Ph.Ds Data, National Science Foundation 2016

Sobering statistics from Laura McKenna at The Atlantic:

A Ph.D. who wins the rare job as a tenure-track professor earns on average about $60,000 per year, according to the NSF report. In contrast, post-doc positions—temporary research spots that are most common in the sciences and draw 39 percent of the Ph.D.s with post-graduation commitments at universities—pay a little over $40,000 per year. Incidentally, the median entrance-level salary for college graduates with a B.A. in 2014 was $45,478.

I love what I do and I know what my goals are, but I’m under no delusion about the difficulties involved in getting what I want.

Churchill Learning Latin

I recently came upon Churchill’s account of his Latin-learning experience while reading a book on historical Japanese linguistics (what that has to do with Churchill, I’m still not sure), and it vaguely reminds me of my experiences learning Classical Chinese when I was young. At that time I had no clue (nor did my teachers) what 之乎也者 all meant, and getting a detailed explanation was also impossible.

Churchill’s Travails:

“What does it mean, sir?”

“It means what it says. Mensa, a table. Mensa is a noun of the First Declension. There are five declensions. You have learnt the singular of the First Declension.”

“But,” I repeated,” what does it mean?”

Mensa means a table,” he answered.

“Then why does mensa also mean ‘O table,'” I enquired, “and what does ‘O table’ mean?”

Mensa, ‘O table’, is the vocative case,” he replied.

“But why ‘O table?'” I persisted in genuine curiosity.

“O table – you would use that in addressing a table, in invoking a table.” And then seeing he was not carrying me with him, “You would use it in speaking to a table.”

“But I never do,” I blurted out in honest amazement.

“If you are impertinent, you will be punished, and punished, let me tell you, very severely,” was his conclusive rejoinder.

Such was my first introduction to the classics from which, I have been told, many of our cleverest men have derived so much solace and profit.

Widow’s Memorial Arch – Sichuan

Widow's Memorial Arch in Sichuan, China. Photo by Wilson Edward Manly, courtesy USC.
Widow’s Memorial Arch in Sichuan, China. Photo by Wilson Edward Manly courtesy USC.

Reading Gail Hershatter‘s The Gender of Memory: Rural Women and China’s Collective Past for a class this week and I was piqued by the mentions of the memorial arches (牌坊) that were erected under imperial decree for women who had stayed faithful to their long-deceased husbands. (They’re also extensively mentioned in Sex, Law, and Society in Late Imperial China, by Matthew Sommer.

I found this image on USC’s International Mission Photography Archive. The main heading reads 一門三節 yī-mén sān-jié – “one family, three chaste [widows]”. Must have been a particularly great honor in those days.

Hu Shih on the Fall of the Roman Empire

Working on a piece about Chinese historiography, and I came across this piece by Hu Shih on Rome in 1912 – clearly showing signs of Gibbons’ influence:

「忽念及羅馬所以衰亡,亦以統一過久,人有天下思想而無國家觀念,與吾國十年前同一病也。羅馬先哲如 Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius 皆倡世界大同主義。。。又耶教亦持天下一家之說,尊帝為父而不尊崇當日之國家,亦羅馬衰亡之一原因也。」

“I suddenly recall that the reason for Rome’s demise was that it too had been unified for too long. People had a “world-mindset” but no conception of their country, a sickness just like that of our country ten years ago. [1] Early Roman philosophers like Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius all promoted the principle of the “Great World Unity”… Furthermore Christianity also supported the notion that the world was one family and respected God as the Father but did not respect the country of the day. This too, was a reason for Rome’s demise.”

[1] Perhaps a dig at Kang Youwei?

The False Etymology of “Mandarin” = 滿大人


In a discussion on the nature of race and ethnicity in late imperial China, the role of the “Manchu” ethnicity came up. The highly heterogenous nature of Hong Taiji’s creation of ethnicity has been exhaustively enumerated elsewhere, and wasn’t the source of my confusion. In our discussion, a fellow student brought up the idea that the Manchus occupied such a unique role in the late imperial history of China that even the very language of the region was named after them. Not the Manchu language, mind you – but the variety of Sinitic we call “Mandarin” today.


My esteemed classmate proceeded to narrate the etymology she (and several others in the class from the Greater China region) had heard: When Europeans first made contact with Chinese people, they mistook the phrase “Master Man[chu]” (滿大人 Mǎn dàrén) to be the language Chinese spoke, hence the English term “Mandarin” to refer to the language most northern Chinese speak. It seems to be a pretty common folk etymology.

In short:

Mandarin mǎn dàrén → English mandarin

This seemed off to me. Firstly, the first Europeans in Ming China were not English. Secondly, I had always thought Mandarin was simply a translation of 官話 Guānhuà, “officials’ speech”. Was I right?

As it turns out, it was an erroneous folk etymology. The OED charts the evolution/borrowing of the word mandarin as:

Sanskrit mantrī → Malay menteri → Portuguese mandarim → English mandarin

Furthermore, the term Mandarin was used to refer to the speech of the officials very early on: Dominican Francisco Varo’s text Arte de la lengua Mandarina “The Arts of the Mandarin Language” was published in 1703. As for the term’s usage as “official”, even today, officials are called mentri in Malaysia. “Prime minister” is perdana menteri while the heads of the states’ executive branches are called menteri besar (“first minister”) or menteri ketua (“chief minister”).

“The Principal Varieties of Mankind”

"The Principal Varieties of Mankind"

Came across this illustration in the course of my research for Sylvia Wynter‘s Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation—An Argument. Published on May 3, 1850 by James Reynolds, it’s credited to John Emslie, who also wrote and illustrated the New Canterbury Tales.

This need to classify and to sort humanity into differing levels of “civilization,” “culture”, and “advancement” is perhaps one of the greatest tragedies of the last new centuries. Even worse is the fact that it was presented in rational, almost self-evident terms.

Two Daikons in Meiji Japan

The Meiji Emperor's silver anniversary (by Nobukazu Yosai 楊斎延一)
The Meiji Emperor’s silver anniversary (by Nobukazu Yosai 楊斎延一)

I was reading Takashi Fujitani‘s excellent Splendid Monarchy: Power and Pageantry in Modern Japan when I came upon this golden anecdote of two “daikons”:

“Quite outrageously, at the time of the emperor’s silver anniversary, which was often referred to as the Great Wedding (daikon 大婚), the people of at least one neighborhood in the provincial town of Saga made a visual pun and placed a giant radish (daikon 大根) on a festival float. Forty neighborhood residents of all ages danced to the rhythms of festive music (hayashi 囃子) as they paraded to the Saga prefectural office with what would appear to be a fairly explicit sexual symbol.” (228-229)

Mendocino State Hospital and Foucault’s “Panopticon”

Mendocino State Hospital 123 Building

We recently read Foucault in our Historical Methods class; specifically, his chapter on Discipline. At the end of the chapter, Foucault raises the specter of the Panopticon and a society so throughly infused with self-regulated discipline. What makes discipline insidious is not that it can be seen, but rather, it cannot be seen. The supervision can be constant and yet, incorporeal.

Which brings me to Mendocino State Hospital, which is now of course the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas and where I spent most of my childhood. One of the largest wards in the former mental hospital is the 123 Building in the back (I’m not sure if it ever had a proper name). After reading Foucault, I suddenly realized that each ward had a small booth for observation and supervision, and all the light switches were in that room. If the observers turned off the booth’s light and kept the ward’s on, they could not be seen. It was a pretty heavy thing to consider the physical manifestation of Discipline in a building I have been in and around since my childhood.

My sister helped me take the picture above to illustrate the view of the supervisor from that booth.

Mendocino State Hospital Patient Board

Items from the old  Hospital at a Grace Hudson Museum exhibit a couple years ago.
Items from the old Hospital at a Grace Hudson Museum exhibit a couple years ago.

“Comfort Women” in Californian Textbooks

The L.A. Times on the new proposal to teach the issue of “comfort women” in Californian history textbooks:

The new language on “comfort women” marks the first proposal to teach what has been a long-contentious political issue in East Asia in high school classrooms in the U.S. It has the potential to widely influence how textbooks address the topic.

The guidelines recommend that the subject of “comfort women” be taught to high schoolers “as an example of institutionalized sexual slavery, and one of the largest cases of human trafficking in the 20th century.”

Personally, I hope that secondary school history teachers spend more time encouraging students to understand the complex nature of history rather than essentializing an incredibly complicated time period down to one or two paragraphs. Yes, it’s important that more Americans know about the issue, but no one’s going to get a good understanding from the small side blurbs Asian history is usually reduced to in American history textbooks. Furthermore, it ignores the long and intimate relationship wartime soldiers had with prostitution and potentially coerced sexual services.

On “Ancient China”

I was reading The Cambridge History of Ancient China yesterday for an independent reading seminar and stumbled upon this golden quote from Princeton’s own Robert Bagley (unfortunately, I did not get to take any classes with him while I was there):

“No student of fifth-century Athenian culture would be content to describe it as an early stage in the rise of Byzantine civilization, but this is exactly the sort of backward view that shapes the study of China before the Zhou period.”

There’s a pervasive preoccupation with defining what “ancient China” is; indeed, it’s a preoccupation that is arguably misleading. Perhaps we believe the Xia and Shang dynasties are the progenitors of “Chinese” civilization simply because Sima Qian said so. And given that he lived centuries after their putative existence, why should his determination be the final word on the matter?