Saturday, July 12, 2008

2008 Reith Lectures on China

The great British historian of China Jonathan Spence gave this year's Reith Lectures. The first lecture is on Confucius and the alterations of Confucian thought through history in China and later the world. As with a lot of lectures, the question period is the most fun.

Following the question from Ram Mehta in the lecture, I think I'm going to make the opening graphic for the China portion of my Asian class will be a triptych of Confucius, Mao, and Adam Smith.

In general, Spence's capsule history of Confucian and Confucianism would be a fine model for an opening lecture for the Asian class on Confucius, particularly the emphasis on the man's own nobility and then the baggage his thought was saddled with starting around the 12 century.

Spence on the earthquake
I was very, very struck at the New Year's holidays in China with over a hundred million people on the move when these huge blizzards brought a standstill to the train service and people were in a kind of desperation with their children, they were freezing, they had no food, there was no trace of a toilet, people were sick, had no trace of a hospital. The government seemed to be totally incompetent. And I as a historian, my mind was racing back to moments in 1813, 1797, 1642, 1585 and so on when some kind of conjunction of extraordinary incompetence by an autocratic regime linked to manifestation of nature as a force being really angry and out of kilter. These had been catastrophic for tens of thousands of people and in at least three cases had nearly brought down the government.

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