“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

RAS China Zoom Event – 28 July: China and the ILO, 1919–1935

Posted: July 24th, 2020 | No Comments »

The Integration of Republican China into the League of Nations’ labour regime in the 1920s under the leadership of the International Labour Office (ILO) was a profound challenge that Western modernity posed to modernizing China. From its very beginning in 1919 and 1920, the ILO put the Chinese labour question on the agenda, yet without directly engaging with the Chinese conditions. This rather ambivalent and tense relations of imperial aspirations to order a global labour regime from Geneva and Chinese national resistance to everything that came from the “imperialists” in Geneva under the League of Nations’ banner lasted until the mid-1920s. The seminal field trip by the director of the ILO, Albert Thomas, in 1929 changed this deadlock of competing worldviews by engaging with the problems of labour on both global and local scales.
This talk exposes the general relations between China and the ILO from 1919 to the mid-1930s by placing the China visit of Albert Thomas in 1928/29, its exchanges and its outcomes and transnational formations at the centre of understanding transnational co-operation and exchange beyond international structures of competing imperial and anti-imperial claims. It argues that Thomas, as one key actor in the ILO, was very much interested in understanding the situation of workers in China and the development of political parties and labour associations that could be integrated into the ILO tripartite system of representation of labour interests and of correspondents to the notoriously understaffed ILO secretariat. The talk also illuminates the fragile political framework of the Republic under which new standard of labour law were established in China. It raises the question whether China was integrated into a global labour regime under the Eurocentric globalizing auspices of industrial modernization imposed by the West, or whether China explored its own agency in shaping labour laws and mechanisms of industrial labour following a transnational exchange of knowledge and expertise on equal footing. It will also explore the ILO efforts to integrate China with its specific problems of labour legislation and political parties into the international system of the ILO while assessing how far China was interested in actively promoting their inclusion into a global labour regime in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Christian Müller is Associate Professor in History at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China. He holds an M.Stud. from University College, University of Oxford and an M.A. and a DPhil from the University of Heidelberg. Dr. Müller is a social, political and cultural historian who focuses on the intersections of British and European Imperialism and Internationalism and their local manifestations in the 19th and early 20th centuries. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in November 2018 and has held several Visiting Fellowships, among them at the Rothermere American Institute, University College and St Antony’s College, University of Oxford and the University of Ghent as well as a Mellon Prize Post-Doctoral Fellowship at King’s College Cambridge. He is currently also a Visiting Fellow of the University of Oxford. His essay to conceptualize the transnational relations between the ILO and China under the League of Nations and the role of Albert Thomas was published in the 2018 RAS Journal.
Christian’s latest projects focuses on identifying key actors and personal networks that help transform structures and mechanisms of international, transnational and global interactions in and between nation-states and Empires, mainly between North America, Europe and Asia. In his projects on Humanitarianism and Empire and on Inter-Imperial Knowledge Exchange, Slavery and Labour under the League of Nations, Christian focuses on the European use of civilisation and development as normative tools for global alignment and their contestations from regional actors. In following these dialogic contestations, Christian aims to show how imperial aspirations are transformed into mutual efforts of exchange, complex co-operation and transnational alignment.

More details here

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Talking China Bubbles with Tom Orlik…

Posted: July 23rd, 2020 | No Comments »

My Q&A in China Britain Business Council’s Focus magazine with Tom Orlik on his new book China: The Bubble that Never Pops – click here

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Royal Asiatic Society Beijing – Mahjong in Maida Vale -the Chinese intellectual community in UK in 1930s and 1940s

Posted: July 20th, 2020 | No Comments »

WHAT: Mahjong in Maida Vale -the Chinese intellectual community in UK in 1930s and 1940s, by Frances Wood,  an RASBJ Zoom talk followed by Q&A
WHEN: July 22, 19:00-20:00 Beijing Standard Time.
NOTE: THIS EVENT BEGINS AT 7 PM BEIJING TIME

MORE ABOUT THE EVENT: “Mahjong in Maida Vale” was inspired by a study day in Oxford celebrating the writer and artist Chiang Yee, recalls Frances Wood who considers it a work in progress.  She started to think about the Chinese intellectuals who came to the UK in the 1930s and 1940s, many of whom stayed on. A friend remembered sitting in a north London drawing room, eating sunflower seeds to the sound of clacking tiles as her mother played mahjong with three older ladies- the painters Fang Zhaoling and Zhang Qianying and the writer and artist Ling Shuhua. Why were they in UK? How did they live? What did they eat? What happened to them?

MORE ABOUT THE SPEAKER: After studying Chinese at the universities of Cambridge and Peking, Frances Wood worked as Curator of the Chinese collections in the British Library for nearly 30 years. She has written  , amongst others, Blue Guide to China, Hand-Grenade Practice in Peking, Did Marco Polo Go To China?, No Dogs and Not Many Chinese: Treaty Port Life in China 1843-1943, The Silk Road, and The Diamond Sutra: the Story of the World’s Earliest Dated Printed Book.
 
HOW MUCH: This event is free and exclusively for members of the RASBJ and of other RAS branches. If you know someone who wants to join RASBJ, please ask them to contact MembershipRASBJ on Wechat or email membership.ras.bj@gmail.com
 
HOW TO JOIN RASBJ: to become a member (or, for PRC passport-holders, to become an Associate)  email membership.ras.bj@gmail.com or on Wechat add MembershipRASBJ, giving your full name, nationality, mobile number and email address plus the annual subscription amount (or, for Associates, the suggested donation) of RMB 300 for those resident in China, RMB 200 for those living overseas and RMB 100 for students. To learn more about the RASBJ, please go to www.rasbj.org 
 
HOW TO JOIN THE EVENT:  If you wish to become an RASBJ member in order to attend this talk, please join RASBJ at least two days before the talk so that you can be sure to receive the event notice with the advance registration link.

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The Shanghai Porch…

Posted: July 17th, 2020 | No Comments »

I was having a discussion somewhere else about the rise of piano shops, tuners, musical instrument dealers and so on in Shanghai (yes, I do have that sort of discussion with people sometimes!). Naturally thoughts turned to the pioneer of the piano in Shanghai, the English musical instruments dealer (and later gramophones and so on) Sydenham Moutrie. Moutrie headed east around the 1870s setting up stores in Shanghai, Peking (as i’ve blogged before here), and Yokohama. All well and good – but what interested me in this advert (c.1913/1914) for Victrola gramophones was the use of the word ‘porch’ in Shanghai….

Now usually when people discuss the phenomenon of semi-colonial architecture in Shanghai – ‘compradore architecture’ as it’s sometimes called – they talk of verandas (or verandahs). But here Mr Moutrie, a good Englishman uses the very English word ‘porch’. Now whether technically porch is English for the Portuguese word veranda or Veranda is Portuguese for the English word porch is debateable. However, it is interesting that the term porch (rarely heard now in any discussions of Shanghai architecture – and often nowadays meaning a small addition to the front door or entry hallway rather than a grander covered shelter at the front and sides of the property) was used indicating perhaps the more prevalent use of English English in early twentieth century Shanghai.

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A Fashionable Century Hardcover – Qing Textiles, Fashion & Commerce

Posted: July 15th, 2020 | No Comments »

Rachel Silberstein’s new book looks fascinating. Clothing and accessories from nineteenth-century China reveal much about women’s participation in the commercialization of textile handicrafts and the flourishing of urban popular culture. Focusing on women’s work and fashion, A Fashionable Century presents an array of visually compelling clothing and accessories neglected by traditional histories of Chinese dress, examining these products’ potential to illuminate issues of gender and identity. In the late Qing, the expansion of production systems and market economies transformed the Chinese fashion system, widening access to fashionable techniques, materials, and imagery. Challenging the conventional production model, in which women embroidered items at home, Silberstein sets fashion within a process of commercialization that created networks of urban guilds, commercial workshops, and subcontracted female workers. These networks gave rise to new trends influenced by performance and prints, and they offered women opportunities to participate in fashion and contribute to local economies and cultures. Rachel Silberstein draws on vernacular and commercial sources, rather than on the official and imperial texts prevalent in Chinese dress history, to demonstrate that in these fascinating objects-regulated by market desires, rather than imperial edict-fashion formed at the intersection of commerce and culture.

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Attack on Tientsin, July 1937

Posted: July 14th, 2020 | No Comments »

I think when we recall the Japanese occupations of Tientsin (Tianjin) and Peking in July 1937 we think of them as reasonably non-destructive. Certainly, after some fighting at the Marco Polo Bridge (Luguochao) and environs central Peking suffered very little damage. I had assumed a similar occupation of Tientsin. However, this photograph from the time indicates that there was some destructive bombing and artillery. I’m afraid i don’t know what this building was but it appears to have been a reasonably large and substantial structure completely gutted…

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Singapore Book Council Academy workshop with Paul French – Kinokuniya Promotion…

Posted: July 14th, 2020 | No Comments »

I’m doing an online workshop for the Singapore Book Council later this month Based on a True Story: Writing Compelling Literary Non-Fiction. Anyone can sign up – i hope you do. But there’s some free tix if you’re fast at Kinokuniya books store’s Singapore instagram account…if you’re fast!

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My Review of Jonathan Kaufman’s The Last Kings of Shanghai – South China Morning Post

Posted: July 8th, 2020 | No Comments »

I reviewed Jonathan Kaufman’s Last Kings of Shanghai – tracking the dual fortunes of the Sassoon and Kadoorie clans in Shanghai and beyond – for the South China Morning Post – click here.

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