Web Portals to Taiwan's Past

One of the blessings of the Internet Age is the availability of valuable information about the past, in this case Taiwanese history. This post introduces a few English and Chinese websites that I have found most interesting/useful. The list is hardly meant to be exhaustive, and people should feel free to recommend other sites that would benefit all those interested in this topic.

1. The Gerald Warner Taiwan Image Collection -- Put together by Paul Barclay at Lafayette College, this website contains 340 photographs and postcards gathered by Warner from 1937 to 1941 during and after his tenure as U.S. Consul in Taiwan. Barclay rightly reminds us that many of these images were produced for commercial purposes during a period of colonial hegemony. Nonetheless, they provide precious insights on how Taiwan's diverse culture was shaped by Chinese, Austronesian, Japanese, and Western influences. The collection covers a wide range of subjects, including flora, fauna, material culture, religion, and Aboriginal life. Users will also benefit from its Supporting Material section (especially the weblinks), as well as its extensive Bibliography. An additional 1,000 images are due to be posted early next year.

A related web source is Barclay's translation of Kondō "The Barbarian" Katsusaburō 近藤勝三郎's travelogue/memoir, which is now appearing on Michael Turton's blog. Kondō was a Japanese merchant and official who married into Aboriginal lineages in the Puli 埔里 area (in today's Nantou 南投 County), thereby gaining first-hand knowledge of key players in the Wushe 霧社 (Musha) Rebellion of 1930. This gripping account of Kondō's life was published as a serialized version of 29 installments in the Taiwan nichinichi shinpō 臺灣日日新報 (Taiwan Daily News) between December 20, 1930 and February 15, 1931.

2. Formosa Index -- This website, the result of years of dedicated research by Douglas Fix at Reed College, contains an impressive body of largely Western accounts of Taiwan and its people, most of which were published in books and journals during the nineteenth century. Complete versions of travelogues, reports, ethnographies, and general surveys can be found in the Texts section of the website, which also contains useful biographies and annotated bibliographies. The Images section allows visitors to view numerous illustrations about Taiwan's landscapes, people, and material culture, while the island's geographical and ethnological features can be readily appreciated by checking out the Maps section.

3. Yang-Grevot Collection of Taiwan Aboriginal Art -- Those interested in Taiwan's Aboriginal cultures might wish to start their inquiries at this website. In addition to a detailed catalogue of well-annotated images, this site also features plenty of links to museums, other collections, and relevant research, as well as bibliographies in English, French, and Chinese.

4. The Takao Club -- This website, established by a non-profit organization based in southern Taiwan, provides a comprehensive vista of this area's history and culture. Some of its most fascinating sections include biographies of renowned rebels like Lin Shao-mao 林少貓 (1865-1902) and Mona Rudao 莫那魯道 (1882-1930), as well as colorful descriptions of camphor, opium, and betel nuts (including betel nut beauties!).

5. Taiwan History Institute, Academia Sinca -- THE essential starting point for anyone wishing to undertake Chinese-language research, this website proves especially valuable for its Academic Resources (研究資源) section, which has links to the Taiwan Collectanea (臺灣文獻叢刊資料庫) and Governer-General's Office (臺灣總督府檔案) electronic databases. This site is also noteworthy for its remarkable collection of digitalized images (圖像資料庫).

6. Taiwan Historica -- This organization's website contains electronic databases for key government documents from the Japanese colonial and early postwar eras.

7. Taiwan History and Culture in Time and Space -- Representing the fruits of a pioneering interdisciplinary research effort, this website allows users to better appreciate the spatial aspects of Taiwanese history. While requiring some effort to master its various hi-tech features, great rewards await those with the patience to learn how to use its numerous maps, some of which can be downloaded and modified for one's own research purposes. This website also contains maps from my own research project on the Ta-pa-ni 噍吧哖 Incident, the details of which may be found on a Chinese-language website that my research assistant and I have prepared.


China in 2008: Pre-Orders Now Available

The weekend after Thanksgiving is the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, but if you'd like to avoid the crush at the malls, China in 2008 now has its own webpage, where you can order a copy for all those hard-to-gift friends (especially if they don't mind it arriving in March--the release date for the book...).

I Know It’s Only Rock’n’Roll (But They Don’t Like It)—The Sequel…

By Jeff Wasserstrom

My next posts were all supposed to deal with my recent trip to China, but news about the long-awaited Guns’n’Roses release, “Chinese Democracy,” stirring up controversy in China is something that I can’t resist weighing in on. I won’t go into details about whether or how it has actually been banned in Beijing, as you can find out about that other places, including here and here. And I don’t need to fill you in on the China-related content of the album (a work I hasten to admit I haven’t heard yet), as that is covered thoroughly in an excellent Huffington Post piece by David Flumenbaum.

Still, two things make it hard for me to stay silent. First, I don’t think anyone has so far made an obvious and lame Shakespearean pun (but one that still has a point): I think that this Rose (album) by any other name would have been quite different indeed in terms of impact in China. Yes, as Flumenbaum notes, the title track has lyrics that deal with hot-button topics, but had these words been buried in an album called “Madascar” or “I.R.S.” (the names of two other tracks), it might at least have taken longer to be banned or draw fire from Chinese netizens. (Of course, this isn’t a sure-fire argument. I was amazed to see copies of Cui Jian’s “The Power of the Powerless” for sale in Beijing around the turn of the millennium, at a time when he was still having trouble giving public concerts. Surely, the title is or can at least be read as an allusion to Vaclev Havel’s 1978 work, yet this slipped under the official radar.)

Second, this Guns N’ Roses phenomenon gives me the final item to add to a long gestating “Top Five List” of “The Weirdest Rock Music Moments with Chinese Characteristics” of the last 30 years. When Bjork caused controversy early this year, I blogged about that for China Beat and Shanghaiist, and in doing so brought in some of these moments (the Icelandic songstress making waves with a Shanghai conference reference to Tibet surely qualifies), so there’ll be some repetition here. But this list, in chronological order, will contain some novelties as well.

1) John Denver singing “Rocky Mountain High” (and doubtless other numbers as well) to Deng Xiaoping when the Chinese leader was in the U.S. in 1979. The final moments of that musical performance are immortalized in the Long Bow Group’s award-winning “The Gate of Heavenly Peace,” which also shows Denver telling Deng that the American people wished China success in its newest “Long March” (toward modernization). I later realized that Denver’s performance for Deng is probably one reasons songs of his like “Country Roads” were among the American ones played most often when I lived in China for a year in the mid-1980s.

2) The Carpenters hit it big in China in the mid-1980s. I’m not sure if there is a clear reason for this (can anyone enlighten me?), but their music seems to have had even greater staying power than Denver’s in the PRC. I heard “Top of the World” playing when I first rode the sight-seeing tunnel under the Huangpu River: maybe not a bad choice, as even though the ride has a light show that might seem better suited to a psychedelic band than the Carpenters, and even though when the tune plays you are deep underground, the ride takes you to Pudong where the world’s tallest building now stands. And when I visited the Bird’s Nest stadium earlier this month, the song playing over the P.A. system was “Every Shalalala” (so something about that trip slipped into this post after all).

3) A Jan and Dean Concert Plays a Role in the Student Protests of 1986. This story is told in my earlier post on Bjork, so no need to repeat it here—just wouldn’t be a complete list without it mentioned.

4) Billy Bragg goes to China and wants to talk politics with local rockers, but they steer the conversation to what sort of amp he uses. This is just one of many vignettes that could have made the list that are recounted in Linda Jaivin’s The Monkey and the Dragon: A True Story about Friendship, Music, Politics, and Life on the Edge, a memoir about the pop critic and novelist’s friendship with Taiwan folk-singer turned Tiananmen activist Hou Dejian, and the curious intersections between rock and politics in the PRC in the late 1980s and 1990s.

5) Bjork Goes to Shanghai…again, nothing new to say after Part 1, but no list would be complete without it…

This has been posted concurrently at Shanghaiist.


In Case You Missed It: Post-Mao China

Last year, the Association for Asian Studies inaugurated a new series of booklets under their “Resources for Teaching About Asia” branch called “Key Issues in Asian Studies.” The first two booklets in the series were published in 2007: Political Rights in Post-Mao China by Merle Goldman and Gender, Sexuality, and Body Politics in Modern Asia by Michael Peletz. (Those interested in applying to write a “Key Issues” booklet should see the AAS’s author guidelines.)

Goldman’s book on political rights in contemporary China canvases the factions that dominated political discussions in the post-Mao era, and is key reading for those who want a quick introduction to the post-1989 Chinese political landscape. (The booklet clocks in at a very manageable 76 pages.) The primary topic of Post-Mao China is actually politics from the late 1980s to the late 1990s; there is very little discussion of politics in the new millennia. Even so, for those perpetually mixing up their new leftists with their neo-Maoists, this is a good start for clarification. And with protests in the news of late, Goldman’s sketch of the definitions of citizenship participation and varying groups’ access to and engagement in the political process provides useful background information.

Goldman, professor emerita of history at Boston University, has been a prolific writer during her career and is the author of Literary Dissent in Communist China, Sowing the Seeds of Democracy in China, and From Comrade to Citizen, among other books, as well as numerous edited volumes and dozens of book chapters and articles. We chatted with her over email about the topics raised in her booklet:

China Beat: What was your goal in writing Political Rights in Post-Mao China? What kind of audience did you have in mind?

Merle Goldman: The purpose of the book was to reach high school and college students who might be interested in the issue of human rights in China.

China Beat: One of the interesting backdrops to your discussion of the political landscape of the 1990s is the disintegration of the Soviet Union. I've heard it said that the 1989 protests provided inspiration for sovereignty movements in Eastern Europe, but hadn't realized how fear-inducing the Soviet Union's collapse was for CCP leadership, and how much that fear then shaped the political discussions of the 1990s. When and why did the power of that narrative wane?

Goldman: That is true. In fact, the Chinese students were excited about the trip to China of Gorbachev at the time of the 1989 demonstrations and had wanted to talk with him. That frightened the Chinese leaders, who feared a Gorbachev and his reforms in China. They feared it would lead to the end of the CCP. They were right. The Gorbachev era not only led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, but also the rule of the Communist Party in Russia.

China Beat: One of the issues raised in Political Rights in Post-Mao China is the role of the emerging middle class as a political force. Middle class protest—like the "strolls" that took place in Shanghai and Chengdu, among other places—have received a lot of media interest this year. On the other hand, workers' protests and farmers' protests, also discussed in the booklet, have received less attention. Do you think the media is right to pay so much attention to middle class protest? In other words, is this where political change will come from in China, or could we be surprised by peasant and worker coalitions' ability to effect political change from below?

Goldman: The rising middle class has several components in China. The new entrepreneurs are being inducted into the party and have been co-opted, but on the fringes of this rising middle class are public intellectuals, journalists and defense lawyers who have spoken out on human rights issues. They are the topic of the new book that I am now working on.

China Beat: You note that neo-nationalists-who also received quite a bit of attention from Western media this year in the wake of the Tibet protests and the Olympic torch relay-are focused on "a revival of nationalist spirit" (26). The party has found eagerness for a stronger China (and anger at those who thwart it) useful at some times and dangerous at others. How do you see the Party utilizing young people's nationalist sentiments in the coming years? Do you see the neo-nationalist ideas as pointing the way toward a new kind of (potentially productive) Chinese political thought, or is this simply an old-and dangerous-path?

Goldman: The rising nationalism is filling the ideological vacuum left by the bankruptcy of Marxism-Leninism. Through most of its history, China has been governed by an overriding ideology. In the pre-modern era, it was Confucianism and in the last half of the twentieth century it was Marxism-Leninism and the thought of Mao Zedong. Thus nationalism is filling that ideological vacuum. It could hold China's huge population together, especially in a period of great change, but it could also lead to a dangerous xenophobia, which will not only be harmful to the Chinese people but also to the rest of the world.

China Beat: The notion of "rules consciousness"- people using existing rules to justify challenges to local or even national actions (or, as you say in the book, framing "their critiques and demands in terms of the existing rules and regulations in order to exert pressure on the party to live up to its own laws")-is a regular theme in Political Rights. What are the most important ways that "rules consciousness" is being employed in the growing number of (mostly small-scale) protests today?

Goldman: Those who are calling for human rights and are demanding more political and religious freedom, call on the party to live up to the stipulations in the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, which calls for freedom of speech and religion. China has also signed onto the UN Declarations on Human Rights. Whereas the Declaration on Economic Rights has been passed by China's rubber-stamp National People's Congress, the Declaration on Political and Civic Rights has not been passed. Those who are calling for human rights in China have urged the National People's Congress to pass the latter declaration.


Thanksgiving in China...?

Despite calls several years ago for a Chinese Thanksgiving Day, Thanksgiving hasn't caught on in China as Christmas has. And with good reason--the holiday hasn't brought much to China other than (last year) Paris Hilton.

But tomorrow begins the Christmas shopping season (a holiday that has caught on in some places in China--if largely for its commercial meanings), and this new holiday may have more dire implications in China this year. Analysts are predicting slow Christmas sales in the U.S., which may mean a slow season for Chinese manufacturers as well.


In Case You Missed It: Three Faces of Chinese Power

A Review of David Lampton's Newest Book

By Eric Setzekorn

David Lampton, a distinguished professor of international relations at SAIS, knows this is a great time to publish a book on Chinese power. As a new administration, which he may play a role in, attempts to craft a balanced and articulate China policy, his newest effort, The Three Faces of Chinese Power; Might, Money and Minds, will be influential and widely read. The book is a comprehensive and largely successful attempt to grasp the motivation, intent and challenges for Chinese international relations as China becomes a global leader and East Asia the center of world economic, political and military power. The result is a cogent review of a broad range of issues and policies which, while impressive in its scope and clarity, is unbalanced in its source selection and focus.

The vital theme that Lampton weaves into his account is the tremendous rise in the quality of Chinese leadership and growing economic, military, political tools at China’s disposal, all dedicated to one objective: stability. Lampton repeatedly cautions readers that for at least the next ten to fifteen years China will be occupied dealing with its tremendous internal problems and domestic needs and should not be seen as a destabilizing threat. He is cautious to note that although China’s current policy to become more integrated into the global system should be construed as a positive trajectory it will still require massive changes by the world and particularly the United States.

Lampton defines power as “the ability to define and achieve objectives” which can be achieved by: “might” coercive power implemented through military action, economic embargoes and isolation; “money,” which can obtain coercive power and confer normative power; and “minds,” ideational or soft power. Each of these facets is intertwined and mutually supporting with advances or retreats in each area conferring more or less power to the others. An important aspect of Lampton’s definition of power, and a running jab at recent American policy, is a concern with power “efficiency.” Lampton writes that “the efficient use of power requires the optimum mix of power types to achieve objectives with the least expenditure of resources” (255). A correct and wise balance of the three facets of Chinese power is a large part of what has enabled China to advance its relative position in every sphere of influence so rapidly.

Might and coercive power is the subject of the first section, but is given very brief treatment, with an emphasis on non-military coercion. While the rapid and extensive modernization of Chinese military forces, particularly China’s naval and air force, is well covered, Lampton broadens the context to include economic and diplomatic coercion. His access to high level decision-makers and sensitive programs such as China’s space efforts helps flesh out some unseen drivers and components of future Chinese military plans, but there is little new information or conclusions. The entire section is largely an effort by Lampton to alleviate fears of China’s rising military power and castigates foreigners for the predilection to focus on Chinese might.

Money and Lampton’s depiction of the economic rise and power of China are focused more on the rising financial leverage of China than a re-telling of the usual celebratory statistics that are trumpeted in countless books and journals. A crucial power node of Chinese money is “the power of the buyer” arising from China’s huge trade imbalances and illustrated through government directed purchasing, such as the continual contest between Boeing and Airbus. The power of the buyer gives the Chinese government tremendous leverage to creating constituent pressures from within other nations in high-tech fields such as nuclear power which are desperate for access to Chinese markets.

Minds and the following chapter “China and its Neighbors” is the real heart of the book and distinguishes it from other China books, especially China books in the United States which generally examine only the bi-lateral relationship. This “ideational power” encompasses “the intellectual, cultural, spiritual, leadership and legitimacy resources that enhance a nation’s capacity to efficiently define and achieve national objectives” (118). In these two chapters, Lampton explores the greatly under discussed way that China has successfully built subtle ideational power and deftly tracks its progress around the East Asia region. That China’s government serves as an authoritarian model for developing countries is a fact most foreigners are generally aware of but almost no attention is paid to other forms of China’s increasingly refined use of soft power. Lampton shows this to be a mistake. Lampton mentions the $1.35 million dollar grant from the Chinese government to finance 50 percent of the cost of producing material for the Chinese Language Advanced Placement (AP) Test. This exercise of what on the surface appears to be soft power is rather a shrewd combination of might, money and minds operating together to mutually advance Chinese power objectives. The small grant gives the Chinese government tremendous financial leverage in the production and approval of study materials to shape American students’ initial impressions of China and further isolate Taiwan’s traditional character system.

As a well respected Washington insider, Lampton has tremendous access to global political, military and business leadership. His depth of personal contact with senior leadership is a central strength of Lampton’s work, but means the story of Chinese power has a technocratic and antiseptic feel. It should perhaps be noted that some of Lampton’s access is perhaps due to his position as a paid consultant to the law firm of Akin Gump which advises Chinese state-owned corporations, big oil companies and Chinese state-owned big oil companies. He notes in chapter one that “The power wielder is like a conductor” which may be a useful analogy in discussing geo-political decision making but is a condescending and bloodless way to view the authoritarian governance of 1.3 billion people. Lampton’s language is more skewed when he takes the rare moment to mentions Chinese relationships with countries that have “deficient practices regarding human rights.” He ignores thorny questions such as Darfur altogether; Darfur has no citations in the index versus Gross Domestic Product’s twenty four. When discussing Chinese priorities he mentions the need to create “more predictable legal and judicial systems” rather than transparent or just ones.

David Lampton is one of the most highly visible China scholars today and was an advisor in some capacity to President-elect Obama during the campaign, although his lobbyist ties and previous affiliation with the American Enterprise Institute and the Nixon Center might keep him out of a policy position. He was also one-half of a testy public debate with James Mann, which Mann won in large part because Lampton never really engaged (some would say “understood”) Mann’s primary argument. The Three Faces of Chinese Power is an outstanding book and will rightly be highly influential, but should be paired with a more grounded and morally centered analysis of Chinese power, the likes of which we currently lack.


The Problem of China: A Revisitation

Peter Zarrow on Rereading Russell's The Problem of China

Even though Dewey and Tagore have gotten more attention lately in scholarly works on Chinese education and ruminations of Chinese interactions with other countries, we at China Beat remain equally interested in the third famous foreign philosopher who gave a high profile set of lectures to audiences in Beijing and other cities during the aftermath of World War I: Bertrand Russell.

We thought about him when running our series on Jonathan Spence's Reith Lectures, since Russell gave the inaugural ones sixty years before that. And we think of him when perusing the sections of Chinese bookstores devoted to philosophical matters or the history of ideas, for a translation of his famous History of Western Philosophy is often prominently displayed there. Ironically, whereas Russell once sold a lot of books in Europe and America, from the English language edition of that tome to works on many other topics (including what he thought about China), his biggest readership now is likely in the PRC. With these things in mind, we're delighted to be able to bring you historian Peter Zarrow's take on how Russell's 1922 book-long commentary on China has stood the test of time.

In 1920 Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) visited China, based in Beijing and giving lectures across the country. One of the founders of analytic philosophy and a trenchant radical, upon his return to Britain Russell quickly came out with a book on China conditions called The Problem of China (London: George Allen, 1922). I looked at it to see what Russell had to say about his trip. It turned out that the book has only passing references to his own experiences in China—it’s more of a high-toned journalistic overview. Russell offers many generalizations and predictions about China. Naturally some did not work out, but many were prescient. Looking at them almost 90 years later, it occurred to me that when Russell was wrong, he was wrong in a way that illuminates the problem as much as if he had been right.

Witnessing a China in turmoil—warlords, demonstrations, strikes, the ever-present imperialist threats—Russell was both sympathetic and empathetic. For their part, Chinese looked to Russell partly for ideas about what they should be doing and partly as a mirror. Russell’s trip overlapped with John Dewey’s extended lecture tour, and there were short visits by Margaret Sanger, Albert Einstein, Rabindranath Tagore, and many more at about the same time.

Yet Russell was a special case. Unlike his backers in “Young China,” he had a great fondness for many aspect of the traditional culture; he regarded with great skepticism plans to build up modern industry without taking into account of how it would actually benefit workers and ordinary consumers. (The only full-length study is Feng Chongyi’s Lousu yu Zhongguo: Xifang sixiang zai Zhongguo de yici jingli [Russell and China: A case of Western thought in China; Bejing: Sanlian, 1994] though there are several articles in English). Russell began his book with some scene-setting boilerplate that is even true today than it was then:

Chinese problems, even if they affect no one outside China, would be of vast importance, since the Chinese are estimated to constitute about a quarter of the human race. In fact, however, all the world will be vitally affected by the development of Chinese affairs, which may well prove a decisive factor, for good or evil, during the next two centuries (p. 9).

Then he set out to prove it.

The position of China among the nations of the world is quite peculiar, because in population and potential strength China is the greatest nation in the world, while in actual strength at the moment it is one of the least (p. 63).

This was to foresee Chinese reunification and the creation of a strong government. Russell was not alone in this view, and it was certainly what the Chinese he met strongly desired, but outsiders often deemed it unachievable. Russell’s point, however, was not simply Napoleon’s apocryphal warning that the sleeping dragon had better be left to sleep. Rather, China would either become more like the industrialized West or Russia, or else the West would change. Russell hoped for the latter.

The Chinese, though as yet incompetent in politics and backward in economic development, have, in other respects, a civilization at least as good as our own, containing elements which the world greatly needs, and which we shall destroy at our peril (63).

Russell’s socialism, then, did not blind him to what he saw as the good points of the Chinese tradition—an argument that then as now had both adherents and critics in China itself. By the traditional civilization, Russell meant courtesy, harmony, understatement, tolerance, a certain unworldliness—features that Russell directly contrasted to the Western lust for domination and that have perhaps become Oreintalist tropes of a certain kind. Russell did find one trait that China shared with Britain, noting that the Manchu Qing conquerors of the seventeenth century

set to work to induce Chinese men to wear pigtails and Chinese women to have big feet. After a time a statesmanlike compromise was arranged: pigtails were adopted but big feet were rejected; the new absurdity was accepted and the old one retained. This characteristic compromise shows how much England and China have in common (p. 64).

Russell had every reason to like China. He was lionized while he was there; he could use Chinese civilization to criticize the West; he liked Chinese reformers, whom he hoped would lead China in a direction ultimately different from the capitalist-industrial-imperialist civilization of the West. However, Communist revolution, Russell thought, would not solve China’s problems. He had visited Russia earlier in 1920, coming to the conclusion that the Bolsheviks, whatever their skills at industrializing a backward nation, were leading Russia toward dictatorship that was bound to be disastrous. This was not to say capitalism had any solutions for China, as Russell proclaimed in a passage anticipating some of today’s descriptions of China.

I expect to see, if the Americans are successful in the Far East, China compelled to be orderly so as to afford a field for foreign commerce and industry; a government which the West will consider good substitute for the present go-as-you-please anarchy; a gradually increasing flow of wealth from China to the investing countries, the chief of which is America; the development of a sweated proletariat; the spread of Christianity; and substitution of the American civilization for the Chinese; the destruction of traditional beauty, except for such objets d’art as millionaires may think it worth while to buy; the gradual awakening of China to her exploitation by the foreign; and one day, fifty or a hundred years hence, the massacre of every white man throughout the Celestial Empire at a signal from some vast secret society.… It will be done in order that rich men may grow richer,… government that yields fat dividends to capitalists (p. 166).

As it happened, China’s full induction into the world economic system was to await the war with Japan (1937-45), the Communist Revolution (1949), and three decades of real but autarkic development under Maoism. Racial massacres and vast secret societies notwithstanding, Russell understood that forces were emerging that would ensure China would not remain a victim of exploitation and poverty forever. Yet, again, he was not comforted by the possibility of a strong and capitalist China.

In the long run, the Chinese cannot escape economic domination by foreign Powers unless China becomes military or the foreign Powers become Socialistic, because the capitalist system involves in its very essence a predatory relation of the strong towards the weak, internationally as well as nationally. A strong military China would be a disaster; therefore Socialism in Europe and America affords the only ultimate solution (64).

Russell did not look to China to solve the world’s problems. But he saw a chance, however slim, of a patriotic and stable form of socialism coming to the fore there. Otherwise:

If the Chinese were to adopt the Western philosophy of life, they would, as soon as they had made themselves safe against foreign aggression, embark upon aggression on their own accounts….They would exploit their material resources with a view to producing a few bloated plutocrats at home and millions dying of hunger abroad. Such are the results with the West achieves by the application of science (p. 251).

Arriving in China in October 1920, Russell stayed until July 1921. Russell of course spoke no Chinese. His primary interpreter was Yuen Ren Chao [Zhao Yuanren], later known as a distinguished linguist and then in the midst of translating of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland into Chinese. It seems somehow appropriate for the translator of Lewis Carroll to interpret the lectures of the world’s foremost mathematical logician, albeit a logician who displayed a shocking set of beliefs in women’s equality, birth control, worker’s organizations, and experimental schools; and a man who thought the capitalists and state war machines of the West were destroying the world.

Peter Zarrow is a historian at the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica. His work focuses on modern China and he is the author, most recently, of China in War and Revolution, 1895-1949.


2008 Awards

We are healthily skeptical about the newsworthiness of award recipients — prizes don’t, after all, always go to the right people. But a well-bequeathed award can draw attention to an intriguing book or piece of writing that one might have otherwise missed.

In an attempt at a premature 2008 awards wrap-up, here are a few that you might have overlooked.

1. There was consternation from the Chinese state in August and September over the mention that activist Hu Jia might be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. While he didn’t win the Nobel, he was awarded the Sakharov Prize by the European Parliament. Hu Jia is now in prison for sedition, but he was under house arrest prior to that. You can view a video that he made during that time here.

2. Noted Sinologist Francesca Bray was part of a team that won a prize (the Sally Hacker Prize) for their seven-volume study Technology in World History.

3. For regular China Beat readers, Susan Mann’s book The Talented Women of the Zhang Family won’t be new; Nicole Barnes reviewed it last January. The book was just awarded the Fairbank Prize (the American Historical Association’s top prize for East Asian history) and earlier this year it was a finalist for the Kiriyama prize.

4. We just recommended Ching Kwan Lee's new book, Against the Law; it was recently awarded the Sociology of Labor Book Award.

5. We haven’t read this novel, but this summer Chinese writer Yang Yi won a Japanese book prize for a Tiananmen-themed novel (written in Japanese).

6. The New York Times ran an important ten-part series on China and the environment last year, "Choking on Growth" (link to Part I). Now it's been awarded a Grantham Prize for Excellence in Reporting on the Environment.

7. And for those who missed the announcements last spring of the Levenson winners (the book prize given by the Association for Asian Studies for the best pre-1900 and best post-1900 China book, respective), they were:

2008 Pre-1900 Category: Martin J. Powers, Pattern and Person: Ornament, Society, and Self in Classical China (Harvard University Asia Center, 2006)

2008 Post-1900 Category: Sherman Cochran, Chinese Medicine Men:
Consumer Culture in China and Southeast Asia (Harvard University Press,

Neither of these recent winners of the prize have contributed to China Beat (yet), but we're pleased to see that a list of past Levenson award recipients includes some names that should be familiar to readers of this blog, as they've either written for us, been interviewed by us, or had their names show up in the Table of Contents for our forthcoming China in 2008 that was recently posted at the site. To cite just two examples, 21st century winners of the post-1900 prize have included Yan Yunxiang (whose comments on Chinese youth will be featured in the book) and Geremie Barmé (who has contributed to the blog and will be well represented in China in 2008 as well).


Recommendation: "Garden of Contentment"

If you haven't already stumbled across Fuchsia Dunlop's piece in last week's New Yorker on a Hangzhou restaurant that uses only local food, it's worth a read. Dunlop, author of two Chinese cookbooks and the recently-published memoir Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper, describes her trip to visit Dai Jianjun, owner of the Dragon Well Manor, which serves a prix fixe menu to diners (starting at about 300 yuan) "prepared with local ingredients according to the theories of Chinese medicine and the solar terms of the old agricultural calendar." Here's a short excerpt:

Dai’s main worry is that traditional farming and cooking won’t survive another generation. During two weeks that I spent in Hangzhou, in two different seasons, I accompanied him on visits to half a dozen or so rural suppliers, and in almost every household the parents and grandparents were keeping up the family farms, while the children had left for the cities. One fisherman who provides most of the restaurant’s fish and shrimp quipped that his son was more interested in shang wang—surfing the Internet—than in san wang: casting a fishing net. The oldest supplier is ninety-three years old.

Dai sees himself as a custodian of traditional skills. “My senior chefs are all officially retired workers, but they are teaching the younger chefs how to cook without MSG,” he said. “And when this place was built I made sure that there were younger workers around who could learn from the old master craftsmen.” He dreams of one day opening a self-sustaining farm where schoolchildren can learn about the origins of what they eat. “In the past, everyone who grew up in the countryside knew how to raise pigs and fowl, and understood the old agricultural calendar,” he said. “But things have developed so quickly, and we are losing touch with our traditions.” Still, he is aware of the limitations of his project. “We can only do this on a small scale,” he told me as we finished our tea. “China has so many people, and so little land. If everyone tried to eat this way, there wouldn’t be enough food to go around. But we must try to sustain our agricultural lore and culinary skills for future generations.”


Peng Mulan in China

As part of our continuing follow-up on "China Beatniks in Beijing," we wanted to share with you a couple links to articles on the talk Kenneth Pomeranz (彭慕兰) gave at Qinghua University, here and here (both in Chinese). Pomeranz's talk for the Beijing Forum was at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, the site of Nixon and Mao's meeting as well as the former home of Jiang Qing. Here are few pictures:

The outside of Diaoyutai

Ken Pomeranz speaking at the Beijing Forum


Playing Politics with Cats and Dogs

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

As regular readers of this blog already know, I recently crossed the Pacific to take part in the Beijing Forum, a fascinating if sometimes hard to figure out event that was valuable in part simply because of how many different countries were represented by at least one presenter. How often, after all, does an American academic find himself or herself in a room where there is an exchange of opinions going on between a scholar based in Moscow and a scholar based in Cairo, or hears an administrator from a university in Nairobi respond to comments his counterparts from Sri Lankan and Australian institutions have been making? (I know that dog and cat lovers may be getting impatient with this lead-up, but I promise I will get to animals and politics eventually, so feel free to skip to the final paragraphs.)

After the Forum concluded on November 9, as followers of China Beat also know, I had the opportunity to give a talk at the Beijing Foreign Correspondents Club of China. This was memorable for various reasons. One was that just before, during and after the formal event, I got to take thoughtful questions from and exchange ideas with a mixture of both people whose bylines I often come across, such as Mark Magnier (who writes for the Los Angeles Times, the paper I read with my morning coffee) and Melinda Liu of Newsweek (who graciously hosted the event), and journalists I hadn’t known of before (but will now look out for on the web). Another thing that made it memorable was that the talk’s setting afforded a great bird’s eye view of part of the city, which according to local residents is still enjoying post-Olympic reduced smog levels. And, finally, the talk led to me being quoted, for the first time ever I think (and quoted very appropriately at that), in an Indian newspaper.

Over the next week or two, I’ll blog about other parts of that quick trip, which began right after the American Presidential election (the result of which was seen as a very good one by every Chinese person I encountered who voiced an opinion) and ended with a few days spent in the big city on the Huangpu River that's the subject of my latest book, Global Shanghai, 1850-2010, a work due out in Britain in two weeks (with slightly later release dates in other parts of the world). I’m not sure yet what the focus of my future trip-related posts will be. I’ll likely have things to say about how Shanghai is gearing up for the 2010 Expo, the event that provides the endpoint for my book. I’ll also have something to say about two publications by China Beat contributors I read and enjoyed while traveling: Lijia Zhang’s engagingly written and often moving Socialism is Great! A Worker’s Memoir of the New China, and Xujun Eberlein’s compelling short story collection, Apologies Forthcoming.

In addition, though this site hasn’t gone in for restaurant reviews in the past (and probably won’t often run them in the future), I’ll have something to say about two eateries that were mentioned recently on China Beat in the interview with NPR's Louisa Lim, “Fish Nation” (pictured in the accompanying photograph) and “Southern Barbarian,” since I had enjoyable meals in very interesting company in each of them. I’ll also likely refer to other restaurants I ate in or simply noticed that provide windows into how China is changing and the complex ways that globalization can work.

For now, though, just some ending comments about the feline turn that political commentary about the American election took while I was in China, just as U.S. discussions of Obama made a lot about the puppy problem his family is facing. Let me begin with the canine conundrum—or what in Mao’s day might have been dubbed the canine contradiction. On the night before my Beijing FCCC talk, I caught a CNN report on President-Elect Obama’s first press conference, which included his now much-dissected humorous reference to being torn between getting a specially bred hypoallergenic dog (due to one of his children being allergic) and getting a shelter dog (even though these tend to be “mutts,” a term he said could also apply to himself).

Nothing related to dogs came up the next day (if the Chinese press latched onto the mutt maodun, they didn’t do so in the papers I saw). But cats did—via the first joke in Chinese I have ever been sent via text messaging. On my second day in Beijing, I had bought my first Chinese mobile phone—it didn’t take long to discover how essential it is to have one of these, in part simply to be able to inform people you are planning to meet how late you will be due to traffic delays. Until November 10, though, the only text messages I had gotten had either been spam advertisements or queries about whether traffic delays were going to make me late for a lunch engagement (for once, they didn’t). Then, as I sat with a colleague, he began chuckling at a message he’d received and when I asked him what he was laughing at, he said “why don’t I just zap it to you.” So, through the wonders of modern technology, the joke, which had likely made its way around much of the PRC by that point (since I later learned it was a more refined version of one that China Daily had written about a few days before), moved through the ether from his phone inches away to mine.

It was a perhaps predictable play on Deng Xiaoping’s famous line, which has been riffed and mocked and modified in so many ways before, that it is foolish to be too ideologically dogmatic, for when it comes to catching mice, it doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, just whether it gets the job done. The Chinese characters that showed up on my phone said, in essence: “It used to be that in the electoral process, the American people would only choose white presidents, never black ones. But then after the American people studied Deng Xiaoping Theory, they realized that it doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, a cat that can solve a crisis is a good cat.”

By the way, the photo of the dog at the top of this posting obviously has nothing to do with the presidential election. It was just a shot I found interesting, since it was taken on a street that in general looks much like those I remember from my first trip to Shanghai back in the mid-1980s (in the way that, say, the face-lifted and spruced up Nanjing Road doesn’t at all), yet via the pet in the sweater flags one of the many ways that the city has changed since then.

China Hax!1!

Chinese hackers may (we should stress, may) have struck again. Just two weeks after Newsweek reported (in the juicy campaign expose published in last week’s issue) that last summer both the Obama and McCain campaign computers were infiltrated by hackers who copied documents on policy issues (speculated to be either Chinese or Russian), yesterday Fox News announced that the Pentagon was banning the use of external computing hardware after a worm was found to be spreading through its computing network.

There do not seem to be any online reports linking the new regulation specifically to Chinese hackers, but Fox News anchors this morning reported that sources had said it was likely a Chinese effort to cripple the Pentagon’s computer system between now and the inauguration. No other major news outlets are reporting this story at this time.

In the meantime, here are a few readings on the shady (and apparently, based on the sparse information available online, little understood) world of Chinese hackers—who may or may not be funded by the Chinese government.

An excerpt from the Newsweek piece:

In midsummer, the Obama campaign's computers were attacked by a virus. The campaign's tech experts spotted it and took standard precautions, such as putting in a firewall. At first, the campaign figured it was a routine "phishing" attack, using common methods. Or so it seemed. In fact, the campaign had been the target of sophisticated foreign cyber-espionage.

The next day, the Obama headquarters had two visitors: from the FBI and the Secret Service. "You have a problem way bigger than what you understand," said an FBI agent. "You have been compromised, and a serious amount of files have been loaded off your system." …

By late afternoon the campaign's chief technology officer, Michael Slaby, was on the phone with the FBI field agent who was running the investigation out of Los Angeles. Slaby was told that the hackers had been moving documents out of Obama's system at a rapid rate. Potentially, Obama's entire computer network had been compromised…

The Obama team was told that its system had been hacked by a "foreign entity." The official would not say which "foreign entity," but indicated that U.S. intelligence believed that both campaigns had been the target of political espionage by some country—or foreign organization—that wanted to look at the evolution of the Obama and McCain camps on policy issues, information that might be useful in any negotiations with a future Obama or McCain administration. There was no suggestion that terrorists were involved; technical experts hired by the Obama campaign speculated that the hackers were Russian or Chinese.

Speculations of Chinese hackers—possibly, some observers have guessed, supported by the Chinese government—have ranged this year from attacks on infrastructure to White House computers. There is little hard evidence available in the public realm to confirm any of these speculations.

Here’s a back and forth about whether Chinese hackers were responsible for the major power outages in 2003 (the verdict seems to be “no”):

From “
China’s Cyber Military” by Shane Harris at National Journal (from May 31, 2008):

Officially, the blackout was attributed to a variety of factors, none of which involved foreign intervention. Investigators blamed “overgrown trees” that came into contact with strained high-voltage lines near facilities in Ohio owned by FirstEnergy Corp. More than 100 power plants were shut down during the cascading failure. A computer virus, then in wide circulation, disrupted the communications lines that utility companies use to manage the power grid, and this exacerbated the problem. The blackout prompted President Bush to address the nation the day it happened. Power was mostly restored within 24 hours…

Brenner, who works for Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, looks for vulnerabilities in the government’s information networks. He pointed to China as a source of attacks against U.S. interests. “Some [attacks], we have high confidence, are coming from government-sponsored sites,” Brenner said. “The Chinese operate both through government agencies, as we do, but they also operate through sponsoring other organizations that are engaging in this kind of international hacking, whether or not under specific direction. It’s a kind of cyber-militia.… It’s coming in volumes that are just staggering.”

At the Wired blog “Threat Level,” Kevin Paulson called shenanigans:

Chinese hackers may have been responsible for the recent power outage in Florida, and the widespread blackout that struck the northeastern U.S. in 2003, according to a new report in the National Journal that shows the intelligence community taking cyberwar hysteria to new and dizzying heights…

It's official: Cyberterror is the new yellowcake uranium.

Ever since intelligence chief Michael McConnell decided on cyberterrorism as the latest raison d'etre for warrantless NSA surveillance, we've seen increasingly brazen falsehoods and unverifiable cyberattack stories coming from him and his subordinates, from McConnell's bogus claim that cyberattacks cost the U.S. economy $100 billion a year, to one intelligence official's vague assertion that hackers have caused electrical blackouts in unnamed countries overseas.”

Earlier this month, Financial Times reported that Chinese hackers had breached the White House network:

"We are getting very targeted Chinese attacks so its stretches credulity that these are not directed by government-related organisations," said the official.

The National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force, a unit established in 2007 to tackle security, detected the attacks. The official stressed the hackers had accessed only the unclassified computer network, and not the more secure classified network.

"For a short period of time, they successfully breach a wall, and then you rebuild the wall . . . it is not as if they have continued access," said the official. "It is constant cat and mouse on this stuff."

The US has increased efforts to tackle cyber security in the past year, especially since Chinese hackers penetrated the Pentagon last year, in an attack that obtained e-mails from the system serving Robert Gates, the defence secretary.

And a Guardian report on a study released yesterday by the US-China economic and security review commission stresses the persistence and growth of cyber-attacks originating in China:

A summary of the study, released in advance, alleges that networks and databases used by the US government and American defence contractors are regularly targeted by Chinese hackers. "China is stealing vast amounts of sensitive information from US computer networks," says Larry Wortzel, chairman of the commission set up by Congress in 2000 to investigate US-China issues.

The commission, consisting of six Democrats and six Republicans, says in its unanimous report that China's military modernisation and its "impressive but disturbing" space and computer warfare capabilities "suggest China is intent on expanding its sphere of control even at the expense of its Asian neighbors and the United States."

Finally, check out this CNN piece from earlier this year, which provides a sneak peek, albeit brief and not terribly informative, into the world of Chinese hackers:

They operate from a bare apartment on a Chinese island. They are intelligent 20-somethings who seem harmless. But they are hard-core hackers who claim to have gained access to the world's most sensitive sites, including the Pentagon.

In fact, they say they are sometimes paid secretly by the Chinese government -- a claim the Beijing government denies…

One hacker says he is a former computer operator in the People's Liberation Army; another is a marketing graduate; and Xiao Chen says he is a self-taught programmer…

On camera, Xiao Chen denies knowing anyone who has targetted U.S. government Web sites. But off-camera, in conversations over three days, he claims two of his colleagues -- not the ones with him in the room -- hacked into the Pentagon and downloaded information, although he wouldn't specify what was gleaned. CNN has no way to confirm if his claim is true.


Protest in China: Further Readings

With protest in the news, here are some places to turn for accessible academic readings that help place unrest into perspective. One thing worth noting in the list is that while some touch upon, none specifically focuses on Tiananmen per se. The events of 1989 are important; we’ve put up material related to them before; we doubtless will again, especially as the twentieth anniversary of the June 4th Massacre approaches. Still, sometimes the shadow of the 1989 protests can make it harder to discern the meaning of current events, especially when the outbursts don't take the form of student-led demonstrations.

1. David Strand’s Rickshaw Beijing. This is a work that evokes many aspects of Republican era Beijing, not just protests, but includes a sensitive treatments of the sources of discontent and outbursts of the most exploited transportation workers of the day—the men who pulled the rickshaws of the book's title.

2. We've blogged about and interviewed Elizabeth J. Perry before, but no list of major works on protest would be complete without at least one book by her. So we've chosen a collection of her essays, Challenging the Mandate of Heaven, which analyzes unrest among different social groups in different historical periods, from the Qing up to the present.

3. Sociologist Ching Kwan Lee has done several important ethnographic studies of workers, and in her most recent book, Against the Law, she helps us understand the grievances and patterns of action.

4. Chinese Society: Change, Conflict, and Resistance, edited by Mark Selden and Elizabeth J. Perry is a wonderfully diverse collection of scholarly essays (with some names on the contributor list besides Perry's and Selden's that will be familiar to many China Beat readers) on different kinds of expressions of discontent.

5. Finally, even though recent unrest has not involved this sect, David Ownby's pathbreaking study, Falun Gong and the Future of China, sheds important light not only on the organization itself but on the way that the Chinese Communist Party responds to challenges that it views as particularly threatening.

For a few updated online readings on the current China protests, check out David Bandurski's continuing analysis today of what China Media Project has dubbed "Control 2.0," "The Longnan Riots and the CCP's Global Spin Campaign"; as well as John Pomfret's piece (with many thoughtful reader comments), "Will China's Miracle Train Derail?"


Catch that Pepsi Spirit

This interview was conducted over email between Kelly Hammond and Micki McCoy in parallel with McCoy’s article in Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art (forthcoming January/February 2009) on the depiction of ethnic minorities in propaganda posters in the People’s Republic of China made prior to the Opening and Reform. The posters can be seen as historical predecessors for contemporary official depictions of ethnic diversity such as that seen at the 2008 Olympics Opening Ceremonies. Yet this imagery is distinct from current commercial visualizations of ethnicity and nationality in the PRC, as described in the interview below regarding Hammond's participation in a Chinese Pepsi commercial.

McCoy: How were you approached to do this?

Hammond: I was approached by one of the owners of Fubar, the “foreigner bar” in Urumchi. I’d been to Fubar on numerous occasions and knew the Irish manager and part owner. I received a text message from one of the American graduate students who was also studying Uyghur at Xinjiang Normal University (新疆师范大学) alerting me that they were looking for people to participate in the ad and that the salary for two days work would easily cover my rent for a month. Essentially, the casting director from Shanghai (he was originally from Hong Kong, went to the Vancouver Film School, and is now based in Shanghai—he spoke Cantonese and English wonderfully, but very little Mandarin) got in touch with a few foreigners who were well connected to the different expat communities in the city. For instance, the casting director somehow managed to get in touch with a very well known Kazakhstani student who was studying Mandarin at Xinjiang Agricultural University (新疆农业大学) and who was connected to pretty well the entire Kazakhstani student population studying in Urumchi. He also managed to get in touch with one of the Pakistani students, who are part of a pre-med program offered in English at Xinjiang Medical University (新疆医科大学), which is specifically designed for Pakistani nationals hoping to qualify for medical school abroad. From there, the casting director left it up to these local liaisons he had recruited to spread the word within the different expat communities living in Urumchi about the Pepsi shoot.

McCoy: Who participated? What were their roles in the ad?

Hammond: In total, about 800 extras and two famous Chinese pop stars (黄晓明 and 古天乐) participated in the Pepsi shoot. There were around 400 Han Chinese high school students who volunteered (and were obviously way more excited about seeing the pop stars than the other participants. A young Uyghur I was talking with compared the stars to “Americans teenagers having the opportunity to be in an ad with the actors from Harry Potter.” His metaphor might have been slightly off, but I got the point; the stars were famous.) There were also around 220 Uyghurs (who were paid 200 kuai for two complete days of work) that were recruited by a Uyghur casting director who worked the same way as the other liaisons, but to the Uyghur community. He was a young, recent university graduate and he managed to recruit not only younger university students, but also some older, Uyghur men. He also managed to recruit around 30 Tatars and a few Chinese Kazakhs. The rest of the crowd consisted of a motley crew of about 150 expats. We were all paid 1,000 kuai for two days work, taken to the location in air conditioned coaches, and were treated to a party at Fubar where the beer flowed very freely. I would estimate that the entire Nigerian community in Xinjiang was present at the shoot (approximately 25 people), as well as the majority of the Pakistani population (again, around 25 students). There were about 50 Kazakhstanis at the shoot, but all were noticeably “Russian” looking Kazakhs (as opposed to the two Kazakh girls in my class who were ethnically Uyghur, but who were also Kazakh nationals). Noticeably absent were students whom I studied with from the other “stans.” The remainder of the foreigners were made up of Americans, Canadians and Europeans who were in Xinjiang studying, traveling, teaching English teachers or working as missionaries (a.k.a. “cultural tourists”).

McCoy: What was the ad’s narrative?

Hammond: The story unfolded for us as we arrived at the sports stadium before dawn on a warm Saturday morning in May. The ad centered on a football match between a (Han) Chinese national team and an “international conglomerate” foreign team. At the beginning of the ad, the Chinese fans would be interspersed between the international fans, but losing badly to the foreigners. The roars of the international crowd silenced their cheers for the Chinese national team. Then, the two Chinese pop stars flew in (literally, with the help of two really cool stunt men from Beijing) on cue to rally the Chinese crowd with Pepsi. With the arrival of Pepsi and the very attractive Chinese pop stars (with all the usual fanfare of a recent Zhang Yimou film), the Chinese crowd simultaneously had an epiphany and collectively realized that in order to beat the evil foreigners they needed to rally together behind Pepsi. At this point, the Chinese fans pushed their way through the international crowds to form a critical mass, which was able to make their voices heard. With that, the Chinese football team was able to defeat the international conglomerate team. The entire narrative centered on the two Chinese pop stars (rather, their amazing stunt men) performing all kinds of acrobatic stunts at the cost of the dignity of the international team—such as, but not limited to jumping off the top mezzanine into the crowd of Japanese nationals (played, very begrudgingly, by Han Chinese high school students) and rebounding off the head of the Japanese drummer into a sea of Han Chinese students, who were anxiously awaiting Pepsi.

McCoy: Who was the audience for the ad?

Hammond: From my discussion with the casting director, I believe that the ad was to be broadcast on the Internet prior to the Olympics. It was also meant to air on television in China in the time leading up to the Olympics. I saw one incarnation of it at a hotel in Xinjiang in late July.

McCoy: What was the social aspect of the shoot like?

Hammond: The shoot was highly segregated in many ways. I’ll break them down for you for simplicity:

Spatially: The Han Chinese high school students were kept pretty much completely segregated from the Uyghurs and the expat crowd, who mingled freely and chatted with each other. Over the course of two days I heard active and engaged discussions between nationals from China and other countries taking place in English, French, Uyghur, Mandarin, Kazakh, Russian, Tajik (I think), Uzbek, German, Italian, Spanish, Urdu and Arabic.

The production schedule was organized so that the crew did not shoot the scene where the Chinese rose up to come together to defeat the evil foreigners until the afternoon of the last day. So, it wasn’t until then that the Han Chinese students were “mixed in” and interspersed in the “foreign” crowd. I remember being concerned that one Han Chinese girl refused to sit next to one of the Nigerians (the type of racism I’m sure they encounter on a daily basis. In his defense, he handled it much better than I would have). I also remember being very impressed by the attitude of accommodation from some of the older Uyghur men, who I had not heard speak a lick of Mandarin for the past two days. At one point, we were re-shooting a scene for the third time and everyone was extremely hot and tired. A young Han Chinese student obviously did not hear the directions from the director and this middle aged Uyghur man, who had convinced me that he could not speak Mandarin shouted with perfect intonation: “你听得懂吗?起来!” (“Don’t you understand? GET UP!”) Both the high school student and I stared at him in amazement for about two seconds, and then the three of us, exhausted from the sun and two long days, burst out laughing in unison.

I definitely felt that it was a conscious effort of the director to keep the Han Chinese segregated spatially from the rest of the group for as long as possible.

Linguistically: Linguistically, the crowd was divided and segregated on numerous levels. First of all, the entire production crew hailed from Hong Kong and in many cases my spoken Mandarin was better than theirs. On numerous occasions, the director from Hong Kong gave instructions in English, which were translated and disseminated with varying degrees of success into Uyghur, Mandarin and Russian by the expats in the crowd. Within the expat crowd, there were also varying degrees of Mandarin and Uyghur comprehension. My main observation about language was that for the most part the Pakistani students and the American missionaries spoke very little Mandarin or Uyghur (granted the Pakistani students were in China for a limited time with no intention of returning, and some of the younger missionaries had recently arrived and were trying to learn Mandarin). The majority of the Kazakhstani students, who are learning Mandarin in order to do business with the Chinese, were able to communicate effectively in either English or Mandarin. The Nigerians and the rest of the groups communicated mostly English, but most other expat groups could move effortlessly back and forth between English and pretty flawless Mandarin when needed.

One of the things that I noticed was that the Han Chinese students were not able to speak a word of Uyghur (apart from the usual greeting of assalam alaykum—standard in most Muslim cultures). The young Uyghur students could move with fluidity back and forth between Uyghur and Mandarin, and in some cases, in more languages as well.

Issues of Food: Interestingly, all the expats were “treated” to KFC burgers, while anyone who was a national of China had to eat polo (抓饭 in Chinese)for lunch both days. This was interesting for me on numerous levels. Firstly, most “Western” expats would choose to eat polo over KFC any day. In fact, it was the first time (and last) time that I’d eaten KFC during my eight months in Xinjiang. The Kazakhstanis and Paskitani students rarely (if ever) eat “Chinese food” and depend heavily on fast food chains to supplement their diets while in Xinjiang. So, the assumption that the expats (which, remember, included Kazakhs, Pakistanis, Nigerians, Germans, Americans…) who all lived in Xinjiang were so disinclined to eat food that was provided to accommodate the Uyghurs, that KFC burgers had to be provided as an alternative was astonishing, but a common stereotype faced in China. Westerners are constructed by what we eat and in Xinjiang “Western” food is bread and KFC. Secondly, it indicated to me that the production crew were catering to the Muslims by serving polo (always presented as 清真) to the entire Chinese national crowd. It also indicates a level of acceptance and acquiescence by the Han who live in Xinjiang of what might be normally considered Chinese food. There is no doubt that for as much as the Han in Xinjiang complain about Uyghurs, they love Uyghur cuisine (who doesn’t!?!)

After the first day, many of the Uyghurs found out that the expats got KFC burgers and on the second day, we set up a barter system where we traded our KFC burgers for polo with some of them, as I would prefer to eat polo over KFC any day. I’ve always questioned the idea that KFC is considered halal (清真) in Xinjiang, and when I mentioned it to the guy I traded my chicken burger with, his answer was interesting: “Well, the Pakistanis eat the burgers, and they are Muslims too. And, the Westerners wouldn’t purposefully serve us food that was not halal like the Han would.” When I asked him how often he ate KFC, he told me, with his mouth full, that it was his second time.

McCoy: What did you wear?

Hammond: I wore a red tank top and a red fitted baseball cap that were both provided for me by the costume department. They wanted to paint my face with an American flag, but I pleaded with them and told them I would develop an allergic reaction to the face paint. They conceded.

McCoy: What were the other outfits worn?

Hammond: I think the easiest way for me to do this is to talk about the different “national” groups that the advertising executives were trying to represent and then talk about who they envisioned representing them.

But first, I think the one thing that was important about this ad and how it was conceived was that each international group had their “traditional” mechanisms for exciting a crowd (of course, all this was as envisioned by the HK director): Americans had cheerleaders; Africans had drums; the Japanese also had a pseudo-Judo/samurai drummer; Brazilians had Mardi Gras dancers; Mexicans had ponchos, sombreros and mandolins; the South Asians had cricket bats. And, the Chinese had Pepsi. I think this posits the most interesting question that was raised for me at this shoot, which deals with the continued quest for modernity in China. And, more importantly, how Chinese people who drink Pepsi envision modernity. Unlike KFC, which is decisively Western in the eyes of people I have spoken to in China, there isn’t the direct association with Pepsi and the West (ironic, since they are owned by the same company). And, this idea that the Chinese people didn’t need any remnants of their traditional society—like the rest of the world—as they rallied together with the modern to overcome the international team was a theme I picked up on right away. Why did everyone else have some sort of “traditional” act to perform, whereas the Chinese only needed Pepsi? What does all this mean for scholars who work so hard to deflate this false conflation of westernization and modernization? And, where do the ethnic minorities fit into this equation? By purposefully excluding them and incorporating the minorities into the other “international” groups, I think the director sent a clear message—China is for the Han and we are modernizing without you.

The Nigerians (from my understanding, all the people from Africa living in Xinjiang hailed from the nation-state of Nigeria) were meant to represent a pan-African nation. They wore red/black/yellow and green clothing and were provided with bongo-like drums. They were also sent to make-up to get the pan-African flags painted on their cheeks. As an aside, one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life (and in my experience in China) took place in the downtime of this shoot with the wonderful people from Nigeria. It was about 35 degrees celsius outside and the Nigerians found a nook in the shade and started playing the drums (that they were provided with) and singing. Within ten minutes, they’d drawn a crowd of about a hundred who couldn’t help do anything but dance. I asked one of the young Uyghurs dancing beside me, who was filming the entire event on his cellphone, if he’s ever seen anything like it before: “Not in my life. It’s incredible,” he said, in near perfect Mandarin. I found out later that he was a professional drummer.

The Americans: The Americans were represented by a mix of Chinese Kazakhs, Tatars, fair skinned Uyghurs, Canadians, Germans, Brits, and of course, Americans. The director also enlisted some of the Kazakhstani girls to wear the scant cheerleader outfits. There were two memorable anecdotes about being an American for two days. On the first day, my German classmate returned from her conversation with the casting director looking completely dejected: “Apparently I’m not German-looking enough to be a German—whatever that means. My parents would be so disappointed in me.” She couldn’t hide her disappointment in being cast as an American. The second anecdote came on the last day of shooting. The director was growing frustrated with some of the older Uyghur men, who selectively chose to understand Mandarin, depending on who was speaking to them (for instance, with my limited Uyghur I was not able to convey instructions in Uyghur, so I spoke to them in Mandarin and they always understood, but when one of the production assistants would bark at them in deeply southern accented Mandarin, they would stare at her blankly and pretend not to understand). The director snapped and asked all the Chinese people (中国人) to stand up so he could address them through an interpreter. I thought the Uyghur man sitting next to me didn’t understand, so I repeated this simple instruction in my basic Uyghur him. He looked at me with a coy smile and said in Mandarin: “我不是中国人,我是美国人.” (“But I’m not a Chinese person, I’m an American”). Subsequently, the director reprimanded both of us for laughing and not following his instructions.

The Pakistani medical students played the South Asians. (Aside: The Pakistani students in Urumchi are renowned for their isolation from other communities and given that most of them are only in China for a year to study and speak no Chinese, it is understandable. There is however, one fabulous benefit of having this lively student community in the city: there is an incredibly delicious Pakistani restaurant across the street from the Xinjiang Medical University.) There was a complete lack of cultural integrity on the part of the Hong Kong creatives with regards to the all-Muslim Pakistani students. The costume director tried, albeit completely unsuccessfully, to get the Pakistani students to wear turbans. Not understanding why they were resisting so vehemently (one student put on a turban and they all took photos on their phones, which they promptly sent to the student's mother as a joke. Within minutes his phone was ringing and he was explaining himself to his mother, to the amusement of his classmates). She couldn’t come to an understanding with the students and finally, after some heated debate, a young woman in a full hejab noted stiffly: “The bottom line is that they won’t wear them. Accept it, or we all leave.” In the end, the Pakistani students ended up wearing bright green polo shirts and sported cricket bats.

The Russians: Kazakhstani students and a few Tatars played the Russians. They wore red, blue and white outfits and some of them were dressed as members of a marching band (we never really did figure that one out). At one point, the director asked the group to sing something in Russian and they broke out in song on cue to his complete delight. However, he was oblivious to the fact that they were proudly singing the Kazakh national anthem. The rest of us were in stitches.

The Mexicans: The Mexicans were played by Uyghurs. They all wore sombreros, ponchos and were provided with mandolins and trumpets. I heard numerous comments to the effect of: “Wow. Did you see the Mexican Uyghurs?” and “Oh my god, the Uyghurs are sooo Mexican.” Someone retorted that: “…anyone with a mustache, a sombrero and a mandolin looks Mexican.” I still haven’t been able to rectify what all this means, and I’ve thought about it a lot.

The Japanese: Han Chinese grudgingly played the Japanese. They were dressed up like samurais with white headbands painted with the Japanese rising sun. A few of them also wore “Judo” outfits. One of the professional drummers hired for the shoot was dressed as a judo/samurai warrior and had a large drum, which was also painted with the rising sun. At one point, one of the Chinese superstars (rather, his stuntman) acrobatically bounded off his head in his effort to bring Pepsi to the Chinese masses waiting anxiously below.

The Brazilians: The Brazilians were also, for the most part, played by Uyghurs dressed in green and yellow soccer jerseys. The exception to this came from another gross cultural misjudgment committed by an overly blasé and extremely insensitive Hong Kong production assistant. They tried, completely unsuccessfully, to dress five young Uyghur women in Brazilian Mardi Gras costumes, which were essentially sequined bikinis with headdresses. Although none of the young women covered their heads, I can confidently say that it is completely unlikely that any of them had ever been outside their homes in a skirt that did not cover their knees or a shirt that did not cover their shoulders. And here, once again, the production assistant was at a loss to understand why they did not feel comfortable essentially wearing bikinis for two days in front of their friends and elders . Three of the Uyghur girls flat out refused, the other two were found crying in the bathroom and could not be coaxed into public in the outfits. The production assistant was not willing to make concessions and sent the girls to dress as South Asians. She started her search for other Uyghur girls who would wear the costumes. It was only after about two hours of searching that she came to the realization that none of the Uyghur girls would wear the outfits. At that point, she turned her attention “to the most Brazilian looking Kazakhs” and was able to find three girls that suited her needs from within the “more liberal” and “western” Kazakh women.

The Germans: The Germans were played by Americans, Tatars, Kazakhs and a few Uyghurs. I think they may have been going for some sort of pan-Slavic-Germanic sort of costume, but missed the mark: they wore the colors of the Deutschland—red, yellow and black—with Viking horns. I think some of them had tomahawks as well.

McCoy: How was each group handled?

Hammond: There were large discrepancies, which have been mentioned, or at least alluded to.

The largest one, of course, was salary. Some of the Uyghurs discovered that the expats were making about five times as much (as well as being “treated” to KFC, air conditioned coaches to and from the venue, and a party after the shoot) and there was almost a mutiny. I think that some arrangement was met discreetly, but I am not sure about the dynamics of this arrangement or about who was involved.

McCoy: How did you interact with others at the shoot?

Hammond: As I mentioned previously, there was little interaction between the Han Chinese and others. However, I can speak of a completely positive experience of interaction between the other groups at the shoot. In fact, I made numerous friends with Kazakh and Uyghur university students, whom I continue to keep in touch with through Skype. Regrettably, I didn’t have the chance to interact with many of the Han Chinese students. We had a lot of down time at the shoot while they prepared for stunts or focused their attention on groups that didn’t include all of us, so we all spent time chatting and joking around. Overall, the atmosphere was quite jovial and fun.

McCoy: What were the production staff like? How did they interact with the actors?

Hammond: The production staff was quite limited in their interaction with the extras. It was not until the second day that the director finally realized that if he spoke English, the expats in the crowd could more easily convey his meaning to their respective groups in Mandarin, Uyghur or Russian. Even the Han Chinese students had problems understanding his directions in Mandarin, so it was understandable that some of the older Uyghur men and people couldn’t (or possibly, wouldn’t) understand. Many of the Hong Kong staff went out of their way not to speak Mandarin and to use English, which effectively limited the contact that they had with the extras to speaking to those in the expat community.

McCoy: How do you feel the concept of identity figured in this experience?

Hammond: Tough question. I think that the whole shoot really brought into question a few notions of identity for me. The first was the concept of a national consciousness and how that is created. By this I mean that in the political rhetoric of the PRC, the people from Hong Kong, the Uyghurs from Xinjiang and the Han Chinese all belong to one nation-state, but there were obviously heavily nuanced interactions taking place rooted firmly in the simple inability of these people to communicate in the same language. Interestingly, the Tatars and Kazakhs present at the shoot all spoke great Mandarin, which is something that I had noticed before amongst the smaller, more marginalized ethnic groups, like the Mongols, who also live in Xinjiang.

The shoot also brought the concept of national identity to the foreground by questioning some of our basic assumptions about what it means to be part of a nation. If, as people noted, the Uyghurs made convincing Mexicans when they were adorned with the accoutrements of some stereotypical construction of Mexico, what does this mean for the way that we build so many of our assumptions about ethnicity ethnic minorities and the nation?

McCoy: How would you relate this ad to propaganda in the People’s Republic of China?

Hammond: Interestingly, I wouldn’t. I feel that the PRC is actively trying to put forth an idea of inclusiveness (all you need to do is take a look at the propaganda in Kashghar—爱党爱祖国 爱社会主义 爱喀什—love the party, love the country, love socialism, love Kashghar!) and that everyone who lives within the borders of the nation-state is an integral part in China’s process to become a great nation. I see the ad more as a representative of what people in the East (Shanghai, Hong Kong) imagine China to be like. Sure, minorities are the exotic other, but until you go to a place where ethnic minorities make up a sizeable portion of the population, I think it is fair to say that most people in China don’t envision places like Urumchi to be as diverse as they are. When visitors first arrive in Urumchi, there is usually a short period of shock and disbelief about the amount of diversity among the people in the city. I am not arguing that other large cities in China are homogenous, but in places on the periphery, like Urumchi, there is a certain degree of diversity that sometimes makes you ask yourself: “Wait a minute, am I in China?”

I also think that this shoot served to highlight to me that even though people from Hong Kong and people from Urumchi are technically from the same nation-state, there are more striking similarities linguistically and culturally with those who live just across the border in Kazakhstan, or even Pakistan. I think that this was the first time some of the younger Uyghurs were coming to this realization, and this is potentially politically dangerous for the rhetoric of inclusiveness expounded by the PRC.

Readers can find some related materials online (unfortunately, the commercial is not available online in its entirety):
A video that includes clips from the commercial
Photographs from the commercial shooting
Another commercial shot (at roughly the same time) in Xinjiang with Huang Xiaoming and Gu Tianle

Kelly Hammond recently moved to Washington D.C. to start her Ph.D. in Chinese history at Georgetown University after spending eight months traveling and studying Mandarin and Uyghur at Xinjiang Normal University in Urumchi. Her research interests include Chinese hajjis in the late Qing and Republican Era and colonial espionage efforts that involved collaboration with Muslims.

Micki McCoy is an M.A. student at the University of California, Davis. Her research interests include cross-cultural interaction through art and artifacts of the Silk Routes. Last summer she conducted research at the Dunhuang grottoes in Gansu, and the Kizil and Bezeklik grottoes in Xinjiang.