The Eve

I have a crazy Asian Civ final in less than six hours, and I have my question all planned out, a mental image stuck, lodged in my head that just won't go away. I wonder, is what I have enough? Will it wrap around the mind of some hapless reader and pull them towards whatever I have decided to argue? I won't ever know beyond a number on a piece of paper with some helpful marks in red in the margins. Of course you may be curious about what the question is, yet that exists outside of that conversation for now. If it is a test you can't just reveal your weapon of choice before you go off to make war against a final.

However, I can tell you that the class has made a mark on my life. Which makes me think about the other classes which have changed my life in significant ways. I flashback to last year by this time when I was preparing for an exam in Gardner Campbell's Eng 295, Intro to Literary Studies. No class has shaped me so much. Even though now I sit a year since then as a History-Anthro double major, I am forever indebted to that class. Simply put it taught me how to think. I, until then, was less than an exceptional student. My college life had only proven that I would be an average thinker who could maybe stumble on a good thought once in a blue moon. Those days were utterly dark; you show up to class wondering how each session or assignment would crush you further. Something started to change. I had been called..."colleague." Doctor Campbell gave us the respect he would bestow on his peers; classes were not lectures, but conversations where he would question our conclusions, force us to explain the thoughts that lead to a statement. How powerful! The analysis of prose, poetry, literary critics produced a dialog where I could talk about my thoughts and opinions on a work. Never before had my opinion counted. The forums set in place by Campbell created a platform for us to talk as a class. We could seek knowledge out through classes, forums, and mental expeditions into the readings.

I didn't make an A. I discovered a mode of thinking.

At the end of that course, Gardner revealed that he would be leaving us to do work at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Baylor, let me tell you this: You should be proud that you have that man at your university--his courses birth scholars, not students. Since that course, nearly everything single Mary Washington student flourished in their own academic pursuits. I chalk this matter up to the skills gained there. It was never about answers, but the questions that needed to be asked. It must be remembered that the answer is only as good as the question. My adventure into the sphere of concepts, thinkers and doers did not remain stagnant after the English 295 mental rebirth.

I now throw myself against the histories of a world that has been so far from me, yet always alluring me. My boyhood and younger teenage interests converge in a course on Asian history. I pursue that knowledge by asking questions and think beyond a surface level interpretation. The future of my own studies has been greatly altered. Do I make the great grades? No. But I will take the knowledge with me, internalized and transformed to affect the world around me.


The Ethnographic Work

Over the course of this semester I have been working with a student on an ethnography looking at the local transit systems of a small scale city. The work has been kind of difficult since the playing field is so radically different from the larger ones. While working through this semester, I have been confronted with the idea of protecting the identity of those who you study, which I absolutely understand how important this is, but I wonder how far one must truly go. I think of the study done by Bourgois on crack dealers, how does someone study a group that is involved in illegal activity and not manage to somehow incriminate them in the process? I have watched the majority of the presentations from my Urban Theory and Ethnography class and notice that many of the students go almost overboard in attempting to obscure the area they are working with "In a certain town..." is okay for a paper that is being read by a wider audience, but when you are in the same class as your audience and we all did projects in the same area, is that type of phrasing honestly necessary? I'm forced to wonder if the way we do this matter of confidentiality needs to be looked at and discussed. Can we honestly relate a study about a city that has been fabricated as a composite? Can we just change the names and locations and say that is okay, isn't that just a fiction? The Ethnographic form of writing has taken a lot of heat for years now as academics used to make bank on the stories of "natives". Then let's not even get into how the postmodern movement did a severe shake down of every single anthropologist's work (granted that is such a gross over-simplification you are a very accurate reader!) The question becomes what do we do with the beast of ethnography now? As many other disciplines move into more technological realms, I wonder what anthropology will do. For instance, do forums count as interviews? Can we just place our works online for a general audience without breaking the often ambiguous rules and ethnics of the social science discipline. I remember in my theories class last semester talking about the current trends in anthropology and coming to the conclusion that there hasn't been much happening in the creation or critiques of theories. What's up with that?

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John Dower's Take

Professor Susan Fernsebner currently has the Asian Civ II class working through John Dower's work War Without Mercy. The text, written in 1986, provides an interesting voice in the debate over America's war with Japan in the 1940s. Dower writes in order to establish the racial confrontations within the war. By the time this book had been published, Japan experienced a strong economic boom and began to rise in the budding global economy. As someone who grew up in the, what I will call, "Pokemon" era of Japanese-American relations, I am amazed at the types of racialization happening, not only on the American side of the conflict but also the Japanese. I frankly can not imagine a world where we tend to respect the Japanese for their strong sense of technological innovation, teens' obsession with manga and anime, and my own love of sushi/cherry blossoms. Even now as I write this I am listening to a Japanese cd put out in the early 1990s titled "Tokyo Body". So when Dower talked about the racial slurs, disregard, and overall dehumanization, I am taken aback and surprised. Do I know about the previous history of Japan in terms of such issues as the Rape of Nanjing, the Pacific Theatre etc.? Of course I do, but somehow the Japan of now does not have any connection (in my mind) to the Japan of just a few generations ago. I could not even explain how I make that arbitrary division.

There is a small book review taped inside the front cover of my used edition. It is by William B. Hauser, a history professor at Rochester-still teaches classes even now- and entitled "Racism's Role in World War II" he states that "In the European War there were good Germans and Nazis, just as there were good Italians and Fascists. Neither the American government, nor the American media, condemned all the citizens of our European opponents." Hauser claims that Dower's book won't necessarily change people's feelings towards the Japanese or the war but can at least "put them in a better historical perspective." Dower hits the mark with his analysis of the war, particular the forms in which each side represented their Other. This "Other" concept stems from the idea of an outside force that cannot be identified with yourself and often people equate the other with an unknown force, therefore extra worrisome.

Out of the sections I read tonight I began to consider what are the roles of those of us who pursue the study of Asian cultures and how careful we must be in representing who they are. I think in today's studies we are used to people not being considered being a monolith, but I wonder if we are merely deluding ourselves into believing we do not think like that. If perhaps, maybe, the underlying problems of racism are still prevalent but more sinister because of how benign we make it appear. In the second section of War Without Mercy, John Dower lays out the Western perspective on the developing war with Japan. I am struck by how much Japan attempted to copy the Western Imperialistic concepts so prevalent in the years prior to the Great War. The same wording, tone, reasoning, logic all of it points to a sort of mimicking of that distinctly Western flavor of control. But what happens when a country attempting to copy is viewed as a threat by the "masters" of imperialism. When the learner is finally on equal footing with the teacher, there is a massive problem. The West, although I think we can go the other way and turn the West into a sort of homogeneous group, certainly could not deal with non-whites taking on the global stage. Even now, this is still a problem as stronger global powers ultimately have the say so.

There was one particular incident that hit me the hardest in terms of the use of propaganda. Cartoons during World War II. Like any child, I watched the famous Bugs Bunny prank and fool all manner of potentially threatening people, yet never had I seen an episode as described in War Without Mercy, where this cartoon rabbit "Nips the Nips." As Dower starts to describe the episode and its place as anti-japanese propaganda, I decide to attempt to track it down and see for myself what he is talking about. I couldn't believe the types of things going on within the context of the short animation. The antagonist isn't what catches me, representing the current real threat as a caricature is nothing new, but rather it was the phrases being used, the images being evoked. "Here's your scrap metal" "Alright monkey face." So much for children cartoons. It's all very shocking. Yet, I have begun to wonder if that racialization was a required tool in order to garner public support for the war with Japan. Yes, they attacked Pearl Harbor, but how do you get a larger American Body who, perhaps at the time, couldn't tell you where Japan was located on a map? Then further have them so prejudice against Japanese that formerly "naturalized" Japanese citizens are considered wholly hopeless? It's a mess. Yet, I feel that demonizing your enemy, especially non-white is nothing new, and Dower makes a very similar claim in the fourth chapter of this section "Yellow, Red, and Black Men."

My next thought is how odd it is that we are able to just, as if a switch were flipped, turn Japan into our best friend and China into the enemy. One moment we consider Japanese to be all the same and Chinese to be independent and free thinking, then as soon as Communism takes off in China, we use Japan's proximity and our occupation to "buddy up" with our previous enemy. Bah so confusing! The nature of empire creates a bizarre set of questions that I don't think have a very simple answer.


Good Morning! It is a Monday and the weekend has not quite left the edges of my mind as new matters and concerns push their way to the front of the stage, trying to attack a crazy looking front-man who has been chugging a hefty bottle of Coca-cola and singing his heart out. Aren't there guards at this concert? Probably not, the last few rushes by the mob like crowd pushed them out long ago. Should this surprise you? No, I don't think so at all.

I said that I would publish how my paper went on Friday, but to be honest I never got around to it, so yes I technically lied. The weekend presented some very interesting opportunities for me. The University hosted a multi-cultural fair on campus. This has been a fairly long standing tradition, and the weather was perfect for once, surprisingly so really. I performed with the drum club on the steps of George Washington. We played our traditional beats such as kuku and fenga (bah can't spell tonight). I felt this almost long forgotten surge as I began to tell the crowd to sing out loud with us. "Alright alright get clapping!" Raising my hands above my heads with my eyes locking with every member of the surrounding crowds, pulling them into the vortex of rapid beats, strong pulses and a desire to shed away cares, suspend the issues for a moment. Take a reprieve. Grades, jobs, futures, pasts, present(s), all of it liquidated into nothing, replaced by a strong connection with music and the crowd. There is something to walking away from a good show, regardless of how low key.

I walked up and down campus walk talking with the many vendors that lined the brick walkway. Everyone seemed to enjoy the sunny April day to its fullest. Wouldn't be easy if a multi-cultural world really worked like that? However, that does not fly, because at a certain point, it is an elaborate illusion, albeit a pretty one. Cultures are a valuable commodity when someone can sell a traditional African drum for 250 bucks. Does being multi-cultural mean we just have parties and eat "ethnic" food? I can't say such is the case. The matter of becoming diversified would be an easier matter entirely if such were true. No, I am sorry that I just cannot accept that. Multi-cultural fair and other like events are a start but not near enough to a final product. Just because you eat thai food does not make you close to the Thai people. Bubble tea? Yes, it is delicious but it doesn't draw you any more. At that point I am really only talking to myself. Are you, am I, willing to work with the implications and problems that arise from two worlds colliding? Let me say this as a closing thought on such a series matter, no item worth having has ever come without work. Good Music, Good Food, etc etc. shows some fun parts of a culture but will not connect them beyond cheap novelties.

Can I move beyond the ideal? Am I ready to dispel the dream for the reality no matter how grim it may be? I sadly cannot say for sure.


Plug It In

After a week's worth of copious readings, killer stacks of books, a can of Monster, and some headaches. I finished the paper's first draft. It looks pretty good...yes, right and by good I mean not good because of course the real answer is that I should not have been racing to get this completed. It is a semester long research class, I had plenty of time, but alas I am still trying to learn those good study habits to put myself in a better position, live and learn? It's a tad bit late, but I'll share more of the Opium War Research thesis tomorrow!


Night 3

Alright, much more product and that is what I need exactly! Sure last night had been a bust, but at least now I am far enough along to be putting together coherent thoughts. I blew through a series of books this afternoon over a light lunch on campus. I took an especially hard look at my newest, in terms of publication date, book that I have. Ruan Yuan by Betty Wei. It is a very impressive biography about an established Qing Scholar-official who had died before the opium war, yet his own life set down a number of the precedents for the war. She argues that we as more than general readers need to see China in new ways beyond a China struggling against Western dominance, that in fact this is a very limited vantage point. We attempt to write history in the wrong fashion. Her work gave me a lot to think about as I craft my own mini-research paper. Every word I read further establishes my own thoughts for the work. I feel like I have cheated the game by not allowing enough time for the paper to come to its full fruition. With a normal classload and a handful of extracurriculars, I created an atmosphere that does not lend itself way to getting projects done any sooner than on time, but never late.

I also checked out a few other books of interest. Frederic Wakeman has a section in Strangers at the Gate that talks about the merchants being the traitors of their own people which I found particularly interesting. The Hong merchants dealing with the foreigners had such a hefty hand that eventually people began to despise them, although let's be honest they were already considered a fairly low class of people in the eyes of the scholar officials taking the exams. Even when someone granted the Hong a rank, it is artificial, and perhaps it was there to give them access to powers or functions they needed to complete a certain task. Sounds like a stretch actually.

Since we are talking about the sort of newer end of scholarship on Opium, Timothy Brooks and Bob Wakabayashi put out a collection of essays focused on the opium trade titled Opium Regimes: China, Britain, and Japan, 1839-1842. It contains an expansive set of essays that cover a variety of pressing questions about the nature of opium as it cropped up in different economies. Some of the essays also summarize the complications from an Opium War. They essentially ask if opium really even had a hand at all in the war. "On this reading, opium was the item that just happened to be in demand, but the war could have been over molasses if the Chinese government had been impeding access to a market for that." I believe that opium had a very special role to play as one of the very few to perk the ears of the Chinese economy when all else had failed. The two essays I found particularly helpful for this subject were David Bello's "Opium in Xinjiang and Beyond" and Gregory Blue "Opium for China: The British Connection". Over all it presents some interesting facts and theories about the events transpiring at that time.

I really want to pursue those hong merchants who, according to Fairbank, have very little written on them. I am armed and ready for tomorrow evening's writing foray! Thank you and good night people.


Slow Night 2

Even as I am writing this I feel my eyes drooping down, weighing equivalent to a mass of lead. It's crazy how fairly angst filled today was. I, due to technical malfunctions, managed to not land a single one of my desired courses. Everything single upper level history course has been taken up. I guess it is about time I start my own little kowtow system that the Qing demanded of people.

My readings tonight included John Selby's The Paper Dragon, Chang Commissioner Lin and the Opium War, also Collis' Foreign Mud. I am looking to aim the paper at the downfall of the British East India Trading Company and the importance of merchants as the medium men negotiating between two larger powers which they represent. Over all it is shaping up well. Especially as it plays out differently from the concerns of Lin Zexu at that time. Again I may be just talking out of my head. Alright, time to get a little bit of rest.