Week 6: Packet 2

One part of the reading that really stood out to me this week was the struggle between the collective vs the individual. For thousands of years, China had mainly been influenced by the Confucian model of the collective or the idea that every person was connected by varying degrees. However, Marxist scholars like Mao Zedong and Chen Duxiu stressed the importance of the individual, especially in the western dominated international scene. In their eyes, the only way that China could possibly move forward was by rejecting the old, traditional ways of thinking and embracing more new, modern viewpoints. From what I have learned about Chinese history so far, I can understand why these young revolutionaries would want to reform the old system. After all, the old system, for all that it preached of togetherness, had only ever served to create division in China, as Dr. D’Haeseleer included in her “why does this matter” section. Why not reform this broken way of living and create a new way one, where only modern ideals of individualism and modernity are upheld? However, I struggled to connect these ideas with the reading I did in The Communist Manifesto. From what I read in the marked sections, it seemed like the manifesto was advocating for a more community-oriented environment, rather than the other way around. For instance, on page 53, Marx complains that “The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.” This sentiment appears to favor the collectivist spirit of Confucianism and reject the individualism that Mao and Chen valued so highly. However, I could have misunderstood the text, as I was only able to read the marked sections.

Another point of interest for me was the short story Diary of a Madman, which follows the tale of a man who is convinced that his village (and society) is made up entirely of cannibals. I found this story interesting and enjoyable, but I was unable to understand its connection to what was happening in China at that time. My best interpretation of it was that Lu Xun was using this story to make a point about the backwards nature of Chinese society at the time. However, this is assuming that the story should be taken at face value and that the muses of the paranoid narrator are reliable. Lu Xun never confirms that the narrator is not actually a madman. Although this does make the story even harder to analyze, I personally quite enjoyed this open-ended style of writing. Even though I cannot say that I fully understand Diary of a Madman, I am at least able to say that I read some good writing!

Works Cited

Chapter 12 Summary

Chapter 13 Summary

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto: The sesquicentennial edition with an introduction by Martin Malia. Signet Classic. Penguin, New York, 1998. (PDF)

Lu Xun, “Diary of a madman”. Translated by William A. Lyell. In Diary of a Madman and Other Stories. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1990.


Week 5: Immigrants

After watching the documentary in the basic set, I was really struck by how terribly mistreated the Chinese were during this time period. Not only did they have to work from the ground up like any other immigrant group, but they also had to deal with the government constantly stripping away their rights and essentially negating all of their hard work. To me, the most striking example of this was the Chinese men who worked on the transcontinental railroad. Their dedication and hard work impressed their foremans so much that they started to encourage men to come over from China just to work on the railroad. However, the day the railroad was finished, the Chinese men were not allowed in the photograph that was taken of the joining of the east and west lines. They were never honored for their hard work and were cast aside, much like how the American government disrespected and cast aside all Chinese people with their exclusion acts later on. Both events were extremely shameful and, in my opinion, should be more talked about in American history textbooks. In my high school own experience, although my textbook did mention the exclusion acts, it did not go into any great detail about them. Before watching this documentary, I had no idea just how devastating the acts were, as my history book treated them as a blip that occurred after the Civil War. Overall, it was extremely sad to learn just how awfully Chinese Americans were treated.

However, the reading in packet 2 was able to cheer me up a bit. When I first started reading the information about the Peranakan Chinese, I almost immediately made the connection to Crazy Rich Asians. The first time I watched the movie, I remember being quite confused by the fact that although the male love interest’s family was from Singapore, they still spoke Mandarin and seemed to be deeply connected to Chinese culture. However, the information on the Peranakan Chinese helped to clarify things for me and gave me a broader view of Chinese immigration to areas outside of the United States. After learning about the experience of the Chinese immigrating to the United States, it was refreshing to read about immigrants that were not only able to thrive in their new home but also retain and proudly display their sense of cultural identity. It is great that Kevin Kwan (the author of Crazy Rich Asians) decided to spotlight this unique version of Chinese culture and bring it to a broader audience.

Works Cited

The Chinese Exclusion Act”. Directed by Burns, Ric and Li-Shin Yu. Public Broadcasting Service, 2018.

Choong Wilkins, Rebecca. “Who are the Peranakan Chinese? Deep roots and many routes” LARB China ChannelJanuary 24, 2019.


Show and Tell 1: Stones!

For my show and tell project, I have decided to write a response paper to the book, The Dream of Red Chamber. I only knew a bit about this very famous book, so when I saw it as an option for our papers, I was immediately eager to learn more about it. Additionally, although I have read the first volume of The Journey to the West, I have not read any other older pieces of Chinese literature. So overall, I hoped that this experience would provide me with a brief look at this book and a taste of Chinese literature as a whole. Now that I have finished reading from The Dream of Red Chamber, I can definitely say that I have not read anything quite like this book before. The mix of realism -in the form of the feudalistic families- and fantasy -in the form of fairies, the land of illusion, and the stone –  was highly fascinating and something I had not expected to see in such an old work.  However, there was one specific piece of the story that really caught my attention.

This element of the story that intrigued me were the stone motifs that appeared throughout the story. Stones seem to feature heavily in Dream of the Red Chamber, with an alternate title of the book actually being The Story of the Stone, since the entire plot of the book is being told by a sentient, shape-shifting stone. The theme of stone also appears later in the reading, when the main character of the story is born with a piece of “beautiful, clear, coloured jade” in his mouth.[1]

The use of stone throughout this story also reminded me of a similar plotline from The Journey to the West, in which Sun WuKong, the famous Monkey King, is born from a stone. Additionally, stone seems to be utilized in ancient Chinese myths. One version of the story of Pan Gu, the first living being, has him being birthed from the concept of chaos, represented by a stone egg.[2] Furthermore, the tale of how the goddess Nüwa repaired the sky involves her creating new stone pillars to replace the ones that had been destroyed.[3] These “thirty-six thousand, five hundred and one large building blocks” are imbued by the goddess with magical abilities, having the power to change shape and move at will.[4] This story is actually the opening of the novel, The Dream of the Red Chamber, and serves as the origin of the magical stone that narrates the plot of the book.

Finding information on the reason for the recurrence of stones proved to be a bit challenging. Eventually, though, I was able to find the book, The Story of Stone: Intertextuality, Ancient Chinese Stone Lore, and the Stone Symbolism in Dream of the Red Chamber, Water Margin, and The Journey to the West, which specifically delves into stone symbols in three different pieces of Chinese literature. The author of this book, Jiang Wang, posits that the inclusion of stones at the beginning of both The Dream of Red Chamber and The Journey to the West is actually a sign that the authors referenced or were influenced by each other’s works. [5] I found this interpretation to be quite fascinating, as I had not thought to view this opening stone motif as anything other than hiding some deeper, symbolic meaning. However, Wang’s theory is much more logical and made me realize how likely it was that Cao Xueqin looked to Wu Cheng’en for some inspiration when writing the talking stone.

Although I was unable to find any deeper meaning in the talking stone, I was able to find some symbolism in other areas. After doing some brief research into stones in Chinese culture as a whole, I was able to find out about the significance of jade. Jade, the stone that appeared in the main character’s mouth, was very highly prized in Ancient China and was thought to symbolize goodness and moral virtue.[6] Interestingly, due to it being viewed as indestructible, jade was associated with the giving of immortality and would often be buried along with the dead.[7] Although I do not know the entire plot of The Dream of Red Chamber, this new information makes me think that the author is attempting to convey the protagonist’s morality and purity of character to his audience. Hopefully, I can one day read the entire novel and find out if my theory is correct.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed reading this section of The Dream of Red Chamber. It was interesting to not only learn more about daily life in the Qing Dynasty but to also research more about other aspects of Chinese culture that appeared in this reading. The book as a whole reminded me of our readings about modernity in ‘ancient’ China. Dr. D’Haeseleer mentioned that this was one of the earliest examples of a longer, modern style of novel. This tidbit that made me appreciate how modern this book is by today’s standards, specifically in relation to its length and sweeping plot.  Although I have yet to read the entire book, I hope that I can one day read all of The Dream of the Red Chamber and gain a deeper appreciation for its symbolism, intertextuality, and modernity.

Cao Xueqin, Story of the Stone, Vol. 1: The Golden Days, transl. by David Hawkes. (Harmsworth: Penguin Books, 2006), Chapters 1-5, 75

[2] Mineke Schipper, Shuxian Ye, and Hubin Yin, eds., China’s Creation and Origin Myths : Cross-Cultural Explorations in Oral and Written Traditions, (Leiden: BRILL, 2011), ebook, 205, ProQuest Ebook Central.

[3] Cao Xueqin, Story of the Stone, Vol. 1: The Golden Days, transl. by David Hawkes. (Harmsworth: Penguin Books, 2006), Chapters 1-5, 47.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Jiang Wang, The Story of Stone: Intertextuality, Ancient Chinese Stone Lore, and the Stone Symbolism in Dream of the Red Chamber, Water Margin, and The Journey to the West (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991), ebook, 2.

[6]Mark, Cartwright, “Jade in Ancient China.”,  Ancient History Encyclopedia, Last modified June 29, 2017,

[7] Ibid.


Cartwright, Mark. “Jade in Ancient China”.  Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified June 29, 2017.

Schipper, Mineke, Ye, Shuxian, and Yin, Hubin, eds. China’s Creation and Origin Myths : Cross-Cultural Explorations in Oral and Written Traditions. Leiden: BRILL, 2011. Ebook.

Wang, Jing. The Story of Stone: Intertextuality, Ancient Chinese Stone Lore, and the Stone Symbolism in Dream of the Red Chamber, Water Margin, and The Journey to the West. Durham: Duke University Press, 1991. Ebook.

Cao Xueqin. Story of the Stone, Vol. 1: The Golden Days, transl. by David Hawkes. Harmsworth: Penguin Books, 2006: Chapters 1-5. PDF.


Week Four: The Opium War

When reading over the information in packet 2, something that really stood out to me was how tense things were between the Chinese and the British even before the war officially started. In William Almack’s journal (which Dr. D’Haeseleer was kind enough to photograph/transcribe for us), he chronicles some of the tensions that were taking place at the time, including multiple accounts of Chinese officials publicly executing criminals in front of the “foreign factories” where British merchants kept their goods (pg 61). 1 According to Almack, the foreign civilians were able to force the execution to happen elsewhere, but when he returned to the area after having a meal, Almack found “a mob of about 800 of the vilest wretched that this city can produce” attacking their buildings with battering rams (pg 62). 2 Before an all-out battle could commence between the two groups, a unit of soldiers arrived and were able to calm the situation down. However, this event truly illustrates the extreme tensions between the Chinese and the foreigners living in the area at the time.

Another point of interest for me was how the Chinese portrayed the events of the opium war. Most interestingly, how they claimed the British went about deciding to go to war. According to the Chinese Account of the Opium War, Queen Victoria ordered Parliament to decide on a course of action after the Chinese stopped trade with the British. The military and civil bodies were for war; however, the merchants were for peace. So, lots were drawn to decide what course of action should be taken. Thus, war became the chosen course of action. I am not sure if this event actually occurred, as it often happens that histories will be rewritten to make the enemies of the authors look bad. I would be interested to see what the British side of events would be and if it would differ a lot from the story told in this account.

A final piece of the reading that caught my attention was a quote from the book A History of the World in 6 Glasses, where the author writes that “Although China illegally produced as much opium, at the time, as it imported, that is no justification for state-sanctioned drug running…(pg. 210). 4 I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment and think it perfectly sums up my takeaway from these readings. Although I was unaware that China was even producing opium at all, that fact does not negate that what the British did was wrong. They continued to supply China with a dangerous drug that killed countless people even when told by the government to stop. And in the end, all of the war and death that their opium smuggling caused was just for some tea.

Works Cited

  1. Almack, William. Journal (July 1837- July 1841), MS Add.9529. Cambridge University Library, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives
  2. Ibid.
  3. Wei, Yuan, and Edward Harper Parker. Chinese Account of the Opium War. Pagoda Library, No. 1. Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh, 1888.
  4. Standage, Tom. A History of the World in 6 Glasses. New York: Walker & Co, 2005


Week 3: China and Europe

As I did this week’s reading in packet two, something that really stood out to me was just how much Europeans revered the Chinese. When I read the basic reading packet, I assumed that Macartney and the West viewed China and the Chinese as inferior and barbaric, given how this attitude seemed to be the default among Europeans of this era. However, I was quite surprised to learn just how much the West respected Chinese culture, at least, for this period in history. I was especially impressed with how the Jesuits recognized the need to approach the Chinese people “…as intellectual equals and show them through sophisticated argument that Christianity was in harmony with their most fundamental beliefs” (1). Even though their methods of cultural blending ended up causing trouble, the Jesuits seemed like they were at least trying to understand Chinese culture and traditions rather than just forcing European ideals on them. Previously, the earliest I had heard of missionaries attempting to assimilate to Chinese culture rather than the other way around was Hudson Taylor in the late 1800s, who actually adopted the Manchu style of clothing and hair in order to better fit in (here is a brief biography, for those interested:

 Other than the Jesuits, the source of Europe’s positive image of China was Du Halde’s book The General History of China. Although I only read a short section of The General History of China, it was immediately obvious to me why readers of this book would walk away with a positive view of China. The portion I read in volume three, which covered Chinese plays, history, and poetry, was almost over the top in how much it extolled the excellence of these subjects. Du Halde praised the Chinese method of meticulous record-keeping and attention to historical accuracy while drawing comparisons in Chinese written history to elements of European romances. He also lauded the Chinese people’s use of poetry without rhymes, pointing out how difficult this method was to perfect. With how much Du Halde sang the praises of these aspects of Chinese culture in this tiny section, I can only imagine that the entire book is the exact same way and how much this must have helped to create the positive image the West held about China. To be quite honest, this context of how Europe viewed China at the time made the story of McCartney even more frustrating. There he was, with all of these positive, almost worshipful images of China swirling around in his head, and he still could not bring himself to kowtow. Although I know it was a matter of ‘national pride’ it really seemed like it was also a case of McCartney’s personal pride, as simply kowtowing would have reaped England many more rewards than his stubbornness did.

Works Cited

  1. Mungello, David. “4. European Acceptance of Chinese Culture and Confucianism.” In The Great Encounter of China and The West, 1500 – 1800. Critical Issues in History. World and International History. Lanham, Md: Rowman and Littlefield, 2013.

2. Du Halde, J.-B. The General History of China : Containing a Geographical, Historical, Chronological, Political and Physical Description of the Empire of China, Chinese-Tartary, Corea and Thibet. Done from the French of P. Du Halde. Ecco Database. London: Printed by and for John Watts, 1736.

3. Platt, Stephen R. “How Britain’s First Mission to China Went Wrong: Why the Macartney Mission Went Awry.” LA Review of Books, China Channel, May 18, 2018


week 2: exploration packet 2

As I went over the reading in packet 2, I was struck by how the story of the “dashing prince” Li Zicheng connected to the basic set reading on how we define the term ‘modern’. Personally, I always thought of ‘traditional’ China as being dynastical, with fairly ridge social rules that discouraged most peasant uprisings from occurring or being successful. However, the story of the upstart Son of Heaven made me rethink my view of this topic. His life, from his humble beginnings as a shepherd to his glorious rise as the leader of an army one million strong, reminded me of stories that modern society would laud; the tale of an underdog fighting the system and (almost, in his case) winning. Even though I do not believe he was a particularly heroic figure, his attitudes and life feel distinctly post-Enlightenment.

Li Zicheng and his victorious army ride into a rejoicing village

When writing about values of modernity, Mitter notes that “the traditional bonds that the self had to the wider community were broken down; modern societies did not support the old feudal hierarchies of status and bondage, but rather, broke them down in favour of equality, or at any rate, a non-hierarchical model of society” (23).  Li Zicheng was able to fulfill at least part of these criteria by temporarily tearing down the remnants of the Ming dynasty, although he planned to uphold the traditional, hierarchical status quo. Still, his actions and motivations struck me as surprisingly modern, which points to what I viewed as ‘traditional’ China perhaps being more modern than I originally thought.

Dorgon, Prince Regent and true power behind the Manchu

Another point of interest for me was the ironic nature of the Manchu’s Seven Grievances against the Ming Dynasty. They complain that “two of our ancestors were arrested and executed without being convicted of a crime” and that “[Ming troops] burned down our peoples’ houses and left the crops to rot in the fields. Our people had no food nor lodging and were left there to die” (Chen et al., 20; 21). While the events in question are horrible and should not have occurred, it is terribly ironic that the Manchus proceeded to treat innocent Chinese people in the exact same way only a year later. In fact, during the Yangzhou massacre, the Manchu committed much more horrific atrocities, including thievery, murder, and rape. Although this sort of violent, nonsensical behavior is expected in conquest, the double standard of the Manchu still gave me pause.

Works Cited

Mitter, Rana. Modern China: A Very Short Introduction. Very Short Introductions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008

Lovell, Julia. The Great Wall: China against the World, 1000 BC-AD 2000. 1st paperback ed. New York: Grove Press, 2007. (PDF)  “Chapter Ten: The Great Fall of China”

“Nurhaci’s Seven Grievances”. In The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection. Third edition. Edited by Janet Chen, Pei-Kai Cheng and Michael Lestz, with Jonathan Spence, 19-21. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2014

Struve, Lynn A. Voices from the Ming-Qing Cataclysm: China in Tigers’ Jaws. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993