Wednesday, February 24, 2016

"Eight Juxtapositions: China Through Imperfect Analogies"

Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom's most recent books are Eight Juxtapositions: China through Imperfect Analogies from Mark Twain to Manchukuo and China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know, which has been translated into Korean, Turkish, Indonesian, and Chinese (complex characters). Wasserstrom is Chancellor's Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine; editor of the Journal of Asian Studies; advising editor for China at the Los Angeles Review of Books; a member of Dissent Magazine's editorial board; and an Associate Fellow at the Asia Society.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Eight Juxtapositions and reported the following:
The top of Page 69 of my latest book has the Roman numeral VII, followed by the words “The Flat and the Bumpy.” After that come two quotations, one from a Financial Times blog post on 2014 as the centenary of World War I’s start, the other from a Chinese official’s remarks that China’s position has changed markedly in the 120 years separating 2014 from 1894, when a disastrous war with Japan began. Then, we get this first post-epigram sentence of Chapter VII (the last four words spilling over onto page 70): “One can learn a lot about how globalization has changed the world by considering how time was conceptualized in different places a century or so ago—for instance at the moments flagged in these two quotes—and how it is marked now.”

The chapter title is definitely representative. All others also contain two juxtaposed words or phrases separated by a conjunction, as in “Orwell and Huxley” (III), “Chicken or Beef” (VI), and “The People’s Pope and Big Daddy Xi” (VIII). The epigrams are not representative: no other chapter starts with two quotations. The way these quotes, combined with the opening sentence, suggest that the chapter will move both through time and space, though, is definitely typical. In many chapters, the reader is taken to at least two periods and at least two locales, a pattern set in “Tibet and Manchukuo” (I), which explores parallels between Beijing’s handling of Tibetan issues circa 2008 and Tokyo’s approach to Manchuria in the 1930s.

More generally, Page 69, like the beginnings of all chapters, launches an effort to use juxtapositions to unsettle assumptions that many readers are likely to have. In this case, a chronological one: that the war anniversary on everyone’s mind in 2014 would naturally be that which began in 1914. Not so, as in China, where 60 year cycles can be as important as centuries, making the passage of 120 years a bit like a bicentenary, the war the Qing Dynasty lost to Japan in 1894-95 was what publishers were issuing new books about like crazy in 2014.

What then of the “flat” and the “bumpy”? These words flag the contrast between Thomas Friedman’s view of globalization as smoothing out difference and Pico Iyer’s view of it as something where things get mixed together in way that create new kinds of varieties and hybrids. I use the marking of time to highlight differences between a “Friedman Flattening” and “Pico Proliferating” view of the world, and then explain why I’ve long been on “Team Pico” in the debate and will stay there. One uncharacteristic thing about page 69 is that there is nothing particularly playful about the sentences it contains. Those a bit later where I take liberties with alliterative phrases about Friedman and Iyer and make the pop culture reference to “Team Pico” are more representative of the feel of much of this short book—a work so short that I couldn’t have written a “Page 99 Test” response, as there is no 99th page.
Learn more about Eight Juxtapositions at the publisher's website.

The Page 69 Test: China's Brave New World.

The Page 99 Test: Global Shanghai, 1850–2010.

The Page 99 Test: China in the 21st Century.

--Marshal Zeringue