Tag Archives: Guest Post

The Changes that Led to Taiwan’s “Global Moment”: Ryan Dunch and Ashley Esarey on “Taiwan in Dynamic Transition”

The Covid-19 death toll in the United States exceeds 148,000; in Taiwan this statistic is seven. Taiwan has done a better job of fighting the pandemic than South Korea, Japan, or New Zealand. Taiwan adjusted the teaching protocol for schools but never closed them. Restaurants lost business but largely remained open. Taiwan’s economy has continued to grow, as other nations face the sinking prospect of a recession.

Taiwan is having its global moment, but few can tell the tale of how this island country arrived where it is. This is unfortunate but unsurprising: Taiwan is seldom mentioned in global media reports beyond articles about its disputed sovereignty, or histrionic outbursts from Chinese diplomats seeking to bar Taiwan from observer status in the World Health Organization and other international bodies.

During five decades of Japanese colonial rule (1895–1945), Taiwan began to experience what we call the “twin transformations” of nation building and democratization. Nation building commenced during Japanese rule, when Taiwanese were united by their common culture yet marginalized as second-class citizens in their homeland. Democratization, including early forays into local electoral politics under Japan, gradually introduced new rights and freedoms for Taiwanese to campaign in local and national elections.

Nation building and democratization became interrelated concerns as Taiwan emerged in the 1980s from four decades of one-party rule under martial law. The pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, founded in 1986 in defiance of a ban on opposition parties, would eventually become one of two main political parties that have alternated in power since the first direct presidential election in 1996. Nation building and democratization changed the way Taiwanese saw their society, leading to overwhelming support for democratic life and broad recognition that their nation was Taiwan, not China.

One important reason for Taiwan’s resilience during the current pandemic is that Taiwan’s twin transformations did not occur in isolation. They proceeded alongside a public hunger for broader reforms in a range of related areas, including women’s rights, freedom of speech and association, indigenous rights, environmental justice, animal rights, abolition of the death penalty, and gay marriage, to mention but a few examples.

All of these movements involved increasingly sophisticated activism amid growing trust in government as a willing and capable partner in reshaping the country’s course. This was in part due to the pivotal leadership of recently deceased President Lee Teng-hui, who pardoned political prisoners and worked to forge consensus over reforms that converted a political system designed to rule China in the 1940s into a democratic system suited to govern Taiwan.

Over time, Taiwanese society experienced what might be called a “normalization” of non-violent contestation that touched nearly every corner of society. Consider, for example, the 2014 occupation of parliament by students opposing a Taiwan-China free trade pact. The movement won widespread public support, prompted the tabling of the agreement, and elevated the fortunes of the Democratic Progressive Party, which had supported the demonstration. In Hong Kong, by comparison, pro-democracy demonstrators have been treated as criminals, traitors, and repressed by the police. Taiwanese “Sunflower activists” were cleared of criminal charges after occupying the national legislature for over three weeks. In her May 2020 inaugural address, President Tsai Ing-wen underscored the role of Taiwan’s “mobilization culture”: She noted that “people’s dissatisfaction provides motivation for reform” and that Taiwan’s ability to overcome its many challenges wasn’t because of “one or two heroes” but because of “nameless heroes” who together “turned the great wheel of history.”

Ironically, such views of Taiwanese society seem entirely foreign in China. Politicians and military figures in Beijing ignore Tsai Ing-wen’s soaring approval ratings and belittle her political record: they have accused her government of “unilaterally” destabilizing relations by failing to express commitment to unification; urged Taiwanese to refrain from commenting on national security legislation for Hong Kong; and warned that Taiwan independence is “a road of death.”

Our book Taiwan in Dynamic Transition: Nation Building and Democratization traces how this remarkable country emerged as a resilient democratic nation, despite the absence of widespread agreement on sovereignty or democratic norms after World War II and within a political system designed to govern a different place (China). The contributors to the volume, many of them Taiwan-based academics, consider several dimensions of Taiwan’s experience of nation building and democratization, including constitutional reform, grassroots elections and social movements, and defense spending and national security.

Speaking to her compatriots at her inauguration in 2020, President Tsai argued that Taiwan’s story “pertains to everyone and requires everyone.” Taiwan in Dynamic Transition helps readers to understand the background to Taiwan’s extraordinary success during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the future security of Taiwan is uncertain, not due to internal failings but the threat of a Chinese invasion. During these uncertain and dangerous times, perhaps Tsai’s words are also true for all who respect freedom and human dignity and wish to see them flourish?


Ryan Dunch is professor of history at the University of Alberta. Ashley Esarey is assistant professor of political science at the University of Alberta. Their book Taiwan in Dynamic Transition: Nation Building and Democratization is available now.

Five Tips for Better Science Communication: Susan Hough on “The Great Quake Debate”

How can scientists best talk about the risks of natural hazards with the general public? And how can a lay reader assess debates among scientists? Susan Hough offers useful tips for both, drawing on her new book, The Great Quake Debate: The Crusader, the Skeptic, and the Rise of Modern Seismology.


Through spring of 2020, the publication process moved forward apace for The Great Quake Debate. In a sense, it might be considered a coming of age story, focusing on the chapter in time when a major metropolitan region, Los Angeles, first came to grips with a seemingly existential peril: earthquake hazard. Could the rapidly growing city—one of the leading oil-producing regions in the world—really be hit by a massive earthquake like the one that had left San Francisco in ashes not too many years earlier? The Great Quake Debate is a story complete with (putative) heroes and villains, drama and intrigue.

It is also a story with lessons for our times, in particular now that the entire world struggles to come to grips with a different mortal peril. In the early 20th century, many people had the luxury of viewing earthquake hazard as somebody else’s problem. Later science would prove them only partly right, but, indeed, earthquakes pose a real and present dangerin some places than in others. Microbes, on the other hand, do not concentrate along narrow fault lines. Potentially they reach us all. The realization dawns, that some of the lessons of The Great Quake Debate are especially relevant for our tumultuous times, including lessons for both scientists and the public regarding the business of science communication. Let me pull out five of them, three for consumers of scientific information, and two for those who disseminate it.

  1. If you want information, go to the source. As directly as possible, go to the source. When parts of The Great Quake Debate have been told before, renowned geologist Robert T. Hill has been painted as the villain, a “tool” used by local city boosters to advance their agenda. A generally well-researched earlier biography focused on the extent to which Hill was manipulated by city boosters, describing him as a victim of their machinations. The personal papers that he and others left behind tell a far more nuanced, complex story.
  2. When you are looking for scientific information, know that science has limitations. There are truths in science, and as the saying goes, science doesn’t care what you believe. But in a rapidly developing field, science can be messy. The answers might not be black-and-white, and even well-respected scientists can be wrong. In his crusade to convince the public to take earthquake hazard seriously, in 1926 protagonist Bailey Willis made public statements that southern California would likely be wrenched by a great earthquake within three to 10 years of 1926. Although many saw the 1933 Long Beach earthquake as vindication of Willis’ prophesy, the magnitude-6.4 earthquake was not the major temblor that he had predicted. Hill’s refutation of the prediction, on the other hand, drew from sound science.
  3. Listen to scientists. Wait, what? Why should anyone listen to scientists, if they might themselves be wrong? The thing is, scientists might not be right, but at any given time, their understanding is as good as it gets. Had people listened carefully to either Willis or Hill, they would have heard a debate on some key questions, but also very similar messages from both, delivered with no small degree of passion, regarding the importance of understanding earthquake hazard and taking steps to reduce earthquake risk.
  4. For those of us who are ourselves scientists, beware the perils of over-stepping what science allows us to say. Willis based his prediction on analysis of early surveying data that he should have known to be highly uncertain. Hill correctly debunked the prediction, but did make statements downplaying the severity of earthquake hazard in Los Angeles. His reassuring statements, while never dismissing hazard entirely, were based on some misperceptions of his day, for example concerning the potential severity of shaking caused by moderately large earthquakes. He, too, should have known that such statements were not well-supported by available data. The media may have amplified the message, but scientists themselves set the tone. Where science collides with public welfare and public fears, missteps in one direction can assuage fears, while missteps in the other direction can fan flames. Neither serves the public good.
  5. Sooner or later, the natural world will have the last word. Scientists can debate the severity of the perils that we face, and the need to take risk mitigation seriously. People and policy-makers can choose to heed warnings, or not. Depending on the nature of the risk, it can be expensive to heed warnings, or personally uncomfortable, or inconvenient. If worst fears are borne out, what will you wish you had done yesterday? Do it today.

 

Susan Hough is a research seismologist in Pasadena, California. Her popular-science books include Earthshaking Science: What We Know (and Don’t Know) about Earthquakes and Richter’s Scale: Measure of an Earthquake, Measure of a Man. Her latest book The Great Quake Debate: The Crusader, the Skeptic, and the Rise of Modern Seismology is available now.

 

 

 

While Making Other Plans: Ellen Waterston on “Walking the High Desert”

 

In 2012 the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) pieced together a 750-mile trail that starts at the Oregon Badlands Wilderness outside of Bend and continues to the southeastern Oregon canyonlands that flank the Owyhee River. I moved from New England to the high desert of central Oregon four decades ago. Though I now live in Bend, my love of this hardscrabble outback still informs me every day. So it’s no surprise that this new trail spoke to me, lured me back into the desert. No longer actively ranching, I decided I’d walk sections of the trail to bring attention to the ONDA’s Oregon Desert Trail especially as it underscored public and private land use issues. I would make a point of evenly and fairly presenting the conflicting points of view about repurposing open areas of public land. I prided myself that in so many ways I already knew the players: ranchers; Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, and Fish and Wildlife employees; schoolteachers in rural schoolhouses; merchants in remote outposts; American Indians on reservations in the high desert; law enforcement officials who, some years back, were kind enough to wave me on, despite my excessive speed, as I made my way along desolate Highway 20 back to the ranch with a station wagon full of fussy infants and sacks of groceries.

In 2015, I began researching and writing this A to Z examination of land use issues in the high desert. But the January 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters by an armed group of far-right extremists changed all that. Life and writing projects are what happen while you are busy making other plans. The occupation was an invitation I couldn’t refuse to broaden the scope of the book, to examine how each section of the trail, in its own unique way, underscored issues that weren’t only regional but also national, if not international, seen through the optic of the high desert—issues such as water resources, climate change, protection of environmental habitat, recreational demands on open spaces, the rural-urban divide, economic inequities, and racism in the rural West.

Writing this book has led me to love the desert even more and to deeply apprehend how fragile it is socially and environmentally. With so many new people moving into this high and dry region, just as I did before them—there needs to be a commensurate commitment to care for it. I hope this book inspires people to engage in important conversations not only about the high desert but also about how these broader and seemingly unresolvable issues manifest where each of us live. As I encountered those issues, I confess I didn’t see any chance for resolution, but by the end of the book… well, I won’t be a spoiler.

 


Ellen Waterston is author of Where the Crooked Desert Rises: A High Desert Home, a memoir, four poetry collections, and four poetry collections including a verse novel. She is the founder and president of the Waterston Desert Writing Prize and the founder of the Writing Ranch in Bend, Oregon.

Spring Dawn at Su Causeway: Xiaolin Duan on “The Rise of West Lake”

I never expected that 2020 would be shadowed by COVID-19 in both my home country and the one I am currently living in. Like many of my friends and colleagues, I have been spending more time online, joining Zoom meetings, sending messages, and reading every piece of information about this unfolding crisis.

Two news articles grabbed my attention as they mentioned the cultural site I wrote about in the book The Rise of West Lake: A Cultural Landmark in the Song Dynasty. On March 13, when the situation had somewhat stabilized in China, China Daily published an article “Hangzhou’s West Lake an idyllic spring destination.” Photos in this article show not only the willow trees that start sprouting but also sightseers strolling along the lake, all maintaining social distance measures and wearing masks (which is considered a necessary form of protection).

March has always been one of the best seasons for an outing to West Lake and long been extolled by poets and rendered by painters with emotionally charged brushes. The scenery is not much different from past years—not even from almost a thousand years ago. The willow and peach trees were planted along the causeway by the local governor Su Shi after an eleventh-century dredging project, and the Leifeng Pagoda in one photo has guarded the south end of the lake since the tenth century (the current one was rebuilt in 2002). Such scenery, however, becomes particularly precious this year. Hangzhou, like other cities in China, experienced a “stay-at-home” quarantine for the entire month of February, and major scenic sites were all closed to the public. It is not surprising that this article uses West Lake in the spring to symbolically convey the message that this is a long-awaited stabilized time; the masks in the image reveal just how much people miss the fresh air after four-weeks of self-quarantine. The lake indicates that it is now safe to go outdoors to embrace nature and represents the hope of going back to normal life. The emotion conveyed by springtime also enhances such hope. Literature and images about the lake love to portray the theme “Spring Dawn at Su Causeway,” one of the Ten Views that formed in the thirteenth century. At this moment, there is no better term than “spring dawn” to describe what people have desired during their long struggle in the dark.

Another article is about a bus that passed along the street next to West Lake that was painted with the three colors of Italy’s national flag, offering moral support for Hangzhou’s sister city, Verona. The bus exterior features both the painting of the Colosseum and the image of “Three Stupas and the Reflecting Moon,” another one of the Ten Views. The three pagodas in the middle of the lake were built by Su Shi to mark the boundary allowed for diked paddies. The practical function of these pagodas later disappeared while the scenic beauty they added to the lake became a popular theme for artistic creation. This scene also appears on the back of the one-yuan bill. Using this scenic site side-by-side with the Colosseum offers reassurance that the lake and its cultural sites are still considered as symbols for the city and Chinese culture.

Hangzhou and West Lake have long served as icons of Chinese landscape appreciation, literary and artistic expression, and tourism. During this difficult time, when people are living in fear, uncertainly, and isolation, the lake had become especially attractive and idealized. The fact that the lake welcomes visitors eases feelings of insecurity, and the iconic landscape symbolizes rapprochement with people in another country. The natural beauty of West Lake, as it has done many times throughout history, again has functioned as something comforting. Over time, writings on West Lake constructed it as a prominent landscape, consisting of stable elements such as the willow trees that always turn green in the spring and pagodas that silently yet firmly stand on the lakeshore. The “eternal” cultural tradition it conveys allows the lake to function as an anchor for identity, through which visitors and commentators have expressed their affection and a sense of hope for the country during such a scary and unknown time.

West Lake has dried up several times in history, and at times its beauty was shadowed by war and disasters. However, it could always resume its prosperity thanks to the endeavor, courage, and emotional attachment of people. Just as the lake has revived, I hope we can soon return to a time when people—in China, in the United States, and all other places—can enjoy and celebrate the natural scenery together with families and friends without worrying about social distancing.


Xiaolin Duan is assistant professor of history at North Carolina State University. The Rise of West Lake: A Cultural Landmark in the Song Dynasty is available now.

Navigating India’s Complex Legal Landscape: Jeffrey A. Redding on “A Secular Need”

Just three months ago, the novel coronavirus was a distant issue for many in India. Instead, independent India’s perennial problem of communal violence was front and center. Indeed, in late February, members of India’s ruling political party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), again engaged in communally-charged politicking, bringing their taunts and threats to the streets of India’s capital. Unsurprisingly, Muslims were the targets of these actors’ brazen bigotry, and Muslim neighborhoods and citizens were marked for death and destruction over the course of the next several days; at last count, over 50 people ended up dying in this Delhi mayhem at the beginning of 2020.

Scenes like these provide an unfortunate backdrop for my new book, A Secular Need: Islamic Law and State Governance in Contemporary India, concerning the complex and multi-sited operations of a network of non-state Muslim “courts” that has functioned in India for almost 100 years now. I put the term “courts” in scare quotes here because—as with so much concerning Muslims and Islamic legal life in contemporary India—there is a politics to this terminology. And, indeed, this is not just a book about a longstanding network of non-state Islamic legal institutions and the upstart secular state with which they interact—and sometimes supersede—but also a book about the politics of this fraught and often terrifying legal landscape. Ultimately, as I argue in my book, one has to understand the anti-Muslim discussions occurring nearly daily in India’s formal legal institutions to be on a continuum with the anti-Muslim mayhem recently witnessed on the streets of Delhi, as well as the devastating state-sponsored Muslim poverty that has been a longstanding feature of secular life in independent India.

More than an indictment, however, my book offers a sobering diagnosis of the anti-Muslim malady that consumes contemporary India. Indeed, what is often overlooked about anti-Muslim sentiment in India is that this feeling—and there is so much feeling here—is not simply about “otherizing” Muslims, but is also about “absorbing” Muslims, too. Indeed, Hindu nationalist-cum-secular thinking has, for some time now, seen Muslims as both outsiders to the Indian project, but also part of the larger “super-tolerant” Hindu fold. For example, the recent targeting of the uniquely Muslim-majority state of Kashmir by the central BJP government did not result in the expulsion of Kashmir but, rather, its radical absorption and transmutation from being a relatively autonomous State to being a centrally-administered Union territory. Here, and in many other instances too, India’s secular state has not just targeted Muslims for adverse treatment, but also drawn them in—albeit in peculiar and radical ways.

As I explain in my book, then, Indian secularism is not just a “hate project,” but is also a “love project,” and we need to bring complex tools of analysis to bear on this kind of affect-laden governance. Moreover, we have to account for how the secular state’s hate and love of—or, in other words, efforts to radically exclude and radically include—Muslims manage to simultaneously manifest. My book suggests that “secular need” is what underlies the coexistence of these discordant emotions and that, in effect, Indian secularism is in a complicated relationship of hate, love, and need with Indian Islam. Put another way, that it is the secular state’s dependence in India on non-state Islamic actors that generates this same state’s hate and love of Islam.

Across my book’s several chapters, I use a number of case studies to demonstrate the different kinds of dependencies that Indian secularism has on non-state Islamic legal actors. These various dependencies are both ideological and material in nature. To quickly preview them, they include Indian secularism’s need for non-state Islamic law and legal institutions because of a fear that this secularism may otherwise not be genuine in its tolerance. Second, Indian secularism needs non-state Islamic legal providers because of its ambivalent attachment to feminism. Put succinctly, for reasons of both internal and external legitimacy, Indian secularism needs women (and perhaps especially Muslim women) to have robust divorce options, yet Indian state courts are themselves unwilling to provide these divorce options. The “Muslim court” network focused on in my book can and does perform divorces for Muslim women. Third, Indian secularism needs non-state Islamic legal actors and institutions to intervene with disputing parties where the Indian state cannot because of the state’s alien secular qualities and, simultaneously, its fundamental anxieties about the state’s popular (il)legitimacy. Finally, the secular state needs Islamic legal actors and institutions to provide legal services because of how the Indian state is already consumed by overwhelming caseloads; these non-state legal actors help disperse dispute resolution across a broader range of capable legal actors.

This is both an exciting and perilous time to be writing on Indian secularism, and my hope is that A Secular Need can help both sustain and enrich important debates across scholars, social actors, and borders about secularism and its multiple effects, affects, and antecedents.


Jeffrey A. Redding is senior research fellow at Melbourne Law School and a New Generation Network scholar at the University of Melbourne’s Australia India Institute. A Secular Need: Islamic Law and State Governance in Contemporary India is available now.

On Stories to Which the Ending Is Already Known: Eric Wagner on “After the Blast”

In 2018, I published a book about some penguins in Argentina that are near and dear to my heart, and as a result I did a number of book talks hither and yon. Once people had run out of questions about the penguins during the Q&As, someone would often ask what else I was working on.

“I’m writing a book about Mount St. Helens,” I would say.

“Oh, interesting,” the person would say, and then they would pause. “So what are you going to say about it that’s new?”

“Umm…” I would say. At that point I was two years into my research for the book that ultimately became After the Blast: The Ecological Recovery of Mount St. Helens. I was driving out to Mount St. Helens as often as I could, talking to the hordes of scientists who either worked there or had worked there in the past, reading dozens of their books and papers about the ways life around the mountain had responded to the 1980 eruption. All the information was new, at least to me, and I was struggling to wrap my head around it. As such, it was all I could do not to shoot a dirty look at the questioner and say something tart.

But I also understood where they were coming from. Truth be told, I had asked the same question myself. I grew up in Oregon a few hours from Mount St. Helens, and was familiar with the standard tale of the eruption, which went something like: Mount St. Helens erupted and left a moonscape behind, but then life came back more quickly than anyone expected. All of this had made me a little hesitant at first to pursue the project. I wondered whether I had anything new to say about a space already so well known.

Once I started reading and talking to folks, though, it was soon clear to me just how mistaken I had been to assume everything worth knowing about Mount St. Helens was known. Yes, life had come back more quickly than anyone expected. But just how it came back was fascinating, and full of fun, quirky details—of spiders ballooning into the blast area within hours of the eruption, of toads and fish that survived because they were drifting in icebound lakes, of a deep snowpack that was a savior for plants in one area but a killer in another, of flowers that showed up in the middle of desolate plains, giving them color. I loved learning all those little stories embedded within the one larger tale.

Exploring the relationship between people and Mount St. Helens was eye-opening as well; for notice how people are kind of left out of that standard tale. But our fingerprints are all over the landscape. Within weeks of the eruption, people were clamoring to replant large swaths of the landscape with thousands of fir seedlings. In other places, people scattered tons of flower and grass seed from helicopters in an effort to prevent erosion. (It didn’t really work, for what it’s worth.) Everyone was doing what they thought was best—some trying to reassert the human hand over the land, others arguing to let life find its own way. All those actions would help shape the biological community that thousands of visitors see when they go to the mountain. The blast area today is a reflection of those competing desires: to intervene and sculpt, to step back and watch.

Overall, the main thing I learned while writing this book was the degree to which the landscape at Mount St. Helens is still very much alive. I feel lucky to have been able to spend so much time on the mountain, hiking all over it with scientists who could reveal its beauty to me and explain it. They could not stop talking about how dynamic the environment was. Even now, forty years after the 1980 eruption—as I am writing these words—the landscape is continuing to change in unexpected ways. So what’s new at Mount St. Helens? Read the book and find out just how much!


Eric Wagner earned a PhD in biology from the University of Washington, writes regularly about animals and the environment, and is author of Penguins in the Desert and coauthor of Once and Future River: Reclaiming the Duwamish. He climbs Mount St. Helens annually. After the Blast: The Ecological Recovery of Mount St. Helens is available now. Now through May 15th, all University of Washington Press titles are 40% off on our website.

Guest Post: Mark Stuart Ong on His Mother Jade Snow Wong’s Legacy

The new edition of Fifth Chinese Daughter by Jade Snow Wong includes a new introduction by Leslie Bow, Professor of English and Asian American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of ‘Partly Colored’: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South. Prior to the book’s publication in the fall of 2019, Jade’s son Mark Stuart Ong sent Professor Bow a letter that gave more insight into his mother, especially in the context of Leslie’s introduction and the legacy of Jade Snow Wong’s book. The following is a reproduction of Mark’s letter, with permission from its author.


Dear Leslie,

Your introduction reminded me of Rashomon. Nothing remains of that Kyoto gate except for a stone marker. The site reveals nothing about the story. In the same way, it’s hard to find a single narrative about Jade Snow Wong. However, her book is a gate and it still stands.

My mother grew beyond the young woman in Fifth Chinese Daughter. Over a sixty-year career, she balanced service to her parents and mother-in-law, her role as a wife and mother, her artistic goals, and her multi-pronged career. She also had to face how Chinatown and the world changed decade by decade.

The response to Fifth Chinese Daughter and her pottery may have been tainted with murky issues—racial stereotyping, fascination with Asia in the mid-twentieth-century, the reception of Asian American women (as opposed to the men), and the popularity of the memoir. You described scholars who felt that Jade Snow Wong packaged Chinatown and her family for white America. They accused her editor, Elizabeth Lawrence, of fostering a book that supported white stereotypes. Those opinions weren’t based on any facts of my mother’s life. Fifth Chinese Daughter expresses its author’s truth.

I’d especially like to address three areas: the authenticity of her name, the complex meaning of Chinatown, and the role her husband played.

The Name Jade Snow Wong

My mother’s given name was Jade Snow Wong ( 黃玉雪). Each of her ceramic bowls was incised with the ideograph jade, 玉, when the clay was still soft. Her name was an indelible part of her work.

Some have portrayed her use of the third-person as false modesty, but they are not looking at the dilemmas of a second-generation Chinese woman born in 1922 to a nineteenth-century father. The curtain she drew over many aspects of her family life—such as the existence of the first wife (a woman she never knew and who likely wasn’t mentioned often)—was a necessary decision for her. Her Chinese name was her passage between a Chinese home and an American arena. It enabled her to talk about the hermetic world of Chinatown without bringing embarrassment or shame, and it allowed her to be modest before her parents and glamorous before her audience. She steadfastly maintained a distinction between public and private all her life.

San Francisco Chinatown

Chinatown is not homogeneous, its residents depend on the outer world for income, and much of Chinatown functions as a tourist attraction. Grant Avenue could mean the glamor of the Imperial Palace Restaurant that hosted Hollywood and political celebrities. It could be the street where Jade Snow Wong went shopping on a nearly daily basis, saying hello to various people to whom she was distantly related. It could be the place of gang shootings. Fifth Chinese Daughter was Jade Snow Wong’s view of her own home community.

My mother was keenly interested in the differences between Chinese and American culture. She habitually tried to parse those differences during conversations. As much as people might imagine her as a guide to Chinese culture, she also performed the opposite role. She took my grandmothers to medical appointments, interceded when relatives had trouble interacting with the American world, and helped immigrant Chinese get established in the United States. She was an intermediary on both sides of Chinatown’s borders.

Woodrow Ong

My father was born in 1916. His Chinese name was Deng Huazhan (鄧華湛). I live with his ceramics and his silversmithing, and I wonder what happened in the years before I was born. At first, he tried to be an artist along with my mother. If he had intended to make a career as a craftsperson, it didn’t happen. He gradually sublimated himself to my mother—mastering metal spinning to make the copper forms she enameled, keeping the books and managing the business, and acting as a salesperson. When my parents were offered the chance to become travel agents and lead tours to Asia, my mother hoped that might allow my father to have his own role in business. The denouement of that came in the last month of my father’s life. He demanded that my mother learn all the aspects of the business—the accounting and banking, getting accreditation with the airlines, and writing plane tickets. It was overwhelming and it added to her grief. When you met her in 1987, my father had been dead a mere two years. As I wrote to you before, she said: “Every day since Woody has died has been drudgery.”

Some part of Jade Snow Wong’s success was due to the way Chinese American women are seen in American society. Some part of Woody Ong’s disappointment was due to the way Chinese American men are torn down in American society. My father long endured being called “Mr. Jade Snow Wong.” I cannot gauge how much he suppressed his own ambitions or swallowed his own disappointment. I look at his ceramics and his silver pieces and wonder what he would have been if his hopes had also been rewarded.

What’s Worth Saving?

From childhood, every authority figure—parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, ministers, teachers, and shop owners—declared the same rule to me: “You are forever Chinese. Don’t bring shame to your people. Preserve Chinese culture. Don’t try to change it.”

What do we keep of our Chinese American heritage? We may not be able to preserve Chinatown as a distinct neighborhood. Most of the people mentioned in Fifth Chinese Daughter, as well as its author, are dead. China itself has modernized and Chinese immigration to the United States is drastically different from the 1950s. In the ensuing years, I hope that readers realize that Jade Snow Wong is her true name and identity, that Chinatown is a living community, and that it often takes loyalty and support for a person to be successful.

Jade Snow Wong’s bowls remain and her book will be here for future readers. They will still find a deeply human story in Fifth Chinese Daughter. In the Rashomon din, we should especially give room to Jade Snow Wong’s own voice. I appreciate your effort to preserve her work.

Yours,

Mark


Mark Stuart Ong is Jade Snow Wong’s eldest son. He is a book designer, art director, and publishing consultant living in San Francisco.

The Legacy of Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month—a month-long celebration of the vital role women have played in American history. Observed for over thirty years, Women’s History Month owes much of its legacy to the academics and activists who in the 1970s pushed for more recognition of Women’s Studies as an important area of focus in higher education. In her book When Women Ask the Questions: Creating Women’s Studies in America, Professor Marilyn Boxer recognizes that “merely to assert that women should be studied was a radical act.”

The history of feminist publishing goes hand-in-hand with the history of Women’s Studies as an intellectual pursuit. Through the University of Washington Press’s Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies publishing, which includes our Decolonizing Feminisms: Antiracist and Transnational Praxis and Feminist Technosciences series, we join in this radical publishing legacy. Our press is dedicated to bringing emerging, forward-thinking, and global women’s voices into print.

Below, some of our recent authors reflect on their own legacy as female scholars and share the books that inspired them as academics and authors.


Meridian by Alice Walker (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976)

This extraordinary novel explores the titular character’s personal, political, and spiritual development in the heart of the civil rights movement. A sensitive girl who grows into a complex, and often suffering young woman, Meridian leaves personal hardship in her Southern hometown for college, only to return years later and emerge as a leader in the civil rights movement. The novel considers the limits of self-sacrifice in the name of collective justice, asking what it means to love oneself, each other, and the movement. Here, Walker and Meridian herself, inspired me as a young activist by offering lessons about how long it takes to really find oneself, and the role of love and care in difficult, long-term activist work.

Meridian by Alice Walker

Islam and Gender: The Religious Debate in Contemporary Iran by Ziba Mir-Hosseini (Princeton University Press, 1999)

After reading this book, I knew I wanted to pursue graduate research around questions of gender, Islam, and Iran. Mir-Hosseini takes us into the heart of religious debates in Iran by interviewing leading clerics in the city of Qom. The author charts the complexity of debates among religious scholars around gender, religious interpretation, Islamic jurisprudence, and politics. Mir-Hosseini captures Iran’s rich culture of debate, the capacity of religious discourses to accommodate contemporary understandings of gender and justice, and the heterogeneity of social actors and influences in Iran.

Islam and Gender

 

Catherine Sameh, assistant professor of gender and sexuality studies at University of California, Irvine and author of Axis of Hope: Iranian Women’s Rights Activism across Borders


Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York by Kathy Piess (Temple Univ. Press, 1986)

I read Kathy Piess’s Cheap Amusements as an undergraduate. It was the first time I encountered a scholar who took women’s cultural history seriously. She seamlessly blended together political, economic, social, and cultural history, demonstrating how clothing, theater, and theme parks offered key sites for resistance among women with limited resources. I saw myself in those pages. Piess’s work, alongside many other fantastic women cultural historians, sent me down a path of inquiry into the very real consequences of style, performance, and consumption in people’s everyday lives.

Cheap Amusements

 

Rebecca Scofield, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of History at the University of Idaho and author of Outriders: Rodeo at the Fringes of the American West


A Border Passage: From Cairo to America—A Woman’s Journey by Leila Ahmed (Penguin, 1999) 

The book that showed me the path for how to listen, reflect, process, and finally tell a story, be that one’s own or other people’s was A Border Passage by Leila Ahmed. I picked the book by chance from a counter at the library at Cal State Fullerton in 2004. I was a journalist at that time and was facing a dead-end using the lens of media studies in trying to understand the Kashmir dispute. I also was stifled because journalism is so “objectivity-centric” that one has to constantly hide oneself even in the analysis. Reading Leila Ahmed, I was struck by the clarity and insight she has when she is rendering her early life in Egypt. Her book is a memoir no doubt, but the vivid storytelling, the deep compassion it had for the people that inhabited the story, the nuanced exploration of events and incidents, and the author’s self-reflexivity opened a window that I never wanted to close. It turned out that Leila Ahmed is an anthropologist. Having grown up in Kashmir the discipline was unknown to me, but on a lighter note, now having come to know of it, I wanted to have what Leila Ahmed had. Anthropology allowed me to keep nurturing my poetic side. It had room for me to write academic analysis and treat poetry as a manifestation of serious ethnographic work. It has made the discipline even more valuable for me.

A Border Passage

 

Ather Zia, assistant professor of anthropology and gender studies at the University of Northern Colorado and author of Resisting Disappearance: Military Occupation and Women’s Activism in Kashmir

Looking to the Past in an Uncertain Present: Paula Becker on Betty MacDonald’s “The Plague and I”

Like many people struggling to understand our present moment, and to prepare for what is coming, I’ve turned, this week, to books, to history.

Life can change quickly, both then and now. Take Mary McCarthy’s straightforward description of boarding a Minneapolis-bound train in Seattle with her parents and three younger brothers during the 1918 worldwide influenza pandemic: “Waving good-bye in the Seattle depot, we had not known that we carried the flu into our drawing rooms…but, one after another, we had been struck down as the train proceeded eastward” (Memories of a Catholic Girlhood). McCarthy’s parents died shortly after the stricken family was carried from the train. I’ve reread Katherine Anne Porter’s devastating “Pale Horse, Pale Rider.” This short story spells out the reality that while individuals may survive pandemics, these diseases irrevocably alter our society. I keep thinking of Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit, a children’s picture book, which matter-of-factly describes the burning of a little boy’s favorite toy due to its contamination during his confinement with scarlet fever.

More cheerfully, I’ve also turned, as I usually do sooner or later, to Betty MacDonald. Betty’s follow up to her worldwide best selling first autobiographical book, The Egg and I, was The Plague and I, a tartly poignant recounting of her battle with and recovery from tuberculosis in a pre-antibiotic-era King County, Washington sanatorium. When Betty was admitted to Firland (called The Pines in Plague), tuberculosis was endemic worldwide. Betty’s was one of nearly two thousand cases diagnosed in Seattle in 1938. Tuberculosis still strikes today.

Firland patients lived in almost complete isolation from society, and—as much as was possible in shared rooms—from one another. The cure was mainly resting, supine, without talking or even reading. Difficult as the experience was for her, Betty’s memoir crackles with her trademark humor: “Being sent to an institution, be it penal, mental or tuberculous, is no game of Parcheesi, and not knowing when, or if, you’ll get out doesn’t make it any easier. At least a criminal knows what his sentence is.”

Despite Firland’s rigid rules governing patient interaction, living in close quarters meant coming to know her roommates’ strengths and weaknesses. “From my stay at The Pines,” Betty MacDonald explained, “I learned that a stiff test for friendship is: ‘Would she be pleasant to have t.b. with?'” Of the many women Betty roomed with during her time at Firland, her favorite was a young Japanese-American woman named Kazuko Monica Itoi. Kazi appears in Plague under the pseudonym “Kimi.” “Unfortunately,” Betty added, “too many people, when you try separating them from their material possessions and any and all activity, turn out to be like cheap golf balls. You unwind and unwind but you never get to the pure rubber core because there isn’t any. When I started unwinding Kimi I found that under her beautiful covering she was mostly core.” This friendship endured through the two women’s recovery and hospital discharge, and Kazi’s internment in Minidoka War Relocation Camp during World War II. At the height of her own success, Betty encouraged Kazi (by then married and using the name Monica Sone) to write about her experiences. The result, Nisei Daughter, provides an understanding of yet another form of isolation.

Betty and Monica’s accounts of isolation were on my mind as I maintained my now-prescribed six feet of social distance from fellow neighbors circling the path atop the lidded-over Maple Leaf Reservoir in north Seattle. We ventured from our homes this sunny day, smiling encouragement to one another while shunning contact. Isolation is different now, softened somewhat by podcasts, audio books, and streaming video. We have our social media, alternately comforting or alarming, depending on who you follow. I try to apply Betty’s standard in making that choice: look for someone who is mostly core.

I’ve not been subject to true quarantine, as I will be if Covid-19 touches me directly. I can still walk the spookily empty streets and circle the track, all the while keeping my distance. I am living a little of what Betty learned during her quarantine: health is not a given. Friendship runs deep, even when friends have been moved down the hall or aren’t allowed to visit you. Community sustains, and it is up to us to find ours even when aspects of our lives are constrained. Life, all of it, needs to be noticed. It must be deeply noticed.


Paula Becker is the author of the biography Looking for Betty MacDonald: The Egg, the Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and I and the memoir A House on Stilts: Mothering in the Age of Opioid Addiction.

Our city, our pets: Guest post from ‘The City Is More Than Human’ author Frederick L. Brown

Today we are featuring an illustrated guest post on the history of our favorite furry and feathered friends by The City Is More Than Human: An Animal History of Seattle author Frederick L. Brown. Brown was recently awarded the 2017 Virginia Marie Folkins Award from AKCHO (Association of King County Historical Organizations) for his book, published last fall, and also delivered the 2017 Denny Lecture at MOHAI.

Read on to learn more about the role pets have played in Seattle’s urban history!

Credit: Christy Avery

Dogs are rarely seen reading urban history – the bright-eyed fellow pictured above notwithstanding – but dogs have played a vital role in urban history. Over the last century, their numbers have increased dramatically. One rough estimate is that their population has increased from five thousand in 1905 to 150,000 today. The working dog is not absent from the city today: from guide dogs, to guard dogs, to dogs in police K9 units. Yet, the role of pure companion, with no expectation of work, predominates. Many of us couldn’t imagine urban life without our furry friends.

Credit: MOHAI, SHS12890

A century ago, dogs were friends to be sure, but also as guard-dogs, hunting dogs, ratters, and workers at other tasks. Often, the role of work and play blended. For instance, the dogs in the front row of this 1898 image of McVay Mill, in Ballard, may have blended roles as mascots, pets, and watchdogs. One newspaper ad from 1921 captured the mixing of roles: “Police Dog puppies. The most intelligent and faithful companion, excellent as watchdog and ideal as pet for children.”

Credit: MOHAI, 1974.5923.46; photo by McBride Anderson

Other dogs had a role as pure companions a century ago. Here for example, Priscilla Grace Treat cuddles her dog, around 1920. Seattleites had deep connections of love and friendship with their dogs. For instance, one family wrote of their German shepherd in 1935, “He is treated as a member of the family and with a laugh takes the rocking chair, when he feels like sitting in it.”

Credit: Frederick L. Brown

Cats generally have better things to do than read urban history, making this curious girl from the Central District hard to explain. But they too have been woven into the city’s history, since its founding. Cats’ urban role has perhaps undergone an even greater transformation than that of dogs. Before the widespread use of cat litter in the 1940s, it was considered unsanitary for them to spend much time indoors.

Credit: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Hester 10587; photograph by Wilhelm Hester

A century ago, most cats had a working role killing mice and rats, in private homes and in businesses. They had an important role in any business storing, selling, or transporting food that might attract mice and rats. They hunted rodents on docks and ships and, many believed, afforded sailors good luck, making them honored members of ships’ crews, as their presence in numerous crew portraits attests. Here, the crew of the British vessel Penthesilea sits on the deck in a Puget Sound port in 1904. A crew member in the back row holds a cat.

Credit: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Warner 3107 (detail)

Although cats typically had working roles in the early twentieth century, people also enjoyed them for other reasons. At the Warner residence in Seattle around 1900, a man and woman smile and watch a kitten.

Credit: Frederick L. Brown

Backyard chickens have become popular in recent years. Some refer to the pleasures of seeing chicken curiosity and their lively exploration of backyards (and even the occasional historical monograph) as “Chicken Television.” In the late 1990s, the Tilth Alliance found soaring interest in its backyard chicken classes. For some city-dwellers, these increasingly popular creatures are “pets with benefits” – the benefits being eggs.

Credit: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, KHL195; photo by Ambrose Kiehl

A century ago, backyard chickens were not primarily pets. They were a vital source of eggs, and also meat, to urban dwellers. Yet the daily act of feeding chickens allowed human connection, and children  especially, often saw them as pets. Here Miriam Kiehl holds a chicken for a portrait at Fort Lawton in 1899.

Credit: MOHAI, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Photograph Collection, 1986.5.4202.3

Yet, as The City Is More Than Human explores, chickens illustrate the paradoxes of urban pet-keeping. Backyard chickens have remained in the city, and yet increasing numbers of chickens live in large-scale operations far from the city. This battery for laying hens in Woodinville in 1935 was one step along that journey to greater and greater industrialization.

For every one backyard urban chicken today, there are thousands of chickens in faraway industrial-scale farms that provide meat and eggs to Seattleites. Some of the chickens, indeed, provide the meat that feeds urban cats and dogs. That moment of great connection and caring, when we feed our cats and dogs, is also a moment where we generally are ignorant of the lives of those faraway creatures. So, as we think about the wonderful place of urban pets in our lives, let’s also remember those faraway animals that are integral to urban life and urban pet-keeping.

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Frederick L. Brown holds a PhD in history from the University of Washington and works on a contract basis as a historian for the National Park Service.