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!

No comments: