Show and Tell 5: Xi Jinping and Zhongguomeng

To Americans, the name Xi Jinping holds much of the same weight as a name like Mao Zedong, Josef Stalin, or Pol Pot. He is a bogeyman of sorts, an autocratic despot that rules China with an iron fist, a personification of the United States’ greatest rival. He is oft pictured on the front of magazines or in political cartoons, standing before a red background adorned with the hammer and sickle or the stars of the CCP. His picture can also be found online beside images of Winnie the Pooh, after people noted that he bears a striking resemblance to the character.

However, there is far more to Xi Jinping than his resemblance to fictional bears, or the position he occupies as one of the great villains of the West. Since 2012, Xi has had a major role in Party leadership, becoming the General secretary of the Central Military Commission in 2012, and being elected president in March of 2013. A central aspect of his platform was Zhongguomeng, “The Chinese Dream,” which in his mind was the rejuvenation of China: “Everyone has his own ideals, aspirations and dreams. Nowadays, the Chinese Dream is a hot topic; in my opinion, realising the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is the greatest Chinese dream.1” This rejuvenation would be made possible through the elimination of corruption in the government and the economy, coupled with tighter, more centralized control of both, which would allow China to progress.

Poster promoting the Chinese dream. The text reads: “Tongxin gongzhu zhongguo meng” “Together and with one heart build the Chinese dream. Image:

When Xi came to power, he inherited a host of issues from the previous leadership of China under Hu Jintao. Chief among these was China’s surplus of production, which was at an output that far outstripped the Chinese economy, as well as reliance on foreign trade.2 Part of Xi’s aim to grow the Chinese economy was to curb excess production, closing steel factories and coal mines (of which China produces more than half the world’s supply)3. Early on in Xi’s presidency, the concept of the “One Belt, One Road” initiative was first introduced, further allowing China to take control of its own economic destiny and handle its overproduction problems as a result of the massive construction projects needed to realize it. 4 The “One Belt, One Road” initiative also gave China a greater interconnectedness with the world, linking it with the rest of Asia and Africa. However, due to the fact that China considers human rights to be a domestic issue, it has no qualms trading with nations that commit human rights violations. In this way, the Chinese dream comes at the expense of other, weaker nations.

The idea of a national “Chinese dream” is one that runs parallel to American ideas. We talk about the “American dream,” which is loosely understood as equal opportunity for all . In China, the idea of a “Chinese Dream” predated Xi Jinping, but he was the first to mobilize it and use it as a campaign on which to stand. In 2013, after Xi was elected president, a party editorial contextualized the Chinese dream as having stretched back through 5000 years of history, the May Fourth Movement, the 1911 Revolution, and even the Imperial period. However, it was only through the leadership of the party that this national dream could truly be realized. 5. A collective “dream” is not an uncommon animus for a nation. However, Xi Jinping’s methods for realizing it, along with the majority of the Western world fearing and hating China, has led to the “Chinese Dream,” becoming synonymous with a global Chinese hegemony, and China eclipsing America as a global superpower.

Fear of China rising to global ascendancy is commonplace. The New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman, when addressing China’s need for a national dream, remarked that, “Because the next government’s dream for China’s emerging middle class… is just like the American Dream… then we need another planet.” 6, referring to the lack of sustainable business practices that China employs to boost its economy and grow its middle class. Others are far more urgent, treating the idea of a “Chinese dream” as a direct threat to the West. Two years after Xi came to power, writer for the Council on Foreign Relations Elizabeth Economy had this to say about President Xi’s aims, “The United States and the rest of the world cannot afford to wait and see how his reforms play out. The United States should be ready to embrace some of Xi’s initiatives as opportunities for international collaboration while treating others as worrisome trends that must be stopped before they are solidified” 7

This comes across as a dire warning, an urge for the United States to step up and defend its status as a global superpower, both economically and militarily. This perhaps comes to the heart of the issue: The United States is happy to promote ideas of economic independence, freedom, and autonomy at home and abroad where it is convenient, but pushes to do the same from powerful countries that could challenge its global authority are met with suspicion and hostility.

This is not to say that Xi’s implementation of his policies is harmless. His crackdowns on corruption have been brutal, and his role as both president and head of the military reeks of dictatorial power. He has also assumed the role of premier for himself, meaning that he is in charge of the party, the economy, and the military, which swore allegiance directly to him 8. The internet has undergone heavy censorship in an effort to curb the spreading of opposition, and in the Xinjiang region and Tibet, ruthless crackdowns have been initiated that stifle the ethnic populations. China has long been at odds with the Buddhist leadership of Tibet, as well as the Uyghur Muslim population of Xinjiang. Recently, however, Xinjiang has been almost totally locked down and policed, with residents being forced into reeducation camps and subject to violent repression.

We in the West tend to have kneejerk reactions when China does anything. The idea of a national dream is not an uncommon one, nor a new one for many nations, including the U.S. While President Xi’s methods are certainly brutal: crackdowns, militarization of the Xinjiang province, and economic policies that have led to severe denigration of the environment and widespread human rights abuses, it is important to remember that the U.S. and other Western nations are not always the champions of human rights and the environment that they claim to be. President Xi’s vision of a united and strong China is one that will naturally step on the toes of other nations jostling for a place at the table, and for those like the U.S. that want to keep their position of primacy in the world and in the economy. Xi Jinping may be a villain to the West, but his idea of a national dream is one that has been circulating the globe for centuries, and by all accounts did not originate in China.

Show and Tell 4: Einsteinian Theory and the Cultural Revolution

The legacy of Albert Einstein in Chinese national memory is complicated. It may seem strange for those in the West to think of something as objective as science as up for political debate, but it is important to remember that Western governments have also rejected the words of scientists that do not align with their politics, and that today, the evidence of global climate change is likewise being denied to suit the agenda of governments and corporations. Such was the impact that Einstein and his theories had on the CCP and China throughout the 20th century.

Albert Einstein, 20th century physicist and mathematician. Image: Wikipedia

Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity was revolutionary for its time, and ushered in a new era of “post-Newtonian” physics. Mao was fascinated by Einstein’s theories, in particular the idea that light and energy moved in waves rather than linearly. This fundamental principle guided his own approach to Marxist theory and Communism, and influenced his idea that progress itself came in waves and was not linear.1 This was part of the thinking behind his idea for the Great Leap Forward, and the setbacks that China faced were seen by Mao as not only necessary but fundamental to the laws of nature. This Einsteinianism was a principle of Maoist thought, but it was not adopted by all members of the party, and was in particular rejected by the Soviet Union under Stalin. This was indeed part of Mao’s work to distance his take on Marxism from the Soviet Union; rather than use Moscow as the yardstick for Marxism, Mao wanted to forge his own path.2 This was especially important to Mao, as rather than relying on the Soviet Union for nuclear defense, China could begin to use the theories of Einstein to develop its own nuclear arsenal, freeing it from Soviet dependence and promising, “revolutionary transcendence.” 3.

However, with the onset of the Cultural Revolution, a radical shift occurred in the opinions towards Einsteinianism. Chinese physicists, working to align with Mao’s own particular, narrow views on Einsteinian theory and make it syncretic with party politics found themselves behind other countries at physics conferences. The metaphor Mao tried to push between Einstein and Communism became unpopular and actually began to be viewed as anti-socialist by the cultural revolutionaries4. Einstein himself was branded a capitalist and reactionary, having helped the United States to build the atom bomb, and taking the side of the capitalist powers during World War II. When Zhou Enlai claimed that “the two greatest German Jews were Marx and Einstein,” he was decried for linking the founder of socialism with “a mere bourgeoise academic.”5 In addition, the application of wave theory to communism, Mao’s way of looking at the world, was frowned upon by the new leadership under Deng Xiaoping which believed in more linear progress.

During the Cultural Revolution, academics and physics professors that taught the theory of general relativity were purged, along with countless others who were deemed to be reactionary. This was part of a general trend that saw some Maoist policies being repealed and Mao’s rule being examined with a more critical eye. This campaign against rightists and reactionaries is captured in the opening of the sci-fi novel The Three-Body Problem, in which a physicist accused of teaching general relativity is beaten to death during a “struggle session.”

After the Cultural Revolution, and Mao’s death in 1976, Einstein’s image was somewhat rehabilitated in China, and his work was accepted as foundational for physics. This was mainly due to the fact that Mao himself had misinterpreted Einstein’s theory somewhat, espousing the idea of “infinite divisibility.” Post-cultural Revolution, these theories were given historical credence, but were no longer used in modern physics, of which Einstein became a hero, and was used to attract young people to science and technology. Einstein became, once more, the foundation of theoretical physics in China.6

Today in the West, Einstein’s own image has come under some scrutiny. His diary from when he visited China was revealed to contain racists sentiments towards the Chinese, despite the fact that Einstein himself condemned racism as “a disease of white people”7and pledged to fight against it. In an age when we are examining not just the racist institutions of many nations, but also the link between capitalism, imperialism, and racism, the fact that he helped to design a weapon of mass destruction that was used on Japanese civilians does not help his case.

Week 12 Blog Post

We have looked at plenty of disturbing content before in this class, but for some reason it was The Three-Body Problem that was the most upsetting to me. This is likely due to the futile situation that Ye Zhetai was presented with, and the fact that it seemed like he was doomed no matter what. Even the fact that he had a chance to renege on his ideology might not necessarily have saved him, as even being the children or grandchildren of former landlords or nationalists was enough to land a person in a reeducation camp or put them at other risk of harm.

It was also because Ye Zhetai’s crime was not being a nationalist, a reactionary, a member of the bourgeoise, or any other enemy of the CCP, but rather that he had taught Einstein’s theory of relativity in his physics class, which had been denounced by the CCP as reactionary. To have science that remains foundational to our study of physics today be denounced as false by a so-called secular nation was both ironic and frustrating. I am actually very interested in why Einstein was so reviled in China during the Cultural Revolution. His theories were considered “reactionary” by the CCP, but it may also have been because he had helped to build the atom bomb, a symbol of terrible destruction that was wrought by capitalist powers (this would also have been during the height of the Cold War).

The material for Friday was far more enjoyable, as I have always been fascinated by President Nixon’s visit to China. I feel like I realized, but didn’t realize just how ground-breaking such a visit was at the time. I am trying to think of an equivalent from my generation, but somehow, as odd as it is, President Trump’s visit to North Korea and meeting with Kim Jong-un still does not seem to be an analog. One of the things I would be interested to know is how Nixon is remembered in China. Is he one of those figures that when a Chinese person is asked about America, they name Nixon, sort of like how an American would name Mao or Xi Jinping if asked to name someone from China. Certainly Nixon is remembered in a far different way in China than he is in America, although I wonder if his opening of relations with China is not now looked at with some regret. Considering that none of the serious issues (like Taiwan) were actually resolved, Nixon’s visit only postponed conflict rather than alleviated it, so it is possible that he may not be viewed in the positive light in China one might expect.

President Nixon and Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, left, in Shanghai at the end of Nixon’s visit. Image: Bettman/Corbis

Works Consulted:

Liu, Cixin. The Three-Body Problem. Translated by Ken Liu. New York: Tor, 2014.

“Nixon in China: The Week that Changed the World”. Richard Nixon Foundation, March 6, 2012. YouTube,

Richard Nixon: Speeches, Writings, Documents. Edited by Rick Perlstein. James Madison Library in American Politics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010.

Richard Nixon and Zhou Enlai, “Toasts at a Banquet Honoring the Premier“, February 25, 1972.

Week 11 Blog Post

Exploration Pack: Lei Feng

This week I focused on the diary of Lei Feng and how it was used to garner support for the Communist party and promote the ideals that the government wished for the people to follow. Lei Feng, an orphaned member of the People’s Liberation Army, demonstrates frugality, loyalty, selflessness, and appreciation of the simple life, all qualities that were deemed as admirable by Chairman Mao and Lin Bao, general of the People’s Liberation Army and later Minister of Defense.

Lei Feng, whether or not he was actually a real person or a character invented for the purpose of propaganda, was an incredibly influential figure in Chinese culture, with his life story being used in the “Learn from Lei Feng” campaign that was used in training the army. There were also numerous comics made about him, which ensured that his story penetrated the public consciousness and made him a national hero.

The most admirable quality about Lei Feng was his utter selflessness, as he donated all of his earnings to the communes. He was laughed at for being a “fool” and told to spend the money on himself or his family, but he declared that “the People’s Communes are my home,” and insisted on giving them his money. He also demonstrated extreme frugality, saving everything in a wooden chest and using it to make repairs on his belongings whenever necessary. He, along with other PLA soldiers, was given two uniforms and pairs of shoes to wear a year, but he only took one, declaring that he only needed one and that the other should be given to someone who needed it. His love of the simple life was also apparent, as he stated that.

“True beauty can be found in a soldiers faded, patched yellow uniform, a workers
grease-stained blue overalls, a peasant’s rough, calloused hands, and the laboring
peoples swarthy, sun-burned faces, clamorous work chants, and tireless work for the
building of socialism.”

He was an emblem of the party, espousing all of Mao’s values and serving as a model for all Chinese citizens to follow. Even the circumstances of his death were ignominious. Rather than dying in battle for the party, Lei Feng was crushed by a pole while performing manual labor, his life cut short because of his selflessness and willingness to work for the cause he believed in.

A red background with large Chinese characters, upon which a young man dressed in military garb stands holding a rifle, staring pensievely off into the distance.
Comic book detailing the life and death of Lei Feng, intended for children and young adults. Image: Amazon

Works Consulted

“Life and Death of Lei Feng, and Admirable ‘Fool’.” In The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection. Third ed. Edited by Janet Chen et. al. W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.

Week 10 Blog Post

Exploration Pack 1

I was fascinated by the piece this week on the psychological torture and manipulation that US POWs faced at the hands of the Chinese, which I knew next to nothing about. I know very little about the Korean war in general, including the fact that it will have been going officially for 70 years this July. The fact that the Chinese also never officially committed their army, but instead sent “volunteers” to fight is another aspect that I did not know, and just makes the conflict all the more complicated and interesting to read about.

The thing that was most interesting to me about the Chinese prison camps was that by and large they were not focused on extreme physical violence and torture. While the threat of violence was certainly there, as can be seen from the beatings that some of the more problematic prisoners endured, or the man that was hung by his thumbs for two days, for the most part, the Chinese looked at the POWs as potential converts to the Communist ideology. Prisoners were made to attend lectures where they were bombarded with Communist propaganda. They were also given a look at America that challenged their worldview and made them question their reason for fighting in the war. Soldiers who were already unsure about the war, or who had experienced economic uncertainty were prime targets for conversion, and many began to subscribe to Communist ideas and spread them throughout the camps.

This movement did not meet without resistance, however, and reactionary groups formed among the soldiers, with the conflicts often turning violent and brutal. Anti-communist groups, specifically the Ku Klux Klan, gained popularity among the reactionaries. Units were in come cases ripped apart by their own ideological battles.

Paranoia and division were the best weapons the Chinese had, greater than any torture. Soldiers resisting the Communist indoctrination lived in fear that those that had become Communists would inform on them, and soldiers that had become Communists often sold out their comrades for favor among their captors.

Back home on American soil, this indoctrination tore apart families, with one soldier writing home expressing his pro-Communist sentiments and being subsequently disowned by his step-mother. Equally shocking to the United States was the fact that after the American POWs were released, many refused repatriation, which shook a country that believed so strongly in its capitalist and individualist principles to its core.

A group of uniformed men sit on the ground outside a utilitarian looking building, with armed guards standing around them. There are several military cars in the background.
U.S. POWs detained in North Korea, 1950. Image: FP

Works Consulted

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McKnight, Brian Dallas. We Fight for Peace : Twenty-Three American Soldiers, Prisoners of War, and “Turncoats” in the Korean War. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2014. 

Show and Tell 3: A Biography of The Last Qing Emperor

Aisin Gioro Puyi, born in 1906, lived through one of the most tumultuous eras in Chinese history. Acceding to the throne at the age of just 3, in 1908, Puyi only reigned as emperor for four years before the Nationalists forced his abdication in 1912. He then continued to live in the Forbidden city until 1924, when he was at last expelled with the rest of the Qing dynasty by the warlord Yuan Shi-kai. He lived through the Japanese invasion of China beginning in 1937, and the Communist victory in 1949, eventually being consigned to one of the CCP’s “remodeling” camps, where he emerged as a model citizen of Communist China. He then became a gardener of the Peking botanical gardens, and later a historical assistant until his death in 1967. Sometime during this, he wrote an autobiography of his life, which was published From Emperor to Citizen, and was later made into the documentary The Last Emperor.

Although there is some doubt as to whether Puyi penned the book with his own hand, both due to the censorship of the CCP and his own perceived incompetence, it nevertheless presents an intimate look into one of the most fascinating figures of 20th century China, a man who was in many ways a relic of an ancient past, yet at the same time able to become a modern citizen in a changing world. Perhaps the last emperor did not die in a glorious final battle against a rival dynasty, but his story offers a unique look into a country that was caught between the historical tradition of dynastic rule and the modern ideology of Communism and Marxism.


Puyi was described by critics as never quite being his own person, and submitting to whatever authority happened to be over him without any independent thought. This perhaps stems from the fact that he became emperor at the age of 3 (2 if using Western thinking, as Chinese babies are considered to be 1 year old at birth), and was always under the control of a regent. He was the son of the 2nd Prince Chun and the daughter of Jung Lu, the marriage of which had been arranged by the Empress Dowager Ci Xi, who was famous for her power and tyranny, as well as her unwillingness to reform.

Puyi, despite his perceived ineptitude, was from an early age displaying tyrannical behavior, ordering the beatings of eunuchs, a practice which he describes quite casually in his autobiography. He also details an interaction between himself and his brother Pu Chieh, in which Puyi notices that Pu Chieh is wearing imperial yellow (reserved exclusively for the imperial household. The interaction is as follows:

“Pu Chieh, are you allowed to wear that colour?”

“But…bu…but isn’t it apricot?”

“Nonsense! It’s imperial brilliant yellow.”

“Yes, sire, yes, sire…”… with his ‘yes, sire’ my brother reverted to being my subject1.

Although this is a story from when Puyi was very young, it nevertheless reveals the heightened status he had and how he thought of himself, “…and made me feel from my earliest years that I was unique and had a ‘heavenly’ nature different from that of everybody else.” 2

A black and white photograph of a toddle dressed in finery and wearing an adorned cap, he stands to the right of a vase. The wall behind him is painted with cranes.
Puyi, aged two. Image: Mindship


Puyi’s reign was short, but not uneventful. He gives a rather detached commentary of himself “resisting the edict” to become emperor, thrashing and wailing as eunuchs tried to dress him after the Empress Dowager’s decree came down. His one meeting with Ci Xi was short, and she died two days after he entered the palace. In 1912, three years after he became emperor, the warlord Yuan Shi-kai entered the Forbidden City and forced the abdication of the Puyi and the Qing dynasty. However, the Articles of Favorable Treatment, instituted by the Republic, allowed the emperor to retain all his titles and continue to receive a stipend from the new republican government.3It also decreed that he would live in the Imperial Palace, and could maintain control over his eunuchs (although new eunuchs were forbidden to be taken into service.)

During this time as an abdicated emperor, Puyi continued to live as an emperor, being dressed, fed, and waited on by eunuchs, and living astoundingly lavishly in the Imperial palace. His accounts reveal that his cost of living in 1915 was 2,790,000 taels of silver4, equivalent to $347,614 ($10,354,078 adjusted for inflation). This was one of the clear points in the book where the Communist reeducation, or indeed, the CCP itself shines through, with Puyi writing, “Thus it was that with the connivance of the Republican authorities we continued our prodigious waste of the sweat and blood of the people in order to maintain out former pomp and continue our parasitic way of life.”5

Court faction fighting also continued. Puyi had four adoptive mothers, all who were wives of the former emperors Tongzhi and Guangxu. These all competed with one another for favor and power, with one episode ending in his real mother committing suicide, a tragedy which Puyi describes with his usual detached and emotionless tone.

Briefly, on July 1st, 1917, Puyi was restored as emperor, after the death of Yuan Shi-kai a year previously. Yuan had been plotting with the Qing dynasty to restore the empire, but with he himself on the throne. In the wake of his death, the general Zhang Xun restored him to the throne, though this restoration only lasted for 12 days, and on July 12th, Puyi was forced to abdicate again.

Beginning in 1919, Puyi began to be instructed in English and other subjects by Scottish tutor Reginald Johnston, who was fluent in Chinese and had a passionate interest in the Emperor. Johnston proved to be one of the few positive influences on Puyi’s life, and was one of the few people that treated him as a child and not as a commodity to be used for power. 6Johnston served as Puyi’s tutor until he was expelled from the Forbidden City in 1924. In addition to teaching him English, he taught him history, science, arithmetic, and astronomy. He also instructed him in English history, and encouraged him to think critically about his world as well as use his role as emperor for good.7 While Johnston’s memories of Puyi are somewhat cherry-picked (conveniently leaving out his tendency to have eunuchs flogged) he cared very much for the emperor, and, despite the fact that most of his efforts were unsuccessful, wanted what was best for the boy.

Reginald Johnston, Puyi’s tutor, at the Forbidden City in 1924. Image: Wikipedia

As a Puppet Emperor

Puyi and the Qing court were expelled from the Forbidden City in 1924. He moved to Tianjin, where he spent six years under the control of the Japanese concession, which was a small colonial possession that was outside of Chinese jurisdiction. The Japanese already planned to use him for their future plans for China, and, was named Chief Executive of the Japanese state Manchukuo in 1932. In 1934, he was named Emperor of Manchukuo, a position which he held until 1945, when the Empire of Japan collapsed. This was his third and last time being made emperor, but he continued to have no power and was subject to the whims of Japan, forced to sign anything that was put in front of him.

Under the Japanese, Puyi was only nominally emperor, and was not allowed to engage in all the customs of his forebears, forced to dress in military garb as did the dictators of the 20th century. Also, despite the fact that Japan took Beijing in 1937, Puyi was not allowed to return, now was he recognized as emperor of anything other than Manchuria.8

After the Japanese defeat, Puyi attempted to flee to Tokyo, but was captured by the Soviets, where he was to remain a prisoner for five years, testifying at the Tokyo Tribunals against the Japanese. Puyi speaks fairly favorably of his time with the Soviets, although here the hand of the CCP is quite evident, with him constantly admitting his guilt and crimes, as well as his deliberate covering of his collaboration with the Japanese. It was in Russia that he also became first acquainted with gardening, which would become his profession in the twilight of his life. However, he continued to think of himself as a “superior being,” and was waited on, washed, fed, and dressed by his attendants.9

Remodeling Camp

In 1950, the Soviets returned Puyi and his entourage to China, which was now fully under Communist rule. Puyi describes the train ride back as being terrifying, as he was convinced he would be killed by the Communists for his treachery in his collaboration with the Japanese. After learning he was not to be killed, Puyi still struggled to adjust to life in the reeducation camp in Fushun. Even simple things, like learning to be addressed without the honorific titles and by his personal name Puyi, were difficult. Manual labor also presented a challenge. He states in his autobiography, “For the past forty years I had never washed my own quilt, made my own bed, or poured out my washing water. I had never even washed my own feet or tied my shoes.” 10Due to his incompetence with even the most menial tasks, he was very often an example for his fellow prisoners. However, he was still treated relatively well, despite the threat of death that loomed over him.

He began to write his autobiography in an attempt to save his own life, laying out what had happened to him in the 1930s and 40s in the hope that he would be able to conceal his collaboration with the Japanese. He did not complete his autobiography until 1961, after he was released from the camps, and even then, it was heavily colored by CCP influence, used as a sort of “success story” of the reeducation campaign.

On September 17th, 1959, after ten years in the reeducation camp system, Puyi was granted a special pardon, which was read out to him on December 4th of that year. Considering his lofty beginnings, complete uselessness for the first forty years of his life, and collaboration with the Japanese Empire, he was shown surprising leniency by the Communist party.

Later Life and Death

Puyi was sent to the Peking Botanical Gardens of the Institute of botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1960. There he learned how to nurture and plant seedlings, and divided his time between working and studying. In 1961, he was assigned the post “with which I was to serve the people,” becoming a literary and historical worker for the Historical Materials Commission of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.11 He worked specifically on historical material from the late Qing period, and he remarks that he often came into contact with names he knew personally, or events he had witnessed. On October 17th, 1967, Puyi died of kidney cancer, aged only 61. He left no heir, and was cremated rather than buried, as all his successor emperors had been. Despite the fact that he lived during the some of the most chaotic and tumultuous decades of world history, he was often little more than a background character. Never really in control of his own person, he went from being under the influence of the Empress Dowager, to his father, to the Nationalists, to the Japanese, to the Russians, and finally to the CCP. Though he was a collaborator with the Japanese during World War II, the unfortunate circumstances of his life make it difficult to see him as anything other than a victim of history, a remnant of a bygone era that had overstayed its welcome in a rapidly changing world.

The former Xuantong Emperor, Puyi, at work as a gardener in the Peking Botanical Gardens.

Week 9 Blog Post

Exploration Pack: Feminism

This week, the two readings that I focused the most on was the Sixth Tone article on the Chinese influencer suspended over her comments on comfort women, and the piece written by Ding Ling. What was most interesting to me was the way both women, despite the difference in their eras, are existing as feminists in an extremely patriarchal setting, which influences their philosophy and how radical they may be.

Ding Ling, writing 80 years before Ayawawa, was censored by the Communist Party for her writings on the hypocrisy of male party members. Despite the promises of egalitarianism and equity made by the CCP, the patriarchal power structures and systems of China still remained. Ding Ling points out a massive double standard that existed for women party members, expected to get married but then ridiculed for being married, expected to have children but then looked down on for having children. Women are also accused of being responsible for any political failings that their husband might have, pinning ideological or moral failings on the woman rather than the man’s own thoughts and actions.

Ding Ling does, however, point out the “failings of women,” and remarks that women (especially those in high places) have a responsibility to improve the lot for female party members and work to dismantle the power structure. Despite the fact that she points out the hypocrisy of the communist party, she goes a long way to but a lot of the blame on women, showing the ingrained patriarchal thinking of the time.

Similarly, Ayawawa, whose relationship advice is slated to help millions of Chinese women, couches her own brand of feminism in a patriarchal context. While she stresses the fact that life is hard for women, she sees the solution as finding them good husbands to take care of them, and views relationships as “business transactions.” Her comments about comfort women are just another brand of this type of thinking: lessening the female struggle so that she can fit in more easily to a patriarchal society. Certainly citizens of all genders suffered under the Japanese, but to claim that women had it better because they were not killed, when they were still experiencing horrific sexual violence (and were also being killed) seems to be about buying into systemic sexism and a strictly patriarchal society.

Black and white photograph of a young woman, wearing military garb. The thickness of the greatcoat implies that she is somewhere cold.
Young Ding Ling, c. 1940s

Works Consulted:

Fan Liya. “Weibo Suspends Relationship Guru Over ‘Comfort Women’ Comments.” Sixth Tone. May 22, 2018.

“Ding Ling: Thoughts on March 8, 1942.” In The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection, Third ed. Edited by Janet Chen et. al., W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.

Week 8 Blog Post

I found the first-hand account of Mao Tse-tung to be fascinating, mostly because everything I have learned about him, and indeed, most of the information to be found on him in the West is of a cold and heartless despot that butchered millions of people. This is likely a result of both Western anti-Chinese and anti-Communist sentiment, as leaders like Josef Stalin are portrayed in much the same way. While I would say one should be careful when humanizing dictators, as it can lead to undeserved sympathy, I think it is important to study where these people come from, and to understand that very few start out with the aim of becoming a tyrant.

In fact, Mao, as Edgar Snow’s account relates, seemed (at least at first) to be nothing like the tyrant he is remembered as, nor indeed like any dictator. It could be said that he “practiced what he preached,” living simply and humbly with along with the rest of the Red Army, the only luxury in his quarters a mosquito net. Although Snow describes him as a keen intellect with great knowledge of history and philosophy both Chinese and Western, he remarks that he does not think Mao would ever be accepted by the Chinese elite due to the fact that his manners are much like a peasant, and he could be described as “uncouth.”

While this simpler, peasant demeanor would surely have inspired great loyalty among his troops, as they could relate to him, it does seem strange to think of a world leader being so unpolished as to take his pants off in the middle of a meeting (although LBJ held conferences from the toilet, so I suppose it is not too surprising).

I also found the account of Luding Bridge to be interesting, especially because of the language that was used when bringing up Chinese history. It refers to the “Taiping Revolution” rather than the “Taiping Rebellion,” which is interesting considering the Western influence of the Taiping leaders. However, considering the Taiping were fighting against the Qing, a foreign, capitalist, and autocratic dynasty, this martyrizing perhaps makes sense. It seemed to me that the battle of the Luding Bridge could be the subject of a great war movie, both because of the insurmountable odds, and the heroic actions of the Red Army soldiers. Although the account was likely embellished, it makes for an excellent story, which would have functioned very well as propaganda for the Communists.

A headshot of a young man, black and white. he wears a simple dark shirt, and a short haircut. He is clean-shaven.
Young Mao, c. 1925. Image: Wikipedia

Works Consulted:

“The Tale of the Luding Bridge.” In The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection, Third ed. Edited by Janet Chen et. al., W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.

Snow, Edgar. Red Star Over China. 1st rev. and enl. ed. New York: Grove Press, 1968, First published 1938 by Random House.