(all original material on this site © Pamela Kyle Crossley)


Historiography and Hostages

A friend wrote: "So after being relatively restrained for so long, even in your blog, why suddenly go international with your response to criticism from the CCP?" Well, I think the FP editorial was relatively restrained. One chooses restraint for a lot of reasons, including the compulsion to show restraint in indirect proportion to the intensity of a personal attack. But I think there have been a lot of reasons to show restraint. 1) It is professional. Our work is not to throw opinions around, but to try to understand history, which is not simple. 2) It lowers the likelihood of saying or writing something regrettable. 3) there is some tendency on the part of the critics of China in Europe and the USA to not make obvious comparisons to issues in their own societies or governments that they might attempt to fix before turning all their firepower on China 4) most important, all American scholars of China are constrained by the fact that friends, family and colleagues in China can be made to suffer for anything we say or write that is displeasing to the CCP and its Party History Office.

I’ll return to 4) in a moment, but the question was in view of all that, what changed? That is simple. Xinjiang. Over the course of PRC history, the government has committed many tragic abuses against culture and community in the Northeast, in the Southwest, in Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang. They are the sort of abuses that all large countries (and they all get large by conquest) and many small countries have committed. Many occurred in times of great stress (however generated): the revolution, the period of state consolidation, the Cultural Revolution, the push for rapid economic reforms. But the recent abuses in Xinjiang are now overtly institutionalized, and cannot be contextualized as occurring under the stress of anything other than the current president’s ideological culture wars, ambitious economic plans to develop the border with Kazakhstan, and a few issues underlying the Belt and Road Initiative. This persecution in the pursuit of greed and power are —unlike earlier abuses in Tibet— taking place with little or no international approbation and no material consequences for the Xi regime. It is the sort of thing that, in retrospect, not even the most restrained historians might excuse themselves from opposing.

The cost paid by innocent colleagues in China is a very heavy consideration. American and European scholars of China are often accused (sometimes by those who should know better) of playing dumb or keeping silent in order to protect their access to China, and their careers. There may be individual instances of this, but they are not common. The real question is hostages. Every scholar outside China who criticizes the Chinese government is creating some risk for anybody associated with them in China, and mere criticism of the Chinese government is clearly not going to effect change. Over time this blankets the China study fields in hesitation and, ultimately, silence. The direct interference in free opinion on China issuing from Confucius Institutes or Chinese embassies is nothing compared to the indirect censoring of foreign scholars by the media of human relationships and common decency. How far must go before the ability of Americans to speak freely becomes more precious than the careers and perhaps the well-being of Chinese scholars? About as far as this, I’m afraid. A hostage situation is always agonizing. You want to find a way to free the hostages and at the same time not endanger those who may in future be made hostages. Sometimes you can, and sometimes you can’t. But free speech in America has not come with no cost, and will not be preserved at no cost. And free inquiry for colleagues in China cannot be aided by pretending that is already free.


A Small Point of Fact

A recent email directed me to an extraordinary essay by Professor Yao Dali. He had read recent translations of my actual writing on several subjects including "sinicization," and he suggested that charges against me of being "anti-China" and various other nefarious things might have been simplistic. For this informed, thoughtful and very professional contribution to what is a very stale debate, Professor Yao was criticized by Wong Young-tsu.

For the second time that I have seen (there could be more I guess), Professor Wong has announced to the world that he "knows" me and therefore has some kind of super-human insight into my motives and even my feelings. Since Professor Wong clearly intends to use this idea as a weapon against me, and now against Yao Dali, let me be as clear about this as I can be: I have been reading Professor Wong's work first in English and then in Chinese since I started graduate school. I have learned a great deal from it and cited it often. For this reason, I was very pleased when I met him one or two times in the 1990s, for academic events. I thought we had a couple of pleasant exchanges, and that was it. I think it is likely that we have mutual friends but if so I couldn't say from my own knowledge who they are.

I have already had vivid evidence of that when he came roaring out of the internet last year with a ridiculous claim that I was so hostile to China and things Chinese that I refused to use a Chinese name. If he really knew me he would have known that it all comes from a joke from many years ago (see below, somewhere), a joke that he has clearly misunderstood. Yes, I do believe that individuals of any origin are entitled to use their own name wherever they go. I think it is regrettable when academics cannot recognize the real names of the scholars they are reading. I do not refuse to use a Chinese name and if I did it would have no relation to any hostility towards China.

Anybody who actually knows me knows how ridiculous Professor Wong's hypotheses of my feelings and my motives are, and how cynical it is for him to use this false claim of familiarity as a weapon against me, or Yao Dali, or anybody else. Wong Young-tsu could point me out in a police line-up. He does not know me.


a postscript [7.1.2017]: The article I describe below was recently published. I was happy to see that some of the most egregious distortions were corrected, but in relation to my work the misrepresentations were not only retained but in at least one instance enhanced. Shades of a controversy from two years ago in which authors decided to punish a reviewer (of a published book, not a manuscript that could still be improved). C'ést la vie, but reviewers beware of a new ethos making authors feel entitled to punish reviewers who displease them. I still believe that it is important to discourage reinvention of the wheel and to encourage correct attribution of ideas and sources.

Conventional Confusions

Here is a case study that happens to involve me, because I know the details as a matter of course and can write about it conveniently. But it is a widespread problem that affects many scholars, and the field in general. We are supposed to be professionals in information and analysis, but sometimes we just don’t bother with either. We have become a trivial detail in a major cultural shift away from critical examination, investigation and objective confirmation, and toward the acceptance of reportage and rumor.

There is a really attractive and interesting website called “Facts and Details” (
http://factsanddetails.com/) that seems to be the project of one individual, Jeff Hays, all a labor of love over and above his various day gigs, and a project I greatly admire. The material is largely but not exclusively focused on Asia, including parts of Asia that often get neglected, such as Indonesia and Central Asia. It always makes interesting reading —for professionals. Like Wikipedia (which Facts and Details regards as a “good source”), the site is beset by a certain amount of echoing of weak or false information, and it is not yet (though I definitely think it might someday be) a safe environment for beginners.

I was surprised when reading the site’s materials on the Tang dynasty that I get cited as if I have at some point had something authoritative to say about it. Since the exact wording is of interest to the case study here, I quote it:

“For a proper historical perspective, one should search deeper into the significance of the system of “Heavenly Khan.”' Rawski, relying entirely on Pamela Crossley, contends that the origin of the “Khan of Khans” must be sought in Chinggis Khan and that “the ‘Khan of Khans’ was not a Chinese emperor” (Rawski 1996, 835).”

This sounded familiar but was still surprising to me. I haven’t ever suggested that the “khan of khans” originates with Chinggis Khan. In my paper “An Early Modern Complex for Eurasian Empires,” which has been on the internet for years (and is still in the online repository of the East-West Center), it says “ The simplest and earliest model for this was the Persian-derived padîshah. In meaning it seemed to parallel shahanshah, the “king of kings” or primus inter pares that was conceptually revived in the Mongol khaghan (as a khan of khans).” And to it is appended the note (#5) where possible antecedents of khaghan in Jurchen and Kitan are explored. The paper is from 2004, and I’m pretty sure that thing about conceptual antecedents in the shahanshah< as well as it being revived in Mongolian institutions, is something I have written repeatedly. “Revived” does not mean “originates.” So, if Evelyn Rawski was really “relying entirely on Pamela Crossley” (which would be a very surprising thing in any context), what could she have been relying on, in 1995/1996 (from presentation to publication of her AAS presidential address)?

It is hard to tell from Hays’ page, but the whole paragraph in which this occurs (and this exact passage is replicated three times in Hays’ site, always in relation to the Tang empire) is word for word from Ho Ping-ti’s “rebuttal” of 1998 (132-133). I think everybody understands what this is, and I have said something about it in previous posts, so let’s move right on. Ho cites Rawski p. 835, where Rawski leads into her discussion of Qing rulership by citing Turrell Wylie (on Tibetan Buddhism), Howard Wechsler (on the Tang), Hok-lam Chan (on the Jurchen Jin), Sam Grupper (on Yuan and Northern Yuan), David Farquhar (on Chakhar and Qing) and Lin Jing (on Tibet). In the lower half of the page she gets to me, and writes “Concepts of emperorship changed after 1644 as the empire expanded. Using Manchu-language sources, Pamela Crossley (forthcoming) argues that the eighteenth-century Qing concept of uniersal emperorship differed significantly from Chinese precedents. Whereas Confucians assumed that their principles were universally applicable, the core of Qing policy was a universal rulership based on submission of divergent people, whose cultures would remain separate. [Details here about the “five peoples”]. Under his reign, the Qing tried to preserve the cultural boundaries separating these five peoples, while attempting to sinicize the ethnic minorities living in south and southwest China. [Details] The emperor himself, as the crucial link uniting these diverse peoples, learned Manchu, Chinese, Mongolian, Uighur and Tibetan.” Here she cites Jin Baoshen, and then moves on to cite work by Ning Chia and so on.

Rawski referred to my “forthcoming,” which could only mean A Translucent Mirror, and there is indeed a note in A Translucent Mirror about khaghan. Here it is: “See Larence Krader, ‘Qan-Qaγan and the Beginnings of Mongol Kingship” for a summary of debates on etymologies and relationships of the Monoglian terms khan and khaghan. It appears that khaghan was the earlier of the two and that it is present in attestations from languages at the two extremes of the geographical spectrum, Old Bulgarian and Korean. Khan and its Manchu cognates could have results from a contraction of the weak consonant. There is evidence of awareness of the term khaghan in the Northeast in the Tang period, and the Jurchen word upon which Manchu han was based has been trace by Jin Qizong to the Jurchen disyllabic ha-[g]an, which appears in the stele of the Yongning si (Jin, Nuzhen wen cidian , 122).”

So not only was Ho’s description of what Rawski said, in even his brief “Rawski, relying entirely on Pamela Crossley, contends that the origin of the “Khan of Khans” must be sought in Chinggis Khan and that “the ‘Khan of Khans’ was not a Chinese emperor” fundamentally erroneous, but the material of mine to which Rawski was referring, if looked at even briefly by anybody quoting Ho, would show that Ho was even more deeply erroneous about that; I would guess inadvertently (and uncharacteristically) erroneous, though any editor or assistant who did not check this statement against Rawski’s or my text was not helping very much. Rawski presented a state-of-the-field report, and any passage from her text shows it to have been of that nature. Her very brief summary of my argument was pretty good, though my book is about ideology, so I did not argue that cultures would remain separate, but that they would be separately represented (which was true through the eighteenth century, the focus of my book). As an aside, I have been perplexed for months by a charge in the Chinese blogosphere that I (and as a corollary the mythical “New Qing History’) advocate ethnic separatism. I could not figure out where in the ether this could have originated; it could well be this slight mischaracterization by Rawski, writing “separate” instead of “separately represented.” That is all it would take. Nobody would in fact read anything to see if this was in any way related to anything I had written). Anyway, back to Ho’s characterization of Rawksi’s characterization of me: Absolutely nothing in this passage relates to the “Heavenly Khan,” and absolutely nothing says that I attribute the origin of khaghan to the Mongols, or that Rawski relied on me to make such an attribution, or that she made such a statement about “Heavenly Khan” herself.

Jeff Hays would have found, if he had followed the material he was breezily quoting, information that he might have used in his article about the Tang —not from me, but from Krader. Or, he could have looked at the Encyclopedia Britannica article written by Rawski and others that places the “heavenly khan” where he expects it, in the Tang (and that passage was almost certainly written by Rawski herself). Jeff Hays is a creative and contributing individual who picked up, in this instance, some conventional confusion and reproduced it, totally out of context (and three times) on his site, which I am going to continue to read because it is interesting and will probably improve consistently. Let’s consider here the real problem. Why would any site editor, or self-appointed-expert-blogger, think it is good practice to quote this and other baseless passages from Ho Ping-ti’s “In Defense of Sinicization” that create derogatory impressions of Rawski (or me, or anybody) without checking to see if there is any, even slim, justification for it? After all, the criteria of scholarly work should be to trace attributions to their sources and to examine the factual bases of any strongly polemical work (which Ho’s certainly was). Why should certain scholars be exempted from such tests, and any derogatory or doubt-inspiring statement made about them not only credited but widely reproduced?

I was very powerfully struck by this a little while ago after being asked to review a manuscript proposed for publication (and which I certainly thought should be published in some form). This was a nice piece, largely technical, relating to the general subject of the Eight Banners population in a certain place and time. Reading along, I suddenly encountered a passage that went like this (I am not quoting exactly in order to preserve the privacy and the copyrights of the authors): “Pamela Crossley has attributed to Fang Chao-ying an estimate of 170,000 total males in the banners at the time of the conquest [citation provided here to Orphan Warriors]. There is no such statement by Fang. We find that his only comment on the size of the early Qing armies was “the total number of Banner Forces sent to the various fronts during the seven years of this war [i.e., the Rebellion of the Three Feudatories]” was between 160,000 and 200,000. This would, of course, correspond to bing, not ding (Fang, “A Technique,” p. 202).”

Driving out of the lane to make a gratuitous hit on somebody who published on a tangentially-related topic is pretty common. Comment, or not comment? At first I thought, well, maybe I wrote something like that, and let’s let it go. Their opinion. But I was curious. Did I really attribute to Fang something that was simply not there? Did I really make it up, as the authors were implying? I looked at Orphan Warriors. Here is what I saw, and I pointed it out to the editors who had asked me to review the manuscript:

“Fang Chao-ying, in a classic essay, ‘A Technique for Estimating the Numerical Strength of the Early Manchu Military Forces,’ used the rule of 300 men per niru and 563 niru in the Eight Banners of 1644 to estimate a fighting force of slightly under 170,000. Wu Wei-ping and Gertraude Roth [Li] have both argued for lower enrollments per niru, see ‘The Development and Decline of the Eight Banner,’ 100 and ‘The Manchu-Chinese Relationship,’ 35 n. 2 respectively. Zhou Yuanlian, in ‘Guanyu baqi zhidu de jige wenti,’ makes clear that even at the time of conquest the niru were still influenced by the population of the clans upon which they were in part based, and so varied radically in size. Li Xinda, in “Ru Guan qian de baqi bingbu wenti,” 157-60, notes that for the period just prior to the conquest even the number of niru was in doubt, since the notation provided in the records is inadequate. A recent review by Guo Chengkang of the original material collected in the Mambun rôtô and shilu has yielded the following estimates of the number of banner companies for the period just priot to the conquest of Peking: 250 Manchu companies, 100 (or very slightly more) Mongol companies, and 139 Chinese-martial companies, or a total of slightly more than 500 companies for all the Eight Banners, a figure significantly less than the earlier estimates of Li and Fang. See ‘Qingchu niulu de shumu.’ It is not likely that we will ever be precise in regard to the number of bannerment involved in the conquest of China.”

I wrote in the evaluation [yes yes, it's all very confidential but you don't know the authors or the title and the authors have already seen the comments and done whatever they want to do about it]: “I quote this note at length for two reasons: It is relevant to my evaluation of this manuscript as a whole, and it also shows the sloppy technique involved in derogating my reference to Fang. In relation to the second reason, I didn’t say that there was a passage in Fang in which he stated that there were slightly less than 170,000 active bannermen, I did not cite a page, and I did not refer to the distinction between bing and ding. I described the technique and summarized Fang’s findings. How does this compare to what is really in Fang’s article? It is completely consistent with his text and tables in total, and is also quite consistent with the range Fang himself estimates in the single sentence quoted by the authors (as Fang says repeatedly in the article, his range rises upwards of his tabular figures because of some factor of incompleteness in the records and the categories used for companies, half-companies and so on). In other words, an interpretive summary has been quite fictitiously turned into a specific citation, and then proved to be erroneous only on the basis of the authors’ misrepresentation of the footnote from my book.” I found an even more blatantly fictional citation to me in another part of the paper, and had to point that out too. Let me tell you, reader, I am not a demography expert and have never pretended to be. Using two false cites from me in a single paper on demography to try to make me look like an idiot is gratuitous indeed.

I am introducing this into this discussion of conventional confusion because in the same manuscript (and this was not a long manuscript) was an equally gratuitous, equally unfounded rubbishing of Evelyn Rawski and a co-author (not me). To keep the content suitably obscure, let’s put it this way: The authors of the manuscript under review were claiming to be the first to make use of the research of a certain Chinese scholar. I provided citations from multiple authors writing in English (including me) showing this is not true. Even more strangely and gratuitously, they implied as strongly as you can imply that Rawski and her co-author had used this Chinese scholar’s work without citation. I wrote, “the authors accuse Evelyn Rawski and [co-author] of using [Chinese scholar] without citation in [some year before 1990] (without acknowledging that if true it contradicts the authors’ claim that nobody much knows about [Chinese scholar] except them). But lo! …take a look at [Rawski and co-author] book and there you will find the citation to [Chinese scholar’s article] —in fact, to the same article that I had cited in [some year before 1990] and [some year before 1995]. This would, in fact, make Rawski and [co-author] the first that I can find to cite [Chinese scholar] in English. This footnote is a kind of guide to the unnecessary problems the authors are creating. [Chinese scholar]’s work is in fact well-known to Qing specialists. What the authors are doing is using more of his work than is usually read by Qing specialists, and they are applying [an analytical technique] that is new in relation to this topic. They can give themselves credit for that without all the demolition they are committing along the way.”

This business of feverishly impeaching people who have really done what you claim to do —in this case, introducing the work of [Chinese scholar] to English-language scholarship, which appears to have been done by Rawski and her co-author, and not by the authors of the new paper— is a genuine historical topic. I wrote, for instance, about the determination of the Qianlong emperor to destroy all rival authorities to himself as a historian. If you don’t happen to have your own Siku quanshu project, or the facilities for a literary inquisition or two are not at your disposal, there may be a few conventional confusions around that would work to your advantage.

Everybody’s work gets distorted all the time. That is part of the process of reading, reviewing, alluding to, and criticizing. It is one of many reasons why it is best to actually read people you want to criticize and not rely on book reviews, blog posts or things people say while walking down the hall at AAS. You will laugh at me for this, but I thought for many years that such issues would get sorted out as soon as people looked at what I or any other author had actually written —but people do not look.

The result is not merely that the wrong people get discredited for the wrong reasons, but that as a result of the growing ignorance of our own literature, more and more new work is just reinventing the wheel. My two major disappointments as a reviewer of grant applications and manuscripts are 1) too little demonstration of a command of the scholarship already published in the field and 2) too many false claims of novelty. But why do I say two? These are really the same. They go along with the decreasing interest in our field (and possibly in many others, or all) in scholarly texts rather than rumors of scholarly texts.

Nobody can complain when people make honest mistakes. Hays makes honest mistakes. But when professionals in the field gratuitously generate the kind of unflattering distortions, not in any way random but improbably focused on an individual or a few individuals —that is, conventional confusion instead of conventional wisdom— which somebody like Jeff then enthusiastically cites, what is going on? No, I’m not asking whether CASS encourages teams of eager young historians to swarm small portions of the work of foreign scholars and systematically distort it all over the internet. I mean, what is going on when graduate students and working historians for their own reasons happily settle for misleading or outright false representations that confirm their gauzy prejudices? All I can say is, take some time to look up sources. You might be very surprised at what you find.