More About This Website
While teaching at Sophia University during the 1980s and early 1990s, Neil Burton (for bio, click here) developed two courses on China's external relations, principally for the Qing dynasty and People's Republic of China (PRC) periods. Many of the materials included on this website were used in the teaching of those courses.
The self-generated textual tools and aids were the result of years of direct research by Burton. But it is apropos here to point out that the English word “research”—from the French recherche—simply means to search again, even though today its usage often implies grander things. To quote Isaac Newton, that great polymath of the 17th century, writing in a letter to another great scientist, Robert Hooke, in 1676: “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.” We, it should be pointed out, are not claiming to have seen further, but only maybe to have seen a few things from new angles, principally from a Chinese perspective. We firmly believe that the accumulation of knowledge has never been anything other than the result of collective research by many minds over time, punctuated by new—and in some cases idiosyncratic—individual perspectives and insights.
While working on this website, Burton, the site’s “content man”, has been educated by Brian Smallshaw, the site’s “technical [and aesthetics] whiz” (for bio, click here) , about the revolutionary differences between the Paper and Internet/Web eras. Anybody whose adult life has straddled something of both eras may have sensed that they were viewing and somehow being swept along, willingly or not, by radical changes in “the way things are done.” Some, like Smallshaw, may have understood the significance of it for the mind (Burton didn’t until Smallshaw enlightened him): Ideas and words on paper, so long as the paper lasts, are fixed in order by their authors; most of us read words, sentences, paragraphs, and the pages they appear on, in sequence, i.e., in an order meaningful to, and imposed by, their authors. Sequence involves prioritization; prioritization implies values and hierarchy. Years of writing and reading words on paper work their effects on the mind—such as Burton’s mind.
The Internet changes these things radically, and at a pace that is breathtaking when looked at from an historical perspective. It seems to represent a great leap in “freeing” individuals from sequences and hierarchies imposed by old authorities. Yet that freedom, Burton will still argue, doesn’t necessarily lead, through what sometimes appears to him to be random data or "factoid" acquisition, to what he has long thought of as (hierarchically ordered) knowledge.
The syllabi for the two courses adapted here for the new Internet era all started on paper, and those are included, unedited, just as students received them in 1996 and 1997. If you wish to confirm for yourself the philosophical ideas in the paragraph above, have a look at the syllabi before entering the site at any sub-topic of your choice. You can even try the final exam!
All supportive materials for the two courses: extra readings, chronologies, bibliographies, etc., were also handed out on paper, their words or entries fixed in position, first by Burton and then by the medium itself. Graphics were somewhat different, as they were generally presented in the classroom as 35mm slides or overhead projections. But the sequence was still predetermined by the teacher.
At the time, textual and graphics were taken from existing sources, their sources (the “giants”) acknowledged, but they were also sometimes modified to accord with more contemporary romanization schemes, or to correct the odd mistaken date or historical detail.
Which brings us to another issue of historical change: In the 1970s and '80s, when Burton was developing and offering the two courses, "intellectual property" issues were not of much concern in educational establishments, at least in the countries in which he was teaching. Today we all live in a very different environment in which "owning" intellectual property is high on the list of priorities of almost all educational and academic activity. Both Burton and Smallshaw believe that this stifles the pursuit of knowledge. Universities have always, of course, been gathering places for specialists, but today the focus on ownership and control makes it all but impossible for those not attached to large research universities, and with well-funded projects, to conduct their own inquiries on topics not deemed sufficiently "useful" (by whom?) to be funded. The Internet today makes research by any interested party at least a possibility.
Beyond the philosophical position stated above, there is no intent on the part of the compilers of this website to control or turn a profit on any of the content. The materials presented here are offered free of charge in hopes of advancing knowledge concerning the particular topics explored. We fully acknowledge the contributions of those “giants” on whose shoulders we stand; we simply don't believe that the pursuit of monetary gain or control should result in curbing access to knowledge by any interested audience or individual.
Wherever possible we explicitly acknowledge the sources of materials used.
Images that appear are screened especially carefully. Those that are known to be copyrighted or source-stamped, appear here as thumbnails only, accompanied, whenever possible, by links to their owners’ homepages. Those known to be non-copyrighted appear first as thumbnails, but are zoomable to the viewing and printing size of your choice.
If any individual, agency or institution finds the use of their materials objectionable, they only need contact us to seek a solution.
The most important thing to understand about China is its guiding ideology or world view.
Click on the button below to learn more about the ideology behind China's foreign relations and to continue into the site.
Our masthead is a collage of personalities, institutions, and events. From the left, these include Hiram Maxim, inventor of the "Maxim" machine gun, demonstrating its effectiveness to the last Qing dynasty "Prime Minister", Li Hongzhang, at Eynsford, England in 1896; Sir Robert Hart; Soong Ching-ling (Song Qingling; Mme. Sun Yat-sen); two views of deliberations between top officials of the Zongli Geguo Shiwu Yamen—a Qing proto-"foreign ministry"; a portrait of Bin Qun, the Qing's first semi-official emissary abroad; and a portion of a painting depicting the "Boxer" uprising of 1900.