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Studying Wu Han: The Political Academic* by Mary G. Mazur The recollect ion of pee ling bamboo shoots in his childhood brought Wu Han satisfaction and happiness when he thought of it later as a young scholar; it seemed to symbolize for him the research process of the histor ian. Inside of the many outer layers covering the bamboo was a smooth, firm white heart which could be uncovered if the bamboo was very carefully peeled. "When peeling bamboo you must pay attention to the layers ... you must be very persevering so you can peel"' the bamboo of history." [1] This recollection of peeling bamboo in his cnfldhood came to mind in 1936 when he wrote the Preface to a work by Luo Ergang which he thought Luo had "researched as though he were peeling bamboo until he came to the heart." He particularly admired Luo's uncovering unconventional new sources and use of new tests of reliability. Wu Han paid special attention to bamboo peeling in his own search for the firm, white core in his studies of Ming history. In all historical writing the suitability of the historian's methodology to the historical problem at hand concerned him; interviews of local people and the descendants of historical figures to gather important historical material unavailable in written texts was a method he, himself, commended in the 1930's. How best and from what sources to dig out the past? This is my question as it was Wu Han's in the 1930's and a biography of Wu Han himself is the subject of the project which has posed this question . When I began the preliminary research for a biography and surveyed what had been written, the 11te'rature showed that he had been rocketed into view in the West because of the Cultural Revolution attacks on him.[2] He had been dealt with as though he sprang full blown on the half shell of the play, "Hai Rui Dismissed", appearing as an epiphenomenon of the Cultural Revolution, devoid of any real existence himself. The first studies of him were engrossed with the problem of the accusations made against him in the opening *Without the cooperation, support and encouragement of many people, especially in China, this research would not have been possible. I particularly want to thank Timothy Cheek for his helpful critique of an early version of this paper and John Israel for his reading and careful critique of a draft of this paper. However, having benefited from these recommendations, finally I must take all responsibility for the ideas and words presented here. 17 rounds of the Great Proletar ian Cultural Revolution and relied on the textual materials produced in that period and in the years since the establishment of the People's Republic. From the beginning, I had been convinced t~at Wu's life should be looked at as the whole life of a person. It was my project to research the life of the historical Wu Han in the context of the rapidly changing times in which he lived. The end of his life would have to be seen, not an independent event, but as the final phase in the whole interconnected life of a real person. In considering the types of textual sources which biographers have traditionally utilized, such as the literary works of the subject , it was abundantly clear that if only written sources were used a flat-one sided biography would result biased toward the literary and scholarly aspects of Wu's life, still leaving the reader with the impression that he dangled as an intellect in mid-air, disconnected from real-life circumstances. Furthermore, many of Wu' s own writings indicated that the activist direction his life took was a major question that must be addressed. In the 1980's another type of source, essays recalling and eulogizing prominent people, became available. This was a literature of recollection and commemoration titled variously jinian (to commemorate), huiyi (recollection), mianhuai (to cherish the memory with respect), or huainian to cherish the memory). [3] Written by friends and associates to eulogize and record recollections of people already deceased, the essays often were collected and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5065
Print ISSN
1521-5385
Pages
pp. 17-39
Launched on MUSE
2021-05-25
Open Access
No
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