china

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

mandaren

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.

What?

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”).

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?

Thwarted Plans, An American Formosa

I recently learned that Taiwan’s entanglement with the United States dates to well before President Truman ordered the USS Valley Forge to patrol the Taiwan Strait on June 26, 1950  – in fact, there was a scheme in 1857 to annex Formosa to the U.S. That year saw an effort led by the missionary and doctor Peter Parker (not Spiderman, unfortunately) and merchants Gideon Nye and William Robinet to annex the island, though their ambitions were obviously frustrated in the end. (University of Arkansas Professor Emeritus) Shih-Shan Henry Tsai’s Maritime Taiwan: Historical Encounters with the East and the West chronicles the intrigue very well. There’s also Harold D. Langley’s Gideon Nye and the Formosa Annexation Scheme.

The Hunanese Anti-Christian Tract

叫堂傳叫圖

Professor Zheng showed this picture as an example of the anti-Christian (especially anti-missionary) sentiment sweeping through China in the last decade of the 19th century. I was intrigued – why had the artist chosen a pig to represent Jesus? I began searching, and found that this was part of a longer tract missionaries had translated into English as Heresy Exposed in Respectful Obedience to the Sacred Edict: A Complete Picture Gallery 謹遵聖喻皮屑全圖. (PDF here)

Though vulgar and cruel, it’s a fascinating read. As it turns out, the artist had chosen the pig as 豬 zhu was a near homophone to the 主 in 天主 Tianzhu (the Catholic word for God). Elsewhere in the tract, the painter depicted foreigners as goats, playing off of the term 洋人 yangren. It paints a picture of foreigners as organ-harvesters (a Sinitic form of blood libel, perhaps?), fornicators, and Chinese who followed their teachings as traitors and cuckolds.