Tag Archives: History

The Home of a Doubting Scholar

The academic world sometimes can feel like a separate universe with a secret jargon that requires a decoder ring dug out of a Cracker Jack box. This is a largely technical language needed to speak to very specific issues within scholarship. For example, in literary theory, there are schools of thought like deconstruction, reader-response, queer theory, post-colonialism, post-structuralism, and more. Each of those camps has it’s own subsets of jargon that has fueled papers, theses, and dissertations and will continue to do so for centuries to come. For example, post-structuralism has some circular gibberish about “signifier” and “signified” that I could never fully wrap my head around. Trust me, I tried very hard. That’s just the study of literature. That’s not even touching the other English fields of teaching, linguistics, grammar, and translation.

In academia, Chinese history also has its diverse groupings of scholars. One of them is something called “Doubting Antiquity.” These were researchers who expressly voiced concerns about the historical accuracy of some stories within classic Chinese texts like Sima Qian’s Records of the Grand Historian.

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It would be a lot like western historians asking and researching critical questions into Herodotus or  Holinshed’s Chronicles — which provided some source material for some of Shakespeare’s plays. Since Qian sometimes wrote about the nearly mythical Shang Dynasty thousands of years ago, it would almost be like historians probing more into the historical accuracy of something the Welsh Mabinogian.

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The Doubting Antiquity School was not all about destroying somebody like Sima Qian. Mostly, it’s about raising questions and the researching possible answers. Those answers led to more questions. That’s how scholarship works.

Changzhou was once home to a one of these scholars. His name was Lu Simian 吕思勉 lǚ sī miǎn.

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He was born in Wujin in 1884, and he went on take a professorship at Kwang Hua University in Shanghai. This institution went on to become East China Normal University. During his academic career, he authored a number of books on antiquity covering subjects like science, ethnicity, literature, and more.

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His former residence is actually located in downtown Changzhou, and it’s open to the public without an admission fee. A visitor does have to sign into a log book, however.  The place is rather small. You can see some of the living quarters.

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And places where he kept a personal library and a possible office.

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Most of the informational displays here are in Chinese, but there is one introductory sign in English. This former residence is downtown, but it’s actually located in an narrow alley a few streets up from Yanling Road, Nandajie, and the Luqiao Commodities Market. So, for some, it may not be easy to find.

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This alley intersects with Jinling Road. And here it is on Baidu Maps.

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Why do I post screenshots of Baidu Maps? English and Google Maps will do nothing for you if you show it to Chinese cab driver. Just saying.

 

Liyang’s Game of Thrones Styled Story

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Ancient Chinese history is filled with brutal court intrigues among generals, politicians, heads of state, fox spirits, and more. This is particularly true when you consider that, over the course of time, China has been splintered into several countries. That means, basically, that the Game of Thrones tales of double, triple, and quadruple crossing people, allies, and enemies can become easy to find. More regal courts means more opportunities for people betraying each other. Just look at the history of Chinese poets; the whole “I am in exile, drunk, and miss my home” is a common literary trope. Why? A lot of poets were also government officials that ran afoul of somebody and had to leave. It’s the story of Li Bai, and it’s the story of Su Dongpo, for example. 

The more somebody travels through China, the more they can see this if they start paying attention to local lore and legend. I realized this once in Liyang. While this place is not a district of Changzhou as a municipality, it is considered part of Changzhou as a prefecture. In short, it’s its own city, but it’s technically still part of CZ.

Over in Phoenix Park 凤凰公园 near Liyang’s urban center,a statue commemorates something called “The Gauze Washing Virgin.” The stone sculpture stands in the middle of a pond, and four large stone panels — with etched illustrations — serves as a backdrop. The story, according to a bilingual sign, can be paraphrased this way.

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A young woman is washing textiles in the river. Eventually, a man wanders into her life. He’s weak, he’s starving, and she saves him. She feeds him and shows him some hospitality. While doing so, she recognizes him as Wu Zixu 伍子胥.

This was a figure from the Chu Kingdom’s court during the Spring and Autumn Period. Chu was a larger country to the west of Liyang and Changzhou. On the run, Wu Zixu fled Chu and ended up in the Wu Kingdom. (To be noted: the Wu family name 伍 and the Wu kingdom 吳 are different WU characters in Pinyin. Also, by the way, unintended rhyming is hard to avoid when you are using Chinese names.) The state of Wu was comprised of areas that are currently associated with Suzhou, Wuxi, and Changzhou.

Anyhow, this young woman saves this guy’s life. Yet, she realizes that she now possesses a deadly secret. She knows who he is. More importantly, she likely realizes somebody is after him. According to the sign at Liyang’s Phoenix park, she picks up a big rock, throws herself into the river, and drowns to protect his identity.  If she dies, his secret dies with her.

 

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Wu Zixu, now in exile, goes to become an official in the Wu Kingdom’s court. He eventually prophesied the end of the Wu Kingdom due to treachery, but he still lost his life in the same type of Game of Thrones type of intrigue that caused him to flee the Chu kingdom in the first place. According to Wikipedia, he was asked to commit suicide, and before he did so, he told the then-king to gouge out his own eyes.

All of this story is just a small detail in a small park — in a town more known for eco tourism around Tianmu Lake and the Nanshan Bamboo Forest. However, it’s lore like this that actually gives town like Liyang true character.

 

 

Following City River

The Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal 京杭大运河 Běi háng dà yùnhé is the longest artificial waterway in the world, and it has retained that title for thousands of years. This canal is rich with history, and it passes through Changzhou. Like natural rivers, it has many off shoots and “tributaries.” One of these passes through the city center. As far as I can tell, this section is called 城河 Chéng hé, but I have seen that name used only once and in Chinese on a sign downtown. It literally means “City River,” so I am going to assume that is its name in English. I thought it might be interesting to follow this narrow canal from where it begins to where it ends.

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We start at Yanling Road on the edge of downtown. There is a point where it looks like the canal forks at Dongpo Park. This is deceiving. This part of the park is actually an island and the canal flows around it.

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The fork happens behind the “mainland” part of Dongpo Park. Truth be told, this part is not as picturesque. To the right in the above photo, you can see the curved roof corner of the gatehouse. This, essentially, blocks off City River from the main canal. So, presently, people cannot get boats onto this narrow waterway.

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For a good bit, City River parallels Yanling Road. It passes under this bridge and pavilion — which features a statue of two guys playing Chinese chess.

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It continues on as it passes in front of Hongmei Park and the entrance to Tianning Temple. Then, right before Wenhuagong — where they are building the downtown subway station — it veers away of Yanling.

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To maintain eye contact with the water, I had to leave Yanling and follow Chungui Road. This is basically a street that runs in front of a residential buildings, so there isn’t much to see here.

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City River eventually flows under Heping Road near a big Agricultural Bank of China branch office. I used to wonder why this bridge was here. Basically, it’s much, much older than Heping itself, and the street had to be built over the canal. This bridge faces Qingguo Lane, but that alley is shut off due to it being renovated into a historical district.

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You can tell Qingguo is undergoing massive restoration because, simply put, the houses on the right do not look as run down and dilapidated as they did years ago. It was from this point on I realized why this tiny waterway was dug in the first place.

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The renovation bit can’t be said for the other part of Qingguo that is more residential, but the thought I had remained unchanged. China has a lot of canals. If you think about it, they were a necessity a thousand years ago. Since these are artificial rivers, there really are no tides or currents when compared to something like the Yangtze. It makes traveling by boat in between cities easier than using horses and traveling over land. This is especially important if you are trying to transport cargo from one city to the next. This is why you still see barges using the canals to this very day. Not only are these canals ancient, but they still have a practical use.

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Okay, that explains the practicality of The Grand Canal, but why does City River exist? Qingguo Lane is where a many, many historical figures in Changzhou once lived. The above photo is the part of the canal that runs past Nandajie, Laimeng, and Bar Street. This canal, and the other small ones like it, allowed the citizens of ancient Changzhou easy access to the main body of water. So, eons ago, if you were wealthy and influential, you likely wanted to live near the canal. You would have had quick and easy access to what was, back then, the mass transit system.

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City River ends at what is called, in English, the West Gate. This is near the city boundary wall dating back to the Ming Dynasty. It’s also near the west entrance to Laimeng — the area where there is a lot of restaurants on the second floor. It’s also not that far from Injoy Plaza. This gatehouse also blocks access to this canal. So, in that way, its preserved, and you will likely never actually see a private boat traveling this waterway.

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If this were a bygone era, this is where you would see vessals from City River getting onto the canal proper. If you head west, you would end up in Zhenjiang. East would take you to Wuxi, which like Changzhou, has it’s own network of small canals branching off the main one in its city center. What I have learned, recently, is that if you want to understand the ancient history of a town — whether it’s Zhenjiang, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Wuxi, or even Changzhou, you have to understand why the canals were excavated in the first place. I also realized that if you’re going to go aimlessly wandering looking history and culture, one way is to just follow the path of the canal.

Who was Qu Qiubai and Where Did He Live?

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There were other leaders of the Chinese Communist Party before Mao Zedong. Saying that does not diminish his monumental role in Chinese history, either. One of those leaders came from Changzhou, and his name was Qu Qiubai. His remembrance hall and preserved home is open to the public.

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Qu had a rough early life. His father was addicted to opium, and his mother committed suicide. He lived off the support of his relatives. Eventually, he left Changzhou to study and showed a skill with language that allowed him to learn Russian and French. His ability to speak Russian helped him get a job at a Beijing newspaper, and he moved to Russia as a foreign correspondent. There, he had an eye witness to life after the Russian Revolution. Once he returned to China, he started to climb the party ranks. After Chen Duxiu was expelled from the party, Qu became acting chairman of the Politburo, making him a de facto leader for a time. He never survived the fight with the Nationalist Kuomintang government. In 1934 he was arrested, and he was executed in 1935.

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Walking through a preserved former residence is essentially like walking through an old, empty home. Qu’s old house is similar in that way. Yet, it’s the things inside them that make a difference. Besides his role in Chinese revolutionary politics, Qu was also a man who enjoyed art and was skilled at calligraphy. In addition to his journalism, he also wrote poetry and a memoir. Legendary Chinese author Lu Xun considered him a close friend.

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Most foreigners likely walk by this historical spot without even knowing what the place is. It’s in a heavily trafficked part of town. It’s on Lanling Road in Changzhou’s city center and is between Zhonglou’s Injoy Plaza and Nandajie. World English has their downtown training center nearby, and the Future City shopping complex is across the street.

What Was Unexpected at the Changzhou Martyr’s Memorial

“To do good is noble. To tell others to do good is nobler and much less trouble.” Mark Twain

America and China usually have had some misconceptions going between them, and as an American living in China, I am usually surprised when I run across some nugget of American intellectual culture in China. Sometimes, they turn up in odd places. For instance, there is bust of President Jefferson over in Wuxing Park in Zhonglou. It’s near a statue of a rather fierce looking unicorn. However, I recently ran into another bit in a place I thought i would never see an American face. Turns out, I found two of them at Changzhou’s Revolutionary Martyr’s Memorial in Tianning. This place is down the road from Jiuzhou New World mall, and it is dedicated to all of the Changzhou people who died during the Communist Revolution / Chinese Civil War. I went there for a walk and sort of got flabbergasted by two minor details.

img_20161217_215846 If a foreigner visits this place, they should show some respect. It’s open to the public, but it’s not a public park. It’s actually a cemetery. Human remains are housed here. But first, the other facilities.

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The museum and other facilities are locked and shuttered. However, you do see some people milling around, and most of them are in the mausoleums respecting family members who are at their final resting place.

img_20161217_215906 img_20161217_215929 You also can find the typical sort of Communist party imagery that you might expect at a revolutionary memorial.

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The first picture above depicts Yun Daiying, Qu Quibei, and Zhang Tailai. All three were important members within the Communist Party. All three came from Changzhou. Qu was actually a party leader before Mao Zedong. The second picture is from the sculpture wall behind the statue.  However, here is what surprised me.

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To translate the quote: To do good is noble. To tell others to do good is nobler and much less trouble.

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Yes, that is Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain in a communist cemetery. But then again, my surprise belies a sort of nationalism I didn’t think I had. There are no such thing as exclusively American ideas and exclusively Chinese ideas. There are just ideas, and they do not know borders or nationalities. This part of the cemetery demonstrates that perfectly. Twain and Lincoln are on a wall that has other quotes from Chinese thinkers, Gandhi, Shakespeare, and many others from countries far away from the Changzhou and China in general.

Qianbeian: Another Pocket of Recreated History

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As been noted often both here and elsewhere, Changzhou is more of a modern Chinese city. There is not to say that there isn’t a rich history here, it’s just hard to find relics of it still standing around after thousands of years. You can in Nanjing and other places, but sadly in Changzhou most of those attractions just do not exist anymore. There is, however, a move to recreate more places that have an antiquated feel. Qianbeian is one of those places.

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It’s not that far from Wenhuagong — where Changzhou’s downtown subway station is being excavated and built.  A Starbucks is also nearby, and one of Changzhou’s antique markets sits behind it. When I first came to Changzhou in 2014, the place was empty. Weeds were growing through cracks in the walkway, and the windows were dirty and unwashed. Walking through here, back then, felt like walking trough a forlorn, white-washed labyrinth.

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It’s a classic trope in this city. Parts of it looked like a ghost town, but over the years, things have slowly filled in. Qianbeian is a like Qingguo Alley — which can also be found in the city center. Even though it’s either reconstructed or currently under reconstruction, real Changzhou history did happen there. For instance, the great Chinese poet Su Dongpo, once had an academy here, and recently it has been turned into a small gallery for calligraphers and brush-and-ink artists. There is also a tiny display place dedicated to him. There is also a small museum dedicated to local history, and a lot more.

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Knocked Off, Knocked Down History

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The fast pace of economic development in China does come with a real cost. It’s not all that hard to find evidence of this online in prominent newspapers like The Guardian. Alarmingly, it’s been reported that the last twenty years of economic expansion has lead to more cultural destruction than that of the Cultural Revolution.  In many ways, this can be seen directly in Changzhou. Simply put, there does not seem to be as much to see here than in an much larger cities like Shanghai and Nanjing. And some of the things that “look” historic have actually recently been built and have nothing to do with antiquity. The Yancheng historical development around the Wujin Museum and the Spring and Autumn Amusement Park fits as a prime example.

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In Changzhou, simply put, a person doesn’t have to go that far to see whole swaths of demolition prepping the way to some new construction project.  For example, you can find a statue of Chairman Mao in a shattered landscape. There is one place, however, that seemed rather telling. Along Laodong Road 劳动路 in Tianning, there is a demolished compound. A textile factory used to be there. But, as I wandered around the rubble, I found a stone historical preservation marker. To use a cliche, it stuck out like a sore thumb in a wasteland. It’s like a strange irony. What the marker denotes as historic has been rendered into rubble. The buildings remaining looked drab, gray, and dreary.

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Once I got off my bike and started walking around, history was hard to locate or find. And, I wasn’t in the mood to literally “dig it up.”  A lot of the remaining buildings looked structurally unsound. I peered into some of the derelict factory spaces, but I had enough sense to not actually enter them. Accidents can and do happen to people who are silly enough to go into construction or demolition zones. With that in mind, I left.

However, later, over a cup of coffee, I searched for the place on Baidu Maps. I even entered the marker’s keywords 大成三厂旧址, and according to my smartphone app, the place doesn’t exist. So, that leaves me with this question: will a replica of the original historical site will thrown up, or will the historical marker also be removed, making way for another shopping center or high rise residential complex?

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Weidun Museum Always Closed

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When it comes to China, there is always a lack of information in English. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to do this blog — that at least somebody is explaining something in English. But, there are challenges that come with that. Take prehistoric Changzhou, for example. People have been living in this part of Jiangsu since the stone age. This is over 6000 years ago. However, if you google “Weidun” or “Weidun People” or “Weidun China,” the results are less than meager.

I’ve been trying this because there is the Weidun Relics Park over in the former district of Qishuyan. The park has a museum dedicated to the Weidun civilization, but the problem is this. It’s closed. It’s been closed every time I went there. This is even back in 2014 — the time before having an eBike and I randomly found it by jumping onto a bus and taking it to its terminal point. I had no clue where was going at the time. As for this musuem, It doesn’t matter the time of day or the day of the week. It’s always closed. And that’s a shame. The internet can’t tell me much about the Weidun people, and the only thing that can seems to be a few displays in the Changzhou Museum.

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Something is Happening with Li Gongpu’s Home

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

In 1946 and in Kunming, Li Gongpu 李公仆 had just finished watching a movie with his wife. As he left the theaters, secret agents of the nationalist Goumindang government shot him dead. Li was not a member of the Chinese Communist Party. He was a member of the China Democractic League, which can be seen as a “third way” between the Goumindang and the communists. However, the CDL and the CPC were sometimes allies in agitating against the nationalist government. It’s important to note this. While Li wasn’t a party member, he is still remembered as a hero and a martyr by some Chinese people — both for his politics and for his acumen as a scholar and academic.

I say this because he once lived in Changzhou, and his home is a preserved historical site in Wujin. However, the state of his home, last time I visited was sort of sad. It sits on a road bearing his name, which intersects with Changwu / Heping Road in Hutang right before a big bridge to Tianning. There is also a school baring his name and a picture of his face. The first time I went there, I didn’t even think his former home it was open to the public. The gate was slightly ajar, but the front door was wide open.  I mustered up some courage and slipped in. Inside, I saw a bust of him, but all the Chinese informational displays were weathered and cracked. The place looked abandoned.The informational area was so tiny that it didn’t take long for me to snoop around. I tried to walk further in, but I saw a Chinese woman sitting behind a computer. I got scared. I said a quick ni hao 你好 and left. When I returned a week later, a metal chain bound the gate shut..

That was more than six months ago, and from time to time, I always drove by the area just out of curiosity. The metal chain stayed for a long time, but recently it vanished. I have come to a definite conclusion. The Changzhou municipal government, the Wujin District government, or somebody is clearly doing something here.  Every time I returned, something has been different. For example, new retail buildings and spaces — I think — has been added next door. Also, a new wing is being added to Li Gong Pu’s original home to double the size of the historical location. Obviously, there are plans and ongoing investment. If Li Gongpu is getting a bigger, higher tech memorial hall with informational displays that are not fading and cracked, that’s a very good thing.

An new wing to Li Gongpu's former residence?
An new wing to Li Gongpu’s former residence?

Zhang Tailei and the Guangzhou Uprising

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Detail from a painting inside the Zhang Tailei Memorial Hall

In France, radical socialists and working class activists took over the Parisian government for a few months. They refused to cede the city back to the French government. Brutal suppress followed, and what is often considered the first attempt at a communist government failed. This was The Paris Commune, and it happened back in 1871, These events greatly shaped the direction of Communism as an ideology. Karl Marx even wrote a book about it.

Sometimes there is a parallel drawn between this and event in Chinese history.  In 1927, the Red Guard seized control of the Guangzhou government. Back then, it bore the English moniker

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A bust of Zhang Tailei

Canton.  At the time, both Guangzhou and Hong Kong also had an international presence. The coup didn’t last long. Days after Communists took power on December 11, the Red Guard got militarily routed. The leader, Zhang Tailei, was ambushed and killed. This event went on to spur other uprisings across China. Some have called the events in Guangzhou “The Paris Commune of the East.” In a way, that has a patronizing western-centrist ring to it. Still, one can’t deny the similarities.

That’s well and fine, some might think — but what does any of this have to do with Changzhou? Zhang came from Changzhou. His former home, The Zhang Tailei Memorial Hall 张太雷故居 is now a preserved as a small museum in Tianning. There, you can a few modest rooms that are preserved to look as they would have nearly a 100 years ago. A small display space is next to the modest dwelling. Most of it is in Chinese, but there is a long introductory paragraph in English explaining the Guangzhou uprising and who Zhang was.

This preserved historical space is relatively easy to find.  The Number 2 bus passes it. It is also right across the street from Qingliang Temple. Computer City and Wandu Plaza are also nearby.

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