China at War – The Story of Teng Chan

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World War II propaganda poster (by Martha Sawyers, United China Relief. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The following story from a book published in 1945 offers a fascinating insight into the life and mentality of ordinary people in wartime China. 

[Teng Chan] saw the beginning of the war as a bachelor in Shang-hai and Nanking, met and fell in love with a girl, and was married, lived through the worst of the bombing in Chung-king and is now the father of two children.

Working in a Chinese government office he is one among thousands of public functionaries. Before the war, he was a prosperous young member of the middle class; but, like his fellows in government offices, he has been hard pressed economically as the war has gone on and on. He has suffered far more than millions of Chinese and far less than other millions.

Before the war, Teng had a remunerative job in a business firm in Shanghai. He drew $300 Chinese a month, which was the equivalent of $100 American. He paid $28 for a room in an apartment house and $30 for food–often eating fish and chicken, which were comparatively expensive–sent another $30 to his father in North China, and spent the rest of his income on clothes, incidentals, luxuries, and amusements. Continue reading

The Traditional Roots of Parental Pressure and Academic Success in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan

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Song Dynasty Imperial Examination, 11th century illustration (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Chinese state media once called China a “world superpower in stress“. According to a 2012 survey, 75% of Chinese workers are stressed, compared with 47% in the United States, 42% in the United Kingdom, and 58% in Germany. Over 70% percent of Chinese white-collar workers suffer from overwork, which poses a serious risk to their health. China Daily cites rising home prices, long working hours, overtime work and living costs as the main sources of stress.

A survey showed that almost 70% of Chinese women believe that a man must have a house and earn more than 4,000 yuan (USD 634) a month in order to have a relationship with a woman and eventually ask for marriage. “The concept of marriage in China is becoming more practical nowadays,” China Daily quoted a Shanghai professor as saying. “No matter how self-confident a woman is, she will feel she is losing face if her boyfriend or husband doesn’t have a home.” Continue reading

China Ready to Use Military Force if Taiwan Declares Independence, says Chinese Admiral

“If the Democratic Progressive Party [Taiwan’s ruling party] declares independence (台独), then we must go to war without hesitation,” said Yin Zhuo, Rear Admiral of the Chinese Navy, in an interview on March 5. “If [they] declare independence, we will use military force to bring about unification, we must be very clear about that.”

In the interview, Yin Zhuo further explained that any action by the Taiwanese government that can be interpreted as a step towards independence would be regarded as a cause for war. Independence, he stated, “includes steps towards ‘de jure independence’ such as amending the Constitution, changing the name of the country or the national anthem.” Continue reading

Face, Filial Piety and Work Motivation in Chinese Culture

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Civil service examination during the Song Dynasty (via Wikimedia Commons)

“Sometimes, kids feel that studying is hard and stressful because parents are over anxious and expect too much,” writes the Student Health Service website of Hong Kong‘s Department of Health. “If parents’ expectations go far beyond their kids’ ability, the kids would be discouraged and lose confidence as they are not able to meet their parents’ expectations … Avoid comparing your kids with others in their presence. Negative remarks, such as ‘You’re really good at nothing! Such poor marks! Look at your cousin. He’s always the top of the class every year.’ will only hurt them.”

The fact that a government department gives such advice to parents means that parental pressure on children is not only based on anecdotal evidence, but that it is a fact which affects the lives of a large number of Hong Kong children. In 2016 alone, 35 Hong Kong students committed suicide due to academic pressure.

Chinese parents’ insistence on academic performance is notorious. Studies have shown that Chinese students and adults have a high level of work motivation, which is often explained as a result of a “socially oriented”  drive to achieve success “not for personal glory, but for the good of one’s family, group, team, or nation” (Handbook of Chinese Organizational Behavior: Integrating Theory, Research and Practice, ed. by Xu Huang, Michael Harris Bond, 2012, p. 503).

In this article we shall analyse the particular connection between “face” (mianzi), filial piety and work motivation. We shall argue that the ancient Confucian tradition of subordinating children’s interests and desires to the needs and wishes of parents, and of sacrificing oneself to achieve “glory” for the sake of one’s parents, are a fundamental element of career drive in Chinese culture. Continue reading

The 228 Incident – The Uprising that Changed Taiwan’s History

228 Incident (The Terrible Inspection), circa 1947, by Li Jun
At 11:00 A.M. of February 27, 1947, Taipei City’s Monopoly Bureau was informed that a boat carrying fifty boxes of illegal matches and cigarettes had arrived near the port of Danshui, north of Taipei. Matches and cigarettes were part of the system of government monopolies set up by the Guomindang regime after the Republic of China (ROC) had taken over the administration of Taiwan from the Japanese in 1945. Only traders with a special government license were allowed to sell them.
A team of investigators was dispatched to Taiping Street (present-day Yanping North Road) where it was thought the smuggled items would be sold. But there was no trace of the dealers. Instead, the investigators bumped into a street vendor, a forty-year-old widow. The officials, believing that the woman was selling contraband goods, confiscated the cigarettes. She resisted. “If you confiscate everything,” she said, “I will not be able to eat. At least let me have my money and the cigarettes provided by the Monopoly Bureau.”

One of the investigators hit her on the head with the butt of his gun. The woman’s daughter began to cry, and soon a crowd of angry citizens gathered around the officers, demanding that the men returned the cigarettes to the woman. One of the officers panicked and shot in the crowd, killing a man.

This episode led to violent protests, which the understaffed Taipei police forces were unable to handle. While the Japanese had 208,480 military and police personnel, in 1947 the Nationalist government had only around 10,000 police officers on the whole island (see: Tse-Han Lai / Ramon H. Myers / O. Wei: A Tragic Beginning: The Taiwan Uprising of February 28, 1947, 1991, p. 89). On 28 February 1947, the police tried to suppress the revolt and fired in the crowd, killing several people.

The protests turned into a popular uprising that channeled the dissatisfaction of many Taiwanese people with the corruption, inefficiency and arrogance of the Guomindang administration. On March 7 (other sources say March 9), Nationalist troops landed in Keelung (Jilong). They brutally suppressed the uprising and killed thousands of people. An American reporter in Nanjing, then capital of the ROC, related eyewitnesses’ accounts of the massacre.

An American who had just arrived in China from Taihoku [Taipei] said that troops from the mainland arrived there March 7 and indulged in three days of indiscriminate killing and looting. For a time everyone seen on the streets was shot at, homes were broken into and occupants killed. In the poorer sections the streets were said to have been littered with dead. There were instances of beheadings and mutilation of bodies, and women were raped, the American said. Two foreign women, who were near at Pingtung near Takao [Kaohsiung], called the actions of the Chinese soldiers there a “massacre.”

They said unarmed Formosans [Taiwanese] took over the administration of the town peacefully on March 4 and used the local radio station to caution against violence.Chinese were well received and invited to lunch with the Formosan leaders.Later a bigger group of soldiers came and launched a sweep through the streets. The people were machine gunned. Groups were rounded up and executed. The man who had served as the town’s spokesman was killed. His body was left for a day in a park and no one was permitted to remove it.

In a speech made on March 10, China’s leader Chiang Kai-shek defended the government’s decision to put down what he described as a “disturbance” caused by “evil persons” and by a “Japanese-style deceit”:

Since our recovery of Taiwan last year, the central government regarded the state of the harmony and order in Taiwan as very satisfactory, and we did not send troops to be stationed there … [The] spirit of patriotism and self- respect [of the Taiwanese] is no different from that of the Chinese people in other provinces. Recently, however, some people formerly mobilized by the Japanese and sent to the Southeast Asian theater to fight–and some Communists among them–took advantage of the Monopoly Bureau’s smuggling case to promote their own ends and create a disturbance. 

[On] March 7, the so-called February 28th Incident Resolution Committee unexpectedly made some irrational demands. That committee demanded that the government abolish the Taiwan Garrison Command Headquarters, that the Nationalist forces surrender their weapons, and that all security organs and the army and navy be staffed only with Taiwanese. These demands go beyond the jurisdiction of the local administration, and the central government cannot accept them. Moreover, yesterday many people illegally attacked government administrative organs.

Because these incidents have repeatedly happened, the central government has decided to dispatch a military force to Taiwan to maintain security. It has been reported that a military force already has safely landed in Keelung and that harmony has been restored.

After the indiscriminate butchering perpetrated by the army, a period of organised suppression of real or presumed dissent to the regime began. “China put down the revolt with brutal repression, terror, and massacre,” wrote Peggy Durdin on May 24, 1947. “Mainland soldiers and police fired first killing thousands indiscriminately; then, more selectively, hunted down and jailed or slaughtered students, intellectuals, prominent business men, and civic leaders.”

 

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Civilized Taiwanese vs Uncivilized Mainlanders: Peng Mingmin and Anti-Chinese Rhetoric

In recent years it has become common both in Taiwan and in Hong Kong to portray mainland Chinese as backward and uncivilized. Some controversial episodes that were covered by the media have shaped this perception. Only to name a few, in 2014 a mainland couple allowed their child to urinate on a street in Hong Kong; one year earlier, a mainland Chinese mother let her child defecate in a public area at Taiwan’s Kaohsiung Airport. Besides such incidents, mainlanders are often accused of behaving badly in other circumstances, too; for instance, they speak loudly, don’t line up, obstruct pedestrian traffic, etc.
   
In the present article we will try to show that the anti-mainland rhetoric based on mainlanders’ backwardness has a long history. A Taste of Freedom, the autobiography of Taiwan independence leader Peng Mingmin, is perhaps the first example of a consciously constructed anti-mainland rhetoric based on the contrast between civilized Taiwanese and uncivilized Chinese.
 
As we explained in a previous article, Peng Mingmin (born in 1923) belonged to Taiwan’s elite during Japanese colonial rule (1895-1945). He believed that the Japanese administration had brought modernity, economic development and efficiency to Taiwan. Long before Taiwan was returned to Chinese rule in 1945, Peng Mingmin and his parents travelled to Republican China. Looking back at his journey, Peng Mingmin described China as a backward, underdeveloped country that lagged behind Taiwan: 

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“The House of Lim” and the Myth of the Harmonious Chinese Family

In 1959 the renowned American anthropologist and sinologist Arthur P. Wolf went on a study trip to Taiwan with his wife Margery. They spent two years in the house of the Lims, a “joint” family who lived in a small village in the countryside. Living side by side for a long period of time with a traditional Taiwanese family allowed the American couple to gain deep insight into the society and culture of the island.

This experience prompted Margery Wolf to write an account of those years, a book that is today almost forgotten, like many other great books, but which, more than fifty years after its publication, is still worth reading.

The House of Lim describes the life of rural Taiwan at a time when the modernization of its economy and society was still in its infancy. She depicts a world in which the old Confucian family system dominated life in an almost totalitarian way. Individuals were embedded in a network of relationships based on formality, hierarchy, social roles, and obligations. Continue reading

Western Values – Asian Values: A Chinese Revolutionary’s View on Western and Chinese Family

One of the major differences between China and the West is the importance which the family – with its hierarchical structure and its complex web of social roles, regulations, duties, and moral values – has in Chinese society (see: Filial Piety in Chinese Culture). Despite major social and economic changes, the Chinese-speaking world has retained some of the core elements of the traditional Confucian family. This is also demonstrated by the fact that the legal system of countries in the Chinese-speaking world has been heavily influenced by Confucian values.

The Confucian worldview is based on the idea that human relationships are functional and hierarchical. The individual exists only as part of a network in which interaction is regulated by age, gender and social position. It is no coincidence that many Chinese who visited the West during the late-Qing and early Republican era were troubled by the lack of hierarchy, social roles, and rules of propriety in Western societies.

It is very interesting to read nowadays, with the benefit of hindsight and the knowledge accumulated in two centuries of contact between East and West, what Chinese travellers thought about the West at the turn of the 20th century. One of the most captivating books about the Chinese perception of the West is America Through the Spectacles of an Oriental Diplomat by Wu Tingfang.

Wu Tingfang (1842-1922, 伍廷芳; pinyin: Wŭ Tíngfāng), also known as Ng Choy (伍才; pinyin: Wŭ Cái) was born in the so-called Straits Settlements, in what was then a part of the British Empire. Wu Tingfang was a politician and diplomat who spent several years in the United States. He was a monarchical reformist, an advocate of the movements that tried to modernize Imperial China. However, before the Chinese Revolution of 1911, he became a supporter of Sun Yat-sen, championing the overthrow of the Manchu Dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China.

Wu Tingfang played an important role in the 1911 revolution. He served as a foreign affairs representative for the Shanghai Military Government and subsequently for the revolutionary government. Afterwards he was appointed as the chief Republican delegate in the negotiations between the Republican revolutionaries and the Manchu government which lasted until the abdication of the imperial dynasty on 12 February 1912 (see Linda Pomerantz-Zhang: Wu Tingfang (1842-1922): Reform and Modernization in Modern Chinese History, 1992, p. 193).

Indeed, his name was even mentioned in an edict issued on December 1911 by the Empress Dowager, in which she declared that

the representative of the People’s Army (i.e. the Revolutionaries) Wu Ting-fang, steadfastly maintains that the mind of the People is in favor of the establishment of a republican form of government as its ideal […]. This is a matter that should not be decided by one part of the nation alone […] Therefore it is advisable to call a provisional National Convention and leave the issue to the Convention to decide (see Harley Farnsworth MacNair: Modern Chinese History – Selected Writings. Vol. 2. 1927, p. 717).

Wu Tingfang was in many respects a product of the British colonial experience in Asia. Born to a merchant family in Singapore and raised in Guangzhou and Hong Kong, Wu was educated in missionary schools before going to Great Britain for professional legal training. A pioneer in modern journalism, Wu was the first Chinese to receive British training as a barrister, the first Chinese to practice as a barrister in Hong Kong, and the first Chinese to serve as a member of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (Pomerantz-Zhang 1992, p. 1).

In 1896 Wu was appointed China’s Minister to the United States, Spain and Peru (ibid. p. 3). After several years in the United States, Wu Tingfang wrote down his impressions of American life, customs, and society. These impressions became the book America Through the Spectacles of an Oriental Diplomat (1914). One of the chapters of the book deals with ‘American women’. Coming from a Chinese background, Wu was astonished by the independence of American women and by the fact that they chose their husbands by themselves, an inconceivable thought in China at that time:

One very conspicuous feature in the character of American women is their self-control and independence. As soon as a girl grows up she is allowed to do what she pleases, without the control of her parents […] This notion of independence and freedom has modified the relation of children to their parents. Instead of children being required to show respect and filial obedience, the obligation of mutual love and esteem is cultivated. Parents would not think of ordering a girl or a boy to do anything, however reasonable; in all matters they treat them as their equals and friends; nor would a girl submit to an arbitrary order from her mother, for she does not regard her as a superior, but as her friend and companion.

I find it is a common practice among American girls to engage themselves in marriage without consulting their parents. Once I had a serious talk on this subject with a young couple who were betrothed. I asked them if they had the consent of their parents. They both answered emphatically that it was not necessary, and that it was their business and not their parents’. I told them that although it was their business, they might have shown some respect to their parents by consulting them before committing themselves to this important transaction. They answered that they did not agree with me, and as it concerned their own happiness alone, they had a perfect right to decide the matter for themselves. This shows the extreme limit to which the Americans carry their theory of independence. Unless I am greatly mistaken, I fear this is a typical and not an isolated case. I believe that in many cases, after they had made up their minds to marry, the young people would inform their respective parents of their engagement, but I question if they would subordinate their own wishes to the will of their parents, or ask their consent to their engagement.

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Sources of the Taiping Rebellion: The Deposition of Li Xiucheng

On July 19, 1864, after a months-long siege, the city of Nanjing, the capital of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom (太平天國; pinyin: Tàipíng Tiānguó), was stormed by forces of the Qing imperial army. This was the last act in the bloodiest civil war of all time. From its beginning in 1850 until 1864, when it ended, the civil strife caused the death of at least 20 million people.

It all started in the 1840s, when the “God Worshippers”, a group of insurgents led by Hong Xiuquan, a political and religious leader who claimed to be a Christian prophet and Jesus’ brother, began to conquer vast territories in the rich and fertile southern provinces of the empire. Their aim was to overthrow the Manchu government in Beijing and establish a new dynasty. But in the end, all the suffering and sacrifices came to naught. The armies of the rebels were defeated, and the Heavenly Kingdom collapsed. The Qing dynasty remained in power, but it was as weak as ever. The prestige of the Manchu rulers was gone. Besieged by economic and social decay, foreign aggression, corruption and inefficiency, the Qing state managed to survive for nearly four decades, until they were overthrown by Sun Yat-sen‘s revolutionaries in 1911 (Sun regarded the Taiping as predecessors of his own anti-Manchu insurgence).

In the summer of 1864 Nanjing was at the mercy of the victors. The imperial troops looted, murdered, raped, and enslaved the civilians who had survived the siege, regardless of age and gender. Even the commander of the imperial army, Zeng Guoquan (曾国荃 / 曾國荃; pinyin: Zēng Guóquán), was disgusted by the brutality of his soldiers. “Children and toddlers,” he wrote, “some not even two years old, had been hacked up or run through just for sport.” He had prohibited acts of violence, but there was nothing he could do to rein in the fury and greed of his army (see Stephen R. Platt: Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War, 2012, Chapter 16).

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The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Racial Discrimination in the United States

Introduction

“Money monopoly,” said Denis Kearney in a 1878 address,  “has reached its grandest proportions. Here, in San Francisco, the palace of the millionaire looms up above the hovel of the starving poor with as wide a contrast as anywhere on earth. To add to our misery and despair, a bloated aristocracy has sent to China—the greatest and oldest despotism in the world—for a cheap working slave. It rakes the slums of Asia to find the meanest slave on earth—the Chinese coolie—and imports him here to meet the free American in the Labor market, and still further widen the breach between the rich and the poor, still further to degrade white Labor.”

Denis Kearney (1847–1907) was a leader of the American labour movement, a demagogue who blamed Chinese immigrants for the economic woes of the Californian working class.

What is a demagogue? According to Reinhard H. Luthin, it is “a politician skilled in oratory, flattery, and invective; evasive in discussing vital issues; promising everything to everybody; appealing to the passions rather than the reason of the public; and arousing racial, religious, and class prejudices” (Reinhard H. Luthin: American Demagogues: Twentieth Century, 1954, p. 3).

Kearney did not create anti-Chinese sentiment. The fear and prejudices against this particular group of immigrants were strong among white people in the United States, so strong that one can find them in numerous speeches by politicians throughout the 19th and early 20th century, as well as in literature.

One fascinating example of anti-Chinese feelings in the US is the science fiction short story by American author Jack London entitled “The Unparalleled Invasion“. In this dystopian story he articulated the fear of the “white man” being overrun by hordes of Chinese, of Western civilization and power being undermined by Asia. He imagined a future in which China, after learning from Japan how to develop economically and technologically, would pose a threat to European Empires in the East and outnumber “white people”. London wrote:

China’s swift and remarkable rise was due, perhaps more than to anything else, to the superlative quality of her labour. The Chinese was the perfect type of industry. He had always been that. For sheer ability to work no worker in the world could compare with him. Work was the breath of his nostrils. It was to him what wandering and fighting in far lands and spiritual adventure had been to other peoples. Liberty, to him, epitomized itself in access to the means of toil. To till the soil and labour interminably was all he asked of life and the powers that be. And the awakening of China had given its vast population not merely free and unlimited access to the means of toil, but access to the highest and most scientific machine-means of toil. China rejuvenescent! It was but a step to China rampant. She discovered a new pride in herself and a will of her own…

This passage shows one core element of “sinophobia” (fear of the Chinese): the Chinese people’s capacity for hard work and self-sacrifice, which appeared to the “white man” almost inhuman. Let us now  examine another excerpt:  Continue reading