From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Fieldnotes From History (33)—Shrine Culture

[a] Historical memory RF
Part of an occasional Round and Square series that follows the blog’s main theme (east meets west, round meets square, and past meets present), these snippets from my early fieldnotes are reproduced as they were written by hand—and then revised on an ancient desktop computer—during my first fieldwork stay in Taiwan (1985-1987).  All entries are the way that I left them when I returned to the United States in 1987—some nicely-stated and some embarrassing. Although the series began with my assumption that the entries can stand alone, I have found that separate comments and notes might help readers understand a world that is now, well, history. These are always separate from the original fieldnote.

I am presenting this note as an example of how flawed some notes can be. Not all of them move the analysis forward—and some are even challenged in terms of description. This is an example of both. From my perspective today, it is too glib and a little "breezy." I don't like it. For all my emphasis on the "letter writing" phase of fieldwork (covered in my classes and the introduction to the series), this is an early example of it getting in the way—of my not understanding its temptations. I can sense "anticipatory epistolary" rhetoric here...and I don't like it. It is an example, I think, of getting a little "punchy" while writing fieldnotes. This happens, and it is part of the process. Getting notes written is the first priority, and there is going to be gristle in the ethnographic beef. Still, there is really no useful analytical place for phrases such as "slopped on" and the generally derogatory attitude toward the Nationalists here.

And here is a key point. It is NOT because such attitudes are not "nice" or (politically) "incorrect" that makes them problematic. Absolutely not. The sort of fieldnote quoted below is problematic because breeziness takes the place of analysis and precise description. If I were to write this today, I would give much (much) more description of the place itself, and then (in a series of fieldnotes, not one long one) look for analytical centers that are worth plumbing. Not the least of these is the one useful little gem amidst the dross of this note—"waxing nostalgic about a dream gone sour" attempts to be glib, but it really gets at something worth pursuing. It needs analysis, but it speaks to something palpable in my experience in Taiwan in the mid-1980s. 

On the other hand, almost all of the second paragraph is an embarrassment to me today. Take your subject seriously, and don't use rhetoric to dismiss it. That is what I teach today. I am ashamed, but I think that there is a lesson here. I have certainly learned it over the years.

Among the great events of the twentieth century in Chinese history were the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in 1911 and the advent of the People's Republic of China in 1949. The celebrations on Taiwan in the Republic of China focus on the October 1911 events, and there is a good deal of historical hand-wringing over the way events played out in the years after World War II.

2 February 1986
A few weeks ago I went on a Sunday outing with the Bear Family— the neurosurgeon I teach, his wife, and daughters. (Their surname, Hsiung 熊, means “bear” in Chinese). We toured Taipei temples, markets, and historical centers. As usual, the food was the best part of the day. With a lunch of dim sum and fresh fruit and a dinner of Peking Duck, we were nearing Nirvana. The Hsiungs began the trip with the Chinese Movie and Culture Center, which features a wax museum (not to be confused with the really excellent National Palace Museum). 

This place was a little weak on "culture," but they slopped on the revolutionary nostalgia. You see, the Guomindang did not have much fun during the “People’s Revolution” of 1945-1949, so they look back to the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in 1911 as the Great Uprising. Row after row of revolutionary martyrs, cast in wax and clad in the uniforms of the Republic of China, stand proudly, causing patriotic hearts to thump with pride and patriotic minds to forget the reason why they are standing in Taipei, not Beijing or Shanghai, waxing nostalgic about a dream gone sour. 
[c] Rebuttal RF

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