Monthly Archives: April 2004

Two Backgrounders on the Separatist Movement in Aceh

The East-West Center has just published two useful backgrounders on the separatist movement in Aceh in northern Sumatra in Indonesia.

The Free Aceh Movement (GAM): Anatomy of a Separatist Organization, by Kirsten E. Schulze. Policy Studies 2. Washington, DC: East-West Center Washington, 2004. ix, 76 pp. Paper, $5.00.

The province of Aceh is located on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra in the Indonesian archipelago. Since 1976 it has been wracked by conflict between the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka; GAM), which is seeking to establish an independent state, and the Indonesian security forces seeking to crush this bid. At the heart of the conflict are center/periphery relations and profound Acehnese alienation from Jakarta. This paper aims to provide a detailed ideological and organizational “map” of GAM in order to increase the understanding of its history, motivations, and organizational dynamics. Consequently this paper analyses GAM’s ideology, aims, internal structure, recruitment, financing, weapons procurement, and its military capacity. The focus of this study is on the recent past as the fall of Suharto not only allowed the Indonesian government to explore avenues other than force to resolve the Aceh conflict, but also provided GAM with the opportunity to make some changes to its strategy and to transform itself into a genuinely popular movement. It will be argued here that the key to understanding GAM in the post-Suharto era and the movement’s decisions, maneuvers and statements during the three years of intermittent dialogue can be found in the exiled leadership’s strategy of internationalization. This strategy shows that for GAM the negotiations, above all, were not a way to find common ground with Jakarta but a means to compel the international community to pressure the Indonesian government into ceding independence.

Security Operations in Aceh: Goals, Consequences, and Lessons, by Rizal Sukma. Policy Studies 3. Washington, DC: East-West Center Washington, 2004. ix, 58 pp. Paper, $5.00.

Since Indonesia’s independence in August 1945, the province of Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra island has often been described as a center of resistance against the central government in Jakarta. The first uprising-the Darul Islam rebellion-began in 1953 and ended only in 1961 after the central government promised to grant special autonomy status to Aceh. When this promise was not fulfilled, another rebellion erupted in the mid-1970s. Unlike the Darul Islam rebellion which sought to change Indonesia into an Islamic state, the rebellion in 1970s took the form of a secessionist movement led by the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka; GAM). Despite its defeat in 1977 after the Indonesian military launched a security operation, another GAM-led rebellion broke out again in 1989–and again the Indonesian government responded swiftly with another military crackdown.

This paper examines the purpose, consequences, and lessons to be drawn from the security operations conducted by Indonesian forces in Aceh since 1990. As the vested interests of the TNI and its emphasis on a military solution have contributed to an escalation of the conflict, it argues that the military requires an exit strategy to be followed by socio-economic reconstruction. The paper is divided into four sections. The first outlines the root causes of the conflict and discusses military operations during the period 1990-98 when Aceh was designated a Military Operations Area (Daerah Operasi Militer; DOM). Security operations in Aceh between the downfall of Suharto’s New Order regime in May 1998 and May 2003, when the government finally decided to impose martial law and launch a full-scale military crackdown in the province are explored in the second section. The third explores the conduct of the counterinsurgency operation during the first six months of martial law in the province. The final section looks at how the government’s failure to consider the wider context of the conflict undermines the relative gains achieved on the military front. While security operations during the 1990s contributed to the aggravation of the problem–due primarily to the failure of Indonesia’s litary to protect human rights–the military operation since May 2003 will not end the conflict in Aceh if the government fails to undertake non-military measures to address the root causes of the problem in the province.

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The New Economics of Academia: Wanted: Really Smart Suckers

Reporter Anya Kamenetz has a must-read feature in The Village Voice (27 April) for anybody who has ever spent time working in academia–or who ever hopes to. It’s entitled Generation Debt – the New Economics of Being Young, subtitled “Wanted: Really Smart Suckers: Grad school provides exciting new road to poverty.”

Here’s an exciting career opportunity you won’t see in the classified ads. For the first six to 10 years, it pays less than $20,000 and demands superhuman levels of commitment in a Dickensian environment. Forget about marriage, a mortgage, or even Thanksgiving dinners, as the focus of your entire life narrows to the production, to exacting specifications, of a 300-page document less than a dozen people will read. Then it’s time for advancement: Apply to 50 far-flung, undesirable locations, with a 30 to 40 percent chance of being offered any position at all. You may end up living 100 miles from your spouse and commuting to three different work locations a week. You may end up $50,000 in debt, with no health insurance, feeding your kids with food stamps. If you are the luckiest out of every five entrants, you may win the profession’s ultimate prize: A comfortable middle-class job, for the rest of your life, with summers off….

But the Internet means no isolated community has to stay that way. A new group of tortured, funny, largely anonymous websites are providing an outlet for academics who feel like they’re getting spanked by their alma mater. They have names like Invisible Adjunct, (a)musings of a grad student, Beyond Academe, and Barely Tenured, and they address the emotional just as much as the practical consequences of competing in, and losing, the academic job-market lottery.

Founded in February 2003, Invisible Adjunct quickly became one of the most popular such blogs. Dozens of regular posters followed discussion threads like “The Old Boy Network” and “Is Tenure a Cartel?” Invisible Adjunct’s author—call her IA—is a New Yorker in her late thirties with a Ph.D. in British history, an adjunct for the past two years. “I’ve spent all these years and I’ve failed,” says IA, who entered graduate school in 1993 and received her Ph.D. in 1999. “You agree to do this five-to-seven-year low-paid apprenticeship because you’re joining this guild. And if you end up as an adjunct you think, wow, I’m really getting screwed over.”

The also pseudonymous Thomas H. Benton was a frequent contributor to Invisible Adjunct’s blog and has penned a series of cautionary columns for the Chronicle of Higher Education. He is even more blunt than IA. “The premise of graduate education in the humanities is a lie: Students are not apprentices preparing for a life of scholarship and teaching,” he says. “They are a cheap source of labor and status for institutions and faculty and, after they earn their degrees, most join the reserve army of the academic underemployed.” Benton, a professor at a small liberal arts college, warns his students about trying to follow in his footsteps. “My experience as a working-class kid who finally earned an Ivy League Ph.D. is that higher education is not about social mobility or personal enrichment; it is one trap among many for people who are uninitiated into the way power and influence operate in this culture.”


Grad school applications are up slightly over the last decade, as unemployed college grads seek a haven from the job market. Every winter, a new crop of bright, bookish, maybe slightly fuzzy-headed kids, the kind who cover the sidewalks of the Lower East Side and Williamsburg, decide they’re sick enough of the 9-to-5 grind to borrow some money and go back to school.

Unlike trade schools, most graduate programs do not offer prospective students detailed data on job placement, which varies widely from program to program. Tri-State Semi Driver Training School in Middletown, Ohio, for example, guarantees a job before you even start driving, while the American Language Institute in San Diego promises lifetime placement assistance to its teachers of English as a foreign language. Your local Ivy League English department can’t offer the same deal: Last year, the Modern Language Association expected some 965 Ph.D.’s to be granted, while only 422 assistant professorships were advertised, a drop of 20 percent from the year before. In the foreign languages, there were only 263 positions advertised (for the 620 Ph.D.’s projected), a drop of one-third from the previous year. The MLA estimates that students who entered English programs in 2003 had a 20 percent chance of coming out with a tenure-track position. The situation is better in history, where the number of new Ph.D.’s in 2003 almost equalled the number of new jobs, after a decade of “overproduction,” with growth coming in trendy specializations like the Middle East.

But numbers like these do little to deter the best students. “Top undergraduates are arrogant; they lack perspective,” says Benton. “They’ve been fawned over all their lives, and they think grad school is there to help them realize their potential, not to use them up and toss them out.”

The Chronicle (30 April) profiles the Invisible Adjunct at some length. Almost like an obituary.

Now, she senses that the Ph.D. in her pocket has grown stale.

“I have to confront the fact that my shelf life has expired,” she says, “and I’m not going to get a job in the academy.”

My sentiments match those in the comment posted by Anita Henderson on History News Network, where Ralph Luker noted the Village Voice article.

The reason grad students and adjuncts are taken advantage of is because they can be. And that’s because there are too many of them. More than the market needs.

What’s amazing is the sense of outrage in academic circles about the system, as if being a college instructor were different from other jobs. I’ve been through downsizing efforts in industries. Many, if not most, Americans have. People watching their earning potential fall through the floor. What they’ve worked to achieve for years become devalued in the marketplace.

Ivory tower academics must be oblivious to this, thinking that the old system of establishing yourself and then sitting back and letting the money roll in is in place. Rather than feeling sorry for themselves and their colleagues, they should try getting on with life the way most people do.

Lots of people want to be rock musicians. A few make it big, a few more earn comfortable livings. Most do it as a hobby along with their day job or barely squeak by. Lots of people want to be professional athletes. A few make it big, most don’t.

There’s nothing unique about academia. Social activists always say we need to tune inner city kids to reality, make them understand that they probably won’t become sports stars, the odds against that are too high, so they should have some other plan to fall back on. Maybe we need to let these professor wannabes [learn] the same thing.

Here’s my advice, from one who has made the transition out of academia, and back in, several times: Start early. Stay in practice. Avoid irrational optimism.

I first started after finishing high school in Japan (Canadian curriculum, not Japanese). I decided I didn’t want to go to college. (I wasn’t that eager to immigrate back to the U.S., either.) After working the summer in my uncle’s service station–not just pumping gas and checking oil, but changing tires on farm tractors and logging trucks, I acquired a new appreciation for schoolwork. So I applied late to my father’s alma mater, the University of Richmond, Va., where I was one of two “foreign” students–both American missionary kids, in fact. The Richmond Collegian interviewed us both, concluding thus.

Joel had visited the U.S. at several intervals before coming to UR. Joel said that his opinion of the U.S. changed each time he came. He said that he likes the U.S. better now than he did. However, he added, “When I read Mad Magazine in Japan, I thought the magazine exaggerated situations, but now that I’m here, I do not think the magazine does!”

I don’t think I phrased it quite so awkwardly, but that’s pretty much what I intended to convey. My U.S. college experience was not what the Asian edition of Newsweek had suggested it might be. Ferment, no. Boredom, yes. I dropped out in my sophomore year. The draft beckoned. The best I could do was opt for the Army language school. They gave me the 7th language on my list of 8: Romanian. So I spent my Vietnam-era Army days assigned to a stateside Civil Affairs unit that had more officers than enlisted men. I took a couple of extension courses on base, and spent a lot of time in the library and volunteering at the language lab on base: teaching an English class to Korean officers (always careful never to be seen in my enlisted uniform), and to a lovely class of Thai and Vietnamese army wives.

I took advantage of an early out to resume college, and managed to stretch my G.I. Bill benefits out well into my Ph.D. program, thanks to work-study, graduate assistantships, and other temporary or part-time jobs. I swore I wouldn’t get married until finishing my dissertation, then did anyway. I swore I wouldn’t accept full-time employment before finishing, then did anyway. I did finally manage to finish, mostly writing on weekends. And I finished only $2,000 in debt, which I paid off early! After spending most of the 1970s in grad school, I spent most of the 1980s doing computer support work in the business world (even taking a couple night classes in accounting), then migrated back into academic publishing during the 1990s.

In many ways, I’m a natural-born academic. But my wife teaches. Other friends and family teach. Heck, I’ve taught. And I know it’s not for me. Nor is the long stretch of pre-tenure paranoia and post-tenure burnout. I suppose this blog is now my classroom. Whimsy is my syllabus. Attendance is optional. And there are no papers to mark. My day job pays the mortgage. But I do worry about how to encourage my daughter to pursue her interests–even more academic than mine–while steering her away from a career in academia.

UPDATE: Via an update to History News Network, I see that Erin O’Conner of Critical Mass adds further thoughts and outlines her own answer to “The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad grad school question“:

Between the Chronicle of Higher Ed’s farewell paean to the Invisible Adjunct, the current Crooked Timber thread attempting to theorize the unconcern and even contempt tenured academics display toward the adjunct labor that sustains their comfortable lifestyles, and yesterday’s Village Voice piece on how you’ve got to be a hell of a sucker to go to grad school in the humanities or social sciences nowadays, I’ve been thinking a great deal not only about the politics of the academy, but about the politics of lamentation about the state of the academy.

There is something a bit, ummm, noisome in the spectacle of established, tenured academics clucking their virtual tongues and beating their virtual breasts about the terrible lot that has befallen the Invisible Adjunct and all those other adjuncts for whom she has so invisibly stood. What besides clucking are these folks doing to reform the abusive system that chewed IA up and spat her out? …

You can say that this is a fine case of the pot calling the kettle black. After all, what have I been doing on Critical Mass since March 2002 besides lamenting the state of academe, and devoting considerable space to the corruption of the academic humanities? I’ve clucked about the exploitation of adjunct labor more than once on this blog, and I’ve done it from a tenured position whose shape is structurally dependent on all the non-tenure-track lecturers, adjuncts, and grad students that my department regularly employs to round out its course offerings. So where do I get off?

I’ll know the exact answer to that question next week, when I decide which of several job offers teaching high school English to accept. In the meantime, I’ll simply note that what gives me license to point fingers in this moment is that I am leaving academe–in no small part because I cannot see a way to resolve the many interlinked crises facing the academic humanities, and I cannot reconcile my beliefs in institutional fairness, personal and professional integrity, and, much more basically, education, with a life lived from within a university English department. I’m not sure the problems can be resolved at this point. And, frankly, I’m not sure they should be. The self-discrediting behavior of the humanist “haves” during the past several decades of progressive deprofessionalization, combined with their confirmed collective refusal to take their own disciplinarity seriously (whether as scholars or as teachers), doesn’t suggest there is a whole lot worth saving….

There is one market, though, that is WIDE OPEN for humanities M.A.’s and Ph.D.’s, and that is the independent school market. “Independent” is mostly a contemporary code word for “private,” though it can also mean “charter.” Your Ph.D.–or, if you are ABD, your M.A.–is a very attractive qualification in this market….

Locating and applying for such jobs could not be easier. There are agencies whose entire mission is to match you with schools that are looking for candidates like you. The agencies are entirely free to the candidates. They are not gimmicks. They work.

Why do you hear absolutely nothing about this career option from within academe? Why do academic departments pretend this entirely dignified and deeply meaningful career path does not exist–even though it could be just what many of their otherwise unemployable Ph.D.’s, not to mention their dissatisfied faculty, are looking for? Why do they treat as beneath their notice a type of work that they ought to be embracing as a seriously significant alternative to the dead-end academic career of the adjunct? Do I really have to ask?

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Clarence Greathouse, Kentucky’s Legal Advisor to King Kojong in Korea

GREATHOUSE, CLARENCE RIDGEBY (c. 1845-Oct. 21, 1899), journalist, lawyer, diplomat, was born in Kentucky, the son of Dr. Ridgeby Greathouse, an early emigrant to Ca1ifornia. In 1870 he went to San Francisco. He practised law with Louis T. Haggin, then, upon the latter’s retirement, in the firm of Greathouse & Blanding–finally Wallace, Greathouse & Blanding. He was also active in local politics as a Democrat and in 1883 he became the general manager of the San Francisco Examiner, a Democratic daily. He continued in this position until 1886, when he was appointed consul-general at Kanagawa (Yokohama), Japan. Upon the confirmation of his appointment he left Washington May 31, 1886, and served successfully at his post for four years. At this time events and conditions in Korea were largely an enigma and a challenge to discovery to most foreigners in the Far East. Korea was also the one Asiatic country in which American influence and American participation in governmental affairs was at least the equal of that of any other Occidental nation. The successive American representatives in the Korean capital succeeded in so impressing the Korean King with the friendly and disinterested nature of the policy of their government that he was led to secure a comparatively large number of American advisors and on Sept. 12, 1890, Greathouse was engaged to serve as legal advisor to the Korean government. At that time there were eight Americans serving in Seul in various advisory capacities. The extent of American influence in Korea displeased the Chinese, but despite positive suggestions by the Chinese Resident against the employment of further foreign advisors, on Jan. 3, 1891, the Korean government gazetted Greathouse as a vice president of the home office and gave him charge of matters pertaining to foreign legal affairs. Gen. Charles Le Gendre [q.v.] at this time was a vice-president of the same office as foreign advisor to the King.

It is difficult to evaluate the work accomplished by Greathouse during his eight years in Korea. It is certain, however, that he secured the confidence of the King, and that for a time he was given complete charge of the trial of important political cases. He is also said to have acted as head of the Korean post-office department, but since during most of his service this department was weak and struggling he cannot be said to have accomplished much in this direction. His legal knowledge was often called upon in the drafting of conventions, in the constant negotiations with foreign representatives in Seul, and in the revising of Korean law and the reorganizing, at least on paper, of the Korean judicial system. His best-known work was in connection with the trial of the Koreans implicated in the murder of the Queen of Korea by Japanese and Korean conspirators on Oct. 8, 1895. After the King had escaped from his Japanese and Korean captors to the safety of the Russian legation, he asked Greathouse to supervise the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of the Queen. Greathouse attended all sessions of the court, examined the witnesses, and had the trials conducted in a thoroughly modern manner. It was owing to his influence that the trials were free from the gross faults which customarily disfigured the proceedings of all Korean courts, and that for general approximation to Western notions of justice and integrity they were in every way remarkable. During the last few years of his life Greathouse acted as confidential advisor to the King on foreign affairs. As far as the records show, he was never married; his mother remained with him until his death. While he was in Japan he secured the services of a young Goanese, H. A. Dos Remedios, as his secretary. When he went to Korea he took his assistant with him and Dos Remedios came practically to occupy the position of son as well as secretary, although he was never officially adopted. Greathouse died in Seul while still in the service of the government of Korea.

[The only trustworthy sources on the life of Greathouse are in the archives of the Department of State, and in the former American legation in Seul, Korea. Unfortunately, these are very meager. For printed sources see the Korea Repository, Mar. 1896, aud the Examiner (San Francisco), Nov. 18, 1899.] H.J.N.

SOURCE: Dictionary of American Biography. Greathouse was survived by his mother, who donated her diaries and documents to the U. of Kentucky Library in Lexington. I attended first grade at Greathouse Elementary in Louisville, KY, after kindergarten in Kokura, Japan. All I remember about school that year was nuclear attack drills and warnings about not allowing strangers to pick you up in their cars. (I guess nowadays kids are more scared of their classmates.) I never knew until decades later that Clarence Greathouse was a Kentucky notable who provided legal advice to the Meiji government, then to the Korean court. His whiskey-swilling mother was said to be one of the distinctive characters in the diplomatic community in Seoul. I spent some time exploring her diary and other documents in the Greathouse archives at UKy at few years back. Most of her diaries are concerned with diplomatic gatherings, especially this or that “tiffin” (high tea), with increasing worry about her son’s stomach ailments. I got the impression he drank himself to death.

A series of letters from other members of the diplomatic community in Seoul during the 1890s is online here.

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Mining Muninn: Shanghai in August 1945

While perusing the archives of the Muninn blog I recently discovered, I came across another interesting bit of historical detail posted on 26 March, which describes the content of the newspaper Shenbao in Shanghai in August 1945:

You pick up the most circulated newspaper in Shanghai on August 15th, 1945, the day of Japan’s surrender. What do you see? Well, the news of the surrender hasn’t made it for the day’s issue. Instead, in the days leading up to the end of the war the newspaper focuses on the Russian advances in Manchuria, or the arrival of B29 bombers attacking Japanese targets in China. Of course, you still see the usual advertisements for CPC Coffee, and various brands of penicillin. But how will the newspaper change in the next few days as Japan’s control over Shanghai comes to an end? While this wasn’t a question related to my research, it was at the back of my mind as I skimmed through an important Shanghai newspaper called 申報 from the second half of the year 1945….

CPC Coffee, which had long had very recognizable, if somewhat boring, advertisements depicting a can a coffee, finally join the victory bandwagon on the 21st by getting rid of the can image and replacing it with three victory slogans for the Allies, China, and Chiang Kai-shek. They scrap this on the 26th and add an image of a caucasian drinking coffee. Prices still look kind of inflated on the 26th. Meimei Si is selling coffee for 18,000 yuan and ‘Victory’ sundaes for 40,000. Also on the 26th we see the sudden appearance of radio channel advertisements, promising the latest news from San Francisco or India. Not far from Meimei Si’s victory sundaes is a very short article noting the mass suicide of a group of Japanese soldiers in front of the imperial palace. The editorial of the day emphasizes the need to preserve social order and reminds everyone that Chiang Kai-shek has ordered that no-one is to show hostility towards the surrendered Japanese soldiers. Thousands of them are still wandering around with their weapons, some have yet to officially hand over control of the cities they control. Most of them are not disarmed until weeks or months later and some of them end up helping one side or the other in the conflict to come. In these early postwar days, the KMT and the Communists are in a mad nation-wide rush to get their troops into each Japanese controlled area to accept the hand-over of power first. While the two sides were nominally allied during the war against the Japan, the country is on the verge of a new civil war between the two. In the first few weeks, however, we see Mao and Chiang inviting each other to tea parties and banquets.

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Mining Muninn: 102 Former Soldiers in Nanjing, 1937

Mining some of the historical posts on the Muninn blog I recently discovered, I came across an interesting entry on 19 March, 102 Former Soldiers in Nanjing, 1937:

I went on a used book buying spree last week, finally blocking off some time to roam the stores near Waseda’s campus one afternoon. One book I snapped up was a cheap copy of the normally $60 oral history book … edited by … (Matsuoka Tamaki). The book is part of a series of new Japanese books coming out which is methodically publishing vast amounts of primary materials on the Nanjing Massacre. Don’t read this posting if you are squeamish. I believe the books are associated with a group of historians who are disgusted by the revisionist nationalist scholars who once completely denied that anything horrible happened at the fall of Nanjing and now still claim that there was nothing out of the ordinary by the standard of modern warfare. While mainstream Japanese historians, along with the rest of the world, recognize that the fall of Nanjing was followed by an unusually horrible amount of slaughter and rape, I think most of them are tired of playing games with the revisionists and thereby sustaining the idea that there is some controversy worth debating. Rather than engaging them in futile debates, this particular group of historians seems focused on getting as much raw data as possible into print. The two newest books that I have seen are a collection of statements by Chinese witnesses of the massacre (which of course, the revisionists dismiss as liars or government stooges) and the volume I purchased collecting the statements of the soldiers themselves.

The rest is not pleasant, but really should be read.

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Buddhism and the Rise of Written Vernaculars

Why are there so many writing systems in India and and so few in China? In 1994, Victor H. Mair addressed this question in an article in the Journal of Asian Studies. Here’s the abstract.

The premise of Victor H. Mair’s wide-ranging article is that written Chinese emerged not as transcribed speech, but rather as a special, radically shortened cipher with its own grammatical and expressive conventions. He calls this written form Literary Sinitic (LS) and finds the disparity between it and any form of spoken Chinese, which he refers to under the general heading of Vernacular Sinitic (VS), is of a wholly different nature than the contrast between written Latin and any modern written or spoken Romance language. Indeed, he argues, Literary Sinitic remained incapable of serving as a means of recording spoken Chinese or any other language. Thus, for Mair, the question becomes: How did vernacular written forms emerge in a milieu in which Literary Sinitic dominated intellectual life? He finds the earliest instances of written Vernacular Sinitic occur typically in Buddhist texts. He believes the Buddhist emphasis on teaching through the local dialect (desa bhasa) was a major impetus for the development of written vernacular, but concludes it is difficult to determine exactly which aspects of Buddhism had the greatest influence on the slow maturation of written Vernacular Sinitic.

And here’s Mair’s conclusion.

We have seen how, under the probable influence of the Indian concept of desa bhasa brought to China by Buddhism, numerous peoples in East Asia created a whole series of written vernaculars. While Chinese authorities stubbornly resisted recognition of any of their own vernaculars as a national language–probably due to the extremely high prestige and power of LS–the Buddhists used the vernacular liberally in their own writings. Once proffered as a functional alternative written language, use of the vernacular steadily grew until, by the late Ming-early Ch’ing [= Qing], it is likely that as many books were being printed in vernacular or a heavily vernacularized literary style as in LS, not withstanding the censure and ridicule of strait-laced scholars. Finally, even the Manchus, who already had their own written national language, which was swiftly dying out because of pervasive sinicization, yielded to the idea that their Sinitic subjects, too, needed a national language keyed to one of the spoken vernaculars. After the agitation of the May Fourth Movement [in 1919] led by progressive Chinese intellectuals and students, many of whom were exposed to radical ideas about language and other aspects of culture and society through the window of Japan, kuo-yü [= guoyu, Mandarin] was publicly proclaimed the official written language of the nation. This marked the formal end of the multimillennial separation between book language (shu-mien-yü [= shumianyu]) and spoken language (k’ou-yü [= kouyu]) in China.

That Buddhism played a crucial role in the evolution of the written vernacular throughout East Asia is beyond any doubt. The question remains, however: Which aspect of Buddhism was responsible for these momentous changes? Was there some religious doctrine belonging to Buddhism that fostered the written vernacular? Was it the fondness for storytelling, preaching, and public speaking by the early Buddhists in the language of the people? Did the ostensible orality of Buddhist scripture have anything to do with the origins of the written vernacular in China? Was the fact that most of the early translators of Buddhist texts into Sinitic were foreigners with a poor command of the literary language a significant factor? And did the phonological sophistication of Indian linguistical science lend credibility to the spoken vis-à-vis the written? What of the elaborate, rigorously defined Indian traditions of chanting and recitation? And may the social values, institutions, and position of Buddhism have contributed to the rise of the written vernaculars? Last but not least, did Buddhist practice have anything to do with the validation of the vernacular? Perhaps I have entirely overlooked some vital facet of Buddhism that contributed to this process. In the end, Buddhist support for the written vernacular may best be identified as a complex combination of diverse factors, all of which were determined by an integrated socioreligous ideology.

SOURCE: Victor H. Mair, “Buddhism and the Rise of the Written Vernacular in East Asia: The Making of National Languages,” Journal of Asian Studies 53 (1994): 705, 707-751

UPDATE: The comment thread on this at Language Hat is most interesting.

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How Stalin and the Cultural Revolution Preserved a Chinese Tradition

In the 16 & 23 February issue of The New Yorker, Peter Hessler’s “Letter From China” (not available online) hints at how close the PRC came to abandoning Chinese characters for an alphabet.

In 1936, as the Communists were gaining power, Mao Zedong told an American journalist that alphabetization was inevitable. When Mao finally took control of China, in 1949, many expected the government to replace characters with Latin letters, as Vietnam had done earlier in the century. But in the summer of 1950 Mao handed down a surprise decision, calling for linguists to develop a “national-in-form” alphabet–a new writing system, whose letters would be distinctively Chinese.

John DeFrancis, a linguist at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, has studied this period, and he told me that the inspiration for Mao’s order has always been a mystery. DeFrancis recommended that I speak with Zhou Yougang, a ninety-seven-year-old linguist who had worked on the writing reform committee … [which] considered more than two thousand proposed writing systems. Some were derived entirely from Chinese; others used Latin or Cyrillic alphabets; a few combined fragments of Chinese characters with foreign letters. There were Chinese alphabets in Arabic…. In 1955, the committee narrowed the field to six alphabetic finalists: Latin, Cyrillic, and four completely new “Chinese” systems….

In 1956, Mao and other leaders concluded that the Chinese alphabets weren’t yet usable. They sanctioned the Latin scheme, known as Pinyin, for use in early education and other special purposes, but not as a replacement script. And they decided to simplify a number of Chinese characters. This was described as an “initial reform stage”: Mao, it seems, wanted more time to consider the options.

But writing reform soon became entangled in politics. In April of 1957, the Communist Party launched the Hundred Flowers campaign, during which intellectuals were invited to speak their minds, however critical…. Then, after only five weeks, Mao abruptly terminated the … campaign. By the end of the year, more than three hundred thousand intellectuals had been labelled Rightists….

I asked Zhou what had happened to the four Chinese alphabets, and he told me that all records had apparently been destroyed. “It was easy to lose things like that during the Cultural Revolution,” he said.

The Cultural Revolution, which lasted from 1966 to 1976, represents the climax of China’s disillusionment with its traditions. But, ironically, the upheaval helped protect the characters. When the chaos finally ended, the Chinese no longer had an appetite for radical cultural change, and both the public and the government rejected further attempts at writing reform. Today, almost nobody advocates alphabetization, and Zhou predicts that China won’t give up its characters for at least another century, if ever. Even the simplificiation didn’t get very far. It reduced the number of brushstrokes that make up some of the most commonly used characters, but the principles of the writing system remain the same. Essentially, it’s the equivalent of converting an English word like “through” to “thru.” Zhou and others believe that simplification hasn’t had a significant effect on improving literacy rates. Taiwan, Hong Kong, and many overseas Chinese communities don’t use the simplified system, and traditionalists despise them.

In hindsight, Mao’s 1950 command doomed writing reform; without the search for a national-in-form alphabet, China likely would have adopted Latin script before the Cultural Revolution. When I asked about Mao, Zhou said that the turning point was the Chairman’s first state visit to the Soviet Union, in 1949. “Mao asked Stalin for advice about writing reform,” Zhou said. “Stalin told him, ‘You’re a great country, and you should have your own Chinese form of writing. You shouldn’t simply use the Latin alphabet.’ That’s why Mao wanted a national-in-form alphabet.”

NOTE: The impetus to blog this (after losing track of it) came from reading a post on the fascinating blog Muninn (discovered via Language Hat) about Chinese character reform in Taiwan, where both Chiang Kai-shek and a solid majority of Taiwanese favored it as late as 1954. I wonder if it was abruptly abandoned precisely because Mao adopted it after letting alphabetization–and any intellectuals who opined about it–fall by the wayside.

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