Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: history
Tuesday, 29 October 2013 10:29

A Cartographic History of the Liugong Canal

The course of Liugong Canal is a calligraphy brush carving Taipei's human history into its natural history. The collection of maps gathered at Academia Sinica, along with more recent maps made for various purposes, are useful guides to explain the history of Taipei from the view of the Liugong Canal.

(Googlemaps screenshot of Taipei)

In 1736 Kuo Hsi-liu, originally of Fujian province, came to Zhonglun in Taipei from Changhua and began the settling and development of a small farming community by the name of Xingyazhuang. Before long he found that the water resources for the village were drying up and were insufficient to maintain the community in the long term. By the time of his death in 1765, the farming plateaus of Taipei were well on their way to being fully supplied by an intricate and vast system of irrigation channels now known as the Liugong Canal, fed from the Xindian River, where water was diverted through the tunnels and trenches they dug to form the canal. While the original canal was completed in 1762, the Liugong Canal (公 'gong' is a respectful name affixed to great men, 'Liu' is derived from the individuals name) now refers to a grand network which spreads and branches out through Taipei City.

liugong map1(A map of the system of channels around the time of Liugong's death in 1765
See the whole map : http://webgis.sinica.edu.tw/map_irrigation/Canal_D04.html)

As the story goes, Kuo Hsi-liu dedicated his life to the construction and development of his farming community. He borrowed money to start the village, became a topographer in order to search for new water sources as natural reservoirs dried up and farms suffered droughts, and sold all he owned to fund the construction of the canal. Beyond that, he married an indigenous woman from a local tribe in order to stop the persistent raids on the workers and the destruction of their engineering works. He organized a great collaboration with the five villages of Dapinglin which lay along the path of his great plan. However, in the end he died distraught after watching his life’s work shattered by a typhoon which destroyed the critical Snakes Cage Dam, but not before handing down responsibility for the continuation of his magnum opus to his son.

This documentary commissioned by the Kuo Hsi-liu Foundation tells Liugong’s story, depicting him with all the aspects of a conscientious Chinese hero; self-sacrifice, piety, and lasting historical contribution to Chinese culture. As with many historical accounts, and great development projects, it is slightly oversimplified and perhaps glorified. Many other important individuals contributed to the construction of the channels and the road to agricultural security was paved with dead construction workers, who were regularly attacked by indigenous peoples angry that there lands were being encroached on by the Han settlers as there water resources grew. Though it was perhaps a the most peaceful solution, the act of bequeathing an indigenous woman, was a common tactic of the Han settlers to appropriate indigenous lands and ultimately become the new stewards of the Taipei basin. Nevertheless the project is an important part of Taipei’s heritage had lasting implications, helping secure the foundations for Taipei to become a major city in Taiwan. Kuo Hsi-liu was honored posthumously for his contributions with the respectful ‘Gong’ title by the contemporary Qing emperor. The following map shows the extent the canals had reached towards the end of the Qing Dynasty period over a century after Liu Gong’s death. At the time the canal systems were still divided into the Dapinglin, Wulixue and Liugong (originally Qingxi) canals

 liugong map2

By the Japanese era all the different names of the canal systems had been merged to create one single Liugong Canal. In order to solve their drainage and flooding problems, the Japanese constructed the huge Horikawa Drain (堀川) in 1933, which overlapped and rebuilt part of the Liugong Canal, thus bringing part of the canal into the sewage system, this trend continued as the drainage network expanded.

liugong map3(Liugong Canal during the Japanese era, 1939
See the whole map: http://webgis.sinica.edu.tw/map_irrigation/Canal_D06.html)

Not long into the KMT era changes happened in waves to the Liugong Canal. Emboldened by the pervasive spirit of modernity that had now seeped through to Chinese culture, the KMT pushed rapid industrialization and urbanization. Due to population strains, political needs, comparative unprofitability of farmland and more and more pollution nature was squeezed into the margins of the city and the Liugong Canal pushed underground. With rapid economic development, the population of Taipei further exploded. Most of the remaining farmland in the Taipei basin, including that bordering the Liugong Canal, was bought up by developers to build high rises, in order to meet and multiply the needs of Taipei's urbanization. Using techniques such as reinforced steel box culvert, the canals were paved over to build residential and commercial areas on top. The following map shows the water sources left in Taipei in 1904:

liugong map4

By the late 1970's most of the water sources within the main rivers of Xindian and Songshan and the mountain ranges enclosing Taipei from the east (i.e. the Taipei city area) were underground, covered by roads, buildings or parks. By the 80s the vast majority of the Liugong Canal was cemented over and either became obsolete in terms of its original irrigation function or certain parts were merged into the existing sewage system. One can now access the maps of the sewage system and underground waterways of Taipei using sewage maps that run on the Google Earth engine.

Anyone born in Taipei since the end of the martial law-era will likely not have experienced the Liugong Canal like their previous generations, washing, playing or collecting clams. Taipei’s richer youth may shop at the SOGO megastore in Zhongxiao Fuxing, but are unlikely to know that underneath flows the Liugong Canal and that the land is owned by Taipei’s Liugong Irrigation Association. Now there are only a sprinkling of open areas along the Liugong Canal, treasures worthy of letterboxers. For example, there is a 10-metre stretch outside the Café Pick up a Cat in the Alley on Wenzhou Street, a 5 km section near the source of the canal in Bitan, and since the turn of the century the ecological pond on the NTU campus. 

By the late 1990’s the Taipei City government began pushing the idea of ‘livable cities’ and there was growing interest in beautifying the city. These trends provided an opening and encouraged politicians, academics and community groups to re-explore the idea of bringing waterways back into the everyday life of the city. In 2005 there began to be some political interest in reopening some sections of the Liugong Canal and ever since then there have been projects highlighting and promoting the rediscovery of this historical relic which still exists beneath our feet. Beyond beautification, these projects increasingly include an environmental sustainability angle while they attempt to bring the Liugong Canal back into the city and renegotiate the relationship between Taipei’s waterways and its inhabitants. For example Professor Chun-E Kan of NTU’s Department of Bioenvironmental Systems Engineering has made the ‘sunlighting’ of the Liugong Canal his life’s work and has long promoted the restoration of the NTU section of the Liugong Canal by channeling natural rainwater flows from the nearby Toad Mountain. Further proposals for reopening the Liugong Canal have also come from a group of Finnish students mentored by the recent winner of the European Architect of the Year Award, Marco Casagrande and his cross-disciplinary research hub, the Ruin Academy, who bring in an aesthetic of nature re-invading architecture, but also have a social focus on community participation. There have also been groups and organizations more focused on memory and the historical value of the canals. For example, the Daan Community College ran historical walking tours along the former path of the canals. In 2013 there were even day-event cycling tours riding along the covered canal routes. There was a cultural landscape preservation movement (非瑠不可) led by students of NTU’s Department of Building and Planning for the preservation of a marginal military dependants' community whose makeshift houses bordered the open part of the canal close to the Xindian River. Indeed, re-exploring the Liugong Canal in this feature was also partly stimulated by the participation of our nomadic arts space, The Hole, in a movement to preserve another military dependants community, that of Toad Mountain near NTU. The skeleton of the Liugong Canal borders runs along the front Toad Mountain community. Until the 80's the canal was open and used daily by the residents, but by the 1980's it was paved over and there is no longer a regular flow of clean water running through.

(A brochure map for the historical tours run in the Daan Community College.)

For the more adventurous minds, one can even descend into the underworld, for a bit of urban exploring or catacomb-like art, visible only to those who may descend into the underground passages. In fact when entering the canal from the mountain streams that flow in there is still a diverse ecosystem underneath - a paradise for turtles, watersnakes, white egrets, fish, and huge toad and frog species, before reaching cockroach territory as you go further under the city. Budding cartographers can even find ways to trace the canal from above or below and find interesting new ways to display the maps, perhaps hand-drawn by a local residents or schools to promote community participation in design, perhaps using open source mapping to aid in the decentralization and democratization of the internet. These are all activities which our group is engaged in and promoting.

Over recent years more and more plans have emerged for the reopening of parts of Liugong Canal. Some are based purely on beautification, others on green economy, environmental protection and awareness and now, certain groups have begun to bring in ideas of community restoration and participation in planning for the Liugong Canal's future. As we can see from above, different parts of civil society - academics, community organisations, individual enthusiasts and artists - are already remapping the Liugong Canal. One thing is for certain: there are still many changes to happen to these maps, and the cartographic history of the Liugong Canal is far from over.

Sources:
http://www.khl.org.tw/about1-en.html
http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E7%91%A0%E5%85%AC%E5%9C%B3
http://thirdgenerationcity.pbworks.com/w/file/fetch/53734479/Aalto%20University_SGT_Taipei_Final_report_15.5.2012.pdf
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5HGFbVIqRE
http://140.131.110.231/tmhui/subpage_4-6-6_J_b05.html


Tuesday, 25 June 2013 11:19

After the Quake: Rituals in North Western Sichuan


Rituals organize and symbolize a way of living together. Through the enactment of rituals, a community expresses its fear, its solidarity and its longings. In traditional societies, performing rituals enables people to organize time and space into a meaningful universe, to renew their commitment to the group to which they belong, and to cement an alliance among them, with nature and with the supernatural.
The variety of ritual forms is astounding. It reflects the richness of cultural forms, artworks and humane inventiveness. Among the ethnic minorities who, all together, account for almost ten percent of China's population, those living in the southwest may offer the widest repertoire of ritual performances. Caring for the souls of the dead, exorcising ghosts so as to cure illnesses, rejoicing at marriages, New Year or at harvest time. The four rituals mentioned here all take place in Sichuan province, among people of Yi, Qiang and Ersu ethnic origins.


Monday, 24 June 2013 15:16

The Evolution of Rituals


Rituals and celebrations have always been a source of fascination for me. Despite growing up in Spain, my brother and I were raised by atheist parents and didn't undergo many of the common rites of passage that Spanish children did. I remember fierce little arguments with my classmates at primary school who would claim I had no name, since I hadn't undergone baptism. In Spain, not being baptised and, later on, confirmed was quite unusual for a child. There are usually large parties and celebrations involved with confirmation and I distinctly remember my friends excitedly looking forward to the gifts and the food. Though I never really envied them as such, it did occasionally make me feel left out, because, as a child, who doesn't want to have parties and receive gifts?


Tuesday, 18 June 2013 16:09

A Centre for the Middle Country

The Beijing Centre for Chinese Studies (TBC) opened in 1998 and is located on the campus of the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. 

In this interview with Father Thierry Meynard SJ, director of TBC, we learn of his story leading up to being named director, his thoughts on the importance of learning about China, and a detailed explanation of the services that the Centre provides.

Programs and contact: http://www.thebeijingcenter.org/


Tuesday, 28 May 2013 18:34

Gender and Weddings in Taiwan

Red candles, ceremonial cannons, fresh flowers, everybody coming together to celebrate, but with all the throwing of fans (the bride throws a fan on the ground to represent that she's leaving her youthful temper behind her), the bride's mother throwing water at the bride's departing car (spilled water can't be retrieved, which signifies that the daughter should not go back to her old house just like the water can't be unpoured) and walking over broken tiles (which represents overcoming the past and expelling evil deities), the bride can't help but be a little overwhelmed. "Rites" are a kind of standard or a restriction, if a wedding is supposed to be for both the bride and the groom, then why are all the restrictions during the marriage rite imposed on the woman?

Translated from the Chinese original by Conor Stuart



Tuesday, 28 May 2013 18:26

Keening: Taiwan's Professional Mourners

Translated from the Chinese by Conor Stuart. Photos courtesy of Liu Junnan and Wang Zhengxiang

When did keening become so forced?

A Mei: 'There was always someone there saying: Now you should cry... You can't cry now...My brother and I often got mixed up, "Do we have to cry now? Or not cry?".
                                                                                                                 -Seven Days in Heaven (2010)

The film, Seven Days in Heaven (Fuhou Qiri) from the short story of the same name, describes the experiences of A Mei, the female protagonist who has been working in the city for many years, on her return to her rural hometown for her father's funeral. There was a montage in the film with a lively Spanish dance track playing in the background, in which the 'keening' during the funeral preparation process is satirized – at one point A Mei hasn't finished eating, and later hasn't finished brushing her teeth, but hears the call "the girl should come and cry", and she has to don her mourning clothes and sprint to the altar to cry – in a very memorable scene. This scene must have made a lot of Taiwanese watching laugh (at least that is what happened with my friends and I), not just because of the comi-tragic sorry figure she cut, but also because we've all had similar – even if not quite as dramatic – experiences and sentiments.

Funerals, always touch on death and separation. Being grief-stricken or crying, is a natural emotional and physiological reaction; however, having to cry or 'keen' under the strictures of a pre-formulated ritual, is hard to think of as 'natural'.

How old is traditional? How new is modern?

In Taiwanese funerals the time to cry is appointed and when that time comes you have to cry, even if you have to fake it, and it's a loud keening wail – this is an element of Taiwanese funeral culture which is often criticized as a corrupt practice. When watching Seven Days in Heaven, A Mei's embarrassment, and the laughter of the audience, reflects the distance that people nowadays feel towards funeral rites.

For the past 20 or so years, a trend towards modernization in funerals has gathered momentum; the customs surrounding the funeral rites, often seen as esoteric were rebranded under the new moniker 'the study of life and death' (a field of study in the Chinese speaking world: shengsixue), advocated in the context of Metaphysics. A milestone in this trend has been the regulatory impact of the 'Mortuary Service Administration Act' promulgated by the Taiwanese government at the end of 2002, an act that states its purpose as essentially advocating conforming funeral customs to reflect the demands of a modern society.

If one compares the funeral model listed under the Citizen Ceremonies' Model ratified by the government in 1970 and similar models offered by funeral businesses today, one discovers that there's not much difference – clearly we haven't completely gotten rid of the old, and welcomed in a new way of doing things, but rather we've adapted and reinterpreted some of the finer details. So, before we rush to accept the traditional/modern dichotomy, perhaps we should ask ourselves what is this tradition that we are talking about? How old is it really? And what about the meaning of it should be reformed?

The shift from secular to religious funerals

To continue the example of keening, let's do a bit of historical research.

Normally people from Han culture think of funeral rites as pertaining to three separate traditions, the Confucian school, Buddhism and Daoism, at the same time, different characteristics sprang up in different localities. The fact that a funeral rite is called a rite () implies that it not only a religious activity; comparing the Confucian, the Buddhist and the Daoist traditions, the relationship between rites () and the Confucianism is much older and much deeper.

Very early on, China already had the concepts of ghosts, deities and ancestor worship, however, from the time of Confucius and Mencius, the rites, although they took their origin in belief and sacrificial rituals, developed by Confucian intellectuals from the rites of Zhou has always been secular, the main thrust of which was concerned with governing the behaviour of man. Confucianism tends to a belief that improving one's own sense of morality can give order to society, and allow one to accept one's place in life; they didn't feel the need search for consolation in imagining ghosts or deities. Therefore, the funeral rites and customs Confucianism advocated didn't include religious mysticism, but rather they reflected the 'normal' social order and social contract.

Pursuing harmony and rationality in this world, cannot ease the primal terror that people feel when faced with death, and this pursuit is unable to answer people's questions or speak to their imaginings of the afterlife. The narrative of life and death in Confucian thinking, advocating the ideas of putting the service of man before the service of spirits and that of keeping a respectful distance from ghosts and deities, is not enough to satisfy these questions; so, as Buddhism, which had come from elsewhere, and the home-grown Daoism came to fruition in the Wei, Jin and North-South dynasties, the system of rites surrounding funerals associated with Confucianism became intertwined with those of Buddhism and Daoism; with the changes in the way people think about the world, the secular Confucian orthodoxy has gradually become less dominant, under attack as it was from modern ways of thinking; supernatural religious belief was able to come to the fore in funeral rituals, revealing even more clearly the shift towards thinking from a religious perspective.

哭喪04Restraining Grief, a Thousand Year Old Ritual

However, in the midst of this trend, keening is considered an example of a more 'classic' ritual.

As the Chinese equivalent to "I'm sorry for your loss", which translates roughly as "Restrain your grief, so that you can adapt to the loss", which people today still use regularly, can attest to, the main tenet by which the Confucian system of rites deals with crying or keening during the mourning period emphasizes mediating grief by controlling one's physiological reactions. The passage 'Questions about Mourning Rites'in the Classic of Rites (Li Ji) is an early record that, even in the case of mourning for parents, the mourning period shouldn't last more than three years, the purpose of this is in the hope that people will gradually be able to exercise emotional restraint, and return to their customary life in society. This current of thought continued until after the Song (960–1279) and the Yuan (1271–1368) dynasties, when Confucian scholars gradually compiled Family Rites wherein the role of crying as a stage in funeral rites was laid down more clearly in writing, this included instructions like the following: on the death of a relative or a friend, you cry loudly (the person is dead so you can cry); throughout the period when one is offering sacrifices for the dead, one can cry if one feels sad (there's no appointed time for crying, when grief comes one may cry); but once the body has been interred, during the 'Enshrining the Spirit' ritual, one can only cry in the morning and in the evening (crying at dawn and at dusk); after a year of mourning, one should stop crying – this is where the idea of appointing the times when one could and could not cry came from in part.

As well as this, keening in this context, isn't simply 'crying', but rather it involves singing a keening song (dirge). From the perspective of the Han people, the folk keening dirges can be sung in several different ways, some are freestyle with no limitations on content, others, however, have words, but most are sung by women, such as wives and daughters on the death of an elder; during the funeral rites of the Zhuang, the Yi and the Jingpo peoples, all minority ethnic groups from the South West of China, one can always find rituals which fuse dance and keening dirges to express and relieve grief.

Can grief-stricken keening be carried out by proxy?

We can say for sure that keening is a part of a funeral culture with a long history, and it had a rich significance, and not a negative one, so is it right to label keening as a aberrant practice?

In the film Seven Days in Heaven, as well as the 'genuinely' filial daughter, A Mei, who feels bewildered by the keening ritual in the process of the funeral, there is also another classic role associated with crying: the 'fake' filial daughter A Qin, who keens professionally. In the film, A Qin is a larger than life career keener who can turn her tears on and off at the drop of a hat; the idea behind this character comes from the Chinese expression for a professional keener 'Xiaonvbaiqin'(孝女白琴 literally: filial daughter Baiqin), which formed a part of Taiwanese funeral processions (zhentou 陣頭) ten or twenty years ago. Somehow, compared to the relatives of the dead not knowing how to cry, spending money to hiring a perfect stranger who is in this profession to keep up appearances for them by 'performing' grief, seems a lot harder to reconcile with the practice of 'rites', but in Taiwan, this phenomenon has really taken off.

In fact, as well as "Filial Daughter Baiqin", another element of the parade tradition (zhentou 陣頭) with which Taiwanese readers will be familiar is the part called "Five sons cry at a tomb" (Wuzikumu 五子哭墓), these all play a part in "orthodox" Taiwanese funeral customs: the latter takes its origin in a Hoklo folktale; the former, on the other hand, is derived from the character 'Filial Daughter Baiqiong' in the 1970s' Taiwanese popular classic puppet theatre The Great Confucian Knight-Errant of Yunzhou (雲州大儒俠) – so these are all relatively "new traditions", so to speak. That's not to say that these more performative examples of keening don't have an element of filial piety or that they don't count as an expression of grief; however if one really goes back through historical records it becomes clear that these performances were actually invented by Taiwanese funeral homes – another relatively "new tradition" which only really started to become popular from the 1960s onwards.

 Because of its close connection with the rise of local funeral home companies, most of the professionals performing as"Filial Daughter Baiqin" normally work for relatively small organizations, often with staff shortages, and they're often responsible for weddings and other celebrations in addition to funerals - working in a variety of different roles, not just in the funeral sector, like performing as show girls on dance floats at weddings - a common sight at local weddings, celebrations and sometimes even funerals. For that very reason, the "Filial daughter Baiqin" profession is one of the most denigrated within Taiwan's contemporary funeral cultural industry, indirectly reinforcing people's negative impressions of this keening custom at funerals.

Overcoming the diametric opposition between "traditional" and "modern"

From another perspective, however, no matter if it's the services performed by the undertaker, the"Five sons crying at the tomb" (Wuzikumu) or "Filial daughter Baiqin", given that the structure of society has changed over time, the way funerals are held has adapted accordingly, making up for something that is now missing from our society (the popularization of funeral homes reflects the weakening of the bonds between people living in the same area and within families, as well as the scarcity of people familiar with rites; the rise of this kind of performative keening by professionals is not unlinked to the shrinking of families and the decline in the number of children), that reflects the psychology and demands of a bygone era. The custom does not take its origins in temples and it does not have a long history, but compared to the esoteric mysticism of the religious conception of rites, it is perhaps closer to the true essence of rites as they relate to the life of the ordinary man.

With the tide of modernization concerning funeral and burial customs, people have advocated freeing ourselves from the corrupt practices of traditional funeral customs and rites: they should be more solemn, there should be no loud mournful keening; they should be simplified and adapted to the times, there shouldn't be such extravagant decorations; one should follow religious practice, and not indulge in petty superstitions... however, these imagined "traditions" cannot be so easily homogenized, and one cannot break away from them simply by constructing modernity in opposition to them. Using the example of keening, we can even go far as to say that 'modernity' surfaces in order to resolve that which seems to be a contradiction or an aberration in any given society – here it would be the aberration would be the idea of a stranger being paid to mourn for one's relatives, but often in problematizing this aberration we flippantly iron out the creases in history, and simply thrust upon it the term 'tradition'. In this way we often remain ignorant to how the same practice, in this case keening, in a different time and place can change in the way it is carried out (i.e. from family members to professional keeners); and how this kind of aberration is a product of historic shifts within a society, and shouldn't simply be banished as a corrupt traditional practice.

Ghosts and deities remain outside of the grasp of human perception, and so judgement of whether something is good or bad is simply a product of our way of thinking and we shouldn't ignore the historical realities that lie behind apparent aberrations.

 

 

 


Wednesday, 30 January 2013 14:30

The Immanence of Culture: An Interview with Prof. Jon Tikivanotau Jonassen

In this interview, Cook Islands cultural specialist/drummer prof. Jon Tikivanotau Jonassen shares with us a variety of topics on the different Pacific Asia cultures in terms of indigenous music and language. He starts from a very special story about his own name, signaling us to the hidden force of traditional culture in our modern era, and ends the interview with solemn advice to the indigenous people on how to gain autonomy in a globalizing world...


Tuesday, 13 November 2012 16:07

The Olive

There are many ways to tell a story. The concept for this one starts from the shelves of a supermarket, from a can of stuffed olives. This snack that makes a drink with friends more enjoyable is associated in the mind of the story teller with the country of our hero.

How trivial a beginning for a story that will bring on stage Saint Ignatius of Loyola!

Some time ago I asked a friend to design a poster for Saint Ignatius Day. He had the very good idea to draw the outline of a medieval knight and inside Jesus welcoming Ignatius still wearing his helmet as to show that his frame of mind was still the one of a knight. Leaving the vanities of the world, at the junction of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, taking seriously the call of the Lord, Ignatius is still a knight. “The Olive” tells us the story of a knight with big dreams, not only a dreamer but a fighter that against all odds decided to battle the French when the outcome of the fight was a certain defeat for the Spaniards. The bitter defeat left deep scars in our hero and that was the beginning of another story. All the vanities of our medieval knight were left behind on his sick bed. The closed world of the Middle Ages then vanished and Ignatius was thrown into spiritual warfare. In this other world, interior and spiritual, in this new era of culture with all the discoveries and openings of the Renaissance, Ignatius with the same singleness found his way. He was now led by God on a pilgrimage that brought him to the foundation of the Jesuit order. And the story is still going on. Let “The Olive” tell us what happened.

An animation written, produced and narrated by Jason Kapell of the Fairfield University Media Center.


Friday, 22 June 2012 00:00

Celebrating 450 years of Xu Guangqi

Interview first published in Xuhui News (Vol.2, N.9, April 2012), by Guan Xin

What does it mean to commemorate the 450th anniversary of the birth of Xu Guangqi? What values should it lead us to promote?

Xu Guangqi was a man of extraordinary stature: a statesman thoroughly familiar with the Chinese philosophical and cultural tradition; a man of practical abilities fascinated by technical and scientific progress; an agriculturist who embarked on this field out of philanthropic concerns; a patriot endowed with military skills… but he was also someone who, in the person of Matteo Ricci and other Jesuit missionaries, discovered Otherness. He was able to challenge himself, to enter into a new understanding of existence, while remaining deeply faithful to the best of his culture and his personality. From the start, he realized a synthesis between different traditions and worldviews. So, when we commemorate his life, we are reminded that a healthy sense of identity goes with a strong capacity to understand and empathize with the other, to put oneself into question, and to creatively invent news ways of thinking and acting.

What has been the contribution of Xu Guangqi in the field of religion?

He is traditionally called “one the three great pillars of the Chinese Catholic Church”, together with the scholars Yang Tingyun and Li Zizhao. These scholars embraced the new faith and were actively promoting the participation of the Western missionaries in fields such as the reform of the Imperial calendar. At the same time, they were deeply anchored into the Confucian tradition, which they wanted to reform and purify, and they found in Catholicism the completion of what they thought was the original moral and theistic Confucian original worldview. Though their relationship with Buddhism was an uneasy and complex one, one can also find elements of Buddhist philosophy in their formation. In that sense, their contribution is also interreligious: in their written works they were offering a new expression of the Chinese religious psyche. Suring the last decade, these works have been republished, and they are object of intense interest for scholars. The complete works of Xu Guangqi have just been published in Shanghai.

The friendship and cooperation between Xu Guangqi and Matteo Ricci was great and profound. We are now facing a “smaller” planet due to globalization and intense cross culture communication. Doe their ideal and the model they offer keep some significance for us today?

When Xu Guangqi and Ricci were alive, communication among civilizations was minimal. Now, we have sometimes “too much’ of it, in the sense that clichés, superficial communication and conflicts of interests are often perverting our exchanges. Still, Ricci and Xu Guangqi remind us that in-depth communication is always to be grounded into patience, friendship and humility. Patience: it takes time to truly enter into a language and a new system of thought and perception, as there are no shortcuts for being truly “conversant’ with the other; Friendship; empathy and curiosity are the virtues that makes communication among human beings valuable and creative; humility: being able to critically evaluate one’s culture and personality is indispensable for a grateful appreciation of what the cultures and people we encounter may offer to us. In this respect, one can almost say that Xu Guangqi and Matteo Ricci are still the two pillars on which to build a positive model of globalization!


Photo by Roberto Ribeiro. Xu Guangqi Park, Shanghai.
Bronze statue of Matteo Ricci and Paul Xu Guangxi.
Together, Ricci and Paul Xu Guangxi translated and published some essential works of western science.

 


Thursday, 24 March 2011 22:10

Locating a promise land: from Taiwan to Oceania, from History to Literature

The young scholars session at the Mapping and Unmapping the Pacific conference held at the National Central Library, Taiwan gave three promising young scholars the chance to present their highly original work. Yedda Wang was part of a group of Asian students invited by Leiden University's Encompass program to study the history of Asia through Dutch colonial archives. She is a scholar trying to break through Western academic traditions and find her own way. In her speech Yedda introduced her past and current thesis projects and gave anecdotes lamenting the obstacles to her own historical direction.

Alternative (for readers in China)

Taiwan and Oceanian islands share quite a few things in common. In text-based fields such as history (archives) and literature (literary works), one is provided with ample examples of such points of convergence. Islands from both regions are plagued with colonial memories, though of different spans and under different powers; indigenous peoples from both regions consisting of many languages and cultures are mostly non-literate and thereby represented by others but themselves in written materials; and since mid-20th century, locally-born scholars, writers, activists et al. start to challenge in multiple ways the danger of stories produced not entirely from within but undoubtedly about them. The fact that these dots of land share such a diversity of both colonial and postcolonial experiences holds great promises to historical and literary studies especially on such themes as the transformation of indigenous societies, representation, identity, agency, the other, the writing of history et cetera. In other words, there is a promise land of convergence to be located. Based upon the same author’s previous studies in Leiden, this essay intends to show how history and literature in combination may contribute to the understanding Taiwan and Oceania, and how this understanding of Taiwan and Oceania, either taken as separately or symbiotically, may further enlighten about certain abovementioned themes.

The Stranger-King

In history, Wang’s research into Indigenous-Dutch relationships on 17th-century Formosa invites readers to reconsider a concept as the Stranger-King, developed in Oceania, for the explanation of colonial relationships:

Alternative (for readers in China)

Notions of time

Alternative (for readers in China)

In literature, Wang’s study of Patricia Grace (Maori) and Syaman Rapogang (Tao) stresses how contemporary indigenous writers, with their eyes on present post-colonial indigenous societies, have provided insights into the study as well as the writing and rewriting of the other. Their craft is worthy of consideration and their products can very well be the sources for historical studies. For an indigenous society, the past is never far from the present. A dialogue between colonial history and contemporary indigenous literature will therefore help us locate the promise land.

Photo: Lee Tian-hsiang



See Yedda's article about Lanyu author Syaman Rapongan, A subaqueous loner

Thursday, 01 July 2010 00:00

The sinking of the Cheonan

North Korea’s recent sinking of the South Korean navy vessel ‘The Cheonan’ has generated a lot of buzz and I'm going to jump on the bandwagon. I got wind of an article by Ruediger Frank, a well-known Pyongyang watcher. He proposes the idea that someone in the chain of command ordered the attack on the Cheonan without first gaining permission from the proper authorities.  The notion that someone other than the Dear Leader (Kim Jong-il) ordered the attack has crossed my mind. With this possibility there are a few things to take into consideration.

There are three domestic powers in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: The Party, the Family, and the military. The phasing out of Juche (self-reliance) rhetoric in favor of Seong-gun Jeong-chi (military-first politics) has been underway since the mid-nineties. This put the Party on the backburner as the main power broker and the military filled the void. Where ideology and economy fail, the barrel of a gun becomes the most reliable source of power. Most NoKo observers will agree that Kim was obliged to seek support in the military following the death of his father. As a result, Kim is obligated to work closely with the military in coordinating most matters of state.

 

Konrad_Mathesius_Korea_Revolutionary_Martyrs_Cemetery

What concerns me is the intensity with which some people have been indoctrinated into the ideology of the State. Like any system, there is a broad spectrum of loyalty and conviction among the people. Those people who had less against the State raised voices of rebuke when Kim agreed to dismantle the nuclear facilities last year. People were disappointed that he had shown deference to America's wishes; that he had doubled back on a hybrid ideology of self-reliant militaristic brinkmanship. It goes without saying that those in the military - their careers bolstered by an atmosphere of constant tension between North and South - are scattered similarly along the ideological spectrum; so much in some cases, that an act of insubordination wouldn't be all too surprising were the domestic situation bad enough. A vigilante attempt from below to put a regime, viewed as playing too soft, on the spot. The alternative is that they are trying to provoke a country-crushing retaliation from the South, going out in a blaze of glory in a final fight for the mother land... but I'll leave that scenario to Hollywood.

 

 

In the past I've been concerned about the lack of effort the State has put into building the image of Kim's son. In time, however, I've come to realize that it doesn't really matter what the people think of the leader as he will only be a mouthpiece of the military. I highly doubt that the rogue elements in the chain of command are keen to launch an all-out coup, but it's likely that they are dissatisfied with the state of things and want to shake it up a bit, hence the attack on the Cheonan. Kim gives them a face, and the military gives him support. It's a mutual relationship and neither is going to profit from the destruction of the regime.

 

Konrad_Mathesius_Korean_propaganda1

Despite all the hype, what we need to keep in mind is that people have been predicting the downfall of the North for over half a century: if not from the people rising up in a blaze of democracy, then the inevitable crumbling of a failed economy or perestroika. As long as the army is fed and as long as Pyongyang is fed, the North exhibits enormous staying power. You cannot fight when you're hungry and with a lack of institutions that facilitate communication, any attempts at a revolution are dead in the water. Add to that the fact that people would probably go after each other (get to the armory-find the party cadres… aaah… that feels good) before any foreign powers could get into the action, escalation to all out war is in no one's interest.

 

 
The NoKos are betting that attack on the Cheonan will not escalate out of control. It will, however, get everyone's attention both domestically and internationally. It's not entirely unlikely that Kim knew about the attack either. Regardless of the supposed pressure from lower echelons, he'll be in the spotlight again. Nothing's going to change if you don't get things moving first. As usual, we can only guess what domestic amendments in policy the powers that be are looking to implement. Albeit the most frustrating option, our best choice is to listen up and engage the North.
 

Photos by K. Mathesius

 


Tuesday, 01 December 2009 23:29

Of Stones and Ink

A few hours from the towers of Shanghai, at the feet of the Yellow Mountains, lies a country of round, green hills and of narrow valleys-its name, Huizhou. Serpentine hillsides, mosaics of fields, well-trimmed tea tree bushes, and wet landscapes often filled with mist irresistibly evoke the magic of the ink-painted scenes from ancient China. This is where a brilliant culture flourished between the 16th and 18th centuries; the culture of the rich and literari merchant class who, under the Ming and the Qing dynasties, built private residencies, temples, porches, pavilions and bridges. These constructions still show today an art of living and an aesthetic, which is symbolically carved into the wood or the stone.

These are sample pictures from my book entitled ’De pierres et d’encre’, illustrated with more than 250 photos by Zhang Jianping. The book recounts the history of the literati merchants, of their culture, of the architecture of the houses and temples they built. It also it gives a concrete idea of China’s protection of its heritage and of the rebirth of popular crafts. It is also an evocation of the peasants and villagers’ daily life in the region.

Contact Anne Garrigue for more info
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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