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History in Three Keys por Paul A. Cohen

History in Three Keys (original 1997; edición 1998)

por Paul A. Cohen

MiembrosReseñasPopularidadValoración promediaMenciones
1604132,662 (3.58)7
A comprehensive look at the Boxer Rebellion of 1898-1900, a bloody uprising in north China against native Christians and foreign missionaries.
Título:History in Three Keys
Autores:Paul A. Cohen
Info:Columbia University Press (1998), Paperback, 428 pages
Colecciones:Tu biblioteca
Etiquetas:theatre and ritual, rural audiences, qing

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History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth por Paul A. Cohen (1997)


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the Boxers... left a lasting imprint on European and American psyches. In film, fiction and folklore, they functioned over the years as a vivid symbol of everything we most detested and feared about China - its hostility to Christianity, its resistance to modern technology, its fiendish cruelty, its xenophobia, its superstition.

This book, published in 1997, is both a study of the Boxer Rebellion and a fascinating insight into historiography and the way that history is used and distorted. In the introduction, Cohen explains his approach: when we read the 'history' of an event, we read an analysis that was made after the event, with a much wider field of knowledge than it was possible for anyone to have at the time. This is not how it feels to people living through it. Because history is written backwards, it also often ignores the things which almost happened, or the way that something which was seen as a significant trigger could have disappeared without trace if it had happened in a different place or time.

(So, for example, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire could not possibly have known that he would be seen as the catalyst for what became the Arab Spring - he might have seen himself as one in a line of people who had immolated themselves as a last desperate protest. Others in the region who had done the same thing will most likely be no more than a footnote when 'history' is being written).

To highlight this, Cohen's book is in three sections:

- 'event', a short section which tries to tell the chronology of the Boxer Rebellion - this deliberately tries not to be a broad sweep but simply explains how one event triggered the next, and I found it interesting how much I noticed that I wasn't reading a big historical overview

- 'experience', which tries to capture what it actually would have felt like to be in the middle of the events as they happened, whether from a perspective of foreign missionary or diplomat, Chinese court official, Boxer or ordinary Chinese person just trying to survive. This section covers things like fear (of losing your livelihood through drought, of the unaccountable changes brought about by the foreign presence, of being killed by the rebels), belief in magic or religion, and rumour - all of which do build up into a picture of the chaos of actually living through something like this. There are some really interesting eyewitness records and even photos, although the majority of these are from the Western point of view

- 'myth', about the way that the Boxer rebellion has been treated by later historians - this does include Western views but is mainly about the way that it has been portrayed in China. This is especially interesting for two reasons - one that Chinese history in the twentieth century has involved so much re-writing to make it fit with current political lines, and the other that the Boxer rebellion involves so many different themes and aspects that it's easier to bend it into different forms. So first of all, it was seen as emblematic of the 'old', superstitious and xenophobic China which needed to be left behind; later, the Boxers were anti-imperialist heroes or models of rebellion and resistance.

I think this book would be of interest to anyone interested in history, not just Chinese - Cohen makes a point of broadening out his canvas to include examples from other times and places which might throw light on the way events affected each other or how people reacted to difficult situations, as well as the way that historical perspectives and even personal memories change over time. I'd also say it's quite an important aspect of understanding modern China - especially since so much that is written about modern China is completely ahistorical. We in the West are always much more amnesiac about history than the countries which didn't come off so well from our first encounters, and I think the book is quite revealing about how Chinese memories of something like the Boxer rebellion can still play into its feelings about the West. ( )
  wandering_star | Apr 14, 2012 |
A thoroughly engaging consideration of the Boxer Rebellion. ( )
  solicitouslibrarian | Aug 18, 2009 |
History in Three Keys is less a history of the Boxer Movement in China than a rumination on the practice of writing history, using a particular episode as an example. Cohen separates three types of history: traditional narrative-form (who, what, where, when), experiential or social history, and myth-making, (the interpretation of historical information for personal or political purposes). He makes no judgment about each type, but instead deftly shows how narrative, experience and myth provide insight.

This could be a real navel-gazer, but it isn't. Cohen only lapses into the "we as historians" gambit once or twice. He has a sense of playfulness about his sources; one wonders whether he was attracted to turn of the century/20th century Chinese history because of material like a 1967 newspaper article concluding with "Let us continue to hold high the banner of revolutionary rebellion, to carry the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution through to the end, to carry world revolution through to the end, to thoroughly destroy the old world and erect a new world of bright red Mao Zedong Thought!" ( )
  bexaplex | Jun 1, 2008 |
History, Myth and the Boxers: "History in Three Keys" is an excellent history of the Boxer Rebellion in northern China in the late nineteenth century. Even more than that, however, it is a look at the historian's craft, how history is experienced and related, and how history is used in the present. The book is divided into three parts, which discuss the Boxer Rebellion as Event, Experience and Myth. The first consists of standard historical writing, a brief survey of the Boxer movement. It relates important names, dates, ideas and events in a narrative history constructed by the author.

The second section, The Boxers as Experience, is more interesting. Cohen attempts to analyze the experiences of the Boxers, to form a picture of the past. He looks at various themes, discussing how they shaped the Boxer movement and the attitudes and beliefs of those involved. Making extensive use of primary documents, he tries to determine their thoughts and feelings regarding foreigners, magic, gender and death. Of course, Cohen realizes that he cannot fully recount or recreate the experience of the Boxer rebellion, and spends many pages discussing ways historians and writers can approach history to try to understand and explain it.

These themes become more fully developed in the book's final section, The Boxers as Myth. Here Cohen explores the various ways the Boxers have been used as myths in twentieth century China, serving "the political, ideological, rhetorical and/or emotional needs" of the moment. While foreigners and the New Culture movement mythologized the Boxers as symbols of Chinese superstition and backwardness, anti-Imperialists cheered their anti-foreignism and nationalism, and cultural revolutionaries idolized their rebelliousness and the mythical role of women in the rebellion.

Cohen explores the difference between historians, who attempt to understand and explain the past, and mythologizers, who try to use history to advance an agenda in the present. He discusses the process of myth-making, in which contexts and inconvenient facts are ignored and a one-dimensional 'history' in created through distortion and oversimplification. Still, Cohen has some respect for mythologizing the past, and notes that experience itself is "processed" in terms of culture and myth. "Mythic constructions are ubiquitous in the world of experience and form an inseparable part of it."

I was assigned part of this book in a history course on nineteenth century globalization, but ended up reading the whole thing - and I'm glad I did. In addition to giving an excellent history of the Boxer Rebellion, "History in Three Keys" contains valuable insights into more recent Chinese history and development. Even more valuable are the discussions about the nature of history, myth, historical writing and the historian's craft. It is well written, clear and engaging, with extensive notes, index and bibliography. I enjoyed it immensely and recommend it to all interested in Chinese history or historical writing in general. ( )
1 vota daschaich | Jul 17, 2006 |
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A comprehensive look at the Boxer Rebellion of 1898-1900, a bloody uprising in north China against native Christians and foreign missionaries.

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