What sparked your interest in Ancient China?

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What sparked your interest in Ancient China?

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Editado: Ene 31, 2007, 10:46pm

An invitation: How did each member of Ancient China Group originally become interested in Ancient China? How did the two Fogies in their youth choose this area of study? Liao mentioned his fascination with Zhou Bronzes. Pechmerle, you? Airycat? Mvrdrk? MMcM? He/she is a rare person who takes interest in ancient China. Oh, and Wildbill, of course. I myself am still trying to figure out this very question.

Ene 31, 2007, 7:52pm

I'm not sure what sparked my interest. Many things, I guess. My childhood fascination with China was rekindled by seeing Chinese movies. These included lots of historical stories. When I went back for my junior year of college, I took two semesters of Asian history. It was just a survey course and covered too much time with too little detail. I wanted more of the first semester in particular.

Perhaps the oddest reason is that I wrote a story (really just a fragment of a story) that takes place well in Chinese past. I'm not sure exactly when. Some stories I make up and they are just stories, but this one is in my mind like a memory. I see it and feel it. I want to know when it happened. I tried to assign a time, but that didn't work. I think that if I learn more about the history, I may be able to tell when the story took place and finish it, get the details right. It's not that I think the story is true, but I do think that storytellers tap into something, perhaps the "collective unconscious" or something like that, and that's what makes their stories feel so real. And history for me is more about the individuals of the time and how major events affected them than about those events.

And my interest isn't just ancient China, I want to know more of all it's history and culture... and also of India. They are the oldest cultures on earth. I'm just insatiably curious.

Editado: Ene 31, 2007, 8:41pm

Hard to say. Possibly when I had to do a report for 5th grade and figured I'd do a culture I didn't have to research at the library, I could just ask my parents. More likely, attempting to pass the equivalent of college level "Great Books 101" in Chinese once.

Ene 31, 2007, 9:50pm

Forty years ago, I was in elementary school and not yet allowed to take the bus unaccompanied to where all the big bookstores were downtown or over in U City. But I could ride my bicycle to a nearer record store / bookstore / head shop. Saving up my allowance, I bought books and LPs on my own for the first time there. These included Budge's The Egyptian Book of the Dead and Wieger's Chinese Characters. (And In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. I wasn't totally stuck in ancient times.) Then I discovered Dover's mail order.

To echo what Airycat said, I have an amateur's interest in all ancient literate civilizations. It's not that I am disinterested in pre-literate cultures, but I have a thing for primary sources. I studied Latin and Greek in prep school. My short list of college career paths included Math at one end of the Charles River and what was still called Classical Philology at the other end. I chose the former (and my profession eventually was neither), but my housemates and I still spent time at the MFA, sometimes even bringing along our Gardiner to work out what the mummies said or something similar for the Chinese stelae.

After my wife and I started living together in the early 80's, we got serious about collecting objects we found beautiful or interesting. I have always tried to know as much as possible about things that I encounter, so this has fueled much reading. It's not all Chinese and not all ancient; we are not so focused. But there is some kind of continuity from bronzes to sancai earth spirits to classic furniture to scholars' rocks to post-Mao pop art.

Ene 31, 2007, 11:53pm

Mmmm, I don't remember mentioning bronzes. I'm sure I did, though. Shang bronzes were a strong pull for me. I'm still in awe at seeing in person some of the bronzes excavated at Anyang in the 1920s.

Perhaps my interest in ANCIENT China (sorry, I haven't learned how to italicise in these groups, yet) started with bronzes, but my interest in China is much older. I like to believe it started the time on Romper Room when I correctly identified a panda. (For those who aren't familiar with Romper Room--is anyone?--it was a children's show in the US during the early 70s; children under the age of 6 were regulars as well as guests on the show).

However, my first memory of China is from reading the Time-Life Foods of the World Cookbook The Cooking of China by Emily Hahn Near the back of the book was a picture of a large mooncake broken open to reveal the filling. Iwas somewhere between 6 and 10 years old. I still have that very copy of the cookbook.

My first Mid-Autumn festival in Taiwan, I ate enough mooncakes to never want another one. :-)

Editado: Feb 1, 2007, 12:30am

When I was young, I wished I were an American-born Chinese who did not understand the language so I would not be tainted by the cynicism of an ancient culture. Wars, wars, more wars, hunger due to floods, famine, locusts and incessant wars post-Qianlong.

Some years ago, I was given an annular disk (bi) which from research in a museum and books, I believe it is Neolithic. It seems to speak of everything worthy or beautiful about the Chinese. My head tells me China was brutal in ancient times, but being so far away in time and “purified” by time, the wisdom, learning of the ancients seem unpolluted. It is also fascinating to think of all mobile tribes thundering across the steppes into the Northern plains, mixing, fighting, interaction, trading, intermarrying. These images of the Hans, Turks, Mongols, Xianbei, Nuzhen, etc. provide a nice contrast to the blue Mao-suited bureaucrats of the China I saw back in the 80s.

There are other reasons, of course. The language in its written form is so unlike any other surviving language.

>liao: Oh, yah, Romper Room with Miss Marianne. Hilarious about mooncake!

Feb 1, 2007, 12:46am

>6 belleyang: And here I am having always wished I wasn't an American-born Chinese! LOL!

My aunt has her degree in Chinese literature from a Chinese university and it always makes me green with envy, which she finds very funny cause she never, ever used that knowledge. Me? I think I read at the third grade level.

Editado: Feb 1, 2007, 3:20am

Like some others here, I was first interested in all things ancient -- not just China. Egypt, Mesopotamia, was there a real Troy, etc. The most exciting place I've ever been is the Minoan palace complex of Knossos, on Crete. Wonderful frescoes (though heavily restored). But of course also loved visiting the site of the Qin tomb army outside Xi'an.

Separately I developed an interest in something new -- Maoist China. Though terrible events for many of those who lived through them, the Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, etc., were fascinating upheavals to observe and try to understand. That interest made Chinese history more seriously relevant. From that perspective, though, from the Opium Wars to the 1949 revolution naturally absorbed most of my historical interest. For earlier eras, I have only dabbled a bit here and there.

Feb 1, 2007, 5:05pm

Perhaps this underlies our curiosity

There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the
unfamiliar: it keeps the mind nimble, it kills prejudice, and it fosters
humor. -George Santayana, philosopher (1863-1952)

Feb 4, 2007, 1:25pm

I became interested in the history of ancient China in college. I took a class in the history of 20th century China and then began studying ancient China. I had a professor from Lanzhou, Gansu province who introduced me to the beginnings of Chinese philosophy. Ancient China was also interesting to me as a contrast to ancient western history. That was many years ago and the more I have read and studied the more I wish to learn. I still have the textbooks that were my introduction to this subject, East Asia: The Great Tradition volume one, and Sources of Chinese Tradition.

Editado: Feb 15, 2007, 8:47pm

liao - wow . . . my wife was on Romper Room in the 80s. Didn't expect to hear about it here, of all places.

I'm still a beginner with respect to imperial Chinese history. I was mainly interested in modern Chinese history because there was a lot at stake for me. There was a split in my family on my father's side between the KMT and the CP, and my family on my mother's side was greatly affected when Sukarno fell from power, in the days when the Indonesian Communist Party had a large profile. Understanding all the different internecine battles, hidden and overt alliances and life-changing decisions - basically, trying to work out all the stuff that had happened before I actually arrived on the scene - forced me into trying to understand the politics of both branches.

Ancient Chinese history developed as an adjunct to that . . . I should really be studying the Qing, but I started at the other end instead.

Feb 22, 2007, 12:25pm

I feel fortunate to communicate and think along with the members of this group. It's so much more enjoyabe and interest-sustaining for me to share what I am learning with others. I am far from academic circles, and there are few Chinese in my area, so checking in with the members of this group keeps me going. Thank y'all. You are the proverbial needles in the haystack.

Dic 24, 2007, 11:17am

It is indeed surprising to find "Romper Room" mentioned here, but I remember it as far back as the early to mid-1960's. That is about the same time that my interest in China was piqued by the movie, Marco Polo, in 1962. It starred Rory Calhoun and Yoko Tani. It wasn't historically accurate, but it served to open up a whole new world for me. I remember my fascination with Chinatown in Eugene and Portland. I also had a wood puzzle box that I thought was Chinese, because I bought it in Chinatown, but in recent years I've learned that it was Japanese. When our youngest son was born in 1992, he was in the hospital for several days with jaundice. I went to the library and found several Chinese dictionaries. As I browsed through them, I was intrigued by the meanings that I found in the characters. That was a springboard to my interest in ancient Chinese bronzes, as well as bronzeware and oracle bone characters. A trip to Shanghai and Nanjing in 2004, to visit our oldest daughter at the University of Nanjing, has further drawn me into the land of China and its people.