Typing in Chinese

I am often asked how, given the fact that the Chinese language has no alphabet, one types in Chinese using a standard English qwerty keyboard. The answer, of course is that modern Chinese also uses a romanization system called Pinyin, which uses English letters to represent Chinese sounds. If you type a Pinyin word, a list of Chinese characters associated with that word appears. Select the correct one, and — viola! — you have typed a Chinese character.

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It wasn’t always like that, of course. When I first went to China, computers and keyboards were not yet a part of everyday life (not even for Americans, if you can believe it), and Chinese typing was still done on machines pictured above. The typist would hunt for the desired character, use the contraption to grab it, move it to the paper, press it on the paper, then put it back in its proper place. As you can imagine, typing a document was a mind-numbingly laborious task.

Stanford University will be holding an exhibition on Chinese typewriters called The Chinese Typewriter: The Design and Science of East Asian Information Technology. It will run from January 20 to August 22, 2016 at the Lathrop East Asia Library. Here’s the description:

During the 19th and 20th centuries, groundbreaking information technologies like the telegraph, the typewriter, and the computer changed the world. All of these technologies were designed with the alphabet in mind, however, leaving open the question: what about China, Japan, and Korea? In this exhibition, the history of modern East Asian information technology is explored through artifacts from the personal collection of Professor Thomas S. Mullaney (History) and the Stanford East Asia Library. Opening Reception and Guest Lectures by Jidong Yang (EAL) and Thomas S. Mullaney (History) on Wednesday, January 20 at 5pm.

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If you’re in the Bay Area, you might want to check it out. I’m almost tempted to fly out there to see it myself.

Image credit: Derek Fox, via Flickr and Stanford University

Related Posts:

Learning Chinese in the 1600’s

Learning Chinese in the 1920’s

Learning ABOUT Chinese and Language Learning

Fun with Chinese Adverbs

How Long Does it Take to Learn Chinese?

Imagine Learning Chinese Without Pinyin

What Does Ju Mean?

China Under Mao

I recently stumbled across a great new blog called Everyday life in Mao’s China. Each post is a photo or photos taken in China when Chairman Mao was in power. They are very interesting glimpses of a China that is hard to imagine these days. Here are a couple of my favorites:

St. Joseph’s Church in China, taken over by the red guards:

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Little red guards:

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Watching a movie outdoors:

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Click on over to the site to see lots more!

Remembering Jewish Refugees in Shanghai

Last week, China staged a huge parade to commemorate the end of World War II. While everyone was focused on the pomp and ceremony in Beijing, there were a couple of events in Shanghai to honor the city’s role in taking in Jewish refugees during the war. In fact, on September 6, the city opened the Jewish Memorial Park.

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Here’s the story from The Times of Israel:

Beginning in 1938, as Jewish persecution by the Nazis went into high gear, approximately 20,000 Jewish refugees fled to Shanghai, one of the few safe havens in the world that did not require a visa.

On Sunday, a Jewish Memorial Park was opened at the Fushouyuan cemetery in that city’s Qingpu district in their honor.

Israeli Consul-General Arnon Perlman, speaking at the dedication, said it is very important “to remember the friendship between China and Israel and between Shanghai and Israel.” On a patch of newly laid grass, a Star of David made of stone forms the centerpiece of the park and serves as the base of a sculpture of interlocking stones with another Star of David, and a menorah, at its center.

One of the stones pays tribute to Dr. Ho Feng-Shan, the Chinese consul general of Vienna during the war, who defied orders and issued over 3,000 visas to Austrian Jews to allow them to travel to China (while visas were not required to enter Shanghai, they were required to leave Austria).

The mostly German and Austrian Jews who came to Shanghai in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s joined another several thousand Jewish residentswho had made the country their home in the previous 50 years, either as merchants or to escape Russian pogroms.

You can read the full article here.

The Consulate General of Israel in Shanghai released a video thanking Shanghai for being a safe haven for Jews:

The World Jewish Congress had a story about the reopening of a cafe that had once been a gathering place for the Jewish community in Shanghai:

On Wednesday, an iconic café in the former Jewish ghetto of Shanghai, which served as a meeting place for Jewish refugees during World War II, was re-opened in the presence of 300 dignitaries, including a representative of the World Jewish Congress (WJC).

At the time, the White Horse Café (‘Zum Weissen Rössl‘) was a café where the Jewish refugees met.

The White Horse Café first opened in 1939. It has been rebuilt in a new location opposite tothe Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum with its original look. The three-story wooden and brick structure that combined Western and Eastern architecture served as a popular shelter for Jewish residents living nearby.

The owner sold the café to a local after the war. It was demolished in 2009 to make room for a subway. The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum collected the building’s blue prints and key components such as beams and some wooden curving on walls for the rebuilding.

Among the guests at the ceremony on Wednesday was Ron Klinger from Australia. His grandparents, who had come to Shanghai from Vienna in 1938, had opened the inn. “A lot of people visited, Jewish people and non-Jewish people. It was like cafe, bar and nightclub. It was very popular,” recalled Klinger.

The new coffee house was rebuilt in accordance with the original style. It displays some old photos donated by the Klinger family.

Two interesting stories on a little-known part of Shanghai’s past.

Nixon in China, 43 Years Ago

Forty-three years ago this week, President Richard Nixon made his historic visit to China. It was 1972, and I was a junior high student at Karachi American School in Karachi, Pakistan. I remember our social studies teacher taking us to the US Consulate where we were able to watch news reports of the visit (some live, some taped). Even as a young teenager I knew it was a momentous occasion.

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Of course no one knew at the time (probably not even Nixon himself) how much things would change, not simply in regards to US-China relations, but within China itself over the next 40 years. And I certainly never imagined that I would spend a good portion of my adult life living there!

What we also didn’t know at the time was that Pakistan had played an important role in the trip. The year before, Henry Kissinger had feigned an illness during a visit to the country, and while the world thought he was resting in his hotel, he snuck onto a plane and flew to China to lay the groundwork for the trip. 

Since Chairman Mao was still alive at that time (barely), the changes wouldn’t come right away. Following his death in 1976, and the rise to power of Deng Xiao-ping, however, China would set out to re-invent itself. It’s doubtful that they could have done that without a re-engagement with the world; and the Nixon visit and the subsequent re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States was the first step in that re-engagement.

The website All Day has posted a collection of photos of Nixon’s visit. This one is my favorite. Wouldn’t you love to know what the President was thinking as he stared intently at his chopsticks? (“Oh no, not kung pao chicken again!”)

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If you’re interested in reading more about this historic week and the changes that followed, I’d recommend the following excellent books:

Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World, Margaret Macmillan.

Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World

 

About Face: A History of America’s Curious Relationship with China, from Nixon to Clinton, by James Mann.

About Face: A History of America's Curious Relationship with China, from Nixon to Clinton

On China, by Henry Kissinger

On China

Image Sources: wikipedia, allday.com.

An Insane Collection

I was recently talking with a Chinese friend in Minnesota who had just returned from a road trip to New York and Washington with her husband. “Tell me something interesting you have observed in your travels around the US this year,” I said to her.

“Every little town has a museum,” she told me. “In China,” she said, “only the government runs museums and they are mostly about ancient history. But here, there’s a museum about everything.”

I thought it was a brilliant observation.

Shortly after that conversation, I ran across this short film at China File about a man in Sichuan who runs a bunch of small museums near Chengdu. These museums house millions of items he has collected over the years, many of which represent events and eras the government would rather people forget about. The title of the film is “Collecting Insanity.” From the introduction:

Every country has a past it likes to celebrate and another it would rather forget. In China, where history still falls under the tight control of government-run museums and officially approved textbooks, the omissions appear especially stark. An unusual museum dedicated largely to what is absent in China’s self-presentation is the subject of Joshua Frank’s short film “Collecting Insanity.” Frank tours the Jianchuan Museum Cluster, of Fan Jianchuan, an ex-official and real estate magnate, in the town of Anren, near Chengdu. The group of exhibits, named after Fan himself, display their owner’s collection of millions of historical artifacts, gathered over a lifetime of obsessive accumulation. Fan’s museum displays objects from various historical events, including the officially memorialized Sino-Japanese War and the far more taboo fallout of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

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Stealing Tea and Saving Face

On our 5200-mile road trip last month, I listened to the audio version of the book For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History by Sarah Rose.

 

For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History

Here is the Amazon description of the book:

In the dramatic story of one of the greatest acts of corporate espionage ever committed, Sarah Rose recounts the fascinating, unlikely circumstances surrounding a turning point in economic history. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the British East India Company faced the loss of its monopoly on the fantastically lucrative tea trade with China, forcing it to make the drastic decision of sending Scottish Botanist Robert Fortune to steal the crop from deep within China and bring it back to the British plantations in India. Fortune’s danger-filled odyssey, magnificently recounted here, reads like adventure fiction, revealing a long-forgotten chapter of the past and the wondrous origins of a seemingly ordinary beverage.

The book is a treasure trove of historical information about China in the mid-1800s, as well as all things related to tea. Occasionally, there are cultural gems to be mined. In chapter 5 Rose describes an incident that took place in Hangzhou between Fortune and his servant, Want. Having failed to follow Fortune’s instructions, they find themselves in the city of Hangzhou, where if it is discovered that Fortune is a foreigner and not a Chinese official (he was disguised as one), he could be killed. So he gives the servant a public scolding. In the course of describing this incident, Rose (perhaps inadvertently) gives one of the best descriptions of the Chinese notion of “face” that I have found anywhere!

But Fortune’s recriminations had little effect, for a master’s scolding his servants publicly only served to build their self-esteem, or “face,” as even a reproach was a tacit declaration that the servant was important enough to merit the notice of a wealthy mandarin. In China “face,” or mianxi [sic] was a concept that a Westerner like Fortune did not instinctively understand, describing as it does the prestige and reputation one gains from every human interaction. Relationships in China were defined by the reciprocal obligations between people, whether of the same or a different status, and every individual existed within a network of influence, a matrix of duties and social connections, or guanxi.

The family came first, then the extended social neighborhood. “Face” expressed a person’s position within his or her network and was the mechanism by which the Chinese assessed their obligations: which orders to obey, which favors to grant, and which supplications and apologies to make. A son might perform humble acts for his father, or an employee might bow before his master or a student before his teacher, but in turn the father would have a set of defined responsibilities to the child, the master to the slave, and the teacher to the student.

However subtly they were expressed, mianzi and guanxi were inescapable facts of life in China; then as now they forged the social fabric of the nation. Social connections determined the measure of justice received and discrimination suffered. While no Chinese person was free from these relationships, many peasants had very little face and therefore little access to justice, wealth, or freedom. When social obligations were met, someone gained face and an increase in status; when a person failed those to whom he was socially connected and thereby obligated, he suffered loss of face (diumian) and a downturn in his social standing. When Wang was shouted at by Fortune for failing to follow orders, it demonstrated to the world that he had responsibilities to an important man. Wang lost face with Fortune, while simultaneously gaining it in the wider neighborhood of Hangzhou.

Face was a very Confucian concept. The great philosopher, whose ideas gained influence during the Han Dynasty, 206 BC-AD 220, described a world where familial connections and obligations to ancestors were the highest good and the greatest aim of an individual. A single person was nothing if he did not bring honor to the world from which he came.

A foreigner in China had no network of relationships of prescribed duties and no social capital, and therefore lacked any obvious signifiers of face. Many foreigners handled their outsider status adroitly. They engaged in relationships with the Chinese immediately, offering gifts and favors to officials and higher-ups; they recognized that a servant did not just serve but was owed things other than monetary reward, such as honor and respect. Fortune, however, seems to have paid little attention to the finer points of Chinese social interaction. He treated the Chinese as he would any employee: demanding excellence, refusing to hear excuses, and chastising failure. Wang and Fortune would travel together on and off for years, and the servant valiantly tried to negotiate the workings of guanxi on his master’s behalf. Wang effectively created Fortune’s identity as a mandarin by forging a fictitious network of prestigious connections for him, elevating his master’s face (and, not incidentally, elevating his own status by association). He also bribed and negotiated on Fortune’s behalf, not just for favors, but for face. (p.69-71)

“Note to self,” I thought, as I listened to this passage while driving across the deserts of eastern Oregon, “find a print version of this book and post the passage on my blog.”

Done!

Chinese in World War I

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand, an event that would trigger what we know today as World War I. One of the little known stories from the war is the role of 140,000 Chinese laborers on the Western Front.

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The Chatham House recently posted an article about these forgotten laborers:

On August 24, 1916, in the middle of the battle of the Somme, a contingent of Chinese workers arrived in France to help the Allied war effort. By the time the war ended in 1918, their numbers had grown to more than 140,000. They dug trenches, unloaded military cargoes in the docks, worked in railway yards and factories, and collected corpses for burial from no man’s land. More than 2,000 paid with their lives.

The story of the Chinese at the Western Front is largely forgotten by Britain and France, both preoccupied with their own suffering, and by successive Chinese governments, which have seen the labourers as victims of colonial exploitation.

Yet, as the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War approaches, scholars in Europe and China are studying their history and reassessing their role in China’s modern history. The Chinese republic’s decision to send non-combatants to the mud and barbed wire of the Western Front is now seen as a first, hesitant step away from centuries of imperial isolationism.

It was a gamble by the republican government, which had only a shaky hold on power three years after the overthrow of the Ch’ing dynasty.

The film was recently shown at Chatham  House House as part of a panel discussion on the Chinese contribution to World War I. The video an be viewed on the Chatham House site, or on YouTube.

(If you receive this post by email and cannot view the video clip, please click here.)

Fascinating stuff!

Image source: Chatham House

 

Mildred Cable: An Early Traveler in Northwest China

One of my favorite websites is the Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity, which posts short biographical sketches of famous Chinese Christians throughout history. Even though it focuses on Chinese Christians, they also include biographies of notable Western Christians.

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They recently posted a biographical sketch of Mildred Cable, an OMF missionary who travelled extensively in western and northwestern China in the 1920’s:

“When the Trio asked themselves what China needed next, they felt led to leave their settled mission station for areas which were more remote and unevangelized. They were inspired by a report they heard on the absence of Christian witness for 1,000 miles along the Silk Road from Gansu province to Xinjiang province. On June 11, 1923, the Trio set out for Gansu. When they arrived in Zhangye, their first destination, they had been traveling for nine months and had covered 800 miles.”

Mildred was a prolific writer, chronicling not just her missionary work, but her travels as well.  A number of her books (co-authored by her colleague Fransesca French) are considered ‘classics’  because of their descriptions of life in western and northwestern China in the first half to the twentieth century.

These include the following:

The Gobi Desert – The adventures of three women travelling across the Gobi Desert in the 1920s

The Gobi Desert - The adventures of three women travelling across the Gobi Desert in the 1920s

Through Jade gate and Central Asia;: An account of journeys in Knsu, Tukestan and the Gobi Desert

Through Jade gate and Central Asia;: An account of journeys in Knsu, Tukestan and the Gobi Desert

For anyone interested in northwest China, both of these books are ‘must-reads.’

Image source: Scotwise