It’s not that the phrase “Asian Steampunk” is intrinsically flawed. It’s just that the range of concepts displayed in “Asian Steampunk,” whether fiction, gaming, or costumes, are so so…limited. You’d never catch “Western Steampunk” limiting itself to cowboys, hard-boiled detectives, and British bobbies. Why then limit yourself to samurai, ninja, and geisha? There was so much more to the cultures and peoples of east Asia than that.
Tag Archives: “east asia”
You know how much I <3 this series (especially those of you who’ve been to my “Race Matters in Amestris” panel). This is probably my most favorite sweepstakes giveaway for this week.
Tor.com’s got a complete set of the Fullmetal Alchemist manga — that’s right, I said a full set, all 27 volumes — here for one lucky winner.
Note: Cross-posted with permission from Historicity (Was Already Taken)
“I have read a great deal about Queen Victoria. Still, I think her life isn’t half as interesting and memorable as mine.” (left: photo, right: painting; both created in 1903)
Empress Cixi is a fascinating, complex, contradictory, and often polarizing figure. She took the reign of China for herself at a time in which the country was being torn apart by foreign influence, and spent her reign fighting against the inevitable fall of her country to foreign powers and ideals.
Note: This was cross-posted with permission from Historicity (Was Already Taken).
When people think about Jewish Diaspora communities, they probably think of Fiddler on the Roof style Jewish communities, inquisitions, and lynch mobs. They forget that the Jewish Diaspora was not one singular event, and that it sent people in every direction across the globe, and not just to Europe. Many went east—there were vibrant, ancient Jewish communities across the Middle East up until the mid-twentieth century. And some went further east, to China.
There are many theories as to when and how Jews ended up in China. In my opinion, the most accurate theory is simply that some Jewish merchants followed the Silk Road as it rose to prominence in the third century CE, and ended up in China.
To compliment my recent article about bartitsu over on Tor.com, here’s a spotlight on Yukio Tani & Sadakazu Uyenishi.
In 1900, two young men took on an offer from Englishman Edward William Barton-Wright to take their art halfway across the globe, as two “Japanese wrestling” instructors at his Bartitsu Club. At 19 years-old when he arrived in England, Yukio Tani’s upbringing is unclear, but it is thought that he trained at Fusen-ryu dojo as well as Osaka’s “Handa School of Jiujitsu.” His fellow instructor, Sadakazu Uyenishi, was a year older and originally considered training for the military before deciding to go to England. He was knowledgeable not only in jujitsu, but also in rokushakubo and hanbo (types of staff fighting), horseback riding, sumo wrestling and kenjutsu (Japanese swordsmanship). Tani’s brother and another fighter named S. Yamamoto also arrived to teach at Barton-Wright’s school, but left after a year to return to Japan. Tani and Uyenishi ended up leaving a lasting mark upon England, being two of the first to bring jujitsu to Western Europe.
“When we hear martial arts today, we hear Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan; we forget that the Western arts have also existed,” Professor Mark P. Donnelly, striking in his black vest and shirtsleeves, began his instructional seminar last Saturday in a New York midtown fighting studio. “It didn’t look anything like kung-fu and karate but it was certainly martial arts.”
What did Western martial arts look like? About 20 students ventured out in the excruciating heat to find out, particularly about bartitsu, an obscure Victorian martial art that’s been getting more pop culture attention lately. Most of the students that day were dressed in street clothes, though some sported vests, long skirts, or bloomers to fit the class theme. Despite two fans running and the AC on full, sweat had already broken out on many brows in the room. Still, we were ready for combat, Victorian-style.
He Yufeng was created by “Yanbei Xianren” and appeared in Ernü ying xiong zhuan (The Gallant Maid, 1851-1879). “Yanbei Xianren” was the pseudonym of Wen K’ang (1798- 1872), a local official in Anhui who came from a prominent Manchu family and was appointed imperial agent to Lhasa. The Gallant Maid is little-known outside of China but is popular inside it, having inspired sixteen sequels.
The Gallant Maid is about He Yufeng (“Jade Phoenix”) and An Ji. An Ji is the son of the righteous official and Manchu bannerman An Xuehai. An Xuehai is in charge of the repair of a dam, but a flood destroys the dam and An Xuehai is made the scapegoat for its destruction. An Xuehai is imprisoned and ordered to pay a large fine. An Ji travels a long way to help his father, carrying a large load of silver to ransom him, but he repeatedly runs into misfortune, with his donkey drivers and later some evil monks both trying to rob him. Both times he is rescued by He Yufeng, who also frees an old farmer whose wife and daughter, Chinfeng (“Golden Phoenix”), had been captured by the monks. He Yufeng explains herself to the farmer. Years ago her father, General Ho, had been killed by sorcery. General Ho had been a high official of the Solid Yellow Banner, but his superior had ordered him to marry He Yufeng to the official’s son. The son was crude and barbaric and was unworthy of He Yufeng, who is beautiful and educated. General Ho refused to countenance the wedding, so his superior had him jailed on false charges and then killed him via sorcery. He Yufeng, loyal to her father in the proper Confucian way, retreats to a rustic village with her mother and then goes to the underworld and trains herself as a nüxia, or female knight-errant, to avenge her father. While her mother is alive, however, He Yufeng cannot carry our her revenge, and instead makes a good living robbing corrupt and evil government officials. He Yufeng is so strong and such a good fighter that all the other outlaws greatly respect and fear her. In the underworld she is known as Shisan Mei, “the Thirteenth Sister.”
The City of Light is the journal of the travels of Jacob D’Ancona, a 13th century pious Jewish merchant. Readers follow Jacob on a three-year journey, starting from his hometown of Ancona in present-day Italy, overland through Damascus and Baghdad, and then by sea, stopping at various ports and places until he reaches the city of Zaitun, modern-day Quanzhou, where he stays to buy goods and talk to the scholars of the city. It consists of equal parts travelogue/memoir and a philosophical discussion of medieval Jewish and Chinese ideas.
This was a time when Jews had restricted access to jobs or freedom to run their own lives. In medieval Europe, Jews often had to wear physical signals of their faith: yellow stripes or stars. Jews had restricted job and social opportunities: they were often forbidden from interaction with Christians. In Muslim lands, the restrictions for Jews were somewhat more relaxed, but Jews still paid higher taxes than Muslims did — though not as high as those paid by the non-”People of the Book”.
Jacob himself is an interesting exception to many of the typical rules. He travels with both Jews and Christians, and frequently mentions his young female Gentile servants’ romantic lives. Furthermore, Jacob is a jack-of-all-trades, a Renaissance man in pre-Renaissance times. He’s a traveler, a merchant, a scholar, a physician, an authority who is consulted by Jewish and Chinese communities alike. He speaks and writes in fluent Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Greek, and Arabic. Nearly everyone who meets him likes him. He’s a bit too good to be true: in modern terms, he’s a pretty big Mary Sue.
But the most compelling parts of the book are not Jacob, but the world he’s seeing for the first time. The descriptions of Chinese life are vivid and lengthy, and the variety and extensiveness of the Chinese market was stunning and often unbelievable to European eyes. Jacob engages in lengthy discussions (through a translator) with Chinese scholars and even spends several weeks stuck in the sordid underworld, full of gambling, prostitutes, and illicit sex.
There’s also political intrigue, and the threat of very real danger: At this time, northern China was under the rule of Kublai Khan and there was a very real threat of invasion by the “Tartars” — for Europeans and the southern Chinese alike. Meanwhile, the Chinese community of scholars was divided itself between old and new ways of thinking.
Jacob finds many points of contact and connection between himself and several of the Chinese scholars, especially a man named Pitaco, who like Jacob was worried about the lack of respect in the younger generation, the stability of the country’s morals, and the justification of trickle-down economics. Perhaps most fittingly for a book about contact and conflict between Western and Eastern cultures, Jacob’s habit of pontificating ends up rubbing many Chinese scholars the wrong way. As the inhabitants of the city get upset about the amount of influence the foreign Jew has in the city, Jacob concludes his business and leaves in a hurry, fearing for his life.
There’s really just one problem with the narrative: Jacob D’Ancona may have never existed.
Note: Read Part 1 of this essay here.
Historical and cultural trends fed into the development during the 19th century of the Yellow Peril in the United States and Europe. The first Asian immigrants to the United States were the Chinese who took part in the Gold Rush in California in the late 1840s. They were the first free nonwhites to arrive in the United States in large numbers, and the racial, religious, cultural, and linguistic differences between white Americans and the Chinese immigrants, as well as the perception that the Chinese were taking jobs away from white Americans, led to hostility and racism directed at the newcomers. Among the manifestations of this hostility was a new set of anti-Chinese stereotypes. (The lack of Japanese immigrants in America as well as the perception in America that Japan was an ally of the West kept stereotypes about the Japanese to a minimum until the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905).
When we take about the impact of the Industrial Revolution, we speak of it in terms as if there had been only One Industrial Revolution, and that had taken place throughout the Western world during the nineteenth century. As I had written about before, the Industrial Revolution didn’t just happen then, and in fact, the current industrial revolution is happening throughout the non-Western world just as the West begins to grow nostalgic about it.
In talking about alternative histories, and how the non-West would develop, it’s interesting to dream up scenes of Imperial splendor (like James Ng does). It is equally valid, however, to note that you don’t have to look toward the Qing dynasty to see a Chinese industrial revolution, for, as James himself has noted, China is changing into a fully developed industrial nation as we speak.
With that in mind, I picked up Leslie T. Chang’s book about her observations about today’s current revolution, specifically of those factory girls in China that the West likes to paint as faceless factory drones (occasionally laced by the feeling of guilt toward those “poor sweatshop workers.”) Chang, however, breaks down that stereotype (though sweatshops are very much alive and well in China) and presents a look into the lives of today’s migrant factory workers.
Compulsively readable and engaging throughout, FACTORY GIRLS: From Village to City in a Changing China highlights the stories of the young people (particularly women), who are changing the face of the global economy today. Instead of the masses teeming in nameless sweatshops that the West envisions, these lives are individually dynamic and driven, full of same sorts of fear and wonderment that the young mill girls in the West may have also felt a hundred and fifty years ago, as they sought to make new lives for themselves.