Annual Letter 1984

100 Ivyhurst Road
Buffalo NY l4226
November 23, 1984

Dear Friends:

These letters are perhaps a lazy way out. Yet they do give us an opportunity to communicate with you at least once a year more extensively than is possible by individual letters. This has been a very full and interesting year for us. Briefly our main family news. The most important event was the birth of Kelly Anne, our second grandchild, to Daniel and Janet in Toronto. Kelly arrived, five weeks early but perfectly healthy, three minutes after midnight on March 6, the sesquicentennial of the City of Toronto. As the first child to be born on that memorable day she was greeted in the morning to the surprise of her parents by the Mayor of Toronto in person, TV cameras, and presented with a savings account of $1.800 by a Toronto trust company. We have seen quite a bit of her and Sarah, who just turned seven, since then. Sarah lives with her mother in Hamilton but spends every second weekend with Daniel and Janet. We see them either here or in Toronto once ortwice a month. We very much appreciate the close relationship which we have with Sarah. We also are on good terms with Maggie, Sarah’s mother, and her new husband and occasionally meet Sarah with them in Hamilton or in a restaurant halfway between Buffalo and Hamilton.

Our children are well. Jeremy has very recently worked out an arrangement which permits him to work half—time as food writer for the Detroit Free Press and the other half as restaurant critic for the Minneapolis Star and Tribune. He has always wanted to return to Minneapolis, where he still has a large circle of friends from his student days and where he wants to renew contact with the university. Jonathan, who continues to live at home, continues to be very busy with his triple occupation, his job as a welfare examiner with the county, his houses, and a magazine distribution business he has had since his student days. Daniel enjoys his work on the discipline committee of the Law Society of Upper Canada. Janet two weeks ago returned to work part—time in her former position as a researcher for the Ombudsman of Ontario.

We had promised many of you an account of our trip to the Far East. Such an account necessarily has to be very subjective. We knew too little about China and Japan to be keen observers. Nevertheless here are our main experiences and impressions. We visited China as part of an exchange agreement between the university in Buffalo and the Beijing (Peking) Municipal System of Higher Education. On May 12 we flew from Toronto to Hong Kong where we stayed with a friend of Jeremy and where I gave a lecture at the Chinese University. One of the Hong Kong Chinese students accompanied us on an excursion to Portuguese Macao. On May 17 we flew to Beijing. At the airport we were met by Prof. Qi Shirong, who had become a good friend when he spent half a year in Buffalo as a visiting professor in our department on the exchange, our interpreter Zhou who had earned an M.A. in American history at SUNY Cortland and very quickly became a good friend in Beijing, my Buffalo colleague Roger Des Forges who had spent the year in Beijing with his family, and our graduate student Rodney Becker who too had spent the year in Beijing. These personal contacts were very helpful in enabling us to establish contacts with Chinese scholars and students and to gain some sort of understanding of our Chinese surroundings. It was very good to have the Des Forges there, who all four spoke Chinese fluently – Alison had taught African history at Beijing University during the year, and the children had attended a Chinese public school – and who spent a lot of time to show us various aspects of Beijing and to introduce us to their many Chinese acquaintances. We obtained a lot of insights into Chinese life from our interpreter Zhou who was very candid and often critical of Chinese conditions. Another very useful contact was Zhang Zhilian, a professor of history at Beijing University, a highly cultured person and scholar of the old school, educated in France and England before the revolution, whom we had met in Europe last year, and who not only spent time with us in Beijing but had me speak in his classes.

Qi had arranged a very full schedule of lectures not only for me but also for Wilma who was not officially a part of the exchange. This was good because it gave us an excellent opportunity to meet colleagues and students. Both Wilma and I lectured at Beijing University and Beijing Teachers College, our formal host, I also at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Wilma at the Foreign Languages Institute, four very different institutions in terms of level and constituencies, undergraduates at the teachers college and the foreign language institute, advanced and graduate students at the university, and researchers at the academy. In my case my hosts were particularly interested in having me talk about current trends in historical studies in the West. I was also asked at all three institutions to give a
lecture I had proposed but which I thought would be too sensitive on the role of Marxism in contemporary Western historical studies which also involved an examination of the tradition of Western Marxism. I had my largest audience, perhaps three hundred with persons standing in the
hall, on this topic at the teachers college. There were very lively discussions and at Beijing University I was invited by the students to an all afternoon discussion session. The discussions were open and undogmatic. Wilma was asked to speak on themes in modern German literature in German to the students in the German program. She spoke on Stefan Zweig, Karl Kraus, Thomas Mann and the Prague Circle and was surprised not only about the proficiency of the students in German but
about their acquaintance with German literature and the general sophistication. She also gave a lecture in English on her work on the Bohemian Jews, which must have seemed exotic to the Chinese but attracted a good audience and was followed by good questions. The lectures gave us an opportunity to meet colleagues on a formal level at the numerous banquets given by the various institutions in our honor – we have never been hosted that well anywhere – but also to meet students informally. A fair number of students came to see us at the hotel to continue discussion although the authorities discouraged such contacts and the students had to fill out long forms at the gate to the hotel to be permitted to see us. A number of these students have written to us since our return.

We were able to move freely within Beijing and for our purposes in the country. Almost all cities are open for travel; only travel in the countryside is still carefully restricted. In Beijing we were housed in the Friendship Hotel, a large campus of buildings built in the 1950’s by the Soviets, old fashioned but comfortable, somewhat isolated in the northwestern outskirts of the city but easily accessible by bus. In this compound hundreds of foreign experts live and eat, some on short term exchanges like us, others who are almost permanent. In other cities too we were put up in special hotels for foreigners. With the very minimal conversational Chinese we had learned we were able to move freely through the city. Our interpreter accompanied us only on a few occasions, a trip to the Great Wall and one to an urban commune which we had requested. In the country too we moved freely and made an excursion on a local bus to a tea growing village near Hanzhou. We had been told not to expect to be invited into any homes, but this turned out not be true. We actually visited eight. Homes are tiny and often in state of poor repair, too small to entertain, although a couple at the teachers college fed us a wonderful meal in their tiny apartment in which the living room also served as bed room. On two occasions we were invited out to a restaurant and then taken to the home to meet the family. A
student at Beijing University sent us to visit her family on our trip to Xi’an. A family spoke to us in English in a park in Beijing and invited us to visit them. In fact frequently people began conversations in English on the street. In Hanzhou we spent most of the evening with two students who talked freely about everything from student life and politics to the relation of the sexes in China.

Most of our stay was spent in Beijing. After three and a half weeks there, we went on a two week trip through the country. We were completely free to plan our trip. As a matter of fact an itinerary, as required in some Eastern European countries, was impossible because the limited booking facilities permitted one only to book one stretch of a trip at a time. Advance reservations at hotels were generally not possible. Travel therefore was an adventure in a country where few people speak Western languages. In a few cities we were able to arrange to be met at the station by a representative of the travel agency, in most we managed with our virtually non—existing Chinese and the friendly assistance of the people whom we asked for directions. From Beijing we flew to Xi’an, the ancient capital, where we also saw the terra cotta soldiers, and then proceeded East by train. Again we had an opportunity to meet people. In Kaifeng, the center for many centuries of the now non—existent Jewish community, Roger Des Forges met us and introduced us to colleagues with whom we had long conversations; in Nanjing (Nanking) I lectured; in Shanghai we were met by one of the students who had come to my lectures in Beijing. Our stops in Suzhou and Hanzhou were essentially tourism. We walked for hours and hours through these two cities in which the beauty of classical Chinese landscaping is best exemplified. From Hanzhou we took a twenty—seven hour train trip back to Beijing which permitted us an interesting look at the Chinese country side, thousands of men and women working in the fields, with no machinery and only an occasional water buffalo.

We are hardly in a position to make broad observations about Chinese society. Let me, however, sum up some of our very subjective impressions. We were very much impressed by the cordiality with which we were received. Some of this cordiality took on a very formal form, in some of the banquets, but much of it went beyond this. Considering how different and unique the culture is, we felt very much at home. China is a very poor country. The relative lack of technology as exemplified by the heavy loads pulled in the streets not only by animals but by people reflects this poverty. But one sees no poor people – at least in the cities and the one village we visited. Everywhere there are masses of people moving on the street; they are simply but well dressed and look remarkably healthy. We saw no beggars as we did in Macao. Food seems to be adequate. There are undoubtedly pockets of privilege but this relatively equal distribution appears as an achievement of socialism. The one area in which there is still real deprivation is in housing, which is often squalid and crowded – mostly one story houses built around court yards along lanes – despite the tremendous amount of building, mostly functional but unaesthetic high rises, which takes place everywhere. Sanitary facilities are still inadequate. Our interpreter, who has a two room apartment in a high rise with his wife, two teenage children and his parents – he shares kitchen and toilet with several other families – regretted that he could not invite us into his home but did manage to take Wilma to his aunt’s house. On the political and economic level a lot is changing. Again our observations are very impressionistic. Discussion appears to be much more open than it must have been a few years ago. Almost everyone talked with horror of the period of the cultural revolution. We, of course, associated with a relatively restricted group of people, at the universities, those who were most directly affected by the cultural revolution. Not only were the older academics and teachers affected –families were separated for many years – but we met a number of students in their thirties who had been taken out of middle school at the time and only recently returned to their studies. There is an unusually large number of unmarried persons in their thirties as a result of the upheavals, a social problem which is regularly discussed in the press. There is unanimous consensus that there must not be a return to the intellectual repression and the arbitrary invasion into personal life which marked the cultural revolution. Discussion now is very open. Even the official English—language China Daily carries extensive criticisms of party and bureaucracy as did the one Chinese movie we saw (with translation on ear phones). The students certainly did not hesitate to speak openly and critically. On the other hand much of the old political infrastructure is still in place. Every Chinese is attached to a work unit which has considerable control not only over his work but his personal life. Within the universities, and I understand in industrial and agricultural enterprises as well, there is a party administration parallel to the ordinary administration. Almost all Chinese are expected to go to political orientation sessions once a week. One disturbing note are the many executions of persons accused of crimes, some of which according to our discussants involved sexual behavior which was considered deviant. On the economic level too there are marked changes. Small private enterprises are flourishing from the large free markets which are everywhere to the small stands on the street. The China Daily almost every day discusses large scale economic reforms, competitive bidding, stress on efficiency, production for the market. The communes have been dissolved, or rather reorganized, to permit peasants to produce for the market. Consumer goods are still in very short supply but increasing and according to the China Daily approximately 90% of Beijing households now have television. Washing machines and even refrigerators are no longer rare. Most persons we talked to agreed that there had been a remarkable increase in the standard of living in the last few years. There is still considerable youth unemployment – officially not identified as unemployment but as waiting for employment. Everywhere there is talk of the need of modernization. It will be interesting to see what sort of a synthesis of socialist planning and a market economy will emerge in China and whether China in its rush for modernization will be able to avoid the dislocations which have marked this process in the developed world.

On Friday, June 29 we flew to Osaka for a one—week stay in Japan, which while very different from our stay in China was also fantastic. At the airport Prof. Akira Hayashima, whom we had met only once in Germany many years ago but with whom we had been corresponding, was waiting for us. Again we were overwhelmed by the cordiality with which we were received. Prof. Hayashima took us to his apartment in suburban Osaka for a wonderful Japanese supper with his family. The next morning he picked us up from our ryokan (Japanese inn) and showed us both modern and ancient Osaka. In Osaka and generally in Japan we were impressed by the way in which the ultramodern was blended everywhere with the traditional with a strong sense for the aesthetic. On Sunday morning Hayashima accompanied us to Kyoto, the ancient capital where we spent the next four days. Our stay there was very well planned. We were met by colleagues who showed us the city and its surroundings. On Monday afternoon I spoke to the Japanese association of historians of Modern Germany on recent German historiography — a two hour lecture (with Japanese interpretation) which was followed by a two hour discussion in German and by a further discussion in the evening after a sumptuous Japanese dinner. After a day of sightseeing in Kyoto, we left on the bullet train for Tokyo where we were met by Prof. Yamanouchi, with whom I had been in correspondence over the years, and his colleague Prof. Goldberg who has taught in Tokyo for many years. Here I spoke to a group of historians interested in contemporary Western historiography, several of whom were particularly interested in the social history of the French Annales circle. Here again there were long discussions followed by a dinner and further discussions, this time in English and French, Sightseeing in downtown Tokyo on Friday, including an exhibit of Chinese and Japanese art, concluded our visit.

Since then we have returned to our normal routine of work. A few days after returning from Japan, I flew to England for a brief meeting of a small international commission on historiography of which I am a member, an opportunity to see both friends and relatives. Unfortunately I did not have time, as I had hoped, to combine the trip to England with a visit to Germany to see friends. Just before going to China I had been to Little Rock again as a guest of Philander Smith College, the school where Wilma and I had taught in the 1950’s at the time of the civil rights movement. In September my term as chairman of the department expired, a position which I had very much enjoyed in terms of the human relations aspects, although I had accepted it very reluctantly, but which also involved innumerable committee meetings which I was glad to relinquish. The burden of the administrative responsibilities had been very much lightened by the very efficient work of our long time departmental administrative assistant, Kay Becker, without whose advice and assistance I would have found the chairmanship very difficult. Wilma is very busy, teaching three courses, administering the graduate fellowships office, and in addition working on her research. She has several commitments to read papers during this academic year. She is not very happy with her situation at Canisius College. She feels that despite her long tenure the administration has little understanding for her work. She was understandably very much disappointed that she was denied the sabbatical for the coming academic year to which she should have been entitled. Her book on the Bohemian Jews is completed and at the publishers, C.H.Beck, in Munich and she is now planning several smaller projects on Bohemian and German Jewish writers and on the Czech Nobel laureate Seifert.

I enjoy my own work. My teaching, although consisting of only two courses, one advanced undergraduate, the other graduate, takes considerable time, particularly since I work very closely with my students. I still have a relatively large number of graduate students working with me at a time when the number of graduate students is declining. I have also been very much involved in our exchange of graduate students with the Technical University in Darmstadt, West Germany, an exchange which is now in its tenth year. This exchange has been very rewarding also in human terms. We have had a regular flow of European and Israeli visitors, both guest speakers and personal friends, largely from the Federal Republic but in the last several years also from the GDR, exchanges which have been very fruitful. I continue to be active in the interracial work of the local NAACP and still counsel conscientious objectors in the military although the demand for such counseling has decreased in recent years.

During the coming academic year, we shall be in Europe. I shall have a sabbatical and Wilma will take a leave without pay. The leave will be particularly important for Wilma. She has been under considerate pressure of work and her health has not been perfect. This summer, after our return from the Far East, she was hospitalized with angina pectoris pains. She has led a very normal life since then but should undoubtedly avoid the heavy burden of work and particularly the stress to which she is subject at Canisius. We shall be in West Berlin at the Historical Commission from June to early September and then plan to spend the remainder of our leave in Goettingen. If my applications for grants are successful, we expect to stay in Goettingen for the entire academic year; if they are not we may return for the second semester. I hope to complete my reading and the writing for the nineteenth—century German section of my history of modern Western historiography. In any case we hope to return sometime during the year to see our children and grandchildren.

Our very best wishes to all of you for the holiday season and for a year of peace.

Georg, Wilma

Katalog-Nr.: t0165