Reading: Robert J. Antony — Like Froth Floating on the Sea: The World of Pirates and Seafarers in Late Imperial South China

I was aiming for Dian H. Murray’s Pirates of the South China Coast, 1790-1810, which is probably the definitive work on the subject in English. Alas! Have you seen the price for that? It’s like reading Michel Serres when the only translations were hardcover university press, for which said universities charged obscene amounts and I was reduced to photocopying below the sign that said “Do Not Photocopy Entire Books!” and accompanying security camera (thankfully now reprinted at normal person prices). Even I balk at haemorrhaging such quantities of euros for a book. So I settled on the second on the list, Robert J. Antony’s Like Froth Floating on the Sea: The World of Pirates and Seafarers in Late Imperial South China.

This fits in closely with Wensheng Wang’s White Lotus Rebels and South Sea Pirates, and is so far the most concise and well-researched book on the subject (for which I have an unhealthy fascination) that I’ve come across. Antony describes his approach to history as coming from the bottom up, a little perhaps like Gail Hershatter’s The Gender of Memory: Rural Women and China’s Collective Past, an approach that is by far my favourite; there are only so many books you can read on important men fighting each other before you get the general idea on a subject. Mostly I think Antony achieves this, though definitely not with the same depth and rigour of Hershatter.

Mainly I wanted to read this for the Cantonese pirate Jihng Sih (or Zhang Yi Sao) the wife of a pirate who rose to command hundreds of junks and tens of thousands of pirates. Sadly there wasn’t much, as Antony seemed to regard her husband Cheung Po Tsai (Zhang Bao) as the real leader, which doesn’t agree with what I’ve read to date. Nonetheless, Antony introduces me to a couple of other formidable woman pirates who made things miserable and provided much-needed trade along the South-China coast.

I still have my eye on Dian’s book, but in the meantime, for a quick, well-researched (though a little dry) introduction to the subject that is also affordable, Like Froth Floating on the Sea does the job.

Robert J. Antony — Like Froth Floating on the Sea: The World of Pirates and Seafarers in Late Imperial South China
Robert J. Antony — Like Froth Floating on the Sea: The World of Pirates and Seafarers in Late Imperial South China

Reading: Wensheng Wang — White Lotus Rebels and South Sea Pirates

I came for the pirates, particularly Jihng Yāt Sóu, otherwise known as Zheng Yi Sao, the wife of Zheng Yi, bisexual Cantonese pirate. Sounds brilliant if I stop right there! Once I discovered the world’s foremost pirate was both a woman and from the city of my heart, Guangzhou, I knew I’d be devoting a meandering number of years to tracking her down. It’s proved remarkable difficult. European pirates are far better known, even the female ones like Mary Read and Anne Bonny are equal to Blackbeard, but Ching Shih, she commanded hundreds of ships and tens of thousands of sailors and wow but it’s hard to find stuff on her.

I’d hoped Wensheng Wang’s White Lotus Rebels and South Sea Pirates — Crisis and Reform in the Qing Empire was going to say more than the one paragraph plus some lines that it did on her, though it has presented a good summary of South China Sea piracy from mid-1600s to the demise around 1810, enough for me to better decide what I’ll read next on this subject. The book itself is a little dry, even for my usual academic reading, and I even find myself disagreeing with Wang, for example with his description of Lingnan as a economic macroregion and therefore explicitly part of China and Chinese, whereas I’d see it perhaps better understood as a state under colonial control of China, yet fundamentally not-China and outwardly-directed across the South China Sea in its inter-state interactions. Possibly picking at straws here.

The history of the White Lotus Sect and the Qing Dynasty around the early-1800s is fascinating for me, but work is nowhere near the standard of Susan Mann or Gail Hershatter (despite the very nice cover). And the absence of a proper bibliography is either a mistaken omission or if intentional is bizarre.

Wensheng Wang — White Lotus Rebels and South China Pirates: Crisis and Reform in the Qing Empire
Wensheng Wang — White Lotus Rebels and South China Pirates: Crisis and Reform in the Qing Empire

Reading: Aleko E. Lilius — I Sailed with Chinese Pirates

A stack of books waited for me while I was in Bologna, and yesterday I had my first riding in snow of the year to pick them up. I didn’t know which one to start with, so I started with them all; I think the word for that is gluttony.

I Sailed with Chinese Pirates, I discovered this on China Rhyming, a blog responsible for a not insignificant number of the books on China I pick up (and yes, the actual work being discussed there, White Lotus Rebels and South China Pirates, is also on my list). I’ve had a thing for southern Chinese pirates ever since I discovered their leader for a period in the Qing dynasty was a woman named Jihng Sih (or Ching Shih in Mandarin), who commanded hundreds, or maybe thousands of junks and tens of thousands of crew, and despite appearances in popular culture has not had much written of her in the way of biography. Jorge Luis Borges though wrote a story about her, “The Widow Ching, Lady Pirate” in A Universal History of Infamy.

As for Aleko E. Lilius, he was one of those comically hard journalists who threw himself into highly improbably situations and lived to write about them, somewhere between Peter Hopkirk and Ernest Hemmingway, though unlike the latter, he’s not embarrassed to write of his terror when the pirate junk he is sailing on goes into battle with canons pounding.

Originally published in 1932 during the Republican era,  I Sailed with Chinese Pirates was republished in 2009 with a short forward by China Rhyming’s Paul French, who also wrote about the book, which makes for a good read as well. And what else? It’s full of photos! Photos of Cantonese pirates and southern China from the 1920s! It’s also a very fast gallivant of a read; I’ll probably finish it tonight.

Aleko E. Lilius – I Sailed with Chinese Pirates
Aleko E. Lilius – I Sailed with Chinese Pirates

Reading: Lydia H. Liu, Rebecca E. Karl, Dorothy Ko (Eds.) – The Birth of Chinese Feminism

This book turned up in my China feeds mid-June, though somehow I picked it up before I was in Vienna – or I’m confused in what I began reading but did not take with me there. There was an interview with Rebecca Karl on Shanghaiist, where the title was “China’s Qing Dynasty anarcho-feminists”, so obviously I was immediately interested, as well as mentions on China Rhyming and Frog in a Well – the former being a dependably good source of new reading for me and usually alone enough to make me put a book on my list. As well, Gail Hershatter, author of The Gender of Memory: Rural Women and China’s Collective Past – one of the best books I’ve read in any field – has some high praise.

The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational History, edited by Lydia H. Liu, Rebecca E. Karl, and Dorothy Ko so far has made interesting reading having just finished Afsaneh Najmabadi’s Women with Mustaches and Men Without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity, the latter part of which covers approximately the same time period of early-20th century and thus a specific global period of colonialism and modernism, particularly in the parallels of feminism in both China and Iran wing formulated in no small way by male authors who locate women and their bodies within the discourse of nationalism. Without getting too involved here, being Sunday, it seems that feminism alone, without a theory or politics of intersectionality lends itself quite easily to fairly conservative ends, after all the concept of gender isn’t so far removed from that of nationalism, especially if it’s grounded in essentialism. Which perhaps is why – and what I’m rather eager to read about in this work – feminism needs some form of anarchist theory in order to expose the inherent biases that comes from working within a social and political situation built on colonialism and nationalism. Pretty much what bell hooks says, though I don’t remember her saying much about anarchism.

Lydia H. Liu, Rebecca E. Karl, Dorothy Ko — The Birth of Chinese Feminism
Lydia H. Liu, Rebecca E. Karl, Dorothy Ko — The Birth of Chinese Feminism

 

Reading: Jonathan Chamberlain — King Hui: The Man Who Owned All the Opium in Hong Kong

Some of the books on my reading wish list, which is now close to six score, have been there for some years. I maintain a certain orderliness when it comes to sorting, cataloging, filing, and I’ve been using Bookpedia for ages to keep track of my books, if for nothing else than to prevent me buying the same book twice, but an equal disorder when it comes to recalling what caused me to add a book to the wish list in the first place.

Jonathan Chamberlain’s King Hui: The Man Who Owned All the Opium in Hong Kong should be fairly obvious as to why I wanted to read it, covering my favourite China stuff: Guangdong, Canton, the Republican Era, pirates, opium … Hong Kong, well, there’s so much written on that city compared to the ones starting a half hour north that it’s not such a specific interest, also I think a significant amount of Hong Kong writing is precisely because it was a British Colony until ’97, and if there’s one thing readers of the english language tend to love with scant reflection, it’s stories about exotic places ‘we’ used to own; that is to say, it’s the Orient is only interesting when it’s about us.

So back to the man and his opium. It turns out I first read about it in 2008, or at least that’s when it was mentioned on Xujun Eberlein’s Inside-Out China (then in a different incarnation) and I filed away her post in my reading archive. And recently, being desperate for something to read, I trawled my wish list and decided this seemed like a good choice, of course having forgotten all the details.

It’s accompanied me to Vienna, where I have been using it as an aid for breakfast and putting myself to sleep. It tends to fail in the latter as it’s a fantastic tale. It’s an oral history, and reads like a cleaned-up audio transcription, something I’m not so used to reading for an entire book. Hui is one of those fine hetero male raconteurs though, and Chamberlain’s editing and pace make this a fast, visual read.

As to Hui’s stories, Chamberlain states he believes they are true, saying that Hui repeatedly told him these over some years and remained consistent however wild and unbelievable they sound. Me being around half-way through I am unevenly split between accepting this, or thinking that some of this is true, some happened to people around him and he placed himself in the main role, some is exaggeration, and a small amount is lies which Hui has come to believe is true through years of retelling.

To be clear, I find him quite egocentric, narcissistic, and self-deceiving; probably not someone I’d find interesting for long. He was also incontestably a Japanese collaborator during the Second Sino-Japanese War (or WW2 as the Euro part of the world calls it), corrupt, and given the wealth and life he started with, a fool. Not that this distracts from a vivid description of Canton and Hong Kong through the last century, and I’m enjoying for both that and this charmingly sleazy man.

Jonathan Chamberlain — King Hui: The Man who owned all the Opium in Hong Kong
Jonathan Chamberlain — King Hui

Reading: Paul French – Through the Looking Glass, China’s Foreign Journalists from Opium Wars to Mao

It took a while to arrive … I’m not even sure now what prompted me to decide I wanted to read this, given it was published in 2009, and I tend to be on a “Want now! Why must I wait until published?” bender lately. But something in the previous months must have made me decide it was more important than the other hundred on my want list, and so it duly arrived last week.

Admittedly, I’m in much more of a fiction mood at the moment, and after finishing Stonemouth, did the rounds of my Iain Banks collection and somehow romped through a mass of Charles Stross also. Predictable of me, yes.

Paul French is one of those China bloggers I’ve been reading since I first wandered to the orient, or at least it seems that way. Being once again incoherent, it took a while for me to realize Through the Looking Glass, China’s Foreign Journalists from Opium Wars to Mao was written by him – I mean ‘through the introduction and into Chapter II’ a while.

It’s from Hong Kong University Press, so that means it’s very nicely bound and has a suitably academic-sized typeface, with plenty of margin for both thumbs and (for those so inclined) notes. It also dwells satisfyingly on Guangzhou (yes, I am tired reading books about China that are really about Beijing and/or Shanghai), and covers the periods – Qing Dynasty and Opium Wars through to the end of the Republican Era – I’ve been reading regularly of late.

Thus far in, Paul manages to combine the ‘ripping good yarn’ approach to Far East writing of the likes of Peter Hopkirk with the serious academic detail of Hershatter, Mann and others I’ve been holding up lately as exemplars of scholarship. Which is to say, I’m inhaling it every night until I fall asleep and it bonks me on my face.

Paul French – Through the Looking Glass
Paul French – Through the Looking Glass

Reading: Seung-Joon Lee — Gourmets in the Land of Famine: The Culture and Politics of Rice Consumption in Modern Canton

The last of my first stack of books for 2012, and one that has been on my list for a long time, which finally became affordable, Seung-Joon Lee’s Gourmets in the Land of Famine: The Culture and Politics of Rice Consumption in Modern Canton. Once again a book thick with endnotes, and covering such a specific topic — rice and its role in southern China during the Nationalist and revolutionary era — that it likely won’t grace many bookshelves.

In a quite sporadic and unplanned fashion, I’m managing to read my way into Canton and the south of China, which I hope eventually will cause me to arrive at a book or books that does justice to the history and culture of Canton and Lingnan. Starting with rice seemed like a good idea.

Seung-Joon Lee — Gourmets in the Land of Famine
Seung-Joon Lee — Gourmets in the Land of Famine

Reading: Paul A. Van Dyke — The Canton Trade: Life and Enterprise on the China Coast, 1700-1845

Continuing my return to reading China, as with my focus on women in the history of China, so too is there a strand which pays attention to the south, Lingnan, Guangdong, Canton.

So much of what is written on China is in fact only a small part thereof — Beijing as China, Shanghai as China, the eastern core. Other parts of the country are so distant as to be other countries, and despite the ongoing Han homogenisation programme, these other parts still retain their individual histories.

Paul A. Van Dyke’s The Canton Trade seemed like a good place to continue, after reading Julia Lovell’s The Opium War a few months ago, and now, more than half way through reading, I can say he hasn’t skimped on thoroughness.

Paul A. Van Dyke — The Canton Trade: Life and Enterprise on the China Coast, 1700-1845
Paul A. Van Dyke — The Canton Trade: Life and Enterprise on the China Coast, 1700-1845

Reading: Julia Lovell – The Opium War

Canton. The idea is romantic, and unavoidably one of Orientalism. Still, I lived there on and off for a few years, known now as Guangzhou. Whatever centre of the world Canton once inhabited, it has long been overshadowed in China by Beijing and Shanghai to the north, and that city of internationalism and projected fantasies to the south, Hong Kong. It is a city with a history though, and a very long one. I feel an affection to that place I called home, and hoard what I might find on its history, as however much it might be inside China, it has always been the outward-looking southern barbarian.

The Opium War. Drugs, piracy, smuggling, empires and colonialism in Canton from the 17th Century till the communist dictatorship. That’s enough, no?

Julia Lovell – The Opium War
Julia Lovell – The Opium War

Surabaya, Indonesia Climbing Gym Job Opening

Those of you who have bothered to read supernaut for at least a few years (oh I have pity for you), will recall my several adventures to the north of Guangzhou at a place variously called Qingyuan (the name of the nearest big city), Jiulong (the Smith of Southern China), or if you came at it from the east, Yingde. There with Emmanuel, and several other drill-wielders from Hong Kong, we amused ourselves over humid weekends by climbing.

Eman left Guangzhou a couple of years ago for the equally humid and limestone-y (though politically less totalitarian) Indonesia, where the past while he has been planning something new:

Surabaya, Indonesia Climbing Gym Job Opening

Class 5 Recreational Climbing Center is looking for safety-conscious and fun climbers to join our team.

Class 5 Recreational Climbing Center is Indonesia’s first full service, indoor climbing facility. Our facility will offer 5000 squared meters of indoor climbing, a pro-shop that will stock a selection of climbing gear, and a a great environment to climb with friends and strangers alike.

I’ll be accepting resume or CV for both Part-Time or Full-time employment. If you’re a rock climber and you want to work in Indonesia’s first full service climbing gym let me know.

Job description:

1) Help to ensure the safety of all climbers; providing a fun and safe climbing environment is our first concern.

2) Teach new climbers the figure eight follow through, proper belaying technique, verbal commands (on belay, belay on, climbing, climb on)

3) Reception procedures with an emphasis on customer service.

4) Group and event responsibilities included

What we’re looking for:
Excellent people skills.
Some English useful
An interest in rock climbing
If interested or for more information, contact me: class5climbing@yahoo.com