Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Gather the Bones, 3: Boy Problems, Girl Solutions and Sid Meier's Colonization.

It's pretty intuitive that minor differences in the brains of the two sexes have significant knock on effects that make boys better at x, girls better at y. I don't that it's a defensible intuition, and it is surely beyond the pale to marshal it to a defence of gendered earning disparity, but the strongest argument for social diversity to start with is that it brings multiple perspectives to the table.

So let's go with that. Here's a boy problem that bothered me for years until some girls showed me how that I was thinking about it wrong.

Not a girl in sight!

Haven't had enough yet?

But wait! There's more!

That's not the only Colonization play through on Youtube, not by a long shot. Some people are deeply, deeply fascinated by the way in which European early modern "manufacturing" society (to borrow Maxine Berg's distinction between "manufacturing" and "industrial") established itself on the east coast of North America. The fact that it did not establish itself in Latin America (or even the American South) has provoked ever so much discussion ranging from triumphalism to bittersweet regret. That my triumphalist author attached America to one of its more enduring foreign tar babies suggests that the road that leads from getting lumberjacks onto your  caravel to reality is not well signposted from the road that ends in the fever swamps instead.

Where did we go wrong? Probably, we took too many turns on the right hand, not enough on the left. (Admittedly not the best choice of a woman singing a spooky song per se, but I couldn't live with myself if I linked to this with a straight face.)

Anyway, onto the left-hand path.

Obviously, like all Canadians, I adore Celine Dion (that's sarcasm, BTW). And so does the fan who put together this 4 minute summary of what I want to take away from Ang Lee's 2000 instant classic, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. (But still.) Jen, a Manchu princess, exquisitely raised in the classical tradition, is pledged to marry to further the ambitions of her father, Governor Yu. But when the fabled Green Destiny sword of the Wudang sword masters is brought to the house of her father's advisor, Sir Tse, she can no longer restrain herself. For Jen has been trained in martial arts by her nursemaid, the Jade Fox, and moreover has fallen in with a nomad princeling, Lo. It is a love she can neither embrace nor repudiate, just as she can neither embrace nor abandon her father nor her teacher. When she steals the Green Destiny, her competing destinies close in on her. Might she find another teacher in the supremely skilled older warrior, Mu Bai? Will her inner turmoil threaten the blossoming of the old, much repressed love between Mu Bai and Shu Lien? Will it all end in tragedy? (Spoiler: Yes. Repression never ends well in the movies.)

Jen masters the Wudang techniques precociously, because she is exquisitely literate, but the Wudang tradition is an "internal" martial art, rooted in Daoism, and opposed to the externalism of Shaolin's Buddhism. Now, I assume that a Wudang master can ride and shoot.

Ride, Shoot, Speak the Truth!
But when Jen rides after Lo, her martial skills are pure inner Manchu princess. Had she been that and only that, she could have remained in her lover's yurt in the high pastures of his people. If she were only Chinese, she could embrace filial piety and marry as she must. Being, in full, neither of these things, she takes up the Green Destiny and wreaks havoc through the south on the road to Wudang Mountain, just as the House of Aisin Gioro has wrought havoc across the Middle Kingdom with the armies of the Eight Banners."You are nothing without that sword," Shu Lien tells Jen at one point, as she defeats Jen with a broken blade. (I wonder if Michelle Yeoh's Chinese Malaysian accent is particularly marked as she says this to Ziyi Zhang, a girl who speaks with the tones of old Beijing.).Chinese natdionalist patriots of the last century would have liked to have said the same to the Qianlong Emperor. "You are nothing without your Chinese martial bannermen."

There's more to be said for a Chinese-nationalist reading of CHTD. Buy the story in full and you've pretty much constructed a "classical" Chinese identity. But that would be gilding the lily and take me away from Jen's tragedy --the incommensurability of the two sides of her hybrid identity. Arguably, the ending is not so much tragedy as transcendence, but we have first to buy the idea that a hybrid identity is inauthentic and leads to tragedy.

What nonsense! Now, it is nonsense that the Qing brought upon themselves as Pamela Kyle Crossley demonstrates in her A Translucent Mirror: History and Identity in Qing Imperial Ideology (Berkely: UCP, 2002) In creating an image to reflect back to their Han-folk subjects, they played no small part in concretising the identity that the nationalists would adopt against them.

 But nonsense it nonetheless is. We are not going to be able to do demography if we continue to allow identity to be slipped to us like a roofer.* Not even our innocent boy demography of loads of lumberjacks and carpenters inspired by religious persecution and carried across the Atlantic in caravels whose movement is carefully calibrated to the reverse carriage of furs and gold. It's precisely the identity of these people that we need to interrogate before we solve our little boy problem. Because people do not have hybrid, incommensurable identities. They take the identity that gets them the boy! (Girl, alternate gender identity --I don't want to judge!)

Is this a girl solution, except in the obvious sense that Pamela Crossley is female as well as a great scholar? Good Lord, I don't know. Maybe someone can tell me. I haven't even engaged Crossley's work directly here yet (but I will!).**All this is, for now, is a good example of a left-hand turning. Call it a diverse answer, a glimmering of a solution from an unexpected direction for us Asperger-types narrowly fixated on how many axes you can afford for how many pioneers for so much fur, given roads built here and there (the managerial complexities! They tickle my brain just to think about them!) and call it a day.

*If you're wondering, I have started to problematise the demographics, although not in anywhere near the length that I could have. Yes, a summary might be a good idea.

** (I have been working it through in my Champions Online fanfiction. That's just self-indulgence, I would be the first to admit. Even more self-indulgence than the whole blog thing, I mean --but I can only do so many things at once.

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