2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 374

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China By Numbers: Quantification and Its Consequences

Organizer and Chair: Di Yin Lu, Harvard University, USA

Discussant: Hanchao Lu, Georgia Institute of Technology, USA

This panel invites scholars to reconsider the use of quantification in Chinese history. Previous studies have utilized quantitative data to examine China's demographic shifts, its societal underpinnings, as well as its co-development with respect to other world powers. The papers in this panel, however, propose that quantitative data reveals far more than the subject of its analysis. The papers take fresh looks at imperial court records, family genealogies, CCP campaign reports, and PRC revenue figures. Together, they propose that counting allows historians to explore topics as diverse as the Qing bureaucracy, Shandong book markets, the Cultural Revolution, and contemporary development in rural China. Miller uses topic analysis to argue that the Qing imperial court executed its bureaucratic functions in specific temporal patterns. He proposes that shifts in these temporal patterns indicate the imperial court's changing concerns in the context of the greater Qing empire. Suleski explores used-book sales in PRC, particularly the proliferation of hand-written genealogy booklets from the 1940s. He asserts that these sales reveal new information about popular culture in Shandong. Lu uses descriptive statistical analysis to argue that cultural industries in the People's Republic made unprecedented profits from the Cultural Revolution, and questions the existing belief that antiquarianism fell to marginal status, if not worse, during the Four Olds campaign. MacDonald's analysis of contemporary fiscal records show that the PRC has abandoned its urban bias in resource distribution, demonstrating that local interest groups have shifted central government concerns from urban growth to rural expansion.

The Larger Patterns of Small Events: Distant Reading 200 Years of Chinese Court Records
Ian M. Miller, Harvard University, USA

For hundreds of years the Chinese court compiled a daily record of correspondence, including reports from provincial officials, imperial edicts and notations on ritual occurrences. These “Veritable Records” have been heavily used as sources for event histories and study of imperial ritual. However, the completeness and regularity of the Records for the last two hundred years of the Qing dynasty make them suitable for statistical treatment. By undertaking a machine learning-based reading of the entire corpus, I analyze both the patterns of event occurrence and the biases and tropes of court recording of those events. By partitioning records according to “topic” based on term co-occurrence, it is possible to track the changes in court and society in four kinds of time: seasonal/cyclical, secular, generational and event-based. While some phenomena are best understood as events (i.e. the Taiping Rebellion), I argue that others are better understood in cyclical time (public works) or as aspects of imperial personality (ritual). This paper represents a preliminary attempt at insight into the larger patterns in small, regular events - occurrences best understood through the distant reading of a large corpus.

Constructing the Family in Republican China: Shandong 1944
Ronald Suleski, Suffolk University, USA

This research is based on a short hand-written genealogy that I found in Jinan in 2009. It was a hand-written manuscript (shou chaoben) of the kind that are appearing in flea markets in China these days. These materials tell us stories about the lives of the common people of China (pingmin) in the late Qing and Republican period. This presentation presents a thin family genealogy which I surmise was written in Shandong in 1944. An analysis of its brief entries reveals much about the family, including: female family members, inter-family marriages practiced over hundreds of years, status markers used by the family such as the taking of second wives, the prevalence of patriarchal views. Even the Japanese occupation of Shandong in 1944 plays a role. These handwritten materials being discarded by provincial families should be seen as cultural artifacts produced by the common people of China before 1950. They reflect the ideas and values of those people, who usually have not left written records for scholars. The mediocre calligraphy speaks to their limited formal education, and the poor quality paper reflects their own meager economic circumstances. These materials are not being collected by libraries in China, and Chinese scholars are not studying them. They are flowing into Chinese flea markets as old homes are being demolished, but if scholars and libraries continue to overlook these materials, in a decade or less they will disappear from the market.

Sifting Civilization: Profit And Gain In The Cultural Revolution, 1966 - 1976
Di Yin Lu, Harvard University, USA

During the Cultural Revolution, the best job an antiquarian-in-training can get is to become a sorter for confiscated property. In this job, individuals with authentication experience worked at sorting stations, spread throughout the PRC, picking antiquities out of commonplace confiscations. The artifacts that predate 1795 went to regional museum collections, while artifacts that postdate 1795 became stock at the China National Arts & Crafts Import & Export Corporation (CNART), which sold the artifacts on the international market. Museological concerns such as preservation, canonization, and philanthropy were inherent to Sorting Station operations, as were commercial interests such as profit, gain, and wholesale distribution. Focusing on the sorters at one sorting station in Shanghai, this paper explores the function of confiscated antiquities in the articulation of Chinese cultural heritage, both at museum exhibitions and at the Canton Fair, where many of the antiquities went up for sale. It argues that far from shutting down, cultural industries in the People's Republic reaped enormous profits from active participation in Cultural Revolution campaigns. Confiscated antiquities became both the center of museum exhibitions as well as best sellers overseas. It further proposes that in their capacity as product-evaluators, sorters expanded the purchase of connoisseurship: while antiquarianism has been said to have lost its social and political purchase in socialist campaigns, sorters' work in the Cultural Revolution only expanded antiquarianism’s power and reach.

Urban Bias Revisited
Andrew W. MacDonald, Oxford University, United Kingdom

This paper argues that the Chinese central government has fully abandoned the previous policy of an urban bias in resource distribution. Party doctrine for much of the Maoist era sought to take the economic surplus from the countryside and use it to feed the industrialization of the urban areas. In the immediate post Maoist period, each locality was assigned fixed revenue targets by the government and was able to keep any surplus, allowing many non-urban areas to rapidly grow wealthy (sometimes at the expense of urban areas). In 1994, the central government recentralized revenue collection and began to redistribute the funds collected as grants to various local governments. This new fiscal power again allowed the central government to dictate whether China would have a pro- or anti- urban policy. Using statistical data from the Ministry of Finance, I argue that China now has, if anything, a pro-rural fiscal policy. The implications of this finding touch on issues of democratization, interest group power, and distributional politics.