History and Perspective vs Time

For anyone who might happen to read this who isn’t in my historian’s craft class, this blog post deals with how time changes our views on the past. More specifically: how do I think the passage of time (4 years, 30 years, and 100 years in this case) will affect my view on the events I’m describing in my final paper.

                After a historical event occurs two factories work together to alter our perceptions of the past, ignoring for now human psychology: first- new details about the past come to light; and second- some details of the events are lost. This may seem to be contradictory, but it ceases to be contradictory when you realize that different details are revealed and lost. This occurs naturally as people forget details about an event, don’t mention it to their children, or try to cover up the truth. Then later historians come along and through careful research uncover these lost details. Or, more aggravating, just enough information to cast doubt on current assumptions without proving anything. Confronted with this lack of information a psychological tendency of people is to assume that history was preordained, and that things have always been as they are now. This also clouds our perception of the past. A personal example of this was the 2020 presidential election. When the election was ongoing it seemed that anyone could win, a complete tossup. But looking back on it now I’m having to fight the urge to believe that it had a totally predictable outcome, the logic is since President Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 how after so much polarization could he expect to win it now? Even more for 2016: how could the democrats have thought putting someone with as divisive as Hillary Clinton up for president was a good idea?

                 As for how this will affect my history, I believe that the psychological detail will be the most relevant, unless the Chinese government happens to either open up its private archives or become a lot more transparent (both unlikely). So as time passes, my perspective of the events of today will change based on how everything ends up after that particular time period, especially as the changes in China are currently ongoing and so it’s impossible to know what will eventually happen. So after four years my view of events in China should be much clearer as things should have settled down, making it possible to figure out where things went and where things are going (that’s not possible now as things are in chaos). In 30 years and 100 years, things will settle down more and more and it will become hard to shake the feeling of inevitability as history takes it’s course. But on the other hand, new details will become available as the consequences of the actions and events of today finally begin to be revealed (though this process may take more than 100 years).

Why did I pick my research project?

               So, my topic was about how China was coping with the numerous catastrophes of 2020 and how it was changing as a result. The main reasons why I picked this topic, a foreign topic is twofold:

               The first reason why I really did not want to do a domestic topic. Doing domestic topics are too prone to get political and personal. I do not like when topics get political when talking about the modern era because things get personal and nasty and eventually it becomes a glorified political screaming contest in the form of written papers. I also do not like to do personal or interpersonal projects as when people do personal projects it mentions the daily lives of people, which is fine and all, but I tend to find such topics somewhat dull. Unless there is something special about this particular person’s life or this one practice had earth changing consequences it all feels mundane and every day. It is just so similar to my own life that I feel like I’m still stuck in my own everyday grind and not in another place and time. Not to mention that it tends to get awfully depressing.

               The second reason I picked my topic is that I am fascinated by higher end history, that is to say political, diplomatic, and military history. Because whereas in popular history things tend to be mundane and most details don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, whereas in political, diplomatic, and military history are more eventful, for instance depending on who won a particular battle the would could change drastically in a single day (look at how the one day battle of Manzikert lead to modern Turkey). And given that China is a great power looking to become a superpower how it acts and behaves could shape the future of the world for at least 100 years, with ramifications to be seen for hundreds of years more (at least).

               To put it into simple terms I’m studying the effects of COVID-19 on China because the entire world would be living with the results of this crucial time for the next hundred years (like how today we’re still dealing with the effects of the fall of the Soviet Union).

               This probably has something to do with me being a white male catholic, which means that minority issues don’t hit me on a personal level or have as much of an emotional effect on me. But I think that the bigger factor in my interest is that the first histories I ever read were the campaigns of Alexander and Julius Caesar. So after having gotten accustomed to the high-level view of history I’ve found it impossible to get invested in the much less impactful popular history. Especially as most people in every race, religion and creed don’t do anything that will be remembered after 100 years. Even the vast majority of revolutions and rebellions are waged by those who already have some power.

My recollection of the first week of Historian’s craft.

My story’s about why I switched from the 12:30 pm to the 9:30 am class.

My first experience even relating to Historian’s Craft was with a scheduling error. I had not had any experience with commuting into school or online classes, so I placed my online and physical classes too close together. This caused an issue because it was possible that I would not be able to get home in time to take my online classes. And I had no idea where I could possibly take a zoom class on canvas, and I since I was a commuter I didn’t want to just wait around on campus for hours if I don’t need to. I quickly thought of a solution. More accurately I requisitioned a solution to the same problem I’d had with another class. The solution was to switch the time of my class from 12:30 pm to 9:30 pm. It would be harder to get in at 9:30 (I’d have to wake up at 7:30 am and then catch a train at about 8:15 am), but I’d have plenty of time to get home for my next online class. But the issue became totally irrelevant after 1 week because after that time all classes went online for the rest of the semester. But I didn’t know that would happen at the time so I scheduled a meeting with an advisor on Wednesday to adjust my schedule.

               In the meantime, I had to go to the 12:30 am class. I don’t remember all that much about it, I got in on the train alright and found the room without too much trouble. Once in the class the main thing I remember is how at the end the whole class started talking about the pandemic and how long the university would stay open for. One guy correctly guessed a week. Another guy said that all the universities shutting down in person classes are “shaking the foundations of scholarship” how college students coming to online rather than physical classes stops scholars from doing research or writing books I have no idea but didn’t get any pushback on the idea so maybe I’m alone in my skepticism.

               The next day I meet with the advisor and switched to the 9:30 am class. And though that change proved pointless given how the school went online the next week it was still a worthwhile thing to do because not only did I adjust those two classes in case the school stayed in person, but I also realized that a third class just wasn’t for me and so I switched out of that into one I liked more.

               And that’s the story of why I’m in the 9:30 class.

What do we ow our historical subjects?

               Before I begin, I have to say that I only view someone as a historical subject after they have died (including myself). This is primary due to a need to respect the privacy of a living person (that’s not an issue with someone who’s dead won’t be affected by the historian’s work, making their secrets fairer game, but some respect is always necessary). In the same vain I also feel that you should probably wait a good amount of time after an event to write a history about it so you can avoid the bias that comes with living through and being personally connected to the events described, and also because after a historical event you need enough time to view and describe the repercussions of it. For instance: no good comprehensive history of WW2 would be considered good if it just ignored the effects it had in causing and shaping the ensuing cold war, needless to say any history written within a year of the war’s end would be lacking this (as well as all the German and Soviet records that we now have access to). And on a personal note, this also gets around the problem of personal privacy by giving ensuring that anything revealed about them will not be able to hurt them (or cause any uncomfortable situation for them).

               Other than that, I believe that we owe historical subjects two things: 1- to be judged by the standards of their own time, and not by those of ours, and 2- to at least try to understand their position and how that may have shaped their actions. By that I mean: A king and a shepherd, all else being equal, will act differently because their positions require different thing of them. Though that is not to excuse cruel of criminal behavior. Which will probably come up in my project, sadly.

              So how does this relate to my project? Not all that much actually. Where the philosophical question posed by Sherrie Tucker relates to the personal lives of private individuals (her female magicians of the 1940s), I relate the public actions of public people (government officials). So, whereas the old band members have a right to be able to tell Tucker “Don’t write about that private thing” and have their wishes respected, government officials have no such right regarding their work in public service. My rule of thumb is that if the person is alive than you need their permission to publish any information about them that’s not already available to the general public.

The one issue I foresee potentially having is that the Chinese government has been involved in so many … incidents … since its founding in 1949 (the Tiananmen square massacre to name one) that it’s hard to come up with an impartial opinion of them. But that is why the Chinese state-run media is included, so that their side of the story can at least be heard.

Description, format, and sources for final paper (midterm)

Question:

“Has China’s foreign and domestic trajectory changed in 2020, if so, what is its new trajectory and how much of the change is due to the COVID-19 pandemic?”

Project Description:

2020 has been a very turbulent year. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in China and spread around the world, many of the norms that were held before the pandemic have been thrown into question. It is impossible to tell what the future is going to be like. This is especially true for China, where the outbreak began. Since the start of the outbreak the Chinese economy has taken a massive hit, and there’s been a massive ground swell of unrest in China (most notably in Hong Kong). On top of that, global criticism of China’s handling of the start of the pandemic, and its reaction to those charges, has led to it being increasingly isolated from the international community. That brings up the question: what is China going to do in reaction to these challenges and how will those choices shape its future? And by extension: how will it affect the world?

Format: 1000-1250-word historical op-ed in the style of the Washington Post’s “Made by History” op-ed. I chose this type of final project because it is the most similar you can get to a regular essay since writing essays is my strong point. Also, I am not really familiar with Twitter or Instagram so I wouldn’t be able write in those formats effectively. I am more familiar with podcasts, but I don’t have any experience making one.

Secondary sources:

China’s Great Wall of Debt:

McMahon Dinny, China’s great wall of debt (New York, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018).

               Written in 2018, China’s great wall of debt is an overview of the problems facing the pre-COVID-19 Chinese economy. The reason I chose this book is because it’s an excellent critique of the Chinese economy pre pandemic, which is vital for this as without a good grasp of what the Chinese economy was like before the outbreak it will be impossible to discern what was an effect of the pandemic. Or more likely, every issue will be assigned to the pandemic, even if they existed before hand.

End of an Era:

Minzner Carl, End of an era (New York, Oxford University Press, 2018).

               What makes this book particularly interesting is that it goes over the pre-pandemic political changes in China. It particularly focuses on a perceived shift in Chinese government trending towards strengthened authoritarian rule. This is vital for the same reason as with “China’s Great Wall of Debt”, since we can’t tell what’s an effect of the virus unless we know what things looked like beforehand.

Primary Sources:

Chinese state-run media: The People’s Daily-

(The People’s Daily) China’s decision to join COVAX will strengthen global vaccine cooperation, accessed on October 12th, 2020; http://en.people.cn/n3/2020/1012/c90000-9767949.html.

               I decided to include Chinese state-run media The People’s Daily, because much of this paper is focused on the actions of the Chinese government. It stands to reason that the Chinese government’s side of the story should be taken into account. And who better to represent the Chinese state’s side of the story than Chinese state-run media: “The People’s Daily”? The article cited above is particularly interesting as it is pointing out how China is helping to fight COVID-19. Which should provide good insight into how China views itself and its role in the pandemic.

NTD CHINA-

 (NTD China) Pakistan bans Chinese app Tik Tok for ‘immoral and indecent’ content, accessed on October 12th, 2020; https://www.ntd.com/pakistan-bans-chinese-app-tiktok-for-immoral-and-indecent-content_516290.html.

NTD, New Tang Dynasty TV, China is a news source that covers issues in China with a distinct anti-communist/socialist viewpoint, which they freely admit. This makes NTD a good counterbalance to The People’s Daily state-run media, as both have opposite bias. But the real benefit of this source is that it covers China news that major media outlets do not cover. For instance: the specific article cited above is of interest because Pakistan banning the Chinese app Tik Tok has potential implications for the two countries relationship.

Reuters-

(Reuters) India and China agree to ease tension on border, accessed on October 12th, 2020; https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN25W0C2.

For a third source of information, this paper needed something that didn’t focus on China. This is because I am also studying the effects of the virus on China’s international standing, and to study international standing you need a source on nations other than China. Reuters, a news agency widely credited with being impartial, will serve this role very nicely. A good example of this is the article cited above, which details a current drive for de-escalation in a current boarder conflict between India and China.

The Spanish Flu, and primary sources

When reading the primary sources about the 1918 Spanish flu, I realized that after a few months of extreme disease prevention measures, the strong measures, like closing schools and limiting public gatherings, stop (according to the CDC timeline most anti-pandemic measures were taken from October-December of 1918). They were still doing some things, like reporting cases, having the sick quarantine, and wearing masks; but after that point people began to try to resume normal life as best they could. Testimony of this can be found in the diary of Violet Harris when she wrote about how school reopened after just 6 weeks of being closed. And on a Tuesday no less. This story conflicts with the testimony of Edna Register Boone who testified about how her whole town was overwhelmed by the pandemic. I think there are likely two reasons to explain the discrepancy. First: I think that Miss Boone’s area may have been either particularly hard hit or particularly vulnerable to the Flu. It was a small town and so wouldn’t have had as great a supply of doctors or medicine that a city would. Boone herself states there was only one doctor and one small drug store. Second, I think in the interview she was asked to talk about the pandemic and so didn’t mention what stayed the same, like going to school, buying groceries, getting married, etc. The final question is why? Why did things continue when there was a deadly flu going around?

I think that this has to do with technology, or their lack thereof. In 1918 they did not have all the technology we have now. We can have classes over Zoom, they had to go to class in person or not at all. If their heater broke, they had to go out and buy a new one or go cold, whereas we can order one over Amazon. That is why I think this pandemic will have a much greater impact than the Flu of 1918. Where they had to carry on and hope things would get better, we have the technology to change how we work and live to avoid COVID-19. And the question is: Will we switch back when it is over? Or will we, as a society decided that we like the new way of doing things better. Things like Movie theaters, in person classes may be abandoned forever. Only time will tell.

Primary sources

For my paper I must chose two primary sources (at least) to use. I have chosen Chinese State-run media, and the testimony of experts analyzing the date from China. I will explain my reasoning and stipulations below.

Chinese state-run media:

            When picking primary sources, I realized that the best people to ask how the Chinese government was changing was the Chinese government itself. Since I do not think it’s a radical statement to say that Chinese state-run media is an offshoot of the Chinese government itself, so if we want the Chinese government’s perspective then we should look at its own statements. The obvious problem with this is that the Chinese government is likely to be, let’s say “biased”, but I feel that it’s worthwhile to get their perspective as: 1- If we are trying to get the facts on the ground then we should at least ask the opinion of the people involved, and 2- even though the state-run media may be “biased” we can still learn valuable things about the situation by what they say or don’t say. The common wisdom is that if the Chinese government specifically went out of its way to say something is fine, it’s most probably not. An example of this would be when the Chinese government specifically went out of its way to say that there was no human to human transmission of the coronavirus.

Expert opinions:

            I have to explain a caveat here: I consider expert opinions primary sources only if they have access to either firsthand information (official statistics), or firsthand testimony. It’s necessary to include them as a primary source as I can’t gather and analyze the necessary data on my own. I As lack both the access and the expertise. It is vital to use them as an independent analysis of the facts (from the Chinese government’s account), for obvious reasons. I’ll be using both Chinese and non-Chinese experts interchangeably (with the only differences being who/what I’m able to find).  I will be noting whether the expert works for someone who might have bias (ex. The U.S. government, the Hong Kong protest movement, or the Chinese government), and who lives in mainland China (as if they speak out against the Chinese government while living under its jurisdiction. They may face reprisals and so may tone down their criticism out of fear rather than because that’s what they actually believe).

A good question,

So, for this class I have to create a question for my final paper on my research topic. I don’t really have to put an explanation of this in the blog post for the class, but since this blog is public, I feel that I owe anyone reading an explanation. Anyway, m question is:

Has the course of China’s future been changed in 2020, and if so where is it headed now?

So many subjects so little time,

I have always been interested in foreign relations. So, for me, probably the most impactful thing about the pandemic is how it has affected it’s country of origin – China – both politically and geopolitical. For example since the pandemic started a new cold war may have started between the U.S. and China. You would think that, like most other countries, China’s foreign and domestic policy would remain pretty much the same, except that on top of everything, they now have to deal with the pandemic . But that’s not the case in China.

(for reference, the information I’m using here is from from the news outlet “NTD China,” and its sister media “The Epoch Times.” Which are my primary news outlets for China news)

The best example of this sudden change in policy is the Sino-Indian boarder. In recent months (i.e. after the pandemic began) there have been a series of boarder clashes, which have resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian troops and presumably an unknown number of Chinese soldiers. Which were the first deaths in the region in 45 years (credit to the BBC for providing those facts).

Figure 1 Weapons allegedly used by Chinese soldiers in a clash with Indian troops that left 20 Indian troops dead (credit to BBC for image).

This is emblematic of the general change in Chinese policy, which has switched from a largely non-aggressive soft power and economic-focused power, to one that is openly aggressive with greater military spending and warship production. Another example of this was when Australia called for an investigation into the origins of the Coronavirus, China retaliated by sanctioning several Australian food producers.

Internal policy has changed rapidly as well, with a recent uptick in property seizures (in which the Chinese government seizes peoples’ land and sells it to real-estate developers). Two-hundred properties have been seized by Chinese authorities and the properties of middle-class people are those being seized, rather than those of poor farmers in the country side who have no political or economic power. That’s not to mention the recent uptick of Maoist-style propaganda and the consolidation of power in the hands of Chinese president Xi Jinping, which could turn things nasty very quickly. That is also not even mentioning the power struggles in the communist party between president Xi, premier Li Kaqiang, and a faction under former leader Jiang Zemin. And finally with a ton of disasters destroying farmland and China’s new aggressive foreign policy making importing food difficult, China may be looking at a major food shortage (president Xi has already urged people to conserve food, and Chinese media posted an article, now taken down, where they stated that it’s good for peoples’ character to go hungry).

All this uncertainty and change brings up a China Question: What will China look like when this is over, and What will it do?

There are other very interesting things to study about the effects of the pandemic, for instance: how will college change after months, maybe years of online classes? Will we, as a society, ever have the traditional desk jobs again, or will everything be work from home. But given how impact the China question is, and how fast things are moving, I feel that I help but pick it.

What is time?

When I think of time, I think of two things: The gradual shifting of events forward, from beginning to end from the start of time at the big bang to the present. And second, I think of the effect that time has on everything. As processes progress and more entropy is released into the universe this energy is absorbed by the objects that make up the world. Considering as this energy can energize everything from wind and water to earthquakes and humans it’s easy to see how things can be damaged over time. Nothing can withstand this damage forever (with the only possible exception of things that are specifically curated and protected, but they are few, tend to be small, and will still probably degrade over time).The only way that things endure is that their either held together by gravity so the object takes new forms rather than disintegrating, or by reproduction. Reproduction is where one thing creates another before it dies (I say die as only living things reproduce). A good anecdote is that after a tree dies, a new tree grows in its place. An institutional form of this would be the institution of the monarchy. It can (potentially) last forever because whenever one monarch falls, another rises to take their place. “The King is dead! Long live the King!” The phrase itself emphasizes that as sure as death will take one king another will rise and take their place.And things do change over the years, over time people changed from living in tribes to living under kings, then they (often) overthrew the kings and formed republics. The phrase all good things must come to an end comes to mind. But the one constant is change, the cycle of destruction and creation, death and birth. Things may change from day to day, month to month, and year to year, but in the end the cycle continues as always.

To emphasize this cycle of destruction and creation I’ve chosen to take pictures of three walls near my house: One is from the revolutionary war era, one is wall on the side of my driveway (the one with the dinosaur), and the third is my neighbor’s new one (in order from left to right and top to bottom). As each wall eventually crumbles another, newer wall, in a newer style is built to replace it.

Revolutionary war era,one of the few remaining structures of it’s type.
This wall is protected by the township from being demolished or damaged.
This wall is the wall by my drive way. It’s an older wall and won’t last too much longer without maintenance work.

          

    

This is my neighbor’s new wall. It’s in the modern style (with built in electric lights), and should last quite some time before it needs to be repaired or replaced.