Monday, July 6, 2020

FOOTBINDING

“Footbinding in China:
A Curious Look at the Male Role
in a Tool of Social Subjugation”

Melodie Dongyao Liu
The Concord Review Fall 2015

For centuries, Chinese mothers tightly bound their daughters’ feet to alter them into highly coveted “golden lotus” shapes. This included forcing up the arch and creating a cleft in the sole of the foot, requiring the bones to break and the skin to rot and peel away. After two years of torturous suffering, the girls’ feet would ideally measure only three inches in length. These mimicked the feet of famed 10th-century dancer Yaoniang, who was said to have performed atop a giant gilded lotus in the court of Li Yu, last ruler of the Southern Tang dynasty. Mothers knew that their daughters’ feet would serve as the main determinants of their future prospects. To matchmakers, rich rulers, and prospective mothers-in-law, the quality of their feet spoke volumes about  their upbringing and strength of character. By the Qing dynasty, neatly-bound feet were necessary for the navigation of almost every Chinese province’s social structure.


Historians trace mythological beginnings of the practice to the Southern Tang dynasty of the Five Dynasties period. In the course of a thousand years, footbinding became ingrained in Chinese culture, due to its erotic appeal and symbiotic relationship with class distinction. By the mid-twentieth century, criticism from Western cultures and internal nationalist pressure had eradicated the practice from China. The purpose of this essay is to explore how male forces facilitated the practice’s beginnings, institutionalization, and eventual downfall.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

WASHINGTON


The Americans also had a second advantage. They were blessed with an exceptional leader in the person of George Washington, a man of such fine character that he automatically commanded the admiration and loyalty of nearly all Americans and thereby served as a unifying force. He was a proven Patriot, as he had from the beginning strongly opposed the various coercive acts of the British Parliament, and was thoroughly committed to the preservation of the colonists’ rights and freedoms. Moreover, he was willing to leave a pleasant and comfortable life at his Mount Vernon estate to lead the colonial opposition. When he showed up at the Second Continental Convention in Philadelphia, he was wearing his military uniform, signaling for all to see that he was ready to fight for the colonial cause. The Congress acted accordingly, making him commander in chief of the Continental Army in June 1775. He accepted the position, on condition that he receive no pay for it.

His insistence upon that condition tells us a great deal about the man. Intrepid, courageous, charismatic, wise, tireless, and always learning, George Washington was the indispensable man to lead the war effort. He had extensive military experience and looked the part of a natural leader, impressively tall and muscular, with a dignified gravity in his bearing that led all to treat him with instinctive respect. But even more, he was known and admired as a man of exceptionally noble character who self-consciously modeled himself on the classical republican ideal of the unselfish, virtuous, and public-spirited leader, a man who disdained material rewards and consistently sought the public good over private interest. Like a great many other Americans of his day, Washington was deeply influenced by Joseph Addison’s 1713 play Cato, a Tragedy, a popular and powerful drama about the meaning of honor. The play depicts the virtuous life of its subject, the ancient Roman senator Cato the Younger, who sacrifices his life in opposing the incipient tyranny of Julius Caesar. It was an example Washington took to heart. He saw the play performed a great many times and frequently quoted or paraphrased it in his correspondence and had it performed in front of his soldiers. Cato’s lofty example was the example he wished to emulate; much of the American public shared his admiration and would respond well to the prospect of his leadership.

Wilfred M. McClay, Land of Hope (53-54). Encounter Books. Kindle Edition. 


Saturday, June 20, 2020

EQUALITY


With people across virtually the entire ideological spectrum being offended by inequalities and their consequences, why do these inequalities persist? Why are we not all united in determination to put an end to them?

Perhaps the most cogent explanation was that offered by Milton Friedman:

A society that puts equality—in the sense of equality of outcome—ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom, and the force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests.

Thomas Sowell, The Quest for Cosmic Justice (6-7).
Free Press 1999. Kindle Edition. 



 

Friday, June 19, 2020

THOUGHTCRIME



Soviet Dissidents shared this advice through samizdat 
before the fall of the Soviet Union :

DON'T THINK.
IF YOU THINK, DON'T SPEAK.
IF YOU SPEAK, DON'T WRITE.
IF YOU WRITE, DON'T SIGN.
IF YOU THINK, SPEAK, WRITE AND SIGN,
DON'T BE SURPRISED.


Tuesday, June 2, 2020

JOEL KAI-EN HOE

29 May 2020
SINGAPORE
Dear Mr. Fitzhugh,

I am incredibly overjoyed at this piece of wonderful news! To date, getting published in The Concord Review and receiving the Emerson Prize is undeniably one of my proudest achievements, and it goes without saying that I feel extremely honored and humbled to have my work published alongside a host of other brilliant pieces of historical writing. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you and The Concord Review for your efforts in championing the noble cause of bringing back serious historical research writing at the high school level. Throughout my 5 years of history education in the Singapore education system (based on the Cambridge A levels), the most extensive historical writing assignment I worked on was only approximately 2,000 words long— arguably inadequate to cover any historical topic in great detail. In contrast, my independent research paper of more than 20,000 words, was unlike any project I have ever embarked on, both in scope and depth of research. I believe that it is only through extended historical essays such as those published in the Review that students are successfully able to encapsulate the full nuance and complexity that characterizes the study of history.

Looking back, the process of researching and writing my paper on the Roman military reforms of Augustus was indeed a very enlightening and eye-opening experience for me, as I was able to delve into the intricacies of the Roman military machine that had gone on to carve a extensive empire stretching from Britain to the Middle East. Even more importantly, I am really glad that through the Review’s publication of my paper, I have been able to contribute to the body of knowledge surrounding the Augustan army reforms, which have unfortunately been overshadowed by the earlier Marian reforms, as well as the subsequent structural changes made by the Emperor Claudius. From the outset, my goal was to shed light on this period of great change in the Roman army, to credit the underrepresented yet groundbreaking reforms that were crucial in establishing the Pax Romana; but I also sought to temper any glowing praise of Augustus' reforms by acknowledging some fundamental weaknesses in the system he had created, which precipitated the outbreak of army revolts in various provinces of the empire, as well as the tumultuous period of civil wars in 69 A.D.

During the process of research, I faced a host of obstacles. Most notably, it was a considerable challenge to pinpoint specific dates during which certain structural changes of the Roman military took place, since it was mainly through archaeological evidence and the works of some Roman writers that we glean information about the reforms. Moreover, I was faced with contradictory figures and statistics (say, about the size of the cavalry complement attached to the new legion). This necessitated the painstaking process of cross-referencing across as many sources as I could possibly find, and then settling on a number that was corroborated throughout multiple reliable sources. It is worth mentioning that in the process of researching for my paper, I was also exposed to a rather thorny historiographical debate between two main schools of thought regarding motivations for the far-reaching campaigns of conquest carried out both in the Republic and the early Empire. On the one hand, there was the theory of defensive imperialism, proponents of which postulated that Roman expansion was a reactionary attempt to protect themselves from foreign threats, resulting in the extension of Rome's frontiers to the conveniently defensible borders of the Danube and Rhine rivers. On the other, most contemporary historians argue in favor of the the thesis of aggressive imperialism—the active quest for resources as well as the ideological beliefs in their own superiority over their uncivilized barbarians neighbors. Indeed, when writing my paper and examining the motivations driving Augustus' program of imperial expansion, I struggled (and still struggle) to reconcile the 2 opposing schools of thought.

My point is, writing this paper for The Concord Review gave me a first-hand insight into the everyday life of history researchers and academics, and introduced me to essential research skills that I will undoubtedly put to good use in my subsequent years of tertiary education, as I am planning to pursue further studies in either History or Literature.

Given my strong belief in what The Concord Review is doing to promote academic history writing at the high school level, I have decided to donate my prize money to The Concord Review after discussion with my parents, in order to support the publication of more exemplary history research papers from around the globe! I hope that this will go a long way in allowing more budding historians to realize their potential in research writing and be recognized through the publication of their essays in this wonderful journal. As for the letter, you may send it to my home address. :)

Once again, thank you so much for this humbling recognition of my work, and I am looking forward to your reply!

Best Regards,
Joel Kai-En Hoe
Raffles Institution, Singapore
[Augustan Reforms 30/4]

Monday, May 25, 2020

INHERITED BIRTHRIGHT

I belong to the generation of patriots that fought World War II. On the occasion of Winston Churchill's death in 1965, I wrote (in Cornell's student newspaper) that those who came after us could not fully understand why we, who remember the great and terrible events of 1940-1941, should be so moved by his death; that they could not appreciate him as we did; that to them he was merely a name or, at most, a legendary figure, whereas to us he was, among other things, the embodiment of the greatest cause in our lives: the preservation of government of, by, and for the people at a time when it was most imperiled. We thought it altogether fitting and proper that (on April 9, 1963) he was made an honorary citizen of the United States. 

Britain had, of course, been fighting for more than two years by the time we went to war, and it is not to belittle her contribution to final victory to say that the war could not have been won without us; Churchill knew this and acknowledged it. We were "the arsenal of democracy"; more than that, we were, as Abraham Lincoln said-not boastfully but as a fact-"the last, best hope of earth." 


This was true in 1862 when Lincoln said it, as well as in 1941, and it is more obviously true today. Like it or not-and it is something of a burden, certainly a responsibility-America is to modern history as Rome was to ancient, and not only because we are the one remaining superpower. Modern politics began three hundred-plus years ago with the discovery or pronouncement of new principles, universal and revolutionary principles, respecting the rights of man. In 1776 we declared our right to form a new nation by appealing to these principles. Because we were the first to do so, it fell to us to be their champions, first by setting an example-this was Lincoln's point-and subsequently by defending them against their latter-day enemies, the Nazis and fascists in World War II and the communists in the cold war. Our lot is to be the one essential country, "the last, best hope of earth," and this ought to be acknowledged, beginning in our schools and universities, for it is only then that we can come to accept the responsibilities attending it. 


Our unique place in the world is recognized elsewhere, sometimes grudgingly or inadvertently. In 1987, the bicentenary of our Constitution, I was in Brazil, where the people had recently overthrown a military dictatorship and had begun the process of writing a democratic constitution. I had been invited to lecture on constitutionalism. At one place, a university in Recife, after I had finished my prepared remarks, someone got up and denounced, not me, but the local official who had who had sponsored my appearance. "Why," he shouted, "did you invite an American? What can they tell us about constitutions? They've had only one. Why didn't you invite a Bolivian? They've had a hundred!
I have enjoyed telling this story to students here, expecting them to appreciate it and hoping that they might even learn something from it. My hope is that they and their elders might learn something from this book, specifically, why this country deserves citizens who love and honor it, and are prepared to defend it. Political scientist Sheldon Wolin had this in mind when he pointed out that we are citizens not only in the formal or legal sense, but because we share a birthright "inherited from our fathers," a birthright to be cared for, improved, and passed on to future generations.

Walter Berns. Making Patriots (Kindle Locations 27-31). Kindle Edition.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

THE RIGHT STUFF

My God!—to be a part of Edwards in the late forties and early fifties!—even to be on the ground and hear one of those incredible explosions from 35,000 feet somewhere up there in the blue over the desert and know that some True Brother had commenced his rocket launch…in the X–I, the X–IA, the X–2, the D–558-1, the horrible XF–92A, the beautiful D–558-2…and to know that he would soon be at an altitude, in the thin air at the edge of space, where the stars and the moon came out at noon, in an atmosphere so thin that the ordinary laws of aerodynamics no longer applied and a plane could skid into a flat spin like a cereal bowl on a waxed Formica counter and then start tumbling, not spinning and not diving, but tumbling, end over end like a brick…In those planes, which were like chimneys with little razor-blade wings on them, you had to be “afraid to panic,” and that phrase was no joke. In the skids, the tumbles, the spins, there was, truly, as Saint-ExupĂ©ry had said, only one thing you could let yourself think about: What do I do next? 

 Sometimes at Edwards they used to play the tapes of pilots going into the final dive, the one that killed them, and the man would be tumbling, going end over end in a fifteen-ton length of pipe, with all aerodynamics long gone, and not one prayer left, and he knew it, and he would be screaming into the microphone, but not for Mother or for God or the nameless spirit of Ahor, but for one last hopeless crumb of information about the loop: “I’ve tried A! I’ve tried B! I’ve tried C! I’ve tried D! Tell me what else I can try!” And then that truly spooky click on the machine. What do I do next? (In this moment when the Halusian Gulp is opening?) And everybody around the table would look at one another and nod ever so slightly, and the unspoken message was: Too bad! There was a man with the right stuff. There was no national mourning in such cases, of course. Nobody outside of Edwards knew the man’s name. If he were well liked, he might get one of those dusty stretches of road named for him on the base. He was probably a junior officer doing all this for four or five thousand a year.

Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff (47-48). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. [1983] Kindle Edition.