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Letters

Vol. 20 No. 17 · 3 September 1998

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A Belated Encounter

At the risk of being condemned as a pedant, may I correct an error in Perry Anderson’s China essay (LRB, 30 July), if only because it is one that is made again and again in articles and books on China. A note states that all names in the article and on the map, with the exception of Deng Xiaoping’s, are given in the Wade-Giles transliteration. Although true for most personal names, it is not true for a single name on the map, nor for place-names in general. For example, the Wade-Giles spelling for Peking would be ‘Pei-ching’, for Canton ‘Kuang-chou’, for Szechwan ‘Ssu-ch’uan’ and for Kwangsi ‘Kuang-hsi’. The spelling Anderson uses was indeed standard at the time, but the romanisation is the one developed for and used by the Chinese Post Office, which was, as Anderson correctly noted, an arm of the Chinese Maritime Customs until 1911, when the Service was transferred to the Chinese Ministry of Posts and Communications. (Spellings such as ‘Peking’ and ‘Canton’ were, of course, traditional even before the establishment of the Chinese Maritime Customs or the birth of Wade or Giles.)

Herman Reichenbach
Hamburg

Perry Anderson’s fascinating account of his father’s career in the Chinese Maritime Customs, coinciding as it does with the publication of Frances Wood’s No Dogs and Not Many Chinese: Treaty Port Life in China 1843-1943, shows what a resurgence of interest there is in this subject and what a wealth of material in terms of letters and diaries must exist in private ownership. So far as I am aware, there is no record of such papers and it seems a terrible waste that these sources are not better known. I have substantial material relating to my forebears, C.B. Hillier (Chief Magistrate, Hong Kong, 1846-56), his father-in-law W.H. Medhurst (one of the first LMS missionaries to the Far East, where he lived from 1816 to 1856), C.B.H.’s three sons, Sir Walter, a diplomat and sinologist, Guy, manager of the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank in Shanghai and Harry, Assistant Commissioner of Customs. May I suggest that some sort of registry is established to enable scholars and others to know where such papers may be found? I would be happy to hear from anyone interested in the idea.

Andrew Hillier
9 Rodenhurst Road,
London SW4 8AE

I wonder what evidence Perry Anderson has for ‘the mass panic and exodus from the Bay Area’ after Pearl Harbor, which he says his parents ‘watched with astonishment’. As an undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley at the time, I noticed no panic and exodus. Further more, I heard no such stories or rumours from an older cousin, a doctor who practised in San Francisco, but lived in the immediate area of Los Gatos, where the Anderson family settled. The only mass exodus from the Bay Area resulted from the decision of the Federal Government to remove forcibly all Japanese-Americans from the Pacific Coast; most of them were sent to internment camps. Some of our fellow students were Japanese-Americans, and were quickly removed from the campus.

Eleanor Fishman
London N5

The Old Country

I certainly did not mean my review of Eva Hoffman’s Shtetl to return us, as she says, to ‘square one’ (Letters, 30 July). I do not believe, as she thinks I do, that ‘anti-semitism is the underlying, essential – finally the only significant – feature defining Polish-Jewish relations.’ I explicitly say that I thought her book put the lie to that intrinsically implausible claim. I did suggest, however, that there was something darker and more mysterious about anti-semitism than is captured in Hoffman’s recounting of the good times and the bad, to borrow her analogy of a marriage.

In responding to the specific points she raises I am once again debating a question which I suggested was ill-posed. True, in my effort to give the flavour of Hoffman’s book, I may have ‘tendentiously’ focused on an anti-semitic remark made by an Enlightenment figure without mentioning his more liberal views. But on other occasions I emphasised a philo-semitic position and alluded more briefly to its opposite. My review suggested that this sort of point/counterpoint, this trial of Poland at the bar of history, missed what is so disturbing about anti-semitism in Polish history and the unique difficulties of being both a Jew and a Pole. We ‘must stop haggling’, I said, quoting the literary critic Jan Blonski, and yet here we go again.

There is one political question about which we may differ or where I perhaps misunderstood Hoffman. She says that she repeatedly emphasised the importance of law and political institutions and that it is I, and not she, who wishes to rely more on cultural understanding than on constitutions and their enforcement to assure minority rights. Perhaps I misread the passages which I quoted and others as well which suggested an undue reliance on culture on her part.

Let me make my position clearer. The absence of discriminatory laws does not entail the existence of minority rights and neither do ‘political institutions’, in and of themselves. To take the specific case in point, Hoffman writes in her letter that, contrary to my review, there is no ‘history of national anti-semitic legislation’ in Poland and that the only actual example was a 1938 law forbidding ritual slaughter. Of course, in one sense, she is right. Anti-Jewish laws in the 18th century and before were local, not national, and after 1815 there was no Poland as such. Official anti-semitism can thus be assigned to others, primarily Russians. The 1938 law she cites was indeed the only one promulgated by the newly independent Poland. Legally – institutionally – things did not look so bad.

But no one would argue that the mere absence of specifically prejudicial laws protected minority, in this case Jewish, rights in the interwar period. The largest Polish nationalist party, which predates the new state itself and was the strongest party in pre-1926 Poland, had an unabashedly anti-semitic programme. (National Democracy, as it was called, gained 37 per cent of the vote in the 1919 elections.) True, it never succeeded in implementing its programme but the regime did nothing to stop discriminatory practices or to curb specifically anti-Jewish violence. It endorsed a variety of administrative policies which worked actively and specifically against Jews. (Jewish university enrolments dropped from 20.4 per cent of all students in 1928-29 to 9.9 per cent in 1937-38.) The problem for Jews was not a lack of understanding or legal liabilities as such but the failure of the state to protect their human rights and what should have been their civil liberties.

And finally, as Eva Hoffman says, ‘for the sake of accuracy’. In claiming that Polish Jewry was shaped by anti-semitism, I perhaps confused the issue by briefly, in half a sentence, suggesting a comparison with another culture – that of American blacks – which evolved in a context of adversity and discrimination. True, Polish Jews never experienced slavery and my simile might be ill-begotten. But that said, the claim itself is surely uncontroversial and not a ‘grievous injustice to the many generations of Jews’ who with ‘zeal and energy’ insisted on maintaining a separate identity. ‘Shaped’ does not mean ‘exclusively determined by’. Anti-semitism at a variety of levels was a fact of Polish Jewish life for the entire period that Hoffman’s book covers. One might argue about precisely how in each era, in different facets of life – in the professions, education, arts, commerce, politics, trade unions, religious practice – and stemming from different sources, religious and secular, official and unofficial, anti-semitism worked. But Shtetl itself, and a whole library of other books on Polish Jewish history, are full of evidence of its formative power.

As for ‘the painful episode’ of 1968, I did not mean, as Hoffman writes, that ‘all but a thousand or so’ – i.e. ‘99,000’, as she calculates – of the approximately 100,000 Jews who remained after the Holocaust emigrated in that year alone. My sentence might have been open to misinterpretation, although I had mentioned a couple of paragraphs earlier that Hoffman and her family – Jews – had left Poland in 1958. As I said in my review, Shtetl as history ends in 1945, but the history of subsequent Jewish populations in Poland is, briefly, the following. By 1948, after immediate post-Holocaust emigrations, about 88,000 Jews remained. Between 1948 and 1951 about 28,000 more left, leaving roughly 60,000. Then, in the aftermath of a particularly virulent bout of party/state anti-semitism in 1956, another 40,000 or so departed. We are now down to 25,000-30,000. Perhaps 15,000 – Hoffman says 20,000 – were forced out in the ‘painful episode’ in question. As to how many Jews that leaves today in Poland, Krystyna Kersten, the leading expert on the subject, estimates 10,000-15,000. (I am grateful to my colleague John Connelly for finding and translating for me Polish sources on this question.) What ‘10,000-15,000’ actually means is open to debate. (If we were doing this exercise for France would we count Archbishop Cardinal Lustiger as a Jew?) There are certainly more people of Jewish origin left in Poland who are not identified as Jews; perhaps that is where Hoffman gets 25,000. And, of course, there are the young.

But surely the point here is not the precise number: however construed, this sad accounting suggests that it was enormously difficult for Jews to be Poles in the postwar era. Nor is the point a weighing and balancing of happy and not so happy times for Poles and Jews over the centuries, an indictment or an exoneration of Poles as ‘essentially’ anti-semitic or not. Once again, I agree with Hoffman that this is an insupportable assertion, useless and stupid. Perhaps just as she read me taking us back to ‘square one’ I read her as coming dangerously close to the same old argument from another direction.

Thomas Laqueur
University of California, Berkeley

Rewriting Irish History

I was glad to learn that someone has finally written a book about Ernie O’Malley. As Roy Foster points out (LRB, 16 July), On Another Man’s Wound is one of the masterpieces of 20th-century Irish literature; and what Richard English calls ‘the enraptured style of politics’ is central to any proper understanding of Irish Republicanism.

On 9 December 1920 O’Malley was captured by Innistogue auxiliaries, bound with ropes, questioned and sentenced to be shot at dawn. When he refused to answer questions, men wearing boots stamped on his bare feet, breaking his toes, jabbed his sides with bayonets and threatened to bayonet him to death. Taken to Dublin Castle to be questioned, he was half-throttled and beaten until unable to stand. He was shown a revolver and told he had three minutes to live. There was no bullet in the revolver but O’Malley gave no information in any case. He was sent to Kilmainham Prison in such a condition that comrades who saw him there did not know who he was. As Dorothy MacCordle points out, the pages recounting this in cident were suppressed when On Another Man’s Wound was published in 1936. Although you would hardly think so from reading historians – including Irish historians who ought to know better – Ireland had already been partitioned when O’Malley was captured.

O’Malley’s later life confirms that although he was, to some degree, a realist, he remained a convinced Irish Republican until his death; and he did not mean what so many journalists, academics and intellectuals mean by ‘realism’, which today has become a euphemism for cowardice, worship of money and power, and the worst kind of nihilistic lack of belief. There is nothing wrong with ‘revising’ history if the intention is to correct mistakes and extend one’s understanding. But with some Irish and British historians today, rewriting Irish history recalls the procedures of Stalinist sycophants like Zhdanov and Fadayev.

Michael Ward
Oldham

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