Week 1

An interesting question raised by this week’s readings and discussions was, who gets to decide what being modern or being Chinese means? We read excerpts from The Search For Modern China by Jonathan Spence and Modern China: A Very Short Introduction by Rana Mitter. Neither of these historians are from China, but they are experts in the field. I think it would be interesting to read about a Chinese historian’s views on their own identity and whether China is a modern country, or for the works we read to include quotes from Chinese people of different time periods. It is important to get a broad range of perspectives because Europeans and Chinese people have different definitions of modernity based on their cultural values. According to Mitter, Europeans defined “modernity” as secularism, focusing on the individual over the community, and constant progress (p. 8). On the other hand, Chinese culture valued the community, and thought of history as “an attempt to recapture the lost golden age of the Zhou and the ways of the ancients” rather than a narrative of constant progress (Mitter, p. 9). Defining what it means to be Chinese is also complicated because China is not a monolith. It includes many diverse groups. For example, “The Late Ming” chapter of Spence’s book describes coexistence and tolerance between multiple religions in Ming China, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Confucianism (p. 8). There could be several different places of worship in the same towns or cities.

We also discussed and read about how the concept of “modern” evolves over time. Modernity and tradition are not completely opposed. A society can have urban development and economic growth while keeping its traditional culture. As we discussed in class, Confucianism is a philosophy from the sixth century BCE that is still very influential to Chinese identity today (Mitter, p. 5). Confucianism values education and hard work. The Ming had a tradition of civil service exams that people studied for into their late twenties or thirties and had to pass in order to get a job in the state bureaucracy (Spence, p. 11). In our class discussion, we compared this to the Gaokao in present-day China, which is an exam that all Chinese students must pass at the end of high school in order to qualify for a college education. They also spend years intensely studying to pass it. This example shows how there are continuities from the past in present-day China.

Mitter, Rana. Modern China: A Very Short Introduction. Very Short Introductions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Spence, Jonathan D. The Search for Modern China. First ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999.

Large crowd of people in the courtyard of the Forbidden City, Beijing.
https://www.britannica.com/art/Chinese-architecture/The-Ming-dynasty-1368-1644

This is a picture of the courtyard of the Forbidden City in Beijing. I chose this image because it shows an aspect of traditional China (Ming dynasty architecture) in the present day.


Posted

in

by

Tags:

Comments

One response to “Week 1”

  1. Derek Rosenow Avatar
    Derek Rosenow

    “Neither of these historians are from China, but they are experts in the field. I think it would be interesting to read about a Chinese historian’s views on their own identity and whether China is a modern country, or for the works we read to include quotes from Chinese people of different time periods.”
    I agree when you state this in your blog post because I also feel the same way. I feel that we would learn more from other perspectives, such as Chinese historians, because as you said European historians have different meanings and perspectives of Chinese history.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

css.php