A Different Kind of Anti-Semitism

I have blogged once before about a fantastic book by Pieter Lagrou called “The Legacy of Nazi Occupation: Patriotic Memory and National Recovery in Western Europe, 1945-1965 . The more I look at it, the more I think of it as a potential model for the kind of study I would like to do for my dissertation on the postwar memory and condemnation of treason or wartime collaboration in East Asia.

In his chapter on “Patriotic memories and the genocide” he discusses the remarkable “reversal of memories” in Western Europe from a memory of wartime Nazi atrocities that marginalized or completely ignored the unique tragedy of the Jewish experience of the war in favor of a discourse emphasizing the hardships of deported laborers and atrocities in retaliation for resistance activities. Lagrou tries to explore this reversal by asking whether or not anti-Semitism continued in the aftermath of war and whether this is enough to explain the lack of attention to the holocaust and the Jewish wartime experience.

While I won’t retrace his arguments, he has a fascinating passage showing how an awareness of the genocide was not “at all incompatible with a continuing, traditional, anti-Semitic discourse. He finds the following passage in a 1945 book by a Dutch author, Leo Hendrickx in liberated Belgium:

“Even if we accept that the power and influence of Jewry in our modern society are not imaginary, yes, if we even willingly admit that the righteous resistance and fair measures against numerous Jewish practices positively benefit Christian society, then it still remains no less true that no Christian of conviction can approve the phenomena that present themselves nowadays under the universal as well as meaningless name of anti-Semitism….The Jews were guilty of the murder of the Son of God, but Pontius Pilate was no less guilty when he nailed an innocent to the cross out of cowardice…Of course, the Jewish problem is a burning question, but those who wish its solution from the perspective of hatred and often of angry envy have rejected Christian love and with it their Christianity…Christian love requires a different struggle, a different anti-Semitism. The mass murder of the Jewish people is the clearest proof that national-socialism is not anti-Semitic, but anti-Christian. Of course the Christian world will have to fight its war against Jewish hegemony, but in a struggle according to its own principles and not according to the whispering of some evil spirit…The freedom we yearn for must not lead to licentiousness and anarchism, because they are the trump card through which the liberal-Jewish hegemony can establish itself.” Gekneveld en Bevrijd (Maaseik, 1945) pp. 140-1 (in Lagrou p257) My italics.

T’aengniji, A Classic of Korean Geography and Geomancy

Continuing my study of pre-modern Korean history for class, today I read through the English translation of a classic work on Korean geography and geomancy called 擇里誌 (택리지), written by Yi Chung-Hwan 이중환(李重煥) in the mid-18th century. A partial English translation is available as Yi Chung-Hwan, Inshil Choe Yoon trans. T’aengniji: The Korean Classic for Choosing Settlements (Syndney: Wild Peony Pty Ltd, 1998)

The book was written to help yangban elites choose their residences in accordance with the natural laws of geomancy but it remains popular today, presumably for its extensive content on all aspects of Korea’s geography and its often entertaining historical anecdotes. There are sections dedicated to the eight major provinces, describing them in detail and criticizing them for their perceived weaknesses. I think it is safe to say that the book is overall thoroughly pro-Gyeongsang (except for the coast, for reasons I will discuss below) which it claims has the best geomantic qualities.

In addition to describing each province individually, it also discusses the character of the peoples who live there, the development of factionalism in the Chosŏn dynasty and the variety of terrain and scenery in Korea. In this little gem of a book, we can get a window into the growingly fixed perceptions of regional difference domestically, but also some interesting comments on the dynasty’s relationship to China (中國) and Japan (倭). Below are just a few interesting lines that I found particularly memorable. In some places, I looked up the original classical Chinese (which is the writing system used by Korean male elites for most things in pre-modern Korea) to find out what terms they were using.
Continue reading T’aengniji, A Classic of Korean Geography and Geomancy

The Character 着

I usually use the digital Wenlin dictionary because of its convenient look up features, speed, and high quality. Today an assignment I’m working on consists of reading reading a 1936 essay about Shanxi 山西 village life. (I often have to look up older terms in an 1930’s dictionary known as the “Mathews” dictionary. Wenlin is great to check first because looking up Chinese characters in Mathews is a major pain and the software provides the Mathew’s character code number) Just now I was trying to look up the perfectly normal word 着实/著實 and had to try looking this up under as many pronunciations for the first character that I could remember. While this may be common knowledge for everyone else who speaks some Chinese, found out that 着 is often an alternate of 著. In fact, the Wenlin software author, who usually gives very short and concise definitions (or includes the definition from the ABC Chinese dictionary that it has licensed) got unusually chatty in the description of the character, even using personal pronouns/anecdotes and telling the reader not to “get discouraged”:

Originally 着 was just a different way of writing the character 著. Now 著 is mostly written only for the pronunciation zhù, and 着 is written for the other pronunciations; but sometimes 著 is still used rather than 着 among full form characters, regardless of the pronunciation.
 着 seems to have more pronunciations and meanings than any other Chinese character. Don’t be discouraged. Even Chinese people can’t always get it straight, especially the distinction between 着 zháo and 着 zhuó. For example, a friend of mine says 着陆 as zháolù though the dictionaries say zhuólù. The dictionaries disagree on whether 着 in 不着边际 (‘not to the point’) should be zháo or zhuó. On the other hand, the distinction between 着 zhe and 着 zháo really is important.

Nobi: Rescuing the Nation from Slavery

One of the interesting aspects of pre-modern Korean history is the existence of a huge number of slaves, perhaps averaging 30% or perhaps 40% of the population for the Chosŏn dynasty. As I read about this for my class and we had our discussion of it today, I found that there seems to be considerable resistance in Korean historiography and amongst many Koreans towards using the “S” word with all its negative connotations.

Called nobi 노비(奴婢), slaves in Korea were owned as property by the elite Yangban class and could be bought, sold, given away as gifts, and left to one’s descendants. These slaves were either public slaves who served in the royal court or other arms of the state’s bureaucracy at the central and local level, or were privately owned slaves that worked in the household or worked the fields. They were frequently beaten or flogged, and the killing of slaves, while legally prohibited as early as 1444 during the rule of Sejong, rarely went punished. Slavery was largely hereditary, though the laws determining the status of the offspring of mixed marriages with non-slaves changed throughout the period.

The institution of slavery in Korea has a very long history and there are a number of unusual and interesting features of it. Slaves, for example, could own property for which they were taxed, though this appears to have been uncommon. They were given base names which often had the suffix “kae” which apparently implied a tool of some kind. The slaves were not prohibited from marrying commoners though their offspring could then often be enslaved. Marriage with the Yangban was banned, but this ban was sometimes ignored and slave women were sometimes taken on as secondary wives or concubines of the elite.

Ironically, because the institution of slavery was such an important part of elite life in the Chosŏn period, we apparently have more historical records in which slaves are mentioned than there is available information about non-slave commoner class, who were of less consequence to the Yangban who depended so much on their household and farm slaves to get by.

While there appears to be some disagreement on this (see my next posting), some scholars argue that there was a fairly strong drop in the slave population before legal prohibition. I read two texts on slavery in Korea for my Chosŏn history class this week: James B. Palais’s chapter 6 in Confucian Statecraft and Korean Institutions: Yu Kyŏngwŏn and the Late Chosŏn Dynasty (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996) and Rhee, Rhee Young-hoon and Donghyu Yang’s “Korean Nobi in American Mirror [sic]: Yi Dynasty Coerced Labor in Comparison to Savery in the Antebellum Southern United States” which is downloadable online in PDF format (As the title reveals, the English in this paper is kinda shaky in places). Palais argues that for reasons not yet really known, there was a drop in the 18th century. Rhee and Yang note a significant drop in slave prices in Korea as early as 1690. While the “emancipation” of the government or “official” slaves happened in the apparently oft-mentioned year of 1801 under the rule of King Sunjo, private slavery continued until hereditary slavery was banned in 1886 and the whole institution was legally banned in 1894 in the kabo reforms. Apparently cases of slaves still serving in that capacity exist through the colonial period as well.

It seems that the reasons for decline are not well known. Palais (and Rhee and Yang) and Martina Deuchler emphasize the rise of more efficient hired labor practices as land became scarce and lots smaller. Palais also emphasizes the 1) increasing number of runaways and the decline in their recapture and 2) the spread in influence of Neo-Confucian scholars such as Yu Kyŏngwŏn who argued against slavery on the basis of ancient Confucian texts and proposed its gradual fading out. In what is perhaps the article’s most bizarre moment, Rhee and Yang also believe that the eventual prohibition on official slaves in 1801 shows its end was “political” rather than “moral” and represents a Korean “Declaration of Human Rights, only ten-odd years late [sic] than the French equivalent, the principle of liberty, equality and fraternity is sought for in the great cause of royal regime [sic].” (33)

What I found most interesting about my reading on this and especially the Rhee/Yang article and the discussion that resulted from our readings in class, surrounds the main thesis of the Rhee/Yang essay: “it is inappropriate to call nobi of Chosŏn slaves.” (37)
Continue reading Nobi: Rescuing the Nation from Slavery

The Presence of Qian Jinbao

When I arrived at Harvard this fall, there was one PhD student in particular that I very much looked forward to meeting. I had found mention in various places of a student at Harvard who was studying Sino-Japanese wartime relations named Qian Jinbao who had previously worked at the Nanjing historical archives that many a Chinese history student will pay a visit to in search of materials. I had heard that he knew everything there was to know about the sources available for the study of the war and especially about research in Chinese archives.

I met him briefly after I arrived at a Reischauer Institute party and immediately drowned him in questions that revealed my complete ignorance and 1st year PhD student naiveté. He gave me lots of useful pointers on what materials I might find in the archives and in the Harvard-Yenching library related to the collaborator regimes of China and 漢奸 (traitors) of the Sino-Japanese war. I got his contact info and vowed to be better prepared for future meetings. I knew then that I would come to collect steep debts of gratitude to scholars like him who had years of familiarity with these materials and who had read incredibly deeply in areas that I had only scratched the surface of.

Jinbao Qian died of a heart attack only a few weeks after I met him. Harvard has a web page dedicated to him and held a memorial service in his honor. It is a tragic loss, not only for his family and friends but for the entire subfield of the history of the Sino-Japanese war.

Today I had the first reminder since his death of his continued “presence” here at Harvard and for me personally the presence of a mentor I wish I could have had for the rest of my life as a student and career as a historian.

This afternoon, I went to the library to check out an obscure book on Chinese political and military ranks, positions, and organizational charts from the Republican period (中華民國時期軍政職官誌) in order to gather some info on the “puppet” armies of occupied China. I was surprised to find that the library even had the multi-volume work. I had seen the book cited in an 1995 Academia Historica essay out of Taiwan by a Liu Feng-han who had written about the puppet forces. When I found the book, which had never been checked out, I opened it to find on the inside cover, “Gift of Qian Jinbao”

I suspect that this will not be the last time I come upon a tag like that, especially if this book represents the fate of Jinbao’s personal collection of Chinese history books after his death. It looks like I’ll still be racking up those debts to him after all. I only wish I could have got to know him.

Chinese Cursive Script and Serving the U.S. Armed Forces

I think I snapped up one of the last in-stock Amazon copies of the wonderful Chinese Cursive Script: An Introduction to Handwriting in Chinese by Fang-yü Wang. We are using it in my class on 20th Century Chinese History Research Methods. It is essentially a class to help history students deal with Chinese documents and sources.

This wonderful little primer covers only 300 Chinese characters but has already helped me decipher all sorts of handwritten scribbles that painfully remind me of how far I have to go in Chinese and the reading of primary documents from China, Japan, and older documents from Korea.

I was so happy to see that such a book on Chinese handwriting even existed for English-speaking students of the Chinese language. Even the preface notes that up until its publication, “Perhaps the demand has never been great enough to stir anyone to what seems at the outset a hopeless task.”

The book was published in 1958 by Far Eastern Publications, a publishing company which no longer exists (some of its books are now available through Yale University Press). 1958 was a turbulent year in the relations between the US and China, and a year of military crisis for cross-straits relations between the mainland and the Republic of China on Taiwan. China launched a massive military bombardment of Quemoy and Matsu beginning in August. Things had been hot in the region for years though since the “first” Taiwan crisis of 1954-5. This was a time when Eisenhower famously declared publicly that the US was considering the use of nuclear weapons against China, “as you would use a bullet.”

It thus wasn’t that surprising for me to find this in the Preface to Chinese Cursive Script:

The Institute of Far Eastern Languages had been serving the needs of the U.S. Armed Forces for some years before a request was received that we provide instruction in the reading of cursive script such that might be used in informal personal communications.

I think this is a nice reminder (dated November 1958, Institute of Far Eastern Languages, Yale University) of the ways in which academic departments were often in very close relationships with governments and their militaries. These relationships continue to exist today but seldom advertise themselves in quite the same manner.

Discovery of Borges

How is that I have lived just over 29 years without ever having discovered Jorge Luis Borges? How did I manage not to hear about him or read his work? I have just been reading some of his essays/stories. He absolutely blows my mind. He is like some perfect combination of Edgar Allen Poe and Umberto Eco. Almost every essay I have read so far leaves me with hours of fertile thinking. Is there anyone else like this that I have somehow managed to miss all these years?

鼯鼠: My Life as a Flying Squirrel

Many of us here on earth cultivate for ourselves an identity. After some reflection and a little imagination, we take extra pride in identifying with some particular configuration of abilities, characteristics, or even physical or ethnic features.

I am one of these people, and I have long cultivated, and perhaps taken pride in, my “jack-of-all-trades” nature. I remember making a business card on some vending machine in London back in 7th grade. On the card I made “Jack-of-all-trades” the “title” attached to my name. Perhaps from around that time I decided that my interests and abilities were so diffuse and I was so utterly incapable at excelling in any one of them that I would have to develop some unique combination that would get me through life. What is somewhat odd about this, though, is that this ended up leading me to celebrate my own mediocrity in any and all of my pursuits.

I was reminded of this tonight. After rereading a book by Kenneth Pyle on The New Generation in Meiji Japan for my modern Japan historiography class, I wanted to see how Pyle’s portrayal of the Japanese intellectual Hasegawa Nyozekan meshed with Andrew Barshay’s portrayal of him in the latter half of his book State and Intellectual in Imperial Japan: The Public Man in Crisis (Whole book is online). There I found quoted an old passage from Nyozekan’s journal that I had highlighted a few years ago:

He is a good jumper, but can’t reach the roof; a skillful climber, but can’t make it to the top of the tree; an easy swimmer, but can’t cross the stream; a deep digger, but can’t cover himself up; a fast runner, but can’t outrun a man…

Five skills you possess
Yet not in one are you accomplished.
Flying squirrel, how can you brag?

Barshay notes that this is a reference to a passage in the first book of Xunzi (“The wingless dragon has no limbs and yet it can soar; the flying squirrel has many talents but finds itself hard-pressed.”) I really like this little passage, and I think that, like Nyozekan, I feel very much like a flying squirrel. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not the least bit unhappy with my fate as a flying squirrel. I believe that I have successfully developed a combination of skills and interests so bizarre and unlikely that my very presence in the world helps mitigate its monotony. I believe I am the only squirrel in the entire world to have precisely this particular configuration and by golly, there was a niche for me in society after all.

Testing Theories of Japanese Security Policy

Over on the EAIA blog I mentioned and summarized an article in International Security on the US-Japan alliance. I brought it up as a kind of controversial Realist article. Sayaka took the bait and bit a chunk out of the essay in a response she wrote in the next posting. She makes several excellent points about the article, which completely dismisses Constructivist approaches to Japanese security policy in favor of a clean “Passing the Buck” Realist interpretation. Sayaka accuses the author of oversimplifying the opposition with a straw man argument.

It is wrong to assume that Constructivists only look at notions and ideas even if Realists only look at power and the structure of international society.

Third, related to the previous point, the attempt to answer the question “Is [Japan’s policy really about] Pacifism?” by looking at the size of the military is off the point. The questions should be, “Why do[es Japan] not exercise normal military power even though it has acquired a huge military capability?”