6/10/2008

Imperial Ways

This post is part of China Beat's on-going coverage and commentary on historian Jonathan Spence's lectures for this year's BBC Reith Lecture. In this installment, Daniel A. Bell, professor at Tsinghua University, responds to Spence's first lecture, titled "Confucian Ways."

By Daniel A. Bell

I am a big fan of Jonathan Spence’s works. His books bring to life some of the great and not-so-famous characters in Chinese history and they read like novels. When I was told that he had delivered a lecture on “Confucian Ways” for the BBC, I was very curious, and clicked on the link with great anticipation. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how to download the programme here in Beijing, but I did print out the transcript. That’s what I’ve just read.

The lecture was delivered at the British library, and the host Sue Lawley opens by noting that the library houses the oldest book in the world, printed in 868 AD in China. Professor Spence adds that he is pleased to start his lecture “in the British library with its immense holdings of Asian books and manuscripts.” How did the British library secure those books, I wonder? Surely the weren’t willingly handed over to British imperial forces. I live right next to the Yuanmingyuan here in Northwest Beijing, the Old Summer Palace that was burnt down in 1860 by rampaging British and French forces. The ruins are visited by Chinese tourists, who view them as a symbol of China’s “century of humilitiation” at the hands of foreign powers. Perhaps the books were taken from the Yuanmingyuan? Or maybe the Chinese handed them over in exchange for the opium that they were forced to buy from British merchants?

I somehow thought that such questions might be answered by one of the Western world’s most eminent historians of China. Why else bring up the fact that so many of China’s treasures are held in Britain? Seems to be rubbing salt in the wound. Imagine if, two centuries from now, China manages to buy (or steal) British national treasures, and then brags about it when a Chinese professor of British history gives a talk on John Locke at the national library in Beijing. How would the British feel?

The lecture itself was short and unsurprising (to me). Professor Spence says a bit about the revival of Confucianism in China and asks whether Confucius is becoming a replacement for Mao. He notes that much of the appeal of Confucius comes from the force of his personality: “his resonance – to me at least – comes from his lack of grandstanding, his constant awareness of his own shortcomings; his rejection of dogmatism; and his flashes of dry wit.” That’s all fine, but I was hoping to hear more about, say, the way Confucius differs from Socrates. Why is he so attached to ritual? Does he value empathy over truth?

As often happens, the philosophical values were distorted in practice, but Professor Spence goes on to suggest that state Confucianism was nothing but the history of oppression: “By the 12th century AD, something approximating a state Confucianism was in place and over time this came to encapsulate certain general truths that had not figured prominently in the original Analects. For example, now included under this broad definition of Confucian thought were hostility or the demeaning of women, a rigid and inflexible system of family hierarchies, contempt for trade and capital accumulation, support of extraordinarily harsh punishments, a slavish dedication to outmoded rituals of obedience and deference, and a pattern of sycophantic response to the demands of central imperial power.”

Not exactly what one would expect from a subtle historian of Professor Spence’s stature. Was there nothing good about Confucianism in practice? How could it last so long? Why are so many people in China now looking to history for inspiration? Perhaps they were doing some things better than Western societies at the time? And maybe we can learn something from Confucianism that actually challenges contemporary liberal-democratic ways, that allows for progress in Western societies? Why didn’t Professor Spence try to challenge an audience that supposedly prides itself on its tradition of critical thinking?

Most of the transcript actually consists of short questions by the Great and the Good of the British establishment, followed by Professor Spence’s answers. The word “LAUGHTER” is often capitalized in between speeches, though personally I didn’t get any of the jokes. Perhaps one had to be there.

The first question is by the London-based editor of the Financial Times Chinese language website. He asks what Confucius might say about making money and wealth, at which point we are told there was “LAUGHTER.” Perhaps people laughed because they think of the Chinese as money-grubbing materialists, unlike the civilized British. Seems a bit insensitive to laugh at people who are trying to make money in a society with 800 million farmers who live barely above the subsistence level. Not to mention the fact that the country is in the middle of dealing with an earthquake that killed over 80,000 people in one of China’s poorest regions. Again, though, I may have missed the joke.

To be fair, the journalist then goes on to ask what Confucius might say about the growing wealth gap. I thought this would have been a good opportunity for Professor Spence to explain in what way the Chinese state has long had an obligation to care for the poor – centuries before such care become a public concern in Western societies – and how such obligations may have Confucian roots. But all he says is that Confucius himself didn’t have a contempt for trade.

Another question was asked about The Cardinal Archbishop of Westminister, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. He notes that Pope Benedict called on the Chinese state to respect authentic religious freedom and how the current leadership in China might use Confucianism to respect such freedom. Professor Spence responds that it’s difficult, again followed by inexplicable LAUGHTER. Then there’s a discussion about how many million Catholics there are in China and whether the Chinese government will invite the Pope to the Olympics, with both Cardinal O’Connor and Professor Spence saying that the Pope should be encouraged to go, again, with more LAUGHTER.

Then somebody from Amnesty International asks how the revival of Confucianism might impact acceptance of the “international” idea of “universality” of human rights. I thought Professor Spence might say something about how Confucian values might enrich the human rights debate with its own contributions thus making the human rights regime truly international, or perhaps how Confucians might prioritize rights differently and rely on informal norms and rituals rather than legal punishments to implement the sorts of values people care about. But nothing of the sort.

The moderator then notes that she would “love to hear if there are any Chinese voices out there anywhere”, but instead she takes a question from The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams. Seems a little too transparent that leading religious figures in the UK – obviously worried by the decline of religion in their own society – are looking to China as the next big market.

Then there’s a question about the editor of an Index on Censorship about whether Confucianism will just exchange “one form of authoritarianism for another.” Professor Spence responds reassuringly that Confucius was conscious of the dangers of speaking out, but he doesn’t say anything about how Confucius’s emphasis on moral exemplars and appeals to people’s better nature might actually lead to something different than the free market media model with its tendency to titillating and negative news reporting.

That’s followed by the BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson who notes that the Chinese authorities seem nervous about demonstrations in Tibet “which for a Western country would be pretty minor actually.” I expected Professor Spence to respond that Western countries may not treat as minor ethnic riots that kill many innocent civilians and burn down whole neighborhoods, but he just responds that it’s hard to answer such questions, followed by LAUGHTER. Professor Spence then goes on to note that the Chinese government seemed totally incompetent during the New Year holiday snowstorms (actually, that’s when Premier Wen Jiabao first established himself as the empathetic carer for the nation’s suffering victims) and he speculates about how it reminded him of times in Chinese history when such disasters had nearly brought down the government. The moderator then concludes the session, apparently having forgotten about the need to call on Chinese voices. I put down the transcript, almost ready to inquire about procedures for joining the Chinese Communist Party.

Why am I upset, I wonder? As mentioned, I’m actually a big fan of Spence’s works. Perhaps nuances are lost by relying on a transcript of a lecture. Maybe I’m importing my own views more than I should. Or could it be that the whole thing was satire, in the best British tradition of dry and biting humour?

Daniel A. Bell is professor of ethics and political philosophy at Tsinghua University. His latest book is China’s New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society (Princeton University Press, 2008).

18 comments:

Ash said...

Why are you upset? Could it be (and I am just a spectator) that you feel Spence did not research further for his lecture and approach the topic w/ more objectivity? Reading your blog alone, I sense that...Ceratainly, there was more room for better explination on Confucious and Chinese literature.

But may I also venture to offer that all things are subjective. I have never been to Asia, so there is only so much I can say before crossing the line: but one thing I do know is that sterotypes and generalizations are often existent for a reason.

I recently spoke to a well educated Chinese woman, a friend of a friend...and she stated that her own problem w/ her birth country is the the Government is its own religion...and that is what they teach and expect from their citizens...hence they invite many of the criticisms they recieve.

But I wonder: What is your view?

Albert said...

The laughter is inexplicable without hearing the actual lecture. The audience was laughing at Spence's initial reaction to the questions, which donned the form of "Wow, that's a really tough question, I don't know how to answer that." The audience would laugh at Spence's self-effacing response. No condescension was intended in the chuckling, but it was laughing at Spence's response. I think part of it was also laughing at the absurdity of some of the questions.

But I do agree that so much of this lecture included posturing and posing by so-called "China experts."

Orcer said...

I praise your cultural relativism!

Anonymous said...

Clearly the title 'professor' is very easily come by these days. Once it might have suggested enough intelligence to avoid standing up in public to say, 'Here I am reviewing a radio broadcast I didn't actually hear and while at it I'm going to make sure you see quite how profoundly ignorant I am of the matters I'm discussing, while I reveal my willingness to swallow uncritically any old tat that may have come my way about Chinese history especially if it's positive.' Clearly any past reading of Spence's work, if any actually took place, was entirely a waste of time.

The book in question is 'The Diamond Sutra' and comes from a hidden cave of documents in Dunhuang, purchased by the Anglo-Hungarian archaeologist Marc Aurel Stein in the early 1900s. Its acquisition has nothing to do with the Opium Wars whatsoever, and its origins lie thousands of kilometres from the Yuan Ming Yuan.

Nor did anyone 'force' the Chinese to buy opium. The Chinese already produced their own opium and when better quality material came along they happily purchased and distributed it for immense profits. Force was used in response to government attempts to control the trade which included the destruction of foreign-held (but not Chinese-held) stocks.

The burning down of the summer palaces wasn't 'rampaging' but was (rightly or wrongly) a considered response to the murder of envoys. There's little good to be said about this episode, but the context, rather more complicated than the official mantra of 'Chinese good; foreigner bad', is important.

To review a lecture and to spend time in that review complaining the lecture isn't about something its title doesn't even suggest will be its topic is entirely fatuous.

The remainder of the 'review' amounts to little more than, 'I know more about Confucius than you do,' although the idea that the Chinese state has a long history of caring for the poor (as opposed to simply saying so without doing anything) doesn't suggest much understanding of China's realities.

'I put down the transcript, almost ready to inquire about procedures for joining the Chinese Communist Party.' Much of the overtly 'Friend of China' tone of the remarks made suggests the papers are already to hand and partly filled in.

Perhaps if further reviews are undertaken they could be based on a hearing of the actual broadcasts (the kind of rigorous approach one might reasonably expect of a real academic).

Anonymous said...

I listened to the lecture and the QA session. I had pretty much similar questions in my mind as Daniel has.

andyjh said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who found Spence's speech so stale. He failed to either hold my attention or to inspire. Whilst clearly a master of the history, failing to offer any real insight as to how that history is viewed and is relevant today made it unbearably dry. I agree there were many missed opportunities and that the speech and set up smacked of imperialism(s) of old. He also appeared thoroughly out of touch with contemporary Chinese society.

Daniel, I found the easiest way to get hold of these lectures is through the Radio 4 Choice podcast on iTunes. It may or (most likely) may not help you to make sense of the LAUGHTER.

Björn said...

Spence has been important to me in many ways, but I found it hard to stay awake for even 5 minutes into this "lecture". A very nice piece of British cultural radio though, bundle of energy;)

Jing said...

I love it how a State's legitimate attempt to impose restrictions on the importation of a dangerous narcotic is somehow regarded as trade protectionism that warrants armed intervention. The Chinese obviously had it coming!

As for the firing of the old Summer Palace, true it was fired on orders as retaliation. The week of looting that preceded it however was born out of simple avarice.

p.s. If you are going to make remarks with the intent to draw controversy, it behooves you to leave a name behind.

Anonymous said...

It seems like Bell is determined to show that his thinking is more sophisticated than Spence's brief lecture on huge topic delivered to a general audience. As academics, we should not punish those who reach a wide audience--they build interest and help us all in the long run. Nor should we show our jealousy of their high profile because it brings out the worst stereotypes about scholars--which hurts us all in the long run.

Mark said...

Hi Daniel,



I've also got a great deal from Professor Spence's books over the years and was similarly disappointed in the first lecture. In my case, nothing was lost in transcription since I was one of the lucky few to attend in person.

I was hoping for a discussion of how Confucius has shaped China. Is modern China Confucian at all? What are the implications for how the country will develop? But the lecture itself just skipped briefly over the history of Confucianism, adding on some very brief thoughts on what Confucianism means. I doubt that anyone picked up anything more than they might have found from Wikipedia.

In fact, the whole thing struck me as more illuminating about Britain than about China or Confucius, which perhaps explains the polite laughter when (ever so slightly) awkward topics were raised. This was the Establishment, all gathered together. Without anything needing to be said, the grandees gathered in the front few rows and the rest made room for them by staying at the back. We had bishops, some retired politicians turned elder statesmen, and most lordly of all, the cream of the BBC. Entirely unrepresentative of the UK (my home), but utterly sure of their position within it. They asked bland questions on the same old topics that always come up when China is the focus. Confucius was incidental.

You mention the moment when Sue Lawley asked if there were any Chinese people wanting to ask a question. "No? Then let's see what the Archbishop of Canterbury has to say" That was indeed a cracker.

But the most glaring moment was cut from the broadcast (at least it wan’t in the transcript). This was John Simpson's question where he asked about the "pretty minor" demonstrations in Tibet. He also said something about how afraid the government seemed to be of allowing people to openly discuss what was going on in Tibet, and the same following the earthquake. (I'm paraphrasing but that’s my memory of what he said). Now, this was recorded three or four days after the earthquake, but already it was clear that there was a significant lack of control on reporting, so John Simpson was entirely wrong.

Since that part of the question was cut from the broadcast version, either he was hedging when he asked it so it would sound relevant whatever (the understanding being it could always be edited later). Or, someone involved with editing decided that it wouldn’t do to have the BBC’s world affairs editor sounding like he was uninformed, not to say to risk offending a group of listeners who have proved sensitive to sloppy language from Western reporters.

Either way it capped an event that, supposed flagship of the BBC, reeked -to me, at least- of complacency.

Anonymous said...

Jing wrote:

> I love it how a State's legitimate attempt to impose restrictions on the importation of a dangerous narcotic is somehow regarded as trade protectionism that warrants armed intervention. The Chinese obviously had it coming!

Entirely your words. The earlier remarks in no way criticise attempts to control the import of opium, nor condone the military response to that control, although it was ineptly done. They merely countered the ignorance of Bell's remarks. It might be noted, however, that the motive for control was not care for the population, but the economic drain of the outflow of silver. Again, the Chinese already used opium, and they continued to use home-grown opium and to improve their own production. They were not introduced to opium use by foreigners, and in the Britain of the time a yet stronger form was readily available over the counter, as was an even more addictive concoction involving opium called laudanum. It would have been better, of course, for none of these things to be available anywhere on the planet except for medicinal purposes.

> As for the firing of the old Summer Palace, true it was fired on orders as retaliation. The week of looting that preceded it however was born out of simple avarice.

Bell made no comment about the looting, so this is a red herring. But that again (rightly or wrongly) was retaliation.

> p.s. If you are going to make remarks with the intent to draw controversy, it behooves you to leave a name behind.

There isn't any controversy here; just simple historical fact. And it might behoove you to note that the truth of an assertion is independent of the person who asserts it: something particularly important to note given both the ad hominem methods so typical of on-line responses by Chinese to any criticism however slight, and the results of the attentions of the 'human flesh search engine'. And anyone with an interest in identities might like to begin by using a name rather more revealing than 'jing'.

Daniel A. Bell said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The China Beat said...

This is a comment from Daniel Bell in response to comments above:

Thanks to "anonymous" for answering my question about the historical origin of the oldest book. Perhaps he or she could also answer my question about how the British library acquired other Asian books and manuscripts. Please note that they were questions, not assertions, the sorts of questions that came to mind as I was reading the transcript of Professor Spence's lecture. I'm a political theorist, not a historian, and more interested in the sorts of normative issues raised by historical facts than the facts themselves (of course, I do not mean to deny that facts are important). The basic normative point behind my question is whether the British library has acquired such possessions in morally-clean ways and if not, perhaps a bit of modesty, even embarrassment, might be a more appropriate attitude regarding possession of such treasures. I did a google search of the "Diamond Sutra" and found the following entry on the British Library website in response to the question: "How did this Diamond Sutra come to the British library?" and here's the answer:
http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/themes/landmarks/diamondsutra.html

"In 1907, Sir Aurel Stein, a Hungarian-born archaeologist who worked for the British government, acquired the library during his second expedition to Chinese Central Asia. Very little money was paid for the treasure trove of manuscripts. It was brought back to the British Museum Library, which later became the British Library."

Back to my (Daniel Bell) comment. "Very little money was paid for the treasure trove of manuscripts." Has this been a source of controversy? Again, it may be an example of dry British humour -- akin to that famous London Times headline "Earthquake in Chile; Not Many Dead -- but I'd still like to know.

Admittedly, it's not the subject of Professor Spence's lecture and this may not be the right forum to debate such issues. If he, or Sue Lawley, had made a brief ironic remark about the tainted origin of such treasures then I would have chuckled and moved onto the substance of the lecture in a more charitable frame of mind. Still, I hope we can debate the merits of Confucianism and its relevance for modern China, which seems to be the main subject of the lecture and the question and answer period.

I should say that I'm used to answering "anonymous" postings for the Guardian's Comment Is Free blog, though I don't like the system. Better to take personal responsibility for one's views. The great British nineteenth-century thinker John Stuart Stuart Mill advocated an open ballot for voting if there's no serious risk of corruption or retaliation, and perhaps he underestimated such risks in large societies, but surely we can take responsibility for our views in such fora as these. Otherwise, it's easier for "anonymous" entries to make ad hominem comments that writers may not have been willing to make in public fora. Anyway, I won't respond to the ad hominem comments by "anonymous" who criticizes Chinese for resorting to personal attacks under the cover of anonymity while doing the same thing him/herself.

JH Tan said...

Anonymous said:
"The book in question is 'The Diamond Sutra' and comes from a hidden cave of documents in Dunhuang, purchased by the Anglo-Hungarian archaeologist Marc Aurel Stein in the early 1900s. Its acquisition has nothing to do with the Opium Wars whatsoever, and its origins lie thousands of kilometres from the Yuan Ming Yuan."

I read Simon Winchester's book "The Man Who Loved China" a few days ago but left it in Boston for my daughter, so I cannot recall the author's exact words. Referring to the "Diamond Sutra" and the other documents found in the Donhuang caves,the author said that what was remarkable about the Diamond Sutra was that it was printed and at a time centuries before the West invented printing, thus debunking the view widely held in the West that printing was first invented by the Europeans.

When the Nationalist government heard of the find, it could not secure the documents because of the remoteness of the location and it being occupied with the unrest at that time. And so, the greedy monk sold the documents (which if my memory serves me right, took more than 20 wagons to move) for (again if my memory is correct) for 22 or 220 pounds to the cunning Stein.

Stein jolly well knows that the documents were not the monk's to sell. "Very little money was paid for the treasure trove of manuscripts" said the British Library. It looks like cheating or fraud to me.

Anonymous said...

Daniel Bell wrote:

> Perhaps he or she could also answer my question about how the British library acquired other Asian books and manuscripts.

Why? I imagine it's reasonable to assume that they came through a variety of means ranging from bequest, through simple purchase, to methods of which we would not whole-heartedly approve today and perhaps some of which we would profoundly disapprove. Unlike your original post I prefer not to comment on things I know nothing about, or demonstrate a foolish prejudice to believe ('imperial forces', etc. ) that they must all have been acquired by the worst means possible, revealed in the form of tendentious questions.

The presumptions on the Opium War were inaccurate, irrelevant to the task at hand, and ought not to have been made by someone with the title professor, whom others might mistake for a voice of authority, without some research (even of the superficial kind shown in the subsequent response to be very easy to do).

Pointing out those errors does not require me to make an ill-informed apology for the whole of the British Library's overseas collections, or even its Chinese ones. This is a red herring. Nor did I make any defence of Stein and his methods, and whether they are now thought unacceptable or not has nothing to do with the original posting nor the objections to it. This whole response lacks logic.

> Still, I hope we can debate the merits of Confucianism and its relevance for modern China, which seems to be the main subject of the lecture and the question and answer period.

Indeed, and the topic, if the author is in fact well-informed on such matters, to which he should have confined the remarks in his 'review'.

>I should say that I'm used to answering "anonymous" postings for the Guardian's Comment Is Free blog, though I don't like the system.

It won't do simply to sweep away comment that is disliked for its tone with the broom marked 'ad hominem' and especially not by someone whose own initial remarks contained much that could be labelled in the same way. The truth of the points made is entirely independent of the voice expressing them, and their truth stands whether they are answered or simply avoided.

> Anyway, I won't respond to the ad hominem comments by "anonymous" who criticizes Chinese for resorting to personal attacks under the cover of anonymity while doing the same thing him/herself.

It always helps to read what's said before responding (again) to position neither stated nor held. No one has 'criticised Chinese for resorting to personal attacks under the cover of anonymity'--the anonymity is neither here nor there, but the crude methods used to attack those who criticise China or who wish to present any narrative different from the official or hard-line nationalist one (usually the same thing, and one that forms an undercurrent of the original remarks) make providing any facts the 'human flesh search engine' might get hold of rather unwise. And again, the 'anonymity' is a red herring, not least since all the other postings are also effectively anonymous (but seem to receive no complaint), but mainly because (yet again) the facts are independent of the person who speaks. This is a simply logical point that needs to be grasped by anyone taking part in reasonable debate.

jh tan wrote:

> Referring to the "Diamond Sutra" and the other documents found in the Donhuang caves,the author said that what was remarkable about the Diamond Sutra was that it was printed and at a time centuries before the West invented printing, thus debunking the view widely held in the West that printing was first invented by the Europeans.

This is completely a red herring, and nothing to do with the fact that the origins of the Diamond Sutra and its acquisition by the British Library, have nothing whatsoever to do with the Opium Wars, 'imperialist forces', etc. Nor does approval or disapproval of Stein's methods have anything to do with it, although anyone wishing to comment might need to find a considerably more reliable source than Winchester.

Again, a little accuracy would help: the Chinese claim is to have been the first to invent 'moveable type' printing, not printing in general, and credit is generally given to the Chinese for that, although claims to have invented many other things are rightly greeted with ridicule. The Diamond Sutra is not an example of movable-type printing, however, and has nothing to do with that argument, either, which is entirely irrelevant to the points made.

Daniel A. Bell said...

From Daniel A. Bell:

It's "anonymous" who first brought up the issue of "ad hominem methods," when he/she said that they are "so typical of on-line responses by Chinese to any criticism however slight". I can understand why "anonymous" wants to remain anonymous after making such inflammatory remarks, but my point is that taking responsibility for what one says would encourage writers to focus on the substance of debates rather than engaging in polemics and personal attacks.

"Anonymous" says that "It won't do to simply sweep away comment that is disliked for its tone with the broom marked 'ad hominem'."
Actually, my intention was to respond (and learn from) the points made by "anonymous" while ignoring his/her personal attacks.
Why did I begin my original comment with those questions about the origin of the treasures? To me, it's an interesting issue whether one should take pride in possessions that were acquired by morally dubious means. I raised that as an issue because the way the topic at hand was discussed, and especially the question and answer period, revealed imperial attitudes. Rather than shedding much light about what Confucius actually thought and how we might learn from his ideas, the session seemed to be more about how we can use Confucius to export our own values and ways of life to China. Anyway, that's it for me. I do not enjoy polemical exchanges, nor do I enjoy writing in this vein.

Peony said...

Anon said: "The burning down of the summer palaces wasn't 'rampaging' but was (rightly or wrongly) a considered response to the murder of envoys. "

To be honest, I'm not sure I have ever heard anyone claim that the burning down of the summer palace was a "considered response." Even at the time, people were appalled.

When the emperor declined to meet with the "Allied" British and French forces, they decided to teach the chinese a lesson and looted the palace-- stealing vast amounts of treasures-- even palace dogs.I thought the book Paradise Lost (Wong) contained an impartial explanation of what happened.

Others might disagree.

In any event, the burning down of the palace was retaliation for the murder of the foreign envoys by the Chinees which itself was retaliation for looting (which was done when the emperor refused to meet with the foreign envoys)

Regarding the Diamond Sutra found at Dunhuang-- Hopkirk's book describes the methods in detail-which included outright deception on the part of Stein. Seen from today's perspective, indeed, his methods were not pretty.

In any case, whether the opium war and the burning of the summer palace are red herrings or not in regard to the "purchase" of the manuscript-- the element of distance (ie that "it happened thousands of miles away") doesn't make sense.

That is to say that if those events were the backdrop by which the government of China was so engaged that they were forced by the situation happening there in the capital to turn a blind eye to events happening on the other side of the empire (in what was then called Chinese Turkestan--) well, then, I would call that relevent (and therefore very much *not* a red herring)

My question is timing. Stein appeared decades after the opium war and the summer palace incident-- so how relevant was it?

Not matter what conclusions you come to regarding the above, I think it is a stretch to try and claim that the purchase of all those treasures from Central Asia had nothing to do with the (yes) imperialistic politics and economics of the time. We are talking about vast amounts of art works and treasure that were removed overseas.

At the same time, I don't necessarily think Spence should or even could have made a snide remark on the topic. That was not his project. He was there to speak about Confucianism-- and I too was surprised at what a sleeper it was.

Point on movable type well taken.

J said...

Anonymous has a good point- calling oneself "Jing" or "Peony" (or "J") is effectively leaving oneself anonymous. I doubt many people other than the author would be willing to use their actual names in their comments on a blog.