Academic and popular accounts of the Opium War have gone through nearly two centuries of change in focus, view, and scope. My study probes this extensive historiography by tracing the evolvement of our understanding of the war through various phases among which we saw the rise of the “China-centered approach” and the beginning of a new trend towards combining government archives with personal records such as memoirs, personal correspondence, and private journals in research. Based on the observation, I will indicate, despite their undeniable achievements, most of the existing scholarships have paid little attention to the ordinary people in China whose lives were deeply affected by the war. It is high time that we pay more attention to human experience of the Chinese people in order to understand not only the war itself but also the history it helped shape.
Miaofeng Fudeng was a most respected monk who had incomparable influence in the late Ming samgha, except a few leading masters like Hanshan Deqing, Zibo Zhenke, and Yunqi Zhuhong. However, he has been unduly ignored by later generations. This paper reconstructs his life by piecing together fragmentary information and, in connection with his religious and non-religious life, explores how he obtained and maintained his extraordinary influence. In particular, two features stood out in his life. First, Fudeng received huge favors repeatedly from the inner court but remained rooted deeply in local society. Second, Fudeng was extremely active in the religious and social field but clearly shunned from politics. Consequently, Fudeng maximized his influence and avoided being entrapped in court strife, which proved disastrous to both Deqing and Zhenke. Fudeng represented a stable constructive force in the contemporary Buddhist community, and his formidable achievements enriches our understanding of the samgha-state relationship.
This rare unusual collection contains a total of 774 letters, most of which were written by a couple, Mr. Lu and Ms. Jiang, who lived apart for more than fifteen years between 1961 and 1986 and relied mainly on letter-writing to communicate. They passionately revealed romantic love and conjugal compassion to each other; they discussed mundane details of everyday family life including management of the household economy, efforts of interacting with in-laws, relatives, and friends, learning course of raising children, and strategies of coping with financial hardship. They also sincerely engaged each other in a soul-searching process of making themselves into socialist subjects and participating in various political campaigns.
The content of these letters is as rich and complicated as the flow of life itself in which the personal, economic and political are intermingled together. The degree of sincerity and honesty in these letters is greater than that in many other kinds of historical data because the authors are not writing for public consumption. This rare collection of personal letters presents not only a huge amount of original and disaggregated data but also constitutes an oral history of social life in China that is unintentionally being recorded by the authors.