May Day and The Great American Boycott 2006

Tomorrow is May 1st, and the Great American Boycott 2006 (El Gran Paro Americano 2006). It is also being called “The day without an immigrant” (Un dia sin immigrante). I’ll being joining the citywide gathering at Boston Commons at 4pm tomorrow and I hope there will be a big showing from the immigrant community and its supporters. You can find out more about the nationwide movement and links to local events for tomorrow at I hope that recent roundups and rumors of roundups of undocumented immigrants will not dissuade anyone from joining in.

I’ll also be joining the Harvard May Day rally and walk out tomorrow which is to show solidarity with the movement. You can read more about the Harvard coalition here.

The basic positions: 1) against criminalization of undocumented immigrants 2) in demand for a real path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented individuals who reside in our country and want to become U.S. citizens 3) in support for civil rights for immigrant workers 4) in favor of equal access to education for immigrants and/or their children.

To find out more general information about these issues, and ways that you can support the movement, visit the Immigrant Solidarity Network.

Charles Tilly: Citizenship and Boundary Formation

I went to a second talk this week at the Center for European Studies, this time one given by Columbia University professor Charles Tilly called “Citizenship, Boundaries, and Exclusion.” Although my only contact with his work was a few essays assigned as reading (and my only contact with him being the odd fix of his printer or set up of a new computer in my capacity as a faculty support techie at Columbia a few years back), I see his name everywhere. He seems to have such a powerful command in such a wide range of disciplines, both as a scholar whose work is referred to, but also, as I learned today, as someone who can smoothly jump from consideration of the complexities of contemporary Kazakh politics, to talk about the detailed history of the Jewish community in Trieste, as well as his more well-trodden fields of early modern French history and sociological theory.

According to the introduction by another professor, Tilly’s work has recently tried to create a general theory of “boundary formation” and his talk introduced an argument which seems to be a part of it. His talk yesterday began with a story about the formation of the concept of citizenship in the Pyrenees Catalan speaking communities between Spain and France in the 17th century and then went to more general observations about the rise of citizenship within the context of national boundary formation. He based much of his historical discussion on two books by Peter Sahlins called Boundaries: The Making of France and Spain in the Pyrenees and another called Unnaturally French. His emphasis, which I think ties into his broader theory, was on the idea that the modern concept of citizenship formed as a byproduct, or the indirect result of an exclusionary move. In other words, it was not so much thanks to the definition of who was “French” but out of the gradual determination of who was “not French.” This is not, in and of itself, a very creative point. Many scholars of national identity and nationalism emphasize the role of “the Other” in the creation of a national Self. In using Sahlins’ example of the Pyrenees, however Tilly was good at tracing specifically how this worked in the legal domain of citizenship, long before, as he says, “The idea of ‘nation’ was hijacked by the French Revolution.”
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Denazification and Iraq

I went to an interesting talk yesterday on “Denazification in Theory and Practice” given by Rebecca Boehling at the Center for European Studies. She opened with a discussion of how she got involved in doing more detailed research on the process of denazification in the early postwar occupation of Germany. She was apparently contacted before the occupation of Iraq by Ali Allawi, now the Iraqi Minister of Trade. Allawi knew about her research on the German occupation and wanted to get her technical consultation on policies for Iraqi de-Baathification. This is apparently well before the invasion, and they began a correspondence. He read some of her research on why the denazification process was a disaster. Initially, he showed her plans to go forward, in Iraq, with what was essentially the same flawed procedure the US used in early postwar Germany. After going back and forth, she claims that she managed to convince him why some of the US policies failed.

While at one point there was an offer for her to become a full technical consultant for an interim Iraqi government, apparently their correspondence died off after she asked his opinion about some of the infamous figures like Chalabi and others who were in the émigré community and he had replied that two of them she mentioned, including Chalabi, were relatives.

Apparently, Allawi didn’t end up in charge of the de-Baathification policy and the proposal they had worked on didn’t get implemented. However, after the invasion of Iraq, Professor Boehling discovered, “How much worse an American occupation could really get.” I wish I had some time to outline some of her critique on the post-WWII denazification process but I hope her work, which is still in progress, will soon be out in a paper or book form.

Karen Wigen: Creating the Modern Japanese Alps

Karen Wigen, a scholar of historical geography at Stanford, gave a fascinating talk last night at Keio University on “Moving Mountains: Creating the Modern Japanese Alps” She looked at the “discovery” of the Japanese Alps (a term given to three chains of mountains in Japan by an Englishman) in the Meiji period by metropolitan and usually elite alpinists (Japanese and foreigners). She describes the new sense of place that resulted, how this got embedded in local/regional conceptions of space, and the transition from the traditional Japanese worship of famous places (名所, places which get their fame from a literary or religious connection)to a more modern appreciation of scenery and landscapes for their beauty and remoteness (風景)in the practice of mountaineering. She at modern mountaineering and nature tourism (as distinct from traditional religious pilgrimages and pre-modern travel), which is a fusion of romanticism and science that often had the (ironic) goal of escaping the modern. She locates the roots of Japanese alpinism both in European Romanticism and East Asian landscape painting. I record just a few of her ideas here that I found interesting.
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Chinese Character Reform Movements in Taiwan

Last Saturday (I’m getting caught up on lots of things I wanted to blog here about) the COE-CAS at Waseda, where I’m currently a research assistant, gave three of its graduate students one of many opportunities to present on their research in front of other students and professors connected to the center. While all three presenters were delivered some sharp words of advice on their work from the collection of big whig professors who attended, I learnt a lot from listening to the papers and comments that followed.

Of the three presentations I was most interested in a paper by Sugano Atsushi 菅野敦志 on the history of Chinese character reform movements in Taiwan entitled 台湾における「簡体字論争」ー国民党の「未完の文字改革」とその行方.

Anyone who has studied Chinese knows that there are two major sets of Chinese characters in common use. The simplified characters or 简体字 and the traditional or full-form characters 繁體字 or as they sometimes called, the 正體字 (the “correct” characters). The former are used in mainland China and more recently in Singapore, while the latter are used in Taiwan and other places with large Chinese populations. Many of the simplified characters are short hand versions of characters which all writers of Chinese characters use in some form or another when they write things by hand and there are variations of these in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China and elsewhere. Mainland China has its own standard simplified set, and many complain about the sometimes less than satisfactory changes.

The characters have political importance too. After the Chinese civil war, the nationalist government under Chiang Kai-shek retreated to Taiwan and it would not have been easy for them to simply adopt the mainland Communist government’s set of simplified characters after they implemented their reform in the mid 50s. I have always thought that that was the end of the story, that is, the mainland Communist regime pointing to their characters as “progressive” and a contribution to increased literacy through simplification, while the Taiwanese, with their more complicated characters boasting that they alone preserve China’s written culture with its beautiful and semantically rich characters.

I won’t go into the details of Sugano’s paper here but essentially he talks about the fact that Taiwan’s nationalist government was at one point very serious about reforming the characters. He focuses on two reform movements, one in the mid 50s and a second one in the late 60s. In both cases, there was heated discussion amongst scholars, government committees, and also a lively involvement by Taiwan’s newspapers press, which I found surprising given the repressive controls on Taiwan’s media. Ultimately, both movements failed, and I fear Sugano doesn’t fully explain why, but throughout his paper he brings up some fascinating little tidbits about the debate.

One thing I found very surprising was that apparently Chiang Kai-shek was strongly for the simplification of the characters. In December of 1954 he is quoted as saying, “For the education and convenience of the masses, I believe that nation can greatly benefit from the introduction of simplified characters. I am for it, and believe we need to promote it.” (I hope my English translation of Sugano’s Japanese translation of the original Chinese is not too far from the original in meaning)

A second point he showed was how the debate over the reform of the characters sometimes pitted mainland 外省人 against native Taiwanese. The former had much to gain from the fact that they already had been raised on the old characters while the native Taiwanese, many of which were illiterate, would have nothing to lose from the reform. This doesn’t quite play out in the statistics however, as we can see below.

Sugano also notes that the two sides in the Taiwanese debate on reform were split completely in where they located the value of the characters themselves. The pro-simplification reformers always described Chinese characters as a “tool” of communication, and thus evaluated the need for reform based on a desire to increase literacy. The anti-reform side always argued that the characters were a symbol of Chinese traditional culture and thus needed to be preserved. Sugano’s puts this nicely, 「賛成派と反対派の「文字」に対する認識は始めから大きく異なるものであった...賛成派は、文字を「思想伝達の道具」であるとして捉え、一方の反対派は「民族伝統文化の象徴」であるの考えに立脚していた。」

Finally, he quotes a fascinating survey from the Taiwanese newspaper 聯合報 from April 1954 in which a solid majority of Taiwanese supported the reform movement, which collapsed shortly thereafter. The numbers he cites are as follows: 7315 for character reform (2888 native Taiwanese and 4389 mainlanders) and 4807 against (1178 native Taiwanese and 3610 mainlanders) or 41.8% for simplification vs. 30.2%.

Update: After being mentioned on the excellent Language Hat blog, Joel at Far Outliers added another part of the story of character reform which was featured in a recent New Yorker article. The article argues that Stalin played a key role in advising Mao against taking the final step to romanization.

Update: Kerim over at Keywords has commented on the literacy rates in Taiwan and also posted an entry which contains more information and some very interesting looking interests. I am so happy to see this kind of conversation between blogs starting to happen her as well. Thanks Kerim!

Early Postwar Reconciliation with China

On Monday I joined my friend Jaehwan to hear a presentation by Daqing Yang, a professor of George Washington University whose work I’m very fond of. His presentation, on Japan’s early postwar relations with China through the perspective of reconciliation studies started with two questions: Did the “history problem” between Japan and China exist before 1982 (the first textbook controversy)? and Did Japanese work for reconciliation with China after the war? Yang argued yes on both accounts. He concludes that Japan achieved “thin reconciliation” or a very limited reconciliation but was reservedly optimistic that future efforts to expand efforts at reconciliation between Japan and China can be achieved by shifting the emphasis from inter-governmental to inter-societal exchanges.
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“Weaving Resistance: The Days of the ‘Report from South Korea'”

Together with my friends Jens and Youngsoo I spent a chunk of this past Saturday afternoon at ICU for an event which ended up being broadly related to modern Korea. There were two main speakers, 池明観 who anonymously wrote the “Report from South Korea” for 『世界』 magazine from 1973 until 1988 under the alias “T. K.” and a second talk by 坂本義和, an apparently well-known professor at Tokyo University. The main event was presumably to hear 池明観 reflect on his writing about Korea during the period of military dictatorship but I found it to be a rambling discussion which was something of a combination of a review of modern Korean history and his own random reflections. I slept rather soundly through the middle half of his talk so it is possible it got better then.

Professor Sakamoto’s talk was much better…
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