Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Bridges at Toko-Ri

Picked up a collection of William Holden movies the other day, mainly to watch The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), which is based on a novel James Michener wrote a couple of years after The Voice of Asia came out. Despite my general aversion to war movies, I found myself taken in by much of the movie. I'm still trying to figure out how that happened.

One reason, I think, was the characterization of the protagonist, Lt. Harry Brubaker, as portrayed by Holden. He's an unwilling hero--he's been drafted back into the Navy after serving in WWII and he seems deeply resentful of the fact that he has to be fighting in Korea when other people don't. He wants to get back to his family and career in the States. When he complains to his commander, Admiral Tarrant, Tarrant tells him, "You fight because you're here," suggesting that an unavoidable fate has brought Brubaker (and the U.S.) to this place.

Brubaker gets a chance to visit his wife and children in Japan, but then has to return to duty. The time with his family is perhaps there to remind viewers of what Brubaker is sacrificing. Tarrant has a chance to tell Brubaker's wife Nancy about the dangerous mission her husband will be going on soon because the Admiral feels that his own son, who died in battle, should have told his wife more about what he was going through. Tarrant seems to resent the fact that, as he puts it, people in the U.S. are so comfortably separated from what is going on in the war.

When Brubaker finds out that he has to participate in the bombing of some key enemy bridges at Toko-Ri, he becomes visibly sick. Brubaker's nervousness, frustration, and (I think) fear at the prospect of losing his life is understated, but well-portrayed by Holden. There's one scene where he is trying to write a letter to Nancy, but keeps crumpling up the paper when the sound of jets overhead disturbs him. He goes up on deck and stands, staring at the sea for a while, then finally wipes the sweat (and tears?) off of his face before going back below.

After Brubaker is shot down during the climactic bombing run, and shortly before he and a comrade die in a firefight in an irrigation ditch, he repeats Tarrant's words ("You fight because you're here") to his comrade, suggesting that he has accepted his fate.

The Wikipedia article on the movie says that this isn't a propaganda film. Perhaps not in a traditional sense--I think the characterization of the protagonist is more complex than in a typical war film of that era (though people who have watched more war movies than I have can disagree). But I think there's an element of propaganda in how the film argues that Americans need to be aware of the sacrifices that the men in the military are making to fight against Communism. Even if Brubaker is an unwilling hero, chosen by fate to be there, in the end he does his duty and doesn't question the need to fight--and neither does his wife. Perhaps it's a propaganda film for a more sophisticated audience, or for an audience that was not yet convinced that the Cold War demanded sacrifices?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Yang Tianshi's talk about CKS's diaries

Prof. Yang Tianshi, who was visiting Taiwan for a conference at Tunghai that took place over the weekend, gave a talk today about Chiang Kai-shek's diaries, which are currently deposited in the archives of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Prof. Yang and the moderator of today's talk, Lu Fang-shang, discussed quite a few topics related to the use of Chiang's diaries in historical research. I'm going to try to read my hen-scratchy notes and see what I can make out of their talk. (By the way, Yang and Lu were interviewed recently for an article in Yazhou Zhoukan.)

Prof. Yang described the diaries, mentioning that CKS rather consistently kept a diary between 1915 and 1972 (3 years before his death). He said that at first, CKS's entries were brief (about 30 characters in length), but got longer around the time of the war with Japan. He noted that CKS also engaged in weekly, monthly, and yearly summaries/reflections.
A screen shot of two pages from one of Chiang's diaries.
(There's a short article about Chiang's diaries here.)

Prof. Yang argued that Chiang's diaries were written mainly for himself rather than being written with an eye to future publication. He said that two key pieces of evidence for this are how much CKS cursed (罵) people close to him, and how much private, even confessional, material is in the diaries. (CKS used to give himself demerits for looking lustily at women.) Prof. Yang argued that CKS would not have wanted this kind of material to be made public. (BTW, as Prof. Lu mentioned, the confessions and self-criticism in CKS's diaries didn't necessarily turn him into a saint...) One result of the private nature of Chiang's diaries, according to Prof. Yang, is that we can learn a lot more about what was really going on in CKS's head at certain important historical moments, such as the 1926 Zhongshan Warship Incident and the 1936 Xi'an Incident.

One thing I wondered about is the role of CKS's diaries in subject formation, and the models that CKS had for his diaries. Prof. Yang mentioned the long history of figures in China who used diaries as tools for self-cultivation. He also discussed how well-read CKS was (particularly, he said, for a military man). Evidently CKS's diaries record his readings in the Confucian classics (particularly the Yijing), Christian works, and Eastern and Western philosophy. I found myself wondering what someone in writing studies or rhetorical studies would do with these diaries--perhaps analyze how the diaries constructed CKS as a reading and writing subject.

One last thing that Prof. Yang mentioned--he said that Chiang's status has risen in China from that of a devil (鬼) to a human (人), while in Taiwan, coincidentally, it seems his status has gone from god to human. (No one commented on the immediate political conditions that might be responsible for that coincidence.)

All in all, Professor Yang's speech was quite engaging--the room was packed, too (though I had the feeling a lot of students were there because they had to be. Ahem...)

Monday, December 17, 2007

More on machine translation

I was warning my students today about the dangers of using "full-sentence translation" features on their electronic dictionaries, giving examples that I've talked about before (here and here).

Now I've got a new example: Danwei has a recent post about Google's machine translation, which says,
A Danwei reader sent in Google's translation for the English word "flippant". It comes out as "刺杀布什的凶手" or "the assassin who stabbed Bush" (see this screen shot).
(For why that happened, check out the original post.)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Upcoming speech about Chiang Kai-shek's diaries






Sounds interesting. I'll try to attend...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

American food in Taichung, circa 1960?

Just taking a break from working on the diss.--specifically, from harassing would-be interviewees with pages of detailed questions about things that they probably don't remember writing. (I mean, I don't remember what I wrote 10 years ago--why should they remember what they wrote 30 or 50 years ago?)

Had a nice bagel and coffee for breakfast (at Bagels 'n Beans), which has got me thinking about Western food in Taichung around the time that I'm covering in my dissertation. A few mentions in letters of having Thanksgiving turkeys (or Christmas turkeys) at Tunghai. Where'd they come from? Were they locally raised? I also recall mentions of the U.S. Officer's Club where people sometimes went to eat. Anyone have an address on that? I seem to vaguely remember seeing it somewhere a long time ago, but I don't remember where.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

CFP: Conference on Intercultural Rhetoric and Discourse

Call for Abstracts
4th Conference on
Intercultural Rhetoric and Discourse

June 3‐5, 2008
Indiana University‐Purdue University Indianapolis
Sponsored by the Indiana Center for Intercultural Communication

Plenary Speakers
Dwight Atkinson, Purdue University
Julie Belz, IUPUI
Christine Feak, University of Michigan
Françoise Salager‐Meyer, Universidad de los Andes, Venezuela

Papers are invited on topics including (but not limited to):
  • Theoretical and empirical investigations
  • Language‐ and culture‐specific studies
  • Changing methodologies for research
  • Practical applications
  • Teaching and classroom practices
  • Writing in school and college
  • Writing in business and professional settings
  • Orality and literacy connections
  • Critical approaches to contrastive rhetoric
Deadline for Submission: May 1, 2008

Papers should be 20 minutes long with an additional 10 minutes for discussion.

Abstracts should be no more than 250 words long, typed on a single page. In the upper left‐hand corner, place the submitter's name, address, institutional affiliation, phone and fax numbers, and e‐mail address.

Send submissions to:
IR Conference Planning Committee
Indiana Center for Intercultural Communication
Indiana University‐Purdue University Indianapolis
620 Union Drive, room 407 Indianapolis, IN 46202, U.S.A.

For more information:
(317) 274‐2555

Registration Fees:
$100 early registration,
$115 onsite registration
$50 student registration,
$65 onsite student registration

Monday, December 10, 2007

Inaugural issue of Taiwan in Comparative Perspective out

Just found out that the first issue of this e-journal, published by the Taiwan Culture Research Programme at the London School of Economics, came out in November. Here's its table of contents--the links go directly to the articles' pdfs (I have already asked them to set up an RSS feed):


‘Communism’ in Taiwan and the Mainland: Transmission of the Great Leap Famine and of the White Terror
Stephan Feuchtwang

Death-Scapes in Taipei and Manila: A Postmodern Necrography
Paul-François Tremlett

The Intrusive Rendering: Dictation of Stereotypes and the Extra-Ordinary
Doreen Bernath


The EU Two-Level Sovereignty System as Model for Taiwan and China
Bengt Johansson

Ethnicity in the Politics of the Unreal
Allen Chun

The 'Red' Tide Anti-Corruption Protest: What Does it Mean for Democracy in Taiwan?
Fang-long Shih


Huang Zhang-jian (2007) Er-er-ba shijian zhenxiang kaozheng gao (The Truth about 2-28: Assessing the Documents)
Stefan Fleischauer

Shao-li Lu (2005) Zhanshi Taiwan: quanli, kongjian yu zhimin tongzhi de xingxiang biaoshu (Exhibiting Taiwan: Power, Space and Image Representation of Japanese Colonial Rule)
Edward Vickers

Mark Harrison, Legitimacy, Meaning, and Knowledge in the making of Taiwanese identity
Paul-François Tremlett

Response to Tremlett's Review of Legitimacy, Meaning, and Knowledge in the making of Taiwanese identity
Mark Harrison

By the way, the editors mention in their submission guidelines that academic article submissions to the journal "should contain a comparative perspective in the widest sense. This could mean comparisons between Taiwan and other parts of the world, Taiwan in the past and in the present, different regions and cultures of Taiwan, or different methodological and disciplinary approaches to the study of a theme or issue concerning Taiwan."

And I haven't even had a chance to visit it yet...

This seems to be a sign of the times, but it's still bizarre...
Much of Stanford University’s historic East Asian collection is destined for storage at a facility 38 miles from the campus as the university prepares to tear down the collection’s home, Meyer Library, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Upcoming talk by Karen Kingsbury on translating Eileen Chang

Karen Kingsbury, former associate professor at Tunghai and translator of Eileen Chang's Love in a Fallen City, will be speaking at Tunghai on Wednesday, December 19, 2007 at 2:10 p.m. (Place: FL 007). Her talk is titled "Translating Eileen Chang: Love, Lust, Life."

(Thanks to Daisy Chuang for the information!)