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: http://magazine.beloit.edu/?story_id=240813&issue_id=240610

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.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Primary Sources 1A.12—Through the Mountain Tunnel 過山洞

One year ago on Round and Square (30 June 2011)—Flowers Bloom: An Open Book
Click here to access Round and Square's "Primary Sources" Resource Center  
[a] Through RF
Over the course of the next year or so, Round and Square will take readers step-by-step through a very particular kind of primary source—the elementary school readers used in the mid-1980s in the Republic of China educational system. Every schoolchild on the island of Taiwan read these texts back then, and they are the foundation for understanding matters of education, acculturation, language acquisition, and translation. They were also the source of a very large chunk of my early anthropological and historical education. This is not a "language learning" series. It is meant to be an inquiry into the territory where studies of history, language, and culture meet.

I encourage readers of Round and Square to follow these posts whether or not they read Chinese. It is clear enough where I begin speaking to language learners (it starts in the "translation notes," but it is worth hanging on through there, even if you have never seen a Chinese character in your life). The section called "language notes" at the end is geared to people who have learned a little Chinese. Everything else, with the exception of the actual Chinese text, can be understood by anyone who takes the time to think about what an entire education from the ground up might be like. How many of us have thought about that element of culture since we were twelve years old? Only those terrific teachers who keep the society of learners moving along. The introduction to this series explains these matters thoroughly, and will be posted soon. In the meantime, take a look at how first-graders (for that is where we begin) started to read their world in Taiwan a generation ago. This is "textbooks from history," and there is much to learn. Let's get to work.
We finish the first semester of first grade with a strangely difficult little text that opens up themes of hard work, adventure, and word play. Yes, word play. It's first grade, but we have our first clear example here of rhyme, assumptions about pronunciation, and a gotcha moment...of sorts (it's first grade, after all).

We'll get into the details in a moment, but let's start with the trip itself. The kids are zipping through the mountain tunnels on their train trip to we-know-not-where (we are not told). Mother and daughters share a family moment as the train burrows through the mountain's innards. It's a truly Chinese-cultural family moment in another way, too. You see, someone is studying. Someone is always studying in Chinese family life, and not just in K-6 textbooks. This time it's math, and it turns out to be a little bit like...counting sheep. Take a look. 

12—Through the Mountain Tunnel
Riding the train; passing through the mountain tunnel
The tunnel stretches out at length
Little sister studies her numbers, seeing how high she can count
Before the train finally passes through the tunnel

Riding the train; passing through the mountain tunnel
The tunnels are many and frequent
We pass through one after another
Little sister counts on
Counting, counting...and then sleeping
過 山 坐 山 看 妹 山 坐
了 洞 火 洞 看 妹 洞 火 
一 多 車 才 數 學 長 車 
個 又     過 到 數 又
又 多 過 完 幾 數 長 過 
一     山         兒     山 
個     洞                 洞   
 _____________________________________________ 
[b] 過山洞 RF
數 妹
著 妹
數 數
著 不
睡 完
 著
了  _____________________________________________

數 妹 又 長 車火 洞 山 過
著 完 才  ()shù   ()zháo
睡  幾
Text in Simplified Chinese (简体字)*
十二  过山洞
坐火车过山洞   山洞长又长     
妹妹学数数儿   看看数到几   山洞才过完
坐火车过山洞   山洞多又多   过了一个又一个
妹妹数不完       数着数着睡着了
*A simplified text is unthinkable in an ROC worldview. I don't "work" for them, though, and am including it for two reasons. First, an almost disturbingly large number of my students these days can't read traditional characters. This is problematic, but I acknowledge (grudgingly) the reality. Second, it should be an eye-opener for students on either side of the "simplified/traditional" divide. Just look. Finally, if you want to read anything written before 1950, you need to learn traditional forms. Get over it. It's not political. It's literature...and politics and history. If you can only read simplified forms, you can read what (Mao) wrote, but not what he read (unless it has been edited and adapted). Think about it.

[c] Trip RF
History and Culture Notes
Studying on a family trip. That's childhood in China, and that goes for both "Republics." As the train barrels through mountain tunnels, little sister counts as high as she can. Remember family trips? Kids play games such as naming the state capitals (U.S.), recognizing the departément number on vehicles (France), and doing calculus all of the time (China). If the last part doesn't make sense, click the link.

Kids play games on trips. It is as natural as counting, and a lot more fun. The girls, traveling with mom, behave themselves (this is clear from the picture), and little sister sees how high she can count as the train passes through the dark. Fun you say? Yes, it's always fun until someone gets hurt

[d] Long 又 long RF
Uh, wait... O.k., nobody gets hurt when little sister counts. Never mind. This isn't like playing Red Rover or anything like that. Trust me. Once you have read the text, you will realize that it isn't at all like the other kinds of games kids play. This one is a real snoozer, if you read all of the way to the end. Little sister counts and counts...and falls asleep. If you want to see why that is especially relevant to this text, you'll have to "read" a little Chinese. Stay with me through the language notes for the punch line.

Translation Notes
This text is a good example of how "easy" language can be for a native speaker, and how even a first-grade text can befuddle even relatively able foreign learners. It begins simply enough: "Sit fire car; enter mountain cave." O.k., o.k., I'm trying to be funny. Any first-year Chinese student from abroad can recognize that "we're" riding a train through a mountain tunnel. No problem. Next comes a 又 construction. This is not difficult in a grammatical sense, but it presents a wee bit of a translation problem. 山洞長又長 looks a little like "the mountain tunnels are long and long again." Of course, it "means" something like "the mountain tunnels are really long." I have made a choice about how to translate it, but I can imagine a dozen pretty good ones. The same goes for 山洞多又多. They are really numerous. The grammar is easy. Is it important to give a "feel" for 多又多? That's up to you, but it's straightforward in the last one. 過了一個又一個 sets up nicely for the translated 又—"...passing through one after another." 

[e] Onward RF
Language Notes
The language and grammar have two little issues that are "easy" for native speakers (the first-graders studying the text) but a little difficult for language learners in colleges across the world. 看看數到幾 is not a phrase that most of my second year students will interpret without effort, although just thinking about it for a while should do the trick. A little kid in Taiwan will have heard it or said it hundreds of times by first grade. This is one of the best reasons to "read" a native-speaker education, as we are doing in this series. There are just a whole bunch of challenging little things you'll never learn in textbooks (or, better put, things that will be exceedingly difficult to learn through traditional collegiate channels).

The real kicker comes at the end, though, and it introduces little first-graders to the first "same graph, different pronunciation" (破音字) character of their educations. The continuous aspect marker 著 punctuates the first two phrases, but then—suddenly—the textbook writers pop up with a little word play. The same character (著) becomes the second part of a common phrase for falling asleep. It "looks" the same, but it is being used differently here, and continuous (aspect) counting gives way to sleepy finality (睡著了). 

Fun stuff. Now get some rest.
[f] Mountain RF

Friday, June 29, 2012

Primary Sources 1A.11—In the Park 公園裡

One year ago on Round and Square (29 June 2011)—Seinfeld Ethnography: Sleep Desk
Click here to access Round and Square's "Primary Sources" Resource Center  
[a] Interaction RF
Over the course of the next year or so, Round and Square will take readers step-by-step through a very particular kind of primary source—the elementary school readers used in the mid-1980s in the Republic of China educational system. Every schoolchild on the island of Taiwan read these texts back then, and they are the foundation for understanding matters of education, acculturation, language acquisition, and translation. They were also the source of a very large chunk of my early anthropological and historical education. This is not a "language learning" series. It is meant to be an inquiry into the territory where studies of history, language, and culture meet.

I encourage readers of Round and Square to follow these posts whether or not they read Chinese. It is clear enough where I begin speaking to language learners (it starts in the "translation notes," but it is worth hanging on through there, even if you have never seen a Chinese character in your life). The section called "language notes" at the end is geared to people who have learned a little Chinese. Everything else, with the exception of the actual Chinese text, can be understood by anyone who takes the time to think about what an entire education from the ground up might be like. How many of us have thought about that element of culture since we were twelve years old? Only those terrific teachers who keep the society of learners moving along. The introduction to this series explains these matters thoroughly, and will be posted soon. In the meantime, take a look at how first-graders (for that is where we begin) started to read their world in Taiwan a generation ago. This is "textbooks from history," and there is much to learn. Let's get to work.
If you think that this is all just kids' stuff, you owe it to yourself to read this text. We're almost through the first half of first grade, and we've seen mothers, fathers, siblings, and even a stray (maternal) grandma here and there. The familial setting narrows quite dramatically in this text—the eleventh of twelve in that fateful opening semester of education. Big bro takes little bro to the park. The trees are big (as Joseph Conrad wrote much more dramatically a century before); the flowers are beautiful; the grass is lush and green. Keep on reading. What is a little kid to do? Don't climb the trees; don't pick the flowers; don't trample on the grass. Get away, little doggies.

Huh?

What do you do with vast stretches of lush, green grass? Don't trample your dirty shoes on it; protect it from your grubby little feet! Stay off of all of that beautiful stuff. Just watch.

Huh? It's called culture (and history). Keep reading.

11—In the Park
Elder brother and younger brother
Go to play in the park
In the park:
           The trees are tall
           The flowers are beautiful
           And there is a stretch of green grass
Elder brother tells little brother:
          "The trees are tall; but we won't climb them!
           The flowers are beautiful; but we won't pick them! 
           The grass is green and lush; we will not trample on it!"

歌 草 還 花 大 公 到 歌 
歌 地 有 兒 樹 園 公 歌 
告     一 美 高 裡 園 和  
訴     片             裡 弟 
弟     綠             玩 弟 
弟     的                     
說                                 __________________________________

[ b] Lush RF
我 草 我 花 我 樹
們 地 們 很 們 很
不 綠 不 美 不 高
要 綠 要     要 
踩 的 摘     爬
壞     下     上
了     來     去
_____________________________________________
訴 告 地 草 綠 片 美 花 高 樹 和 歌 公 
                          壞 踩 摘 爬 園
Text in Simplified Chinese (简体字)*
十一  公园里
哥哥和弟弟到公园里玩
公园里大树高花儿美还有一片绿的草地
哥哥告诉弟弟说
树很高我们不要爬上去
花很美我们不要摘下来
草地绿绿的我们不要踩坏了
*A simplified text is unthinkable in an ROC worldview. I don't "work" for them, though, and am including it for two reasons. First, an almost disturbingly large number of my students these days can't read traditional characters. This is problematic, but I acknowledge (grudgingly) the reality. Second, it should be an eye-opener for students on either side of the "simplified/traditional" divide. Just look. Finally, if you want to read anything written before 1950, you need to learn traditional forms. Get over it. It's not political. It's literature...and politics and history. If you can only read simplified forms, you can read what (Mao) wrote, but not what he read (unless it has been edited and adapted). Think about it.

History and Culture Notes
[c] Universal RF
O.k., first we have fraternal social behavior. Elder brother takes younger brother to the park. It is lush and beautiful. This might just be a hand-holding, "we are the world" kind of story in which everyone can band together and agree on every sentiment, right? I mean, really. The brothers go to the park, view the towering trees, admire the beautiful flowers, and contemplate hectares of verdant grass. We're talkin' universal here, aren't we?

Uh, no. 

You see, the brothers seem as though they have to stay off of everything. Don't climb; don't pick; don't trample. Didn't the text just get translated the wrong way?

Uh, no.  

How is that possible? Isn't the way we look at these matters (today...in "America") the way it is...and was?

[d] Untrammeled RF
Uh, no, and the details have everything to do with why we study history, culture, and literature (including the stuff written for kids). This is precisely why I am adamant that reading texts written for kids matters for anthropologists and historians. 

Let's go to the park and...just stand there politely. 

Translation Notes
The language here is not particularly difficult. We need to look at 不要 here for translation issues, though. I tend to look at the phrase as a modified "future" in such utterances, and that is hardly radical. So it's "will not"—we will not climb them. Still, this is a fun one.  不要, as every first-year Chinese language student knows, has a certain "thou shalt not" quality to it. So does this. Elder brother tells younger brother that the trees are tall, the flowers are beautiful, and the grass is lush...and thou (and we) shalt not interact with them. 

All I can say is 不yow!

Language Notes
There really isn't much stuff here (beyond 不要) that presents much of a grammatical or even etymological challenge. Suffice to say that it is in the first few lines that the language learner must do a quick grammar check. It isn't difficult, but let's take a quick look. 哥哥和弟弟到公園裡玩 tells a story about hierarchical elements of a kinship dyad going off to...activity. Big brother and little brother arrive at the public park to play. Yeah, sort of. If you are learning Chinese, though, it is worth paying attention to 到... 玩.
[e] 到...玩 RF

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Primary Sources 1A.10—I Make a Boat 我做一條船

One year ago on Round and Square (28 June 2011)—Flowers Bloom: Letter From Chicago
Click here to access Round and Square's "Primary Sources" Resource Center 
[a] Fashioned RF
Over the course of the next year or so, Round and Square will take readers step-by-step through a very particular kind of primary source—the elementary school readers used in the mid-1980s in the Republic of China educational system. Every schoolchild on the island of Taiwan read these texts back then, and they are the foundation for understanding matters of education, acculturation, language acquisition, and translation. They were also the source of a very large chunk of my early anthropological and historical education. This is not a "language learning" series. It is meant to be an inquiry into the territory where studies of history, language, and culture meet.

I encourage readers of Round and Square to follow these posts whether or not they read Chinese. It is clear enough where I begin speaking to language learners (it starts in the "translation notes," but it is worth hanging on through there, even if you have never seen a Chinese character in your life). The section called "language notes" at the end is geared to people who have learned a little Chinese. Everything else, with the exception of the actual Chinese text, can be understood by anyone who takes the time to think about what an entire education from the ground up might be like. How many of us have thought about that element of culture since we were twelve years old? Only those terrific teachers who keep the society of learners moving along. In the meantime, take a look at how first-graders (for that is where we begin) started to read their world in Taiwan a generation ago. This is "textbooks from history," and there is much to learn. Let's get to work.
Now that we have a proper introduction to this series, it's time to get back to the elemental lessons of childhood in Taiwan (c. 1985). "I Make a Boat" helps us redevelop our sea legs, as it were, and we have here a studied combination of craftsmanship and play that will weave its way through the K-6 waters of Republic of China education.

It is not just youthful engineering that is at work here, though. Rich networks of kinship pulsate just below the surface of this little narrative. The small craft propels real relatives on imagined—though significant—journeys to aid, feed, and teach the tiny domestic community. We conclude with our little boat builder in the role of teacher, asking the kind of question that should spur little brother and all of those reading along...where would you go?

Now that's educational.

10—I Make a Boat
I make a boat
Mother can ride in it
When she goes to visit grandma

I make a boat
Father can ride in it
When he goes fishing on the open sea

I make a boat
Little brother can ride in it
Little brother, little brother
Where do you want to go? 

    我         我         我
送 做 爸 送 做 媽 送 做 
給 一 爸 給 一 媽 給 一  
弟 條 出 爸 條 要 媽 條 
弟 船 海 爸 船 去 媽 船 
坐     去 坐     看 坐     
        打         外         
        魚         婆          船 
_____________________________________________
[b] 我做一條船 RF
你 弟
要 弟
到 
哪 弟
兒 弟
去 
________________________________
弟 魚 外 坐 給 送 船 條 坐 十 
海   婆
Text in Simplified Chinese (简体字)*
十  我做一条船
我做一条船送给妈妈坐妈妈要去看外婆 
我做一条船送给爸爸坐爸爸去海去大鱼
我做一条船送给弟弟坐 
弟弟 弟弟 你要到哪儿去
*A simplified text is unthinkable in an ROC worldview. I don't "work" for them, though, and am including it for two reasons. First, an almost disturbingly large number of my students these days can't read traditional characters. This is problematic, but I acknowledge (grudgingly) the reality. Second, it should be an eye-opener for students on either side of the "simplified/traditional" divide. Just look. Finally, if you want to read anything written before 1950, you need to learn traditional forms. Get over it. It's not political. It's literature...and politics and history. If you can only read simplified forms, you can read what (Mao) wrote, but not what he read (unless it has been edited and adapted). Think about it.

History and Culture Notes
Craftsmanship and kinship cohere in this story, and the emphasis is decidedly on the latter. We learn nothing beyond hints in the pictures about the size, structure, and condition of our narrator's seaworthy craft. This is the stuff of childhood imagination, we are "told," and we had better suspend our disbelief before we head out onto the waves. This is no ordinary boat. Let's call it the Love (of kin) Boat.

[c] Changing RF
You see, this text is about family. Our narrator makes his boat for others to do things. Never, ever forget that primary school texts take the lived worlds of children and refocus them (with writing and pictures) on larger social questions. This little paper boat is carrying a much more serious cargo than might appear to the reader who considers such stories to be merely "childish." Yup, childish—the very future; the heartbeat of a growing and changing society. 

Kid's stuff. 

Nope, this idea is so big that you are going to have to read all of the way to the end to see why Marcel Mauss wrote an entire book about it. It's about gift-giving and reciprocity and filial piety. Because it is wrapped up in a Chinese phrase, even readers of English should try to make their way to the end. You will find one of the big ideas of world philosophy—the nature of exchange—at the heart of this (seemingly) simple little text.

Translation Notes 
Even the beginning reader of Chinese can see clearly the difference between "I make a boat" and "I make a—measure-word—boat. 一條 takes up some formidable space in these here pages, as we say in textual analysis discussions back home in the heartland. How to translate yitiao? Easy—don't. There is no way to give the English reader a sense of the combined ubiquity and omnipresence of measure words in Chinese. Over the years, I have thought about ways to give hints of it. Only in an odd snatch of phrase here or there is it possible.

[d] Measured RF
For those of you who are sticking with the post beyond the history and culture notes, a measure word is a character that comes between the number of a thing and the thing itself. We say in English "a boat" or "three boats." In Chinese we would say 一條船 or 三條船. The character 條 is the "measure word." I had a student who, during a group dinner during a fieldwork course I was teaching in Shanghai in 2004, said: "I wish I would have been born fifty years later." I was blown away. I asked him why, assuming that we were opening the doors of futuristic thought, and considering a world that would be profoundly different from the one we have known. "Why, why?" I asked. "Because then I wouldn't have to learn measure words; measure words are fading, and I figure that they'll all be gone except [the generic] 個/个 by then." This was a bit of a letdown for me, and I am not sure that he was right.

Still, measure-words are often the bane of Chinese learners' existences. There are different ones for different kinds of things. Long, cylindrical objects have one, boats have another, big structures (like mountains and skyscrapers) have still another. It is not unlike having to remember that geese come in gaggles and fish come in schools...but much more common. Translating it is, well (-nigh) impossible. If readers have ideas, have at it in the comments. It works...sometimes. Usually it doesn't

[d] Tricky RF
Language Notes
Since I spent so much time, above, on measure words, let's put the next common-but-tricky phrase down here in the language notes. 送給 is not complicated, but it is a little prickly, and it laps up against the shores of translation issues. A literal translation of the first three lines of the text reads in very clumsy fashion. One cannot give in English a precise sense of the gift like nature of the child's presentation without sounding a bit awkward. He doesn't exactly "present" or "bequeath" the boat to his mother. He gives it to her to ride (in). Songgei is clearly of vital importance to the text writers, repeating it thrice, as they do. In English translation, each phrase becomes more and more problematic. For better or worse, I have not tried to convey the "gift" dimensions of the Chinese phrase, preferring to let the common English language idea of "father-mother-brother can ride in it" do the job of moving the brief narrative forward. 

I am open to change, though, and this is a terrific example of a very simple first grade text being quite challenging in a cultural sense. The Gift is important. The child is giving a present fashioned by his own bricolage loving hands to senior (father/mother) and junior (little brother) alike in acts of filial and fraternal devotion. Marcel Mauss would be jumping up and down on his work bench as his friend Marcel Granet explained its implications in a Chinese setting. In other words, that little 送給 is a great deal bigger than you ever might have guessed. Huge swaths of cultural and "encultural" territory are being mined here, even though it just seems like a little "kids story" with a great deal of repetitive verbiage.

Au contraire, mon frère. This is big stuff—a veritable mountain (一座山) of meaning.
[e] 送給 RF

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bricolage Bibliothèque—Introduction

Bricolage? What's that?

There is plenty of stuff for you to review here, but let's get to the heart of the matter. A French anthropologist named Claude Lévi-Strauss made a point five decades ago about how we craft culture. Let's simplify it down to its key roots: we take stuff from the world around us and we fashion or craft solutions. Let me go even further. You see a problem in "your world." Let's say that your favorite coffee cup has a broken handle. Think about that. You love the cup, and you want to drink your coffee in it. The problem is that you have always used the handle, and don't want to burn your fingers. So what do you do? Do you stay with your coffee cup and try to find a way to "handle" it or do you find a different cup?

The bricoleur finds a way to fashion or craft a solution.

[b] Opposable RF
If you really want to understand this stuff, you need to go to Round and Square posts that have been on the "airwaves" for over a year. They will give you all of the background that you need to understand where the concept came from and how it developed. It is required reading in these here parts.
This series will take real world issues and try to understand how we fashion solutions to those little problems that bother us every single day. What happens if your bike seat gets stolen, but you still need to ride five miles home? What happens if the cover of your paperback (these existed regularly before 2005) gets ripped off of the book you're reading? And what happens if your tailpipe just falls out from under your car?


Although I am serious, there is more to discuss here. We "do" bricolage all of the time. The only thing difficult about it is thinking about it. You can't help but fall right into the human condition of fashioning solutions to low-level engineering problems, though. That big ol' football of a brain and those opposable thumbs make it just too tempting (and natural). Ever since that day, long ago, when Grog decided to mix a little water and ochre together and discovered cave painting, humans have crafted the world around them. Grog took it a step further. He found himself a mastodon tail, stuck it on a twig, and called it "brush." Then he painted the world around him and left technicalities—such as gathering herbs and finding new sources of protein—to his kinsmen.

[c] Plastic RF
Today we call it "art."

That's bricolage, and so is that antenna you made out of a coat hanger for your television back in 1965. Bricolage is also at work when you sit down to read your iPad at Starbucks and notice that the table has already come close to wobbling your decaf skim triple-shot latté all over the Apple logo. What do you do? Maybe you move to another table, but let's just say that you got the last one. One remedy known to generations of avid reader-drinkers is to grab a wad of napkins and stuff them under the "low point" of the tabular dynamic. Some of us have learned not to waste paper in that manner, and the lesson has been made easier with the realization that napkins never work. I have tried just about everything from business cards and CD holders to newspapers and even a plastic tray.

It's all bricolage. Success rates vary widely.

Years ago, on a long mountain bike ride, I punctured my front tube and did not have any more spares. I could walk, or I could try to fashion a solution (are you noticing that I like that phrase?) to the problem. There was no compressed air—and no rubber tubes—around. The patch kit had gone dry (in a time when this was relevant). I had heard once of a cyclist who had stuffed leaves into the space where the inner tube goes. I had always loved the idea of riding home with wads of terroir jammed between rim and tire. I gathered wet leaves, small bits of bark, and prairie grasses, pressing them into the tire as best I could. It held...sort of. As long as I rode slowly on the flat parts of the trail, it was acceptable. Uphill was a challenge, and I got scared on the downhills. I walked most of the way home.

It's all bricolage. Success rates vary widely.

My wife just told me about various uses of pantyhose. They make a great gunk catcher on old washing machines, and serve as formidable lint traps in dryers. She said that she once used them to tie up tomato plants in her mom's garden in Texas. Mom wasn't amused. Distance runners (and one quarterback) of a certain age know well that pantyhose provided warmth on winter workouts in an age before Spandex®. And, on top of it all, pantyhose will always provide a nasty-looking Halloween mask in a pinch. Just don't stop off at your local bank branch for extra cash before the party. There might be misunderstandings.

[d] Fashion(ing) RF
It's all bricolage. Success rates vary widely.

So, welcome to the Round and Square series I am calling "Bricolage Bibliothèqe." It's the Library of Fashion(ing) or the Makeshift Media Center. We will look at the many ways that we craft our culture—often imperfectly—from things that are at hand. I hope that you are already thinking about ways you have repaired a suitcase mid-journey or reminiscing about that overloaded trailer you dragged fifty miles between apartments before you had "proper" transportation. And we won't even begin to speak of that heaping "one trip only" plate of lettuce, cucumbers, garbanzo beans, and bacon bits you brought back from the salad bar last week.

It's all bricolage. Success rates vary wildly. Come join us.
[e] Crafted RF

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Fieldnotes From History (47)—Provincial Elections-h

[a] Portal RF
Click below for other fieldnotes dealing with Taiwan's 1985 provincial elections:
Election 1         Election 2          Election 3          Election 4          Election 5          Election 6
Election 7         Election 8          Election 9          Election 10        Election 11        Election 12
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.

The next several dozen entries in this series represent my memories—in the form of fieldnotes that were already well on their way to being letters—of Taiwan's provincial elections in November 1985. I had taken down what I call "jottings" at the time, and "now," two months later, I was ready to get a little bit more detail down in the form of fieldnotes. If you are somewhat unfamiliar with the five-stage process that framed my work habits even back then, it might be worth a quick look at the introduction to this series. Suffice it to say here that in Taiwan in 1985 I was working from "jottings" to "fieldnotes" most of the time. Every month or so, I would write a letter that made it all into a more sustained narrative. Even early on, I realized how powerfully the knowledge that I would be writing letters influenced my fieldnotes. You may see it, too. It has remained my method to this day.

[b] Safe harbor RF
Like many fieldnotes, these were "written up" (a term I dislike, but am occasionally willing to use) after the fact. I wonder if most students of anthropology know how common this is. The implications for research, eye-witness authenticity, and historiography are numerous. It is a reality that has never gone away for field researchers of all kinds, though, and I suspect that it never will.


Comment
This fieldnote sums up a great deal of what I had been thinking during the long afternoon of February 15, 1986. No matter how many angles I tried, I kept coming back to the ruling party's strangely New Testament (this is less of a stretch if you consider the Jiang family's Christianity) approach to the slings, arrows, and general ugliness of free elections. The China Post editorial I quote below takes the ruling party line and hints strongly that the conduct of some agents could well be prosecuted...by a less generous and kindly ruling authority. In short, a large number of opinion makers that autumn focused upon the benevolence and forward-looking compassion of a party that could take hits from opponents who did not know how good they had it.

In a sense, they were correct.

[c] Everyday RF
Let me explain. Remember that martial law was still in effect on Taiwan. The Nationalists, as I will cover in later fieldnotes, were firmly in command, and the voices of opposition were not particularly strong in 1985. The Nationalists chose to open the system; they did not have to. If this seems like ROC-praising rhetoric, you would be mistaken. It is cold-hearted calculation. Unlike Egypt, say, yesterday, the ROC authorities did not have a great deal of pressure to act. They made what seems to be—now, almost three decades later—a stunningly prescient decision that the process would revitalize an increasingly moribund polity that had become (again, under martial law) a father-son dictatorship of sorts.

I will admit that I had my doubts at the time that the elections would lead in anything like a significant direction. Those doubts are expressed in fieldnotes like this one, and I am not sure that I could possibly "read" the situation differently today if I did not know what would happen. I found the paternalistic tone (equally Confucian and New Testament) cloying, and it was one of the times that we all experience during fieldwork when we have very little compassion for the subject...or even much desire to understand its point of view.

[d] Path RF
I wish that I had more time to consider this idea here, but will have to save it for another day. Suffice to say that anthropologists from Colin Turnbull to Paul Riesman (and almost all others in-between and on either temporal "side" of them) have loathed things about the people they studied. Honest ones, like Turnbull and Riesman, wrote about it. This was one of those things for me. To this day, even though things have "turned out" in a generally positive way—with many of the sunny statements about democracy and even "tolerance amidst barbs" coming more or less to pass—I wince with annoyance at what I still regard as paternalistic Guomindang (Nationalist Party) language. I dislike it, and it shows in this note.

That's (partly) what fieldnotes are for. I am not any more sure than Bronislaw Malinowski that fieldnotes are the place for venting, and I have always tried (as here) to keep fieldnotes as little texts from which I could "work" when the time came. The level of emotion to be shown in fieldnotes is, however, another issue for another time. This one does not tip the scales very far toward invective; it does reflect an annoyance with the party line, though.

Notes
[1] I have lost all of the newspaper clippings from which these quotations were drawn. Of course, they could be found again—if the situation were important enough—by checking through back issue files of the Chinese newspapers. In retrospect, I regret (powerfully) not citing precisely which newspaper and date each story came from (and when I translated it, if applicable). Back in 1986, doing fieldwork on a story that seemed to be everywhere (obvious is the danger word anthropologists need to learn early-on) it just didn't seem necessary.

[e] Checking RF
Oh, how mistaken I was. If I could do it over, each newspaper article would be saved and scanned (technology for the latter was not available then, alas). Above all, though, each article would be cited fully.  Even today this is a great deal less simple than it sounds. I read things every day in the paper, and only vaguely remember where I saw it. To the extent that anthropologists use media like this (the Internet compounds matters in dramatic ways), it is a problem. Do we need citations in our fieldnotes? Assuredly. Will doing fieldnote citations slow us down or even make us lose sight of the real goal of our notes?

Probably. This isn't easy.

15 February 1986
Taipei
One  cannot help, then, but find a hint of exasperation when the world compares Taiwan’s democratic institutions with those in Western countries. In a post-election editorial, China Post editors congratulated themselves and their country on holding a free and orderly election. There is, however, a hint of perplexity in the editorial over the necessity of following “all the rules” of democratic elections.

          Two key prerequisites for full democracy, which are lacking in most 
          developing countries, stand out prominently in this year’s elections. 
          These are the ruling party’s toleration for its opposition and the 
          electorate’s rational and independent voting behavior, especially in the 
          Taipei district. During the campaigning, the nonpartisans have severely 
          attacked the ruling party’s policies and candidates in their political forums and       
          posters. Many criticisms would be considered libelous and subject to court 
          action even in the most democratic countries. Nevertheless, the ruling party 
          endured humiliating attacks and calmly continued its task in accordance 
          with democratic procedures.


The frustration with the process is palpable here, and that is what has stood out for me as the electioneering gave way to elections, election results, and, by now, a fledgling legislative process. At times, and particularly in these phrases, the power of restraint seems to be almost too much to bear, and it is hard not to read a paternalistic message into it.
[f] Palpable RF
Click below for other fieldnotes dealing with Taiwan's 1985 provincial elections:
Election 1         Election 2          Election 3          Election 4          Election 5          Election 6
Election 7         Election 8          Election 9          Election 10        Election 11        Election 12

Monday, June 25, 2012

Fieldnotes From History (46)—Provincial Elections-g

[a] Multitudes RF
Click below for other fieldnotes dealing with Taiwan's 1985 provincial elections:
Election 1         Election 2          Election 3          Election 4          Election 5          Election 6
Election 7         Election 8          Election 9          Election 10        Election 11        Election 12
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.

The next several dozen entries in this series represent my memories—in the form of fieldnotes that were already well on their way to being letters—of Taiwan's provincial elections in November 1985. I had taken down what I call "jottings" at the time, and "now," two months later, I was ready to get a little bit more detail down in the form of fieldnotes. If you are somewhat unfamiliar with the five-stage process that framed my work habits even back then, it might be worth a quick look at the introduction to this series. Suffice it to say here that in Taiwan in 1985 I was working from "jottings" to "fieldnotes" most of the time. Every month or so, I would write a letter that made it all into a more sustained narrative. Even early on, I realized how powerfully the knowledge that I would be writing letters influenced my fieldnotes. You may see it, too. It has remained my method to this day.

[b] Fissures RF
Like many fieldnotes, these were "written up" (a term I dislike, but am occasionally willing to use) after the fact. I wonder if most students of anthropology know how common this is. The implications for research, eye-witness authenticity, and historiography are numerous. It is a reality that has never gone away for field researchers of all kinds, though, and I suspect that it never will.  

Comment
This note starts to get more deeply into analysis and even opinion. No one ever said that fieldnotes should be free of the latter, but the former is always most welcome. In this case, it came time to get some perspective on the seemingly constant drumbeat in the media that elections such as these could "only" happen on Taiwan, and that the mainland was a place of backwardness, heavy-handedness, and bureaucracy. Remember that it was still three years before 1989; that year's events would show a fairly significant contrast between the two systems, but they hadn't happened yet. My only point in writing this note was to show the limits of "democracy" in a political entity that was still—if only technically—in a state of martial law. Difficult though it may be to see, there is not a political agenda behind these musings.

To this day, I tend to see the events of 1985 much the way I did back then. First, I felt that the elections were, indeed, significant, and showed a serious attempt to open the political system to groups that had not been represented in the past. Although Taiwan's democratic voyage has been a rocky one, it is very difficult to dispute that these first steps taken in 1985 did, in fact, lead to real structural and cultural change. Second, and in contrast to the first, I felt at the time—and still do today—that there was a strong tendency on the part of the press and people with whom I talked to overstate the dramatic changes these elections represented. They were mostly local, and they were limited. The temptation to draw great, overarching contrasts with the People's Republic, I felt, only detracted from the real significance of these events. Finally, and as I have mentioned, there was martial law. It hadn't gone away, yet almost no one spoke of it. This seemed disingenuous in the extreme, and I would point it out today just as strongly as I did then.

[c] Potential RF
Events have proven everyone "right" in one way or another. I am just about as comfortable with my analysis now as I was then, even though I would put emphases in slightly different places. The growth of democratic institutions in the Republic of China has been impressive, and is as strong as almost anywhere in Asia. Finally, the People's Republic, for all of the critiques heaped upon it from across the Taiwan Strait...has managed to make a place for itself in the world these days. You might have noticed it.

What does it all mean? This is history and culture, people. And I'm not Hegel.

Notes
[1] Comparison to the PRC dominated then much more than it does today in the ROC's internal media discussions. In some ways, the 1985 election brought all of the comparative rhetoric to a head, and resulted in a great deal of chiding of the PRC in editorials and news articles.

[2] The height of contrast-drawing occurred (as I have noted) three years later, in the wake of the events of Tiananmen in 1989. The groundwork for the "free" v.s. "forced" rhetoric that dominated news stories throughout 1989 (and beyond) was laid, I feel, in the very coverage I was assessing in these fieldnotes.

[d] Range RF
[3] I read the government-run 中央日報 every day during this stretch—it is the source of a number of my quotations and references in these notes. In fact, I regularly bought five or six newspapers during the elections. Yet it was only for the government paper that I got much response. I recall looks of incredulity-bordering-on-disgust on the faces of everyone from news stand operators to patrons in the coffee shops that were beginning to dot Taipei at the time. One person asked "why would you buy that piece of garbage?" I explained that I wanted to read and hear a wide range of opinions, including the government's. Most people just shrugged, but there was a good deal of skepticism about that particular newspaper.
__________________________________________

15 February 1986
Taipei
Elections in the Republic of China cannot really be compared with those on the Chinese mainland. Within their tightly controlled sphere, elections on Taiwan are free and open; those held on the mainland remain rigidly controlled at all levels. The Republic of China feels it has a right, and many would agree, to compare its democratic institutions favorably with those in the People's Republic. No theme is so prevalent throughout the year—throughout, in fact, the entire history of the Republic of China on Taiwan. The Nationalist government on Taiwan busily compares itself, its economy, and its election practices with those of its northern neighbors. Although some rhetoric addresses issues of world democracy and the ROC's place in it, most people I talk to (and the tone of most press coverage) feel that the only comparison which should be made is that between the “two Chinas.” 

The Republic of China on Taiwan holds free and fair elections, among the most democratic in the non-Western world. But elections on Taiwan are still not a “right” of the people. Elections are granted by the government; they are a privilege, and they are spoken of (especially in the Guomindang-run 中央日報) as incremental steps that might be furthered if people act correctly. The electorate is warned that its privileges will be withdrawn if it does not act responsibly, and this seems not to be an idle threat. Although it is not mentioned often in the press (and almost never in conversation), the island is still under martial law. Elections, while significant, cannot yet have the full force of "the people" behind them. This is the reality of martial law, whether muted in tone or not.
[e] Overarching RF
Click below for other fieldnotes dealing with Taiwan's 1985 provincial elections:
Election 1         Election 2          Election 3          Election 4          Election 5          Election 6
Election 7         Election 8          Election 9          Election 10        Election 11        Election 12