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.


The Count Down Night 1

It has come down to this glorious week end of March beginning of April, and on April 3, which is also the inauguration of the new UMW president, Judy Hample, the initial draft of my research paper is due for peer-review in class 9AM. It's kind of been a strange sort of whirlwind semester, filled with missed days in my journal and jumping from different written mediums all over the place. A wild ride for sure. So, at least being somewhat of a good student (still relative!) I began the uphill battle to fight off this paper. I had thus far been doing extensive work with secondary sources, but very minimal attempts were made at the primary documents which should be telling of some interesting insights. If one attempts to craft a paper fully out of secondary, doesn't it eventually throw you too far out into the abstract? These primary sources from the actual event are what should be the bread and butter of a solid paper. I blasted through a few different books tonight while trying to prepare. The most interesting one wasn't technically a historical source. Lydia Liu had written on the ideas about the Language of Sovereignty and spends a great length of time tracing out the idea of the supersign yi/barbarian. Barbarian is a term that haunts most translations of Chinese work, particularly anyone coming from a Fairbankian tradition, which I doubt is super prevalent in modern history writing. Don't get me wrong, John King Fairbank did amazing things for the disciple and opening all sorts of doors, but the idea of Western impact has caused so many issues that it isn't even funny. Tonight I also completed combing through Annals and Memoirs of the Court of Peking, originally published in 1914. It lacks the primary but gives some interesting nuggets about Court edicts, but gives little idea to China. The other books were about just as semi helpful, but at least I am making progress. Tomorrow is John Slade day, fingers crossed. This can still go well, just need to log more hours. Oof if I had just kept an eye on the calendar and the clock.


The City as a Near-apocalyptic landscape

I recently had to create a small annotated bibliography for my Urban Theory class with professor James. Up until this point I worked primarily by riding buses and conducting interviews, searching through databases for secondary sources had been a side job. I did very little until this week, yet the literature that discusses cities paints a very disparaging picture of the city that has emerged over the post World War II era.

I originally began my search in a narrow field with keywords focused on "mass-transit". This yields very little useful information for me beyond a few interesting articles that deal with transit systems in different countries. Now, there most be more studies on buses, subways, and carpools that I just didn't manage to uncover. For me, the databases could not offer quite enough. So I sat down and held a meeting with my project partner to outline some of the concerns that we have noticed through active fieldwork. Find the concern, even if this means it takes a lot to describe, reduce the description to a word or phrase, look it up. If that doesn't produce results, find a way to expand the search. This is a sure way to find material on any topic. It doesn't hurt to look too narrow. If you have an idea of what you are looking for, narrow is great. The desired object lies at the center and all further expansions should, at that point, lead to it. Sorry for the digression, but good search techniques are hardly at all intuitive and my own methods are lacking. I cannot always tap into the best materials right away. There's also another very simple method, recommended by professor James: look up one book and investigate the books surrounding it. I started in the third level of the Simpson library in the Urban Planning section HT, sniffing around with my project partner. We each took an armful of books. It just so happened that my stack affected me. Is it normal for a project to alter the way you look at something? Perhaps the anthropological detachment just made me think that it severs my own personal development and response. The most recent book I got my hands on, Don Mitchell's The Right to the City published in 2003, hit me the hardest. A discussion of whether or not public space really exists, Mitchell looks at the homeless marginality and society ultimately requiring private space to function. What counts as public anymore truly? The city, the heart beat of a country, can hardly be considered to have that sort of space as legislation is constantly attacking homelessness, as privatization pushes everything aside. Now look at the generalities and vague notions I have set up! Sorry, I am still trying to sort everything out. The next book I will be looking at (and yes Don Mitchell's also needs some further examination) is Amy Satterthwaite's -don't ask me to pronounce that!- work, Going Shopping.

All these books have twisted my head in all sorts of directions and perhaps like always I am still just asking more questions than there are possibly answers. If the issue of mass-transit and urbanism were an easy one, a satisfactory answer would be in place. Even though the status quo of suburbia proper and its destitute cousin, Urbana, seems to be a settled matter, there is still a body of people questioning if that is how things are really meant to be. If Change is a constant, why can't I make my own? If rising consumerism is a problem, can I not have a solution? Another matter of interest is the generational gaps that arise with different problems and even worse accusations for the previous gen that left them in such a dire state. Now I think I just need a nap.


About the Benefits

When working on any sort of language, regardless of what level, you need to be communicating with those around you. The modern language is not a creature to be feed alone. You have to be meshing with those around you who are also studying. Today I had a chinese exam around ten this morning. It went really well. We went through and did listening exercises where lao shi reads a dialog for us to answer questions. Next is a reading section, just going through being able to recognize characters; the whole test wasn't too bad. However, I got a really good leg up by hosting a study session with a few other students in my class. We met around 9 pm. I had no clue what to say to them, how to approach it. Really, we are all at the same level. I only took the lead because I feel comfortable guiding a session. I loved seeing my peers talking with each other, working through dialogs about a whole lot of nothing (buying clothes, exchanging shoes, handling directions). Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves immensely, that's what counts. We can stumble over the tones, forget what a character sounds like, but it is the experience of working together that truly matters. I think you can get as much tutoring and teacher assistance as you want, but it cannot compare with working in a relaxed environment with friends, or soon to be friends. Many of the people in the group (we had eight people at one point) rarely talked to each other before or after class. Hopefully there will be more of these, because I honestly took a lot from being able to chat with people. Who cares if we can only speak like children at this point?

I have been wondering if a class-wide "phone friend" program would be valuable. What do you think? You could have someone from within your class give you a call, and for ten maybe even fifteen minutes a day go over a few dialogs and ask some questions. I actually have a hard time asking questions : (. Sidebar- I have been trying to apply to different summer language programs; it is nerve-wracking sometimes! I should make a little guide to apply for schools : P



I ended up getting to bed way later than I expected last night, but I wrapped up the assignment and turned it into Professor Blakemore and whatever student had to do a critique on the paper. Now, that isn't too say I did not try to do well, only that it was a first draft and like all first drafts requires some, or rather massive, tweaking. I'm okay with that; you only realize your work truly has failed in its mission when someone else reads, or even worse when the professor reads your paper out loud to you. I make sense to myself, but do I make sense to other people? That is the real question that needs to be asked. Of course, as a side note, it begs the question of who really crafts the meaning of a word, the speaker or the hearer (in this case the writer and the reader). Meaning can be horrifically complicated, and better left for another day in my opinion! I wonder if a highly pragmatic question would cut away the abstract implications of dealing with meaning.

Anyway! I am studying the Opium War from 1839-1842. The assignment I turned in today asks for you to do a survey of all the literature concerning your topic (I think I have mentioned this before but oh well!). What ends up happening is you try to organize a wide body of literature into some intelligible pattern so that you can discuss it in about four pages. Frankly, when you start writing these assignments, you figure out how the limits are often very daunting. Is it odd how high schoolers often view that number as the minimum, and upper level students, wanting to cram as much information as possible, see the low number as a daunting maximum boundary to work within? My research is still taking shape. The literature review gives the benefit of forcing you to look at the questions other historians have already asked. So, what did the study look like in the early 1900s? How about in the 60s and 70s? What are scholars in the field doing now? These are the types of questions one asks in crafting the paper. I managed to divide the field in three categories, although to be honest these categories really have sub-categories within them. The diving points come in the form of either a historical event, such as the Nixon Administrations formally talking to China and the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997.
Starting with H.B. Morse and James Bromley Eames, you have really strongly British takes on the Opium war. Historians in general are using, for the most part, solely British archives to find out what happened. One picks up a token survey from all of this without any honest interpretation work being done. Around the thirties you see John King Fairbank start to enter into the very much so non-existent Asian studies field. I feel like Said pretty well represents the issues going on here in Orientalism by stating that in studying the East, most scholars really only looked at the West, which created a series of false binary oppositions. (didn't really dig into that in the paper though, that's just an extra nugget of intellectual chocolate for you.) Fairbank looked to Morse for inspiration in further expanding the field to make it legitimate and traveled around in China for sometime. World War II pretty much nixed most scholarly traveling, and at this time Fairbank began to take a close look at the development of the Communist party. In 1948, he came out with his first book The United States and China. It wasn't until the 1950s that he started to write anything specific to my research topic. Foreign Mud by Maurice Collis wrote a fairly interesting narrative of the Opium War, but he got caught in the same web of problems of earlier writers. It can't be stressed enough the Fairbank did a lot of work for the field. The New York Times traced out his career fairly well upon his death in 1991. Note that Waley came out with The Opium War Through Chinese Eyes.
I felt like two factors went into creating a second generation of authors, first John King Fairbank's slew of authoritative studies and writings, then second, the opening of China in the 1970s. If you look through a lists of the available books on the Opium War, you will find that a massive explosion of written works occurred right around this time. All of the sudden, historians were able to gain access to China and its archives in Beijing. No longer were people stuck having to float through British reserves or Hong Kong. Now historians could ask more detailed questions of primary documents and even Chinese histories about the War. It's a happenin' time to be an Asian scholar. This is the time frame that we see Jonathan Spence come in with his first book being published in 1974.
(Needing to wrap up) Around the eighties a heavy lull fell upon the study of the Opium War. The initial excitement of the seventies had come and gone with whatever could be written already done. Historians in China moved on to more specific studies and of course everyone was looking at what had been considered higher priority, the Taiping and Boxer rebellions. Paul Cohen busted into the field by critiquing the literature in Discovering History in China. He commented that the "conceptual model" designed by Fairbank viewed the conflicts in China as an impact and response model. China essential lost agency in the histories being crafted, no one is saying anything about that. The critique jarred the field and revived interest in that event. Spence would later come out with The Search for Modern China which took close looks at a wide spread of Chinese history to right around the Cold War. What's happening now? Interesting question. The field has a lot of studies being done about specific scholar-officials, opium itself, and Western hegemony. An interest in the question of imperialism and the post-colonial world has been stirred by the return of Hong Kong and of course China's own rise to the global stage.
So, the literature? Pretty Kickin'. I think though that I don't connect the literature enough to the Opium War, rather I kind of tend to talk about how the works evolved in sources and some interpretations. I think as I work to correct the problems I need to pull in a narrative of the war to create a stronger paper. Sorry, this might have been a little tedious to read! Oh to learn how to even start being a "scholar" LOLZ like I would ever count! : D

Thanks for Reading!



It's 6:47 or so now, and I am starting to make some headway with this whole literature review thing...Maybe a wonderful success story post later?

An Assignment

That so very much eats up my time right now, and she is in fact the culprit that keeps me up to this hour still. The university's History 299, a research course, requires students to jump through the flaming hoops involved in writing histories. There's something epic about it, especially when reading a Kennan article that just inspires one to start mining, no matter how lonely this line of work can be. No, tonight I needed to get a better handle on an assignment. The literature review represents a new challenge that I have never come across before: Guidelines from department. It lays out the whole thing, but have you ever just sat and tried to attack an assignment? For me, the whole process has turned me over my head, creating the image of the great break dancer move. You have to take a broad and fairly deep survey of the literature that has been coming out about your topic over the years. The word "evolution" nails the matter spot on. I think it is fairly obvious that historians today won't be saying what historians of yester-years talked about. Even still, how does one form all of these thoughts? Imagine a group of people are in the rain, they are using an umbrella to shelter themselves, now describe the umbrella and what shoes everyone is wearing. Okay, still doesn't make sense, but geez man! I can only keep circling around the monster which will have no choice but to be unleashed come Wednesday at 9AM in Monroe. At least I have been coming up with a way of looking at all the sources I had to gather together. I think total I must have close to 45 or so...maybe. But it's so odd, it's like everyone was having a heyday writing about the Qing and opium in the mid 20th century, then it just more or less stopped. Even more so, many of the historians worked in close relation with each other. Fairbank and Spence show up in almost every single bibliography that I could possibly imagine. Right, by the way worldcat is a very rocking program to find out where books or articles are hiding. By and large, the access to other databases has to be one of the bigger perks to attending a university.

So, some busy work has also been going on. I have to turn in a small package for the international academic study office in order to get my name in the running for the Cultural envoy scholarship, which is a pretty sweet deal. Sure, I will work for three semesters, but! It is five thousand dollars of tuition I don't have to pay. I start to find that the issue of capital rears its ugly head more than I would ever like to think it ought.

Current work for english class: Falling Man. Pretty decent post 9-11 literature, check it out!...if you want to be confused but left attempting to puzzle out "the truth" not with a capital "T" though, somewhat different. I like a novel that will make me work for a meaning.

By the by, there was a very interesting event on campus yesterday called "Mary Washicon". (."? still working out punctuation) Four clubs got together, pulling resources, and crafted the all day event. I attended a talk laid by professor Whalen about the legitimacy of studying video games. The talk focused on the up and coming future of games, namely the indie game design scene. He suggested this website. I particularly like the game involving static backgrounds. Problematic, I have a mac; most of the games are designed only for PC. Oh cruel world! I think that in terms of gaming, some of the titles coming out from large companies probably counts as "high brow" material in terms of storylines. The video game really should count as a legit medium for story telling and critical thinking.


Snow in March

It's true that Virginia gets little to know snow, at least in my area. So the sudden rash of winter weather has been a bit disconcerting. A week ago we received about six inches, and today I awoke to a fury of flurries falling. Weather is a fickle creature to wrestle around here. Interestingly enough, my girlfriend has a way of knowing just when to send some article of winter-capable clothing. The first snowstorm, albeit nothing spectacular, I received a package perhaps a day or so before that contained, among other things, wool socks. And today I found a package notification in my mailbox. A manila colored stuffed with two books and a sturdy winter hat. The temperature this week went from a soaring seventy or so degrees to the dismal thirty to low forties. Yes, yes everything can be said to have been planned by the individual, but the accuracy of the packages astounds me, and if we were to see such in a movie or a novel, we would consider it to be something of great importance and highly significant to the plot. Much props to the all-knowing girlfriend indeed! : D

Oh ho! That is not what I am here to talk about, sorry sorry indeed. This week, I have been toying with the idea of recording lectures with a tape recorder. I never put much stock in audio recordings of lectures and would also never go out of my way to purchase a device to do such. Why pay money when I should be writing quickly? Or learn the slightly outmoded ways of Greg Shorthand, for anyone who remembers that craze.

Over my spring break, which due to a sudden dropping of a good six plus inches was anything but, I went to Union Station in DC, waiting for the 86 bulleting, or chugging along, to Boston, Massachusetts. I arrive horrifically early to most appointments of any sort of high priority. Morning rush hour traffic both bores and somewhat frightens me, so I left before the traffic even built up. To anyone who does a morning commute, you will understand that means I left way, way earlier than I needed. My early arrival tendencies were unnecessary. All of the odd weather left both the tracks and cars frozen for an indeterminable period of time (this is a whole story within itself). I tend to stay up the night before traveling, I chock it up to all of the pre-travel excitement. My eyes were blurry, yawns were coming out all over the place. I needed that traditional caffeine fix that only a nice dose of hot coffee, black, can provide. I sat in an elevated chair with a raised table facing towards the window, watching the sun rise up and thinking about how dirty pigeons must be, when an older gentleman asked to sit next to me. He bought me a cup of coffee, which was nice since I feel very odd about giving McDonalds my money. Long story short! We ambled around the outside of the station. He quoted the engravings along the upper most portion of the Station's exterior walls. Soon the discussion turned to my education. He said the answer was in how you record information. "Good records, man, that's what's key. I'd be sittin' in class with this baby," he pulls out a medium size, black tape recorder, "and I could catch every word. If you've got everything you won't miss a thing. You take it; Telling you man it's important."

A few nights ago I got a hold of some double AA batteries (terribly overpriced) and a few mini-cassettes. I tried recording my Urban Theory class and used it a little bit today. I have never used a recorder before. Taking out the small object, I hit the play button only to hear a squeaking sound as the reels, who knows how old, rotate. A part of me feels odd about recording a professor's every word and students' responses to the tiny plastic piece. I approached my English professor, Shingavi about the matter. He laughed for a little bit at my awkwardness but eventually asked if it was an MP3 recorder and if I minded sharing the audio files... Lucky for me, I have an interesting set of friends that are always willing to help me out. I now have such a device. Just a matter of getting over a fear of recording. Ever the analyst, I wonder what it is that makes me so scared about it? If the method works, why question it? Ah, but doesn't that just open up a huge can of worms if we take that argument far out of proportion. This reminds me of a segment within a book I am reading for Culture and Imperialism entitled Netherland. "'It's been snowing here,' I said. 'Jake could build a snowman on Twenty-third Street.' Rachel sniffled. 'Well I'm not moving him over there so he can build a snowman. By that logic we should all head for the North Pole. What's left of it.'" (99) (Side note, you see how the '" thing is happening. How do you handle that? Is it just " at the end of a sentence?) Maybe the quote comes completely out of left field, but eh whatever it has been a long week. So! I have the recorder and we shall see how it goes. Should definitely be handy for the Chinese class.

This weekend I get to work for a showcase on campus to introduce prospective students to the wonderful major of Anthropology, hopefully I will be able to answer the questions with both intelligence and class! Oh, finally thoughts. Turned in a book review on Waley's Opium War through Chinese Eyes, might post that up later. My big concern now is over this whole...literature review. I have never written anything quite like it, so fingers crossed.


I can't help but feel that I am blindly moving forward on this expedition to be able to say "Hey! I've learned something..." But after much urging from all sorts of outside forces, I have to keep writing or at least working at it. Thursdays, as well as Tuesdays, get divided between Asian Civ II and the Urban theory and ethnography course. In broad terms, both courses will talk about social movements; I think that for any real humanities, social science student you can't help but talk about such things. Of course, maybe that is saying too little about too much? For right now, it is not about my thoughts, more the information I am gathering!

Everyone seems to have a general sense of the political situation in China, and I am not really here to firmly establish my own thoughts on that matter in particular. I have to admit that even I honestly lack the full range of resources necessary to make a good response. However, the situation is there, and we, as a people separated by an expansive ocean yet connected through the ever-growing ether of communication, are left to question how it came to be. The Communist party has not been in China forever. What were the forces pushing this sort of movement? Who, beyond Mao Zedong, led this group? Were they always the powerful group that we see today? Origin stories, snapshots, speak volumes to the present. Prof. Fernsebner selected long portions of Edgar Snow's Red Star over China for us to read before class lectures. The book fascinates me. The subject matter in general is not new, but the specifics have always been very hazy. Sure, I knew who the key players were, but no conflict can be or should be boiled down to two names, whether these names be a party or merely people. Saying that what started to happen around the 1920s and 30s can be represented by Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong only limits the understanding that one could attain. Snow had a very unique position in all of the turmoil happening in China. A journalist working in China, he managed to cross into what was distinctly Red territory in the Northwest during a lull in the internal, civil conflicts. His Chinese, apparently, was not too great but enough to get him by. His work gives us something that few others ever could, actual interviews with the Chairman himself. I can't find the quote at the moment, but Snow mentions that many of the Party members seem to almost forget their own history when joining/working for the Communists. The mindset turns from individual histories, to a deep concern for the Greater Chinese Good.

The actual lecture walked through the beginnings of the divisions between the United Front led by Chiang Kai-shek who took over after Sun Yat-sen suddenly died. When a major figurehead dies, we can often find that those who are left to carry his/her load just can't quite seem to do as well. Chiang Kai-shek managed to do well considering, with the 1920s being a fairly prosperous decade for those living within the urban areas. What interests me is the rhetorics and ideologies being adopted by the different sides as each attempt to create the true China and protect it from the overwhelmingly powerful foreign imperialists.

Getting late, still have classes tomorrow. We will talk another day.


It Got Quiet

But really these things happen, and it is better late than never to pick up the proverbial ball and continue to roll it forward, collecting more and more things like a sick game of We Love Katamari. What I want to propose to you is a reformatting of whatever it was I had tried to accomplish here. For one, it just is not working out. Also, I would really like to have a simple and straightforward record of what I have been working on with different courses. Maybe have some truncated versions of graded essays, some ideas about notes and texts being read, you name it. I realize that the whole publishing something that is going up for a grade has some issues, but I think putting it out after it has been handed in and graded should present no problems for me.
So let's sit down, figure out where we stand right now. I am currently a sophomore in my second semester at Mary Washington, pursuing a double major in Anthropology and History. Both majors require fairly hefty reading loads, but you come across some very interesting stuff! My real interest that adds the icing layer to this academic cake is China. Frankly, it is my academic end all, be all. The majority of my projects should be focusing on China in one way or another. At the end of my senior year I am looking at getting the whole double major thing down and most importantly a solid set of Chinese language skills. This has presented the greatest set of hurdles for me thus far. The best way to acquire language is immersion, but one must have the available time to get himself over to the active field. All in due time of course, more about that later.
This semester I cast my net fairly wide in terms of a diverse class load. I have my Chinese 102 course with a language instructor from Beijing, two history classes (Research methods and Asian Civ II), Human Geography, Urban Theory and Ethnography, and finally an English course about Culture and Imperialism with its core text being Edward Said's work by the same title taught by Snehal Shingavi. I also do a drum lesson once a week, which is a great way to work the mind in some other way than critical analysis.
Some of the courses may need some further explanation to get a sense of what their individual purpose is, but in some way each class can in certain ways relate to all of the other classes. The research methods course provides students with an opportunity to design a project and write like a historian. It's an introductory course but allows you to experience the process of digging through primary documents. I am doing my project on the Opium War, which ties into Chinese 102- gave the initial boost of interest- and Asian Civ II. The anthropology course, Urban theory and Ethnography, is meant to fulfill a field research requirement for the Anthropology major. The class, taught by Prof. James, asks core questions about how anthropology functions in the Urban environment, what Urban is, how it relates to suburbia, and every question in between. While the course allows for non-majors, eh I have found that some of the core courses to the major, gives you a better framework for all of the readings. I am specifically thinking of the co-requisite classes Theories of Culture and Ethnography. The Ethno class is particularly helpful since the Urban theory class asks for you to run a field research class, which if you have no experience in designing a project it can be a rather daunting task, not to say it is completely un-daunting for those who have put their toes in the water.
All of this has gone too long for one post, maybe but maybe not! Either way, let's see where all this takes us, hopefully you'll be seeing some notes, reading suggestions, research updates for history, and rants, rants galore I tell you!