small irony, they relate precisely to questions of incidental errors (an
allegation that Axel is unlikely to know is justified or not) of the sort the Axel says don't matter in his book (and i do agree), but justify repeated amplification when
directed against me. I don't know Axel and he doesn't know me, but I regret to say that he has given me the sense that ad hominem --or in this case ad feminam--
attacks are something he finds very entertaining when perpetrated at the expense of somebody else, even (or especially) when relating to subjects he evidently knows very little
about. [note: Tweets can be made to disappear by their author, and I expect these will, but they remain in timelines, out-quotes from Twitter, and searchable Twitter archives.]
So being acquainted with actual hatchet jobs and their celebration by colleagues who so far as I know I have never harmed, I will probably betray some skepticism regarding
whether a reasoned, evidentiary-based review of a whole book is actually a hatchet job.
One is bound to observe that Murthy and Schneider appeared far from inhibited or
accepting of what they considered an unfair hearing. It is unusual for any platform to permit authors to respond to reviews of their books; the byways of print would be quickly
clogged by the protests of every misunderstood, maligned or genuinely misrepresented author. Even the victims of plainly dishonest reviews are rarely given space to correct
false statements, let alone debate the critical or philosophical points of the reviewer. But MCLC not only permitted the editors to respond to Fogel, they actually
distributed the attempted rebuttal with the preface "MCLC and MCLC Resource Center are pleased to announce publication of Viren Murthy's and Axel Schneider's
response..." Such a showcase is rare indeed. And what was it that MCLC was so pleased to present?
In concept and in content, the response was one long and extraordinary
personal attack on Fogel's mental balance. Not only was he engaged in a "war against theory," but his compulsion for being engaged in this ostensible war was "an insecurity
about his own mode of scholarship." To provide the most searching analysis of Fogel's newly-diagnosed insecurity, we travel back in time to 1994, and Fogel's review of Tanaka's
Japan's Orient. Attempting to score rhetorical points for oneself by forcing unrelated authors into the ring to relive past punches is new one for me. Stefan has nothing
to do with what is going on, he was not an author of the volume that Fogel reviewed, he is entitled to the quiet enjoyment of the reputation his book has earned in the past
twenty-one years without gratuitous reminders of anything unflattering said about it at the time of publication. For all I know he was sitting at home eating oatmeal when
Murthy and Schneider decided to take him hostage in what they were quickly turning from substantial, if harsh, professional exchange to a food fight. They make the breezy and,
to anybody who knows the scholarship involved, bizarre charge that Fogel's criticism of Tanaka's book was motivated solely by the fact that Fogel must have been worried that
his study of Naito Konan (I didn't feel like writing in the omicron there) of a decade before could be losing traction. To the authors of the rebuttal, this would be the only
credible basis for Fogel criticizing Tanaka (even though, when one reads the review, one finds statements of substance behind Fogel's judgments). Be warned: If you review a
book on a subject on which you have already written a book yourself, anything short of lavish praise will be interpreted as some secret terror that your own work will be
annihilated by the force of the new contribution.
The authors scold Fogel with the aphorism I last heard used by a kind of tired teacher with a lot of kindergartners:
"Each time we point, we simultaneously point three fingers back at ourselves." (They are paraphrasing, nobody is likely to hear it put quite like that). They further develop
their theme that Fogel's criticisms are all amenable to interpretation as evidence of deep anxiety; this partly accounts for Fogel's apparently unprecedented practice of
criticizing both postmodernism and Marxism simultaneously, a patent symptom of mental decompensation. This, they imply, is the root of the hysteria that drove Fogel to
criticize Japan's Orient: Despite Fogel's best efforts, both postmodernism and Marxism, along with a lot of other theories, had survived as of 1994, when "he began to
lash out at books attempting to bring theory and scholarship together." And then we get deep: "In his reactive fervor, Fogel apparently internalizes the Cold War and Area
Studies zombies." In his delusional ravings, Fogel lost sight of the fact that theory still lives, and is not dead. He became "not able or not willing" to appreciate the
significance of the Murthy and Schneider volume.
The deficiencies of Fogel's understanding of theory are enumerated, though he gets half-credit for invoking Marcuse,
which in the view of the authors shows that he is aware of "new [sic] interpretations of Marxism." Alas, his unhappiness with one of the essays in the book betrays his faulty
command of Lukacs (no acute there, don't feel like coding it in). Further on, we learn that Fogel's delusional zombie-haunted world prevented him from analyzing the "core
theme" of the book, linear time; had Fogel but perceived the the book's heart, he would have heard it beat out the news tthat Liu Yizheng's critique of progress "had to fail"
because he "wasn't able simultaneously to argue for a theory of history based on Confucian ethics and bring forward concrete plans for China's political and economic
modernization." How an idea as pedestrian as that could get by anybody, even dissociative and zombie-addled Fogel, is not explained.
Next we learn that Fogel's neuroses
also extend to a defense of area studies, and that Fogel is frantic to promote "its essentialism." All the hidebound interpretations that can be found anywhere relating to
early twentieth-century Japanese thought are, we are told, licenced by Fogel's area studies enthusiasms, and Fogel evidently collapses in a nervous heap if invited to "engage
the philosophical complexity of Ienaga's, Maruyama's, or [Naoki] Sakai's arguments," leading him into pitiable naivety. Lest this simple-mindedness afflict us all, they
helpfully instruct us that "We do not experience time in terms of discrete now-points or linear time, but rather in terms of a narrative or story." If you've never heard of
Bergson or Poulet, or for some other reason you need this idea repeated more slowly, it is there to be savored.
Further on, we find that "Fogel and the zombies"
(unnamed, but surely the reader is now curious) are preventing us from getting sophisticated about our studies of postwar Japanese texts. They point out that when he writes
"Your guess is as good as mine" --in reference to the incomprehensibility of sentences he quoted in full-- this is "an excellent example of negating the heterogeneity embodied
in 'you,' the reader(s)" --because it is a teaching moment for the authors to point out to you that Fogel is dishonestly conflating himself with the reader ("you"), at which
point he has "receded from the Sakai statement in despair" and implicated the unsuspecting reader ("you") in this violation. This is because Fogel is not able to understand the
"negativity" of the theoretical intervention here, and instead continues to ride his "positivist essentialism." They proceed to serial refutation of Fogel's criticisms of the
use (or non-use) of German by the authors of the volume (Schneider aside), attributing this misdirected criticism to Fogel's unhealthy fixation on positivism. They close with
the theoretically weighty comment that their volume is the product of a conference, and so its ideological unity may be less than obvious, but it is hoped that readers will
enjoy the "variety of styles" in the book.
Let me be as honest as Fogel was. When it comes to criticizing typos and lapses of formatting, I'm not with him. Why bother
detailing goofs that in today's world will all be fixed in a subsequent edition, an instant digital edition, a hybrid online-offline errata mechanism, whatever; everything is a
work in progress, that's our world. I've even had reviewers waste valuable space bagging errors that were long gone from the available edition by the time their reviews
appeared. As Joseph Fletcher liked to say, "I read past all that." What matters is the substance. And when it comes to Fogel's opposition to Marxism and postmodernism, I'm not
with him either. But having an ideological position, and developing it consistently, is a basic part of the intellectual enterprise. Every one of us is entitled to inject it
into whatever venues we like, including book reviews. Indeed not doing so could be dishonest, since nobody is capable of truly objective, disinterested intellectual evaluations
and it would mislead the less experienced to suggest it is so. I haven't encountered a response to Fogel's review that reveals a befuddled reader asking, "So is this guy
sympathetic to Marxism and postmodernism or not?" Everybody knows Fogel's inclinations, including MCLC when they asked him to review this book. Why does everybody know that?
Because Fogel has had a career of rich productivity, encompassing an unusually wide range of topics in intellectual and political history, and a virtuosity with texts in both
Japanese and Chinese. He is a known quantity, because he does the work. He is legible by virtue of his known ideological signature, and it is the job of professionals in the
field to incorporate that legibility into their reading of him, not to demand that he become a cipher.
I would suggest that everybody who has the time read the book (it
is online) and read Fogel's review. They will find much of the book interesting and informative (which happens to be what Fogel says about the material in toto), and
they will find Fogel's review focused on substance, even if occasionally leavened by irreverence. Fogel gives his evidence for disagreeing or even denigrating, and he confines
himself to the content of the book and the acts of writing and editing it. He does not drag in bystanders as collateral damage. He does not offer totalizing psychological
explanations of the writers' or editors' motivations or failings. And the charge that he cowers in terror before "theory" is either myopic or fearful of theory itself. There is
more in the theory universe than Marxism and postmodernism; Fogel is particularly exercised about the questions, for instance, of fascism and its critique. And in any case, a
suggestion that this historian of thought has a fatal allergy to theory is easily disproved by the facts of his achievement. This raises of the question of which side is really
practicing the more egregious disrespect and uncollegiality.
Is ideological consistency --even if founded on positivist essentialism-- a mental illness? Can one dispel
its effects by purporting to expose the writer as delusional, ignorant by design or defect, neurotic, anxiety-riddled, or haunted by zombies? Is it rhetorically devastating to
use fake psycho-analysis to refute accusations of faulty editing, writing and thinking in a volume of conference papers? These may all be questions for the ages, but when I
sense a lack of mental balance here, it seems to emanate more from the indignation of writers who by their attitude and actions want it known that severe criticisms of their
edited volumes, especially if tinged with sarcasm, will not be tolerated. They will be met with personal broadsides intended to expose not the faulty reasoning, not the
incomplete erudition, not the inconsistent analysis of their critics, but what are claimed to be those critics' private fears, their pathologies, their inabilities to grasp
reality. It is something like the Chicago way (everybody has to cite movies): You deliver a hit to their book of revised conference papers, they tear your identity down to the
ground. You get uppity, they beat you into silence. It is not the way I hope my profession will live. This is just a suggestion: It is a real advantage that in our online world
there is room for author responses to reviews. Those pleased to present such responses might take care that they are providing a platform for specific intellectual exchange on
the substance of a book and its reviews, not providing tools for vengeful authors to punish reviewers they deem guilty of lese majeste (oops both an acute and grave
The Broken Yoke of Public Narrative and Academic History
The particulars of Professor Li
Zhiting's attack carry more than a few ironies. To start with the smallest of them, I am not a member of the self-styled school of "New Qing History." I share a lot of basic
research techniques and general views of the Qing empire (as do most historians of China who are under 70 and a few over), but my criticisms of some of their ideas has been
well known since they were published in Chinese and Korean in 2008. Professor Li uses my criticism in his classes and some appeared in cartoon fashion in his diatribe --but
with me as the object of the criticism, not the originator of it. Hey, what goes around comes around. More important, Professor Li derides "New Qing History" as marginal and
ineffectual on one hand, and as dangerously ubiquitous on the other. Sounds contradictory, but both are, in their way, true.
The "new" is too common among current
historians to be limited in any way to Qing history, and the label of "New Qing History" has not, in my view, been taken with undue seriousness in the USA. But in China it has
been different. Younger historians have been attracted to the idea for many reasons, not least that they are very knowledgeable of American and European academic trends and
“New Qing History” fits easily into their enthusiasm for cultural and critical studies generally. None of the historians attacked by Li Zhiting argue that modern sovereignty
over any territory can be justified or repudiated on the strength of past imperial boundaries —that is an interpolation fundamental to some Chinese scholars, but meaningless to
most American historians. Most ironic, perhaps, is Professor Li's assertion that all "New Qing" historians are agents of imperialism, subversive Western values, and activists
for the territorial dismemberment of the PRC. He vigorously attacks Evelyn Sakadida Rawski, who as president of the Association for Asian Studies in 1996 published a review
article that quickly made her anathema to certain partisans of the nationalist view. Professor Li seems to find nothing embarrassing about attacking a former president of the
AAS for informing her audience that contemporary views of cultural change had arrived in the field of Chinese studies; evidently for him things were better when history was
controlled by the viewpoint of the nationalists who produced the Republic of China and the regime of Chiang Kaishek, a group Professor Li might otherwise be loathe to praise.
The greatest irony, perhaps, is that American historians are not taking the insight from this incident that they might. The people Li named are all tenured professors
at American universities and have nothing more to fear from the CCP than possible denial of their next request for a visa to enter China. His actual targets are the people he
mentions elsewhere —the Chinese historians who are “helpers” of these foreign imperialists. His remarks are meant to intimidate Chinese historians who might continue to view
the Qing empire as an entity of the past, with its documented but dead systems of conquest and control. In the view of the CCP that Li is amplifying, the Qing empire is still
an entity of the present, and only describing it as fully and simply “Chinese” will help consolidate the PRC’s control over its zones of cultural difference. To American
observers, such an attack upon their number is an attack upon free inquiry and publication. After all, in the United States historians are generally free to say whatever they
like (except Joshua Fogel, see above). That is because we are comfortable with segregation of public narratives from academic history. Certain subjects are permanently or
indefinitely frozen in the public narrative —the reasons for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or twentieth-century political murders, or relations with Latin America—
and academic discourse affects them roughly the way a nail file affects a giant ice sculpture. We have a low investment in policing academic historical discourse because we
have a low investment in incorporating its insights into political rhetoric or elementary education. This is less the case in Germany, for instance, where historical discussion
of certain subjects is monitored and subject to adjudication. At the other extreme from the USA is China, where the CCP has always kept historical and public discourse tightly
yoked together. The “New Qing Historians” of China —not the USA— threaten to pull the cart of public identification of the present with the past off the road. It could never
happen in the USA, where academic history is a small, overburdened donkey invisible behind the pampered show horses of our public historical consensus. The price of employment
for Chinese historians is conformity. The price of freedom of inquiry for American historians is obscurity. Li has strayed outside the logic of his own academic world into
another. We find it hard to see why what historians say matters, or why this good gentleman from afar should be so upset.
[5.23.2015] Eastasia and Oceania Redux
I like some blogs in which people blast out whimsical comment on
whatever is going on. My favorite was "Dick Destiny" before he went back to music-all-the-time. I spent my teenage years in the same land where Dick grew up and some of his
rude and always acute comments on everything from nasty farm jobs to myths of international security threats were welcome reading. But none of us likes reading too much about
things close to home, and especially not when our own names and minor misfortunes are used to push ideas with which we have a profound lack of sympathy. I came across an
example of that when reading a blog with the topic "We have always been at war with Eastasia." The column was featured in the website "The Rectification of Names". At first glance one assumes that the column
title, with its invocation of Orwell, is intended to be read as Newspeak, meaning only that the ideological forces of Oceania wish the bleating public to believe it is so.
There would be something in that.
The author quickly pins up the basic problem of current American and rising Chinese historiography of the Qing empire: Qing history
is treated as a conquest history, in which the conquerors not only did not become quickly transformed into Chinese but actually continued their conquests, as a distinct
conquest caste, through Taiwan, Mongolia, Tibet, Qinghai, and Turkestan. He (or she) then goes on to point out, very acutely, that in the attacks on American and indirectly on
Chinese historians "we are not looking here at a revived Cultural Revolution style of terror-enforced groupthink, but at a conservative establishment that knows its days of
being taken seriously are numbered."
A few of my colleagues in the USA, in print and over the airwaves, have compared the recent criticisms of "New Qing History" to
the terrors of the Cultural Revolution. That strikes me as overdone. There is no doubt that for our colleagues in China, the indirect intimidation threatens significant career
and life difficulties in the event of a misstep. Despite that, three or four Qing specialists in China have shown courage in addressing not only the absurdities in Li Zhiting's
broadside but also the more detailed points raised by lesser lights. They may suffer consequences in the short term, but the blogger's observation that in the long run the
Party cannot continue to insist upon a fantasy story of the creation of the current boundaries of the PRC must be true. The founders of the future historical profession in
China are the historians who today are suffering the frowns and wagging fingers of Party-encouraged scholars who have lowered themselves to polemicism. This is not the Cultural
Revolution or anything remotely like it. It is not about who is red, but about who is expert. Those who will in future argue that China's expansion over the millennia has
depended solely upon the charisma of Chinese culture or the persuasions of the Chinese economy will be forced into retreat by historians who, on the basis of documentation in
many languages and comparative perspectives on the expansion of all great empires, will show that Qing was just another conquest empire. At that point the Party historians will
have to resign themselves to talking unpersuasive nonsense, or revise their paradigm dramatically. Nobody likes revising the paradigm. It means, among other nightmares,
textbook revision (the prospect of which is sufficient in itself to inspire many campaigns of villification against revisionists no matter where they reside).
regarding the Qing as one of several conquest empires of the early modern period really be so threatening to the Party? For it to be so, one has to make a few assumptioms that
have no basis in any kind of fact, philosophy or legal thinking. Millenium is not a valid unit of human history, and sovereignty in the present has no necessary relationship to
remote historical configurations of political or military power. Yet the Party may not be the only ones making the connection. The blog author, and not a few professional
historians, have linked the "New Qing" narratives to denunciations of cultural destruction in Xinjiang and Tibet, which it is implied would not occur without PRC claims to
historical sovereignty in these areas.
Historical journals in China have for the past decades prominently featured articles attempting to demonstrate that Manchuria,
Inner Mongolia, Tibet and Taiwan were always "subsumed by" (属于) "China" (in the guise of the Han, Tang, Ming or Qing empires). What history actually shows is that these regions
and others (particualrly Yunnan) were in complex relationship with various states based in China, and that these relationships sometimes fluctuated by the decade. What is clear
is that Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Tibet and Eastern Turkestan are all today part of the PRC, and home to provinces or special autonomous regions that are clearly and
specifically under the administration of the Chinese state. Why would it be important to make a case (that cannot be made) that the historical condition of these territories
adumbrated and in fact entailed that they would be part of the PRC today? Does American history forbid the study of the Three Rivers Republic of Vermont, or of the
confederation of the Haudonesaunee, or of the Republic of Texas, or of the United States of Mexico when it subsumed California and New Mexico, or of the kingdom of Hawaii?
Those are not sensitive subjects today, but there was a time when they were, and textbooks that made mention of them or did not overtly distort history were rare.
American narrative reconciled its conquest history with the myth of democratization and equality; destruction of local identities and eradication of previous geographies of
affiliation was justified by the insistence that a total marginal improvement in human well-being had been achieved. When China was still ideologically communist, a similar
justification for conquest was available, and sometimes invoked, particularly in relation to Southwest China. In those instances, conquest became obliteration of traditional
slavery, of the oppression of women, of the domination of landlords and warlords. In those American and Chinese narratives, conquest was celebrated as "liberation" --
liberation from ignorance, from physical hardship, from the superstitions that kept some people in thrall to others.
From the 1960s to the 1980s, both China and the USA
were confronted by a reactions against the homogenizing ideology of just conquest. I don't know all the reasons why. One is surely the hollowness of the promises of equality of
status and opportunity, which neither society achieved. Since obliterating difference did not actually create equality and justice, some communiites clearly saw reclamation of
difference as a possible path to advocacy, agency, and basic rights. Another reason is that production of new difference is in fact a function of coercive suppression of
difference. In the United States, the response to the tensions arising from reclaimed identities and rising advocacy was "multi-culturalism" in education and political
rhetoric, attempting to neutralize the energies of coherently different identies by fragmenting and disassembling their expressions, substituting their parts for their wholes,
and instituting a massive quoting-out-of-context enterprise. In China, the response to a similar problem was "nationalities unity" 民族团结), using the same dynamics of
superificially diverse representation to neutralize true diversity. In both countries, by the end of the century state rhetoric had attempted to denature difference with a
superficial code of inclusion applied to race, cuisine, language, and holidays while silencing narratives of difference and dissidence.
But there is one way in which
China's approach to conquest history and the problems of difference is distinct. Unlike the USA, China's recognized "national minority" populations live at its borders, and
they are sensitive borders --particularly the borders with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikstan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the other half of historical Turkestan resides.
The northern and western boundaries of China, including Tibet, are underpopulated in comparison to the east, and that means what while the overall percentage of "non-Han"
living in the PRC is small, they are the founder populations in the border areas and until the last few decades were sometimes the majority. The USA has never trule been
threatened by its vanquished cultures (despite political generation of "threat" rhetoric), but nevertheless expends good money surveilling and imprisoning leaders of Native
American, Muslim or Anabaptist communities who do not confine themselves to the lanes of friendly multi-culturalism and patriotic pablum. China does not have the same freedom
from fear of its distinct identity communities, and its reactions are correspondingly more arch. Separatism, localism, and coherent local identity --which the state places all
on a continuous spectrum-- are interpreted as threatening if not outright seditious by their nature.
This partly explains why a history of conquest in China is so
quickly associated with qualification of PRC sovereignty in the historically conquered areas. In the USA, conquest was justified by liberation, which was narrated as resulting
in cultural and political homogeneity. But in China before and after (but not always during) communism, conquest was justified by the assertion that homogeneity preceded
liberation, and in fact produced it. This is the essence of the objections of the Party to what they claim is the "New Qing History" critique of "sinicization." If the
expansion of China's historical borders does not follow the cultural liberation that "sinicization" is historically asserted to have been, then conquest must in fact have been
the primary cause of the enlargement of empires such as Qing. And for the PRC to claim the Qing borders, they would have to claim the Qing history of violence and
In fact the Party's objection falls oblique to the critique of "sinicization." The problem for me, when I wrote the critiques of sinicization in 1989
and 1990, was only indirectly related to Chinese nationalist historiography of the early twentieth century. I was writing about the English-language scholarship on China, which
had --in my view-- ostentiously neglected words like "assimilation" and "acculturation" in favor of "sinicization," for the purpose of suggesting a unique process unrelated to
military incursion or economic domination. As in the narrative favored by the present CCP, sinicization had posited a ineluctible force for cultural change, preceding military
occupation and in fact requiring it. And as a second consideration, the process as described suggested not only cultural change in individuals and communities, but
transformation of populations into Chinese --an idea wholly disconsonant with the understandings of modern cultural studies, where identity is multivalent and dynamic. The
critique from the beginning had very little to do with what Chinese scholars understand as 汉化 and was related to it only by writers attempting quick calques, not from one
language to another, but from one history of academic discourse to another.
It strikes me that our blogger's title "We Have Always Been at War with Eastasia" falls off
a different side of the anti-New-Qing-History wagon. It is a reference to the protestations of Oceania, when it makes more sense as a protestation of Orwell's Eastasia itself.
The condemnations, brutal as they sometimes are, of "New Qing Historians" and its putative practitioners are a tiny spec on the Party's attempts to deny and neutralize, rather
than truly reconcile, the conquest history of the empire that preceded it (a dead empire, in fact). They go along with the imprisonments of Ilham Tohti and Pu Zhiqiang, with
the discipline and suppression of newspapers and other media of news and opinion aross the country and in Hongkong, and Xi Jinping's general campaigns to eradicate "Western"
influence --since that influence tends to agitate new questions of historical inquiry and cultural identity, and to question the new sandy islands of PRC reach. For the current
Party leadership, "We have always been and always will be at war with Oceania" is the message; but as with all Newspeak, it is false on its face. As surely as the historical
fantasies of the Party will fall to the patient work of Chinese historians, the insistence on the irreconciliability of all differences with the USA in particular will be
rejected by a rational Chinese public.
NEW QING HISTORY and GLOBAL WARMING
This month has come the
barrage of criticisms from Chinese Academy of Social Sciences against "New Qing History," which this week has morphed into a pointed attack on me, based almost entirely on the
existence of goofs and gaffes in the details of my published work. This criticism is well-founded, and this website which has existed since 1995 is inspired by the problem. It
is real and anybody who wants to pretend that it is the core of my work or the sum of my contribution is free to do so. I don't see it quite that way, but I do agree with
critics (particularly Professor Zhong Han) that everything would be better without ridiculous errors no matter how small, whether typos or real slips. It can be done, and I
know people who are letter-perfect historians. They are magnificant. That will never be me, I am truly sorry to say.
I've written repeatedly, but not very expansively,
since 2008 on what I see as the mirage of "New Qing History" and what I regard as conceptual flaws in the work of some of the historians who affiliate themselves with it. Since
I don't think that outside the constructions of some members of the historical profession, or at least the academic bureaucracy, in China, there is a "New Qing History"
phenomenon, it should be clear that I don't think that my criticisms can be generalized to any group of people. For reasons that I partly understand and, to the extent I
understand them, regard as naive, the idea became established in Chinese historiographical discourse some time ago that I am actually affiliated with "New Qing History school"
and might be some kind of official in the cabal. So it is ironic this month to find that criticisms I have previously made of self-described "New Qing" historians, and
citations that have been posted here for years or decades of my own errors, are now presented cartoon fashion as new and original criticisms emanating from the faculties of
Central Minorities University or the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Professor Zhong Han of Central Minorities University can save himself a lot of time by using the
material here, even though it only covers three books so far --plenty more to go, thanks to proof-reading and fact checking by my reviewers, translators and private
I should be clear about this: Although I don't want to be considered a member of "New Qing History" or any other school, I will defend any of these
historians against ludicrous charges of being neo-imperialists, frauds, or anything other than what they are: Careful, dedicated professional historians, who write about the
world as they find it in their documents (which are not precisely the documents used by Professor Li Zhiting). That is actually true of me too. The evidence that is the basis
of my interpretations has not been called into question by any of the enthuastic hunters of errors. But when it comes to Evelyn Rawski and Mark Elliott in particular, they are
masters of careful detail of every kind. I'm an easy target and though --according to me-- it is impossible to discredit the "New Qing History school" by discrediting me, it is
something for Professor Zhong to put on his resumé to show that he is resolute and ferocious enemy of very small and rather friendly foreign historians.
basis of the foregoing I would say it is not surprising that the anti-New Qing History squads should home in on me, but I have always found it curious that until very recently
their primary target has been Evelyn Rawski, who I believe has over the years associated herself with the New Qing Historians because she is, first of all, sympathetic to large
and comparative approaches to the Qing empire, and second she is an energetic encourager of younger scholars, including those of the New Qing affiliation. As a former president
of AAS she is certainly the most prominent person to end up in the "NQH" corral, and she has a very specific sin for which she can be indicted: Her presidential address of
1995, later published in a review essay in which she cited recent research on the problem of "sinicization" and the changing views of the Qing empire (particularly the conquest
elites). Unfortunately the essay has been mis-read by both English and Chinese critics to be somehow a denial of cultural change in East Asia, perhaps suggesting that nobody at
all had taken up Chinese language, or intensive farming, or Chinese dress in the long history of states based in China. That, of course, was not what the critique of
"sinicization" as a construct was ever about. It was about the tendency of historians of China to discuss what appear to be straightforward processes of assimilation and
acculturation not as assimilation or acculturation, but as a charismatic and unique process of "sinicization" --inevitable, conscious and fully willing transformation of whole
poopulations into Chinese. Not only was this construct one that would be inevitably challenged by modern understandings of cultural identity as multi-valent and dynamic, it was
also inevitable that historians would notice that "sinicization" is unrelated to what we can see of history in the evidence. China itself is dynamic and has historically
responded to influences from near and far, some of them transformative, as any other great society does. The one-way trope of "China" changing everybody else and never being
changed was an impossible narrative, though it appears to be a dream still cherished by certain people in China and their sympathizers abroad. As if in the secret employ of
Rawski and her co-conspirators, the waspish reply by the late great Ho Ping-ti proposed to refute her view of the changing field by demonstrating how unique and charismatic the
process of "sinicization" had been. When the best reply you can offer to a critic is an archetypical demonstration of what is being criticized, you are not likely to persuade a
whole lot of people. Rawski's characterization of the changing view of the Qing empire stands. Now it is what is loosely and creatively called "New Qing History."
Apart from the conventionally unpardonable sin of telling the truth, Rawski seemed for some reason or other to continue to attract disproportionate negative attention from some
historians in China. It was curiously like the rabid amplification I have recently noted of what would otherwise be transient and sometimes muted criticism of me. Hm. I just
wonder what could be at work here. Out of scientific interest I did take a peek at the self-description of a tweeter who seemed driven mad with glee at one of Professor Zhong's
comments, in this case that because I mixed up Baikal and Balkash (which I do, and it was pointed out to me long ago by Chang Chun-shu and others, and it is already here in
this site, I believe on the page about The Manchus), that all my work is to be discounted as amateur. Who, I wonder, makes a point of making sure that such remarks get
the widest possible circulation? The tweeter had helpfully provided a self-description, fully public, and so here I reproduce it:
1.MA student in military history
2. Love Chinese studies
4. Don't believe in Global Warming
That's obviously it. Evelyn Rawski is, as we all know, a prominent advocate for
recognition of global warming. In fact, I also happen to be an advocate for recognition of global warming. That must be what distinguishes us from historians who seem to
attract less attention on the subject of New Qing History.
Serious now: As I told Ben Dooley, we are not the targets. It doesn't matter to the new polemicists in China
whether I am one of the New Qingers or I am not. Which foreign names are dragged around to make the point that New Qing History is one of the Innumerable No's does not matter.
We are not the targets. We all know who (generically) the targets are. There's nobody here but us chickens, if you see what I mean.
YUAN BUDDHISM AND QING LEGITIMACY
Most of my
colleagues advise, I think with considerable wisdom, against engaging in Internet dialogue with historians in China. Their reasons, I believe, are primarily based upon good
information suggesting that a great many historians, both professional and amateur, are paid to troll sites like Amazon and Google Books; each negative comment about a
foreigner's book on China or Chinese history may actually be rewarded with a small payment. This practice is not limited to China, but the fact that it exists (or, has been
brought into existence by unwise and intellectually destructive practices of Amazon, Google and others) at all argues against taking seriously any kind of comments posted in
Second, it is impossible to participate in direct dialog because sites in China publishing extensive reviews of foreign scholarship on China are actually
closed to anybody not living in China. You can read the criticism, or in some cases outright trashing, but not respond to anything. In such an environment, the tendency of
writers to make casually destructive, uninformed, or dishonest remarks is encouraged, while sober consideration or honest reading is devalued. This, again, is not exclusive to
China. But it is another argument against bothering to even read, let alone respond, to anything written in China about foreign scholarship on Chinese history.
while it may be wiser to refrain from any kind of comment on the Internet, complete refusal to engage with Chinese scholars there is nevertheless inconsistent with our purposes
in being in this field. And while it is true that free-range trolling against foreign scholars is clearly regarded as both fun and profitable in some quarters, it is also true
that there is a very considerable portion of the historical profession in China that has read foreign scholarship carefully and widely, makes well-balanced criticism, and
acknowledges a debt to foreign research or analysis where it exists. They, too, work through the Internet. They should be distinguished from and talked to when possible,
because we learn from it. We cannot neglect opportunities to learn from our colleagues in China.
In my own case I find that the most extravagant criticism is directed
against A Translucent Mirror. There is much to criticize in the book (I would choose the footnotes relating to Mongols and Mongolia, but I will have opportunity to do
that when I post errata for the book), but so far the criticisms I have read have nothing to do with the book, which is disappointing. But even when the criticisms are not
actually related to what is in the book, there are still interesting things to learn.
As an example: I read a very interesting article by He Qilong 何启龙 entitled "Questioning Whether Yuan Buddhism Supports
"Political Co-Rule" 质疑元代佛教能 25552;供& # 30340; 政治合法性 . The
article is a critique of Herbert Franke, David Farquhar and myself, the charges being that we have characterized Yuan Buddhism as pluralistic, tolerant, and encouraging
benevolent government. We have thereby suggested that the Qing invocation of Yuan Buddhism was an essential aspect of Qing legitimacy in China. But, according to He, we have
neglected several facts. First, there are extensive Buddhist documents in Uighur that show the true character of Yuan Buddhism, which was neither pluralistic nor tolerant.
Moreover, we have neglected the fact that China has its own Buddhist traditions, and have instead focused on medieval Mongol Buddhism as if it were the main channel of Buddhist
influence in China.
I most certainly neglected all these facts, for the simple reason that they had nothing to do with the interpretation that A Translucent
Mirror was based on. The book was about Qing imperial ideology --its sources in the seventeenth century, its apogee in the eighteenth century. As a matter of fact I have
already been criticized for my discussion of Yuan Buddhism (not the imperial tradition particularly) in several venues by the venerable Professor Yao Dali 姚大力, and my response is still the
same. I have never researched or published on Yuan Buddhism. The character and diversity of Buddhism in China generally was not my subject in the book, and it is hard to see
how it could have got into the book without some strange diversions. The Uighur documents were unknown to me before I read He's article (which I do recommend to my colleagues
and students), for the reason (again) that they had nothing to do with Qing imperial ideology, even as it related to the cakravartin traditions the Qing claimed (as I
have it) to have inherited from the Chinggisids (not the "Mongols"). As interesting as I now find the documents, they are still not related to what my book was about. If the
Qing emperors and their historians had known of these documents and discussed them in some way, it would relate; but they didn't and it doesn't. I don't think it relates well
to David Farquhar's work on Mongol elements in early Qing rulership either. Franke's subject was more general, but whether esoteric Uighur documents shedding light on the
origins of Yuan Buddhism would have been relevant to his interpretation is questionable to me.
As He makes clear in his critique (and Professor Yao's earlier critique
is similar in many respects), his problem is less with what was said and more with what was not said; he dislikes the "omission" of material he thinks would force a new
characterization of Yuan-period Buddhism. But most of us try hard to omit material that is not relevant. We all like to rag on people who try to ride our own hobby horses, or
vulgarize our specializations by putting them in service of some larger problem or interpretation. That specialists in Yuan Buddhism find my discussions of the Qing perspective
on the Chinggisid cakravartin tradition lacking from the viewpoint of a specialist on Yuan-period Buddhist belief is inevitable. I would like everybody to like my books,
but if scholars specializing in subjects peripheral to my subject are unhappy that I have not incorporated findings irrelevant to the topics of my works, I have to just be
philosophical about that. But there is another problem with respect to critiques such as He's. The author is concerned that my work somehow promotes an acceptance of Qing
legitimacy, and this is a widespread criticism of the school of "New Qing History" (a mythical "school" which so far as I can see is an unfortunate mangling of the discussions
of three or four specialists on the Qing). In this particular case, He is concerned about my discussion of the secular and sacred political zones in Tibetan law (how or why he
transmutes it to a discussion of Yuan or Mongol Buddhism I am unsure). This form of co-rule, he suggests, was a source of the legitimacy of Qing plural systems of law and
In A Translucent Mirror, this small reference to medieval dual government (not only in Tibet, but also Europe and the Islamic world) is used to
establish a threshold for early modern rulerships --they are contrasted to the earlier dual system, not regarded as its descendants. Moreover, systems of dual governance or
co-rule also have nothing to do with the book (though I am interested in them in my current research). The book was about exactly what the title says: "History and Identity in
Qing Ideology." Yuan Buddhism, or systems of co-rule, were outside the subject of the book. There isn't much more I can say by way of response to this.
The mood of
historical discourse in China on the Qing, and particularly in popular venues (foremost the Internet) promotes a relentless focus on the issue of Qing legitimacy, and whether
foreign scholarship is supporting it deliberately or through a lack of understanding. To scholars in Europe or America (or Japan, I think), the whole idea that modern
historians would make retrospective judgements on whether a government was "legitimate" or not seems ludicrous. Most of us would find no way to fit it into any kind of
interpretive discussion, unless the discussion is actually about the intellectual, legal or cultural foundations of legitimacy itself. Yet, to a certain portion of the Chinese
audience, anybody who writes about the Qing empire without specifically denouncing its illegitimacy is specifically supporting its legitimacy. This is probably an unbridgeable
gap at present. So long as Qing scholars, students, and hobbyists believe that there really are things like "the New Qing History," they will continue to feel a disquiet about
the motives of foreign scholars who look searchingly at the Qing empire.