Week Nine: World War II

In response to Dr. D’Haeseleer’s question this week about our readings (“How does your perspective on the War change when you see the long-term perspective from China and then realize that it was followed immediately by a civil war?”), I think my perspective on World War II has changed quite a lot after this week! Learning about how complex the situation in China was before, during, and after World War II made me realize that that yes, WWII was actually a global war. This may seem like an obvious realization (after all, it is literally in the name), but I tend to find myself hyper-focusing on the American and European perspectives during the War. Although being well educated on these aspects of WWII is very important, it is also equally important to learn about other parts of the world during the War and what was happening in their country at the time. Oftentimes, this information explains current world events and situations, such as the power of the CCP in China today.

One part of the reading that I found to be quite interesting was the various tactics that the communists used to fight against the Japanese. I was very interested to find out how they fought against the Japanese forces, as they were already spread so thin from the civil war that was taking place. It turns out that some of their main tactics for combat was guerilla warfare. For example, one way that the communist army would avoid the Japanese forces was through their segment worm trick. This move would involve them starting out with a large unit of men that would drop two men at a time throughout their journey. That way, if they were being tracked then the Japanese would eventually have no more trail to follow since the original unit would be all split up. This was just one of the many techniques that the communists used against the Japanese. Other methods that the Chinese communists to fight the Japanese were outlined by Lin Biao, a general of the communist army, who stated that “What we can do is split the enemy up in smaller groups wherever possible, and destroy them. We can harass them, cut their communication routes so they can get no reinforcements, no food, no supplies of any kind. We have already cut the Chentai railway here in many places.” Ultimately, these methods helped the Chinese clench their victory against the invading forces.

Works Cited

Moïse Edwin E. Modern China: A History Third ed. Harlow, England: Pearson/Longman, 2008.

Smedley, Agnes, J. F Horrabin, and Victor Gollancz Ltd. China Fights Back : An American Woman with the Eighth Route Army. Left Book Club Edition. London: V. Gollancz, 1938.


Show and Tell Module 3: Delving into Diary of a Madman

When I realized that the time for our module 3 show and tell project was upon us, I immediately knew what topic I wanted to explore more deeply. Ever since I first read Lu Xun’s famous short story, “Diary of a Madman”, I was intrigued by the deeper meaning of the piece. What broader point was Xun trying to make? Was it a commentary on Chinese society? An examination of the human condition? Or simply the horrifying tale of a man sinking deeper and deeper into delusion. With these questions in mind, I began my research to find out the truth.

Before I dive into my findings, however, I will first go into some context about the piece. The author, Lu Xun, was born in the year 1818 in the city of Shaoxing in Zhejiang Province [1]. He almost became a doctor, but instead took up the profession of healing the souls of the populace after seeing a slideshow depicting people idly watching as a person was executed in front of them [2]. Xun believed that his writing could achieve his goal and began to author stories that strove to “dissect the malaise of Chinese humanity in symbolic form and…resurrect the Chinese body from the curse of living death”[3]. From this wish came “Diary of a Madman”, which tells the story of a presumed madman who believes that his entire village is made of cannibals who are planning on eating him.

The first meaning that has been drawn from this odd story comes from James Reeve Pusey’s book Lu Xun and evolution. In this, he states that “Diary of a Madman” is an examination of human nature and that Xun is pointing out how evil humanity truly is [4]. However, Pusey does not believe that “Diary of a Madman” is painting an irredeemable picture of humanity. He points to a line in the story where the main character states that the reason that the children of the village also eat people is because “their fathers and mothers have taught them to be like that” [5]. Therefore, Pusey proposes that Xun is using “Diary of a Madman” to point out the evil in human nature; however, that that evil is a learned one, not one that a person is born with [6]. Thus, Xun’s emphasis on the innocence of young people provides an avenue for the restoration of humanity: through the children, who are too young to be tainted by humanity’s villainy. This idea is solidified through the last line of the story, which is a simple command to “Save the children”[7].

A different interpretation of Diary of a Madman comes from “Lu Xun’s revolution: writing in a time of violence”, whose author, Gloria Davis, views Xun’s inclusion of cannibalism in his story as a means to critique the social structure of China [8]. This concept appears in the story when the protagonist comes to the realization that “…I’m someone with four thousand years’ experience of cannibalism behind me”, revealing Xun’s disdainful view of an ancient Chinese society whose structure had oppressed so many[9].  As Davis puts it, “…it [Diary of a Madman] produces a visceral indictment of “the old society’s” anthropophagic appetite, the depth of which is progressively revealed to the protagonist”. Thus, the normalized cannibalism taking place within the protagonist’s village functions as a metaphor for harmful practices normalized through tradition in Chinese society.

Although there were many more theories and interpretations of Lu Xun’s story to explore, these two were the ones that made the most sense to me, especially when combined. At the time when Lu Xun was writing this story, China was in a time of great turmoil. Political unrest within the country was causing rumbling of rebellion and long-held Chinese customs and traditions were being reexamined by the newly emerging, youth-powered Communists [10]. The two theories I have outlined here present a cohesive view of Diary of a Madman as a story that exists as a perfect representation of both this evolution of culture and desire for youth-driven change. Not only had Lu Xun written a masterful, horrifying short story that captured the attention of readers worldwide, he was also able to capture the discontent and disillusionment of an entire generation.


[1] James Reeve Pusey, Lu Xun and Evolution, (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1998), 89, retrieved from

[2] Lu Xun, and William A. Lyell, Diary of a Madman and Other Stories (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990), 41,

[3] Gloria Davis, Lu Xun’s Revolution : Writing in a Time of Violence, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2013),

[4] Lu Xun, and William A. Lyell, Diary of a Madman and Other Stories (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990), 41, retrieved from

[5] Chapter 13 summary

[6] David Wang, “Chinese literature from 1841 to 1937”, in The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature, Chang, Kang-i Sun & Owen, Stephen (arg.), (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 2:413–564, 474, 2010, doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521855594.008.

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] James Reeve Pusey, Lu Xun and Evolution, (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1998), retrieved from

[10] Lu Xun, and William A. Lyell, Diary of a Madman and Other Stories (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990), 30,


Chapter 13 summary

Davis, Gloria. Lu Xun’s Revolution : Writing in a Time of Violence. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 2013.

Lu Xun, and Lyell, William A.. Diary of a Madman and Other Stories Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. 1990. Retrieved from

Pusey, James Reeve. Lu Xun and Evolution. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press. 1998. Retrieved from

Wang, David. “Chinese literature from 1841 to 1937”. In The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature, Chang, Kang-i Sun & Owen, Stephen (arg.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2:413–564. 2010. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521855594.008.


Week 8: Women in China

One part of the reading this week that immediately caught my attention was Mao’s apparent concern with the issues of women in China. This piqued my interest because in my senior year of high school I wrote a research paper on the life of women in the U.S.S.R., with particular attention paid to women living in Soviet Russia. While doing my primary research for this project, I found out how invested Vladimir Lenin was in the rights of women living in Russia. He championed their right to work outside the home and created systems of public childcare so that they could have a family and do the work they loved. Although his plan did not work out, as it ended up creating an unbearable double shift for these mothers, Lenin’s attention to women’s rights remained me of the same attitudes that seem to be present in Mao.

Reading the information available in chapter 2 of the book The Gender of Memory: Rural Women and China’s Collective Past helped to place Mao’s concerns about women’s rights at the time in context. From what I read, women were treated absolutely terribly in China during this time. The book described their situation as being “feudal”, as there were various rules in place meant to keep women in line. From a young age girls were taught their place in society via foot binding, a practice whose only purpose was to show that a man could ‘afford’ a wife whose feet were essentially useless. Women were expected to marry quite young, serve their husband’s family, and stay quiet and content until their sons married and they could exercise some control over her. Thus, the vicious cycle started anew. In addition to all of this, women were often beaten by their husbands, both when their husbands were angry with them and when they became angry with their husbands. Either option would tend to result in some form of violence towards women. If all of this was not enough, women in China were thought of as being essentially nothing. According to the reading, if a person knocked on the door of a house and the only person inside was a woman, she would say “No one is home”. In my opinion, this perfectly illustrates just how insignificant women were in Chinese culture; if a man was not present in the home (or life) of a woman, then she did not exist.

Works Cited

Summary of Chapter 16

Hershatter, Gail. The Gender of Memory: Rural Women and China’s Collective Past. Asia Pacific Modern, 8. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011.


Week 7: Exploration Packet 3

One aspect of the basic set that immediately caught my attention this week was the piece of the Tintin comic. When I was much younger (around 7 or 8 years old) I used to read Tintin comics all of the time! I was fascinated by his over the top adventures (I believe he met the abominable snowman at one point) and the quirky cast of characters that accompanied him (including captain Haddock and the detective twins Thompson and Thompson). However, I never realized that Herge included current events in his comics. It was a bit surreal to reread the section of the Tintin comic that Dr. D’Haeseleer posted with fresh eyes, aware of the context and deeper meaning behind what Herge was portraying. Although this information is not exactly deep or scholarly, I still got quite a bit of enjoyment out of reading something from my childhood!

For the packet reading this week, I focused on the information in packet 3, which covered the city of Shanghai during and a bit after the time period we are focused on now. Something that stood out to me was from the book “The End of Old Shanghai”, specifically chapter 6. In this chapter, the author touches on the remodeling of Shanghai that Chiang Kai Shek ordered take place. His vision for the city was one that incorporated both the tradition of ancient China with the newness and perceived legitimacy of the West. Thus, he obtained Dayu Doon, an architect who was proficient in “Chinese Renaissance” style and specialized in combing American and Chinese influences into his work. What interested me most about this portion of the reading was the cultural blending that Chiang Kai Shek wished to have in his ‘modern’ version of Shanghai. Before his reforms, Shanghai was considered to be quite a modern city. However, people would complain that Shanghai was not Chinese anymore and that only the walled portion of the city showed its true features. This reminded me of our ongoing look at modernity and how there can be such a thing as too much ‘modernness’. After all, although Shanghai was technologically impressive, it had lost almost all of its cultural identity, since Shanghai was not defined by the modern or cutting edge. Rather, it was steeped in the rich tradition of the past and the vast cultural footprint of China. Therefore, Shek’s wish to restore that element of Shanghai while also retaining its modern reputation was (although daunting) quite admirable

Works Cited

Hergé. Tintin: The Blue Lotus

Carter, James. Champions Day : The End of Old Shanghai. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2020. 


Show and Tell Project 2: My Life in China and America

The first thing that stood out to me in the reading for My Life in China and America was the connection between Wing Yung’s experiences and the racism that Chinese Americans experienced during this time. At the beginning of the read that Dr. D’Haeseleer assigned, Yung recounts a few of his experiences in the United States, with one specific story challenging racist ideas that people had about the Chinese during this time. After Yung politely confronted a Scottish immigrant about his behavior, the Scotsman proceeded to punch Yung in the face. Yung, stunned and upset, retaliated by punching the man even harder in the same spot, which resulted in the Scotsman grabbing Yung’s hands. At this point, a manager stepped in and asked what was happening, to which Yung responded that “…I was only defending myself. Your friend insulted me and added injury to insult. I took him for a gentlemen, but he has proved himself a blackguard” 1. Because of this comment and the sore beating that he took, the Scotsman ended up not showing his face in public for a week. Yung described this as being due to him “being whipped by a little Chinaman in a public manner”2. The incident ended up causing quite the sensation among the Chinese people living there because “no Chinese within its jurisdiction had ever been known to have the courage and pluck to defend his rights…when they had been violated or trampled upon by a foreigner”3. It also caused Yung to earn the respect of those in his community for his unwillingness to be disrespected by those around him. Yung hoped that his acts would inspire his fellow countrymen to defend themselves in the future and that “the people of China will be so educated and enlightened as to know what their rights are, public and private, and to have the moral courage to assert and defend them whenever they are invaded”4. From what I learned in the documentary, his hopes perfectly described the actions and reactions of the Chinese Americans to the discrimination that they faced during the time of the exclusion acts. From suing the United States government for their right to be recognized as citizens to demanding justice when numerous Chinese people were horrifically lynched, the Chinese Americans truly carried out Yung’s call to know and defend their basic human rights, even in the face of unspeakable odds.

The second piece of the reading that caught my attention was Yung’s journey through Taiping country, as he called it. When Yung was traveling through China, he decided to make a trip through the area taken over by the Taiping rebels. While there, he ended up meeting with Kan Wong, Hong Xiuquan’s nephew. The two had a very cordial meeting and Yung was able to suggest some reforms and improvements to the Taiping governmental system. These included establishing a military based on scientific principles, organizing a civil government, and creating a banking system with a system of currency. Wong expressed his interest in Yung’s proposals but explained that the was unable to implement them because he could not acquire the proper backing. The Taiping system of government was democratic, so any important decisions “required the consent of the majority to any measure before it could be carried out”5.

I found this democratic system of government to be surprising and yet another example of modernity within Chinese history. This type of thinking reminded me of Li Zicheng and how he displayed post Enlightenment ideals in his rebellion. Although Hong Xiuquan, or, perhaps, the people around him, were probably more deliberate with his ideology than Li Zicheng, it seems that the Chinese rebellions up to this point have both adhered to ‘modern’ ways of thinking. With this in mind, I found it interesting that Kan Wong would have been unable to get backing for the reforms that Yung suggested. It seems that although there were definitely elements of modern thought present in the Taiping movement, there was also discord and/or an unwillingness to change completely.

The final piece of this reading that caught my attention was Yung’s thoughts on the outcome of the Taiping rebellion. According to Yung, and probably most historians, the fifteen years that were spent fighting the rebellion were all for naught, for “It left no trace of its Christian element behind either in Nanking, where it sojourned for nearly ten years, or in Kwang Si, where it had its birth. In China, neither new political ideas nor political theories or principles were discovered which would have constituted the basal facts of a new form of government. So that neither in the religious nor yet in the political world was mankind in China or out of China benefited by that movement. The only good that resulted from the Taiping Rebellion was that God made use of it as a dynamic power to break up the stagnancy of a great nation and wake up its consciousness for a new national life…”6. Although Yung’s assessment is harsh, the accuracy of his statements still struck me and made me look at current events through a different lens. What seemingly large, momentous events that are occurring will end up being nothing but a blip of history, having no sway on anything domestic or international? Can that even happen anymore, what with the internet and the amount of global connectivity that it allows? I suppose that only time will tell!


  1. Wing Yung, My Life in China and America, (Cer Classics. Hong Kong: Reprinted by China Economic Review Pub, 2007) 42.
  2. Ibid. 43
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid. 65
  6. Ibid. 72


Yung, Wing. My Life in China and America. Cer Classics. Hong Kong: Reprinted by China Economic Review Pub, 2007.


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