It seems that a history carnival requires some sort of organising principle. Having rejected chronology and geography I thought about turning to the principles of Chinese cosmology and ordering everything under the five phases. But I soon realised that life is not as neat as the ancient Chinese had hoped, so it looks as though I’ll be keeping things random and serendipitous with a hint of geography.
Everything begins with a BANG
Even radio stations have blogs nowadays and WFMU’s blog has a very comprehensive introduction to the Tunguska Explosion of 1908, an event that fortunately occurred in one of Asia’s less populated regions. One wonders what the last century of Asian history would look like if this 40 megaton airburst had happened a few thousand kilometres further south.
The past as a foreign country
This great entry at Cliopatria illustrates the multi-ethnic, non-sectarian and tolerant history of Iraq with the story of an Armenian boy brought up by a Muslim tribal group and later reunited with his birth-mother and ‘re-inserted’ into his original Armenian Christian urban family. It has struck me every time that I’ve heard Iraqi expats speaking about the current conflict here in London just how incomprehensible it is for them that ethnic and sectarian conflict now appears to be the defining feature of their country (at least for outsiders anyway). It seems this sort of conflict really was unthinkable until a few years ago.
File under ‘Koreaphile’
Matt of Gusts of Popular Feeling, whose sheer volume of output frankly worries me, has just read the classic Korean colonial period novel ‘Three Generations’ and gives us a geohistorical guide to the places that appear in the book. Previously he provided a history of the late Choi Gyu-ha’s brief presidency and the coup that brought Chun Doo-hwan to power. And if you want more, there’s Matt’s post on The Independent and early newspaper publishing in Korea, complete with the English-language content from the first edition of the paper.
For more recent and nostalgia-tinged Korean history, Antti gives us video footage from one of Andre Kim’s 1960s fashion shows (originally from Ainslie Days), which makes for a nice comparison with these adverts for kimonos dating from 1960.
Wait, wait… I’m not finished with Korea just yet. The Sanchon Hunjang made one of his fleeting but ever so erudite appearances in October to parse a T’oegye poem composed about a pavilion located at Floating Rock Temple (浮石寺) in North Kyŏngsang Province - a place I visited a few years ago myself.
File under ‘Japanophile’
Indeed, Japanophilia and the uses and abuses of the term Zen are the subjects of a recent post at Frog in a Well: Japan. I rather liked this particular observation:
Zen is not just a sign of Japanese cool but a specific form of Mahayana Buddhism with its own distinct institutions. It has ritual, dogma, practices, and beliefs; it is not, or I guess I mean that it shouldn’t be, a substitute for Orientalist stereotypes. When was the last time you saw Jesus shampoo? Or “WebMuslim” being used as a kind of shorthand for some vaguely defined otherness?
In future whenever I see the word zen used in whatever its latest random marketing/pseudo-philosophy/coolness incarnation is, I will try to substitute the word Muslim.
I would also like to comment intelligently on Konrad’s impressive-looking post dissecting the 1970s Japanese film Shōrinji Kempō, but I will have to be brutally honest here and admit that I haven’t had time to read it properly yet. But there’s nothing to stop you doing so is there?
Not strictly historical I suppose, but Joel at Far Outliers writes about a subject I’m keen on myself: memory and the olfactory sense. He notes that the sycamore tree that he has enjoyed sniffing in Japan, Korea and North America, is actually a type of plane tree.
Meanwhile, Jodi at Asiapages posted a link to Dorothea Lange’s pictures of Japanese in WWII internment camps.
Just discovered a blog with a wonderfully Chinese-literary sounding name, ‘Jottings from the Granite Studio’ (I think Liang Qichao’s collected works had a similarly odd, but high falutin title). The author has a very high quality post on the nature of the Chinese empire in its Qing and PRC guises - how is it that modern China includes so much that is not, er, Chinese?
The abilities and demands of the modern socialist nation quickly clashed with the desires of those on the periphery to maintain their own culture and political traditions. It was not entirely unprecedented. The CCP “socialist civilizing” project has something in common with the Confucian civilizing projects during the Qing carried out by Han officials such as Chen Hongmou in Southwest China, and “Sinicized” minority officials, such as Lan Dingyuan on Taiwan. But these tended to be ad hoc programs formulated to deal with the specific demands of localities with large non-Han populations. By contrast, the CCP civilizing project is a nationwide attempt to forge a unified “Chinese” national identity. The continued conflation of race, culture, and nation (just what does it mean to be “Chinese”?) further complicates the issue.
Our comrades at Frog in a Well: China have been busy as usual, providing some essential reading, and what can be more essential than a post with the words ’sex advice’ in the title? Alan Baumler describes the somewhat exploitative nature of ancient Chinese thinking on the female orgasm - it was a way for “The educated man [to] get energy out of the universe,” without giving too much in return. It occurs to me however, that all this ‘educated men getting energy from the universe’ stuff may have just been a clever ruse thought up by ancient Chinese women.
Meanwhile, Konrad Lawson looks at Chinese history through the lens of a recent Japanese travel guide. I’ve often wondered just how distorted my view of the history of certain countries has become due to Lonely Planet travel guides being my sole source of information.
Anyone who studies East Asian history will have to grapple with Chinese characters at some point or other, so Kerim’s post gathering together some useful online Chinese tools should be handy, even if you aren’t trying to find out how to write Tom Cruise in Chinese.
South of the river, where the swallows go
I have to admit that I have never ventured into the world of South and Southeast Asian blogging before, so this carnival may be a bit thin in that area. A few items did, however, make their way into my field of vision. First up is this piece from the Southeast Asia Archaeology blog on the teeth ‘decorating’ practices of early residents of the Philippines. Then there is this fascinating post at the Siam Sentinel on the limits of what can be said about Thai history in a country where negative opinions of the royal family are still taboo.
Moving over to South Asia, Chapati Mystery has a post that occupies the delightful interzone between Indo-English language and Korean middle-aged women, quoting from a translated Chosun Ilbo article that uses the word pukkah. Growing up in South London it was a long time before I knew that the commonly used word pukkah was of Hindi origin, so its use in a Korean context doesn’t seem too out there.
At Sepia Mutiny there is a fantastically detailed biographical entry and extensive comments section on Indian independence and civil rights activist, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, a member of the ‘untouchable’ Dalit caste. It leads me to wonder whether anyone has attempted a comparison of ‘untouchable’ castes in India, Japan (burakumin) and Korea (paekchŏng).
It’s not from a blog, it’s not strictly about Asia and it isn’t really history either. But who can resist a story about chess, dictators, toilet-based corruption, aliens and Europe’s only Buddhist republic? Especially when the hero of our story has an opinion of George Bush that even the man himself might find a tad embarassing:
“The man provides order,” he says, “he conquers countries, territories and oil wells. He gives the wells to the rich oil companies, making them even richer, and that’s completely okay.” In fact, says Ilyumzhinov, it is quite possible that the world’s population will soon be living in a single, American state. “As long as order and discipline prevail — what’s the problem?”