After thinking about it for a long time, I have finally decided to start an entirely new blog. That’s because I am not quite satisfied with this one, especially with the name. You have to imagine that when I started this website in late 2012 I didn’t have a clear idea of how it would develop. Since a name reflects the purpose and content of a blog, and my newly-created blog had neither purpose nor content, finding a name was particularly difficult.
Although I had already lived in Taiwan for a few months, I didn’t want my blog to be exclusively a “Taiwan blog”. I am interested in the whole Chinese-speaking world, and I wanted to write about China, Hong Kong and Macau, as well. The problem is that there is no name that describes this whole cultural area, a name that is politically neutral. If I had used the word “China” in the blog’s name, then people would have wondered why I also wrote so much about Taiwan. Someone would have – as usual – politicised the name issue and implied that I consider Taiwan a part of China.
On the other hand, using the word “Taiwan” or “Hong Kong” in the blog’s name would have made no sense, either. At the beginning, I thought that the words “sina” or “sino-” would be a good element to include in the blog’s name. But I was a latecomer in the world of blogging. All the domain names I tried this way were already taken.
In the end, I just got tired of searching and decided to find just a passable domain name. After all, I didn’t even know how to write a blog. Maybe I’d get bored soon and give it up altogether. Why should I rack my brains so much for a blog that might not last a month? So I settled for the title “My New Life in Asia”. It was a neutral name. I could write about my life in Taiwan but also in other parts of East Asia if I decided to move somewhere else. At the beginning, my life here was also supposed to be the main topic, whereas in the end I basically wrote nothing about all the things that happened to me. Maybe I’ll write down all my “adventures” some day.
I soon discovered that I really loved blogging and this has become one of my main hobbies. Over the past two years I wrote about many things, like culture, history and sightseeing. There are endless topics one can write about. The Chinese-speaking world not only has a fascinating, thousand-year-old history and culture, but also comprises a fascinatingly diverse and heterogeneous population.
As soon as I realised I would continue blogging for a long time, I felt the name I had chosen did not fit the content of the website. As I like to write about many different things – from trivial to serious news, from history to family issues -, I thought that the kind of themes the title suggested (i.e., a personal blog about an expat’s life) absolutely did not match what I was actually doing.
Moreover, I do not like the ‘blogspot’ part of the name because it makes it too long. At first, I thought about maintaining this website but changing the name. However, I soon realised that doing so was not practical. It would have altered the relatively good Google ranking of the website and it would have deprived me of a personal space to write about my own life (in fact, sometimes I do write about strictly personal things).
In the end, I decided to create a whole new blog and to switch from blogger to wordpress. I never used wordpress before, but I read it is a good platform that offers a lot of premium updates, just in case one chooses to invest some money in improving one’s website.
The problem, once again, was the name. What name would be suitable for a website about China, Hong Kong and Taiwan? What name would have no particular political implication? What name would be short, easy to remember, and easy to pronounce for foreigners who are not familiar with pinyin?
After thinking it over for a few days, I came up with a title that I really, really loved. I thought it sounded nice, simple and appropriate. But when I tried to register the domain name – of course, it was already taken. There are several websites with that name. Although the Chinese characters I had chosen were different from those of any other site, the way they are written in pinyin is the same. There was nothing I could do and I had to give up the name I liked so much.
At last, I realised that finding a really nice name was almost impossible. I was forced to do the same thing I had done two years ago: just pick a name. So I chose the name “kuangguo” (匡國). What does “kuangguo” mean?
The combination of the characters “kuang” and “guo” has actually no meaning in Chinese. They simply refer to the Chinese given name of the Italian Jesuit Martino Martini (1614 – 1661), a missionary, cartographer and historian who worked and lived in Imperial China and is considered one of the first Western sinologists. Martini’s Chinese name was Wei Kuangguo (卫匡国 / 衛匡國).
Martini is one of the most famous Jesuits who lived in China in the 17th century. He was born in Trento, a city that now belongs to Italy but at that time was part of the Habsburg Empire. Martini began his journey to China in 1640 and arrived in Macau three years later. He stayed in Macau for a year, studying Chinese, and then he was sent to Hangzhou (on Martini’s life in China see: D. E. Mungello: Curious Land: Jesuit Accommodation And The Origins of Sinology, 1989, and ibid.: The Forgotten Christians of Hangzhou, 1994).
Martini travelled to the Middle Kingdom during a period of turmoil. By the time he arrived in Hangzhou, the Ming Dynasty had been overthrown by the peasant soldier Li Zicheng. His army took Beijing in May 1644, and the last Ming Emperor hanged himself in the gardens of the Forbidden City. Li proclaimed himself Emperor, but his reign did not last long. The Manchu took advantage of the chaos to invade China. They defeated Li Zicheng and proclaimed the Qing Dynasty, which would last until 1911.
While these events unfolded, Martini was travelling from Macao to Hangzhou via the so-called ‘ambassador’s route’, which was the safest possible itinerary. When the Manchu took Beijing, Martini was residing in Nanjing, where he was guided by a Christian eunuch and visited the famous tombs of the Ming Emperors. Due to the political situation, however, he soon left the city and continued his journey to Hangzhou.
South China was not a safe place to live in those years, as armies of Ming loyalist were still waging a war of resistance against the new dynasty. When the Manchus conquered Hangzhou in August 1645, Martini escaped and travelled around southern China.
When the Manchus captured Wenzhou in late 1646, however, Martini had no choice but to deal with the invaders. He was living in a large house together with several Chinese who were travelling with him. In order to avoid trouble with the new masters, Martini devised a stratagem. He had a red poster hung over the door of the house. On the poster he had written the words: “Here lives a doctor of divine law who has come from the Great West.” He placed in front of the door a number of exhibits of Western science and culture: books, telescopes, mirrors and mathematical instruments. He also put there an altar with the image of Jesus.
When the Manchus passed by the house and saw this, they were impressed and treated Martini with friendliness. They asked him if he wanted to switch his loyalty to the Qing rulers, which was exactly what he had hoped for. He swore allegiance to the new masters and adopted the traditional Manchu hairstyle and dress. Afterwards he could return safely to Hangzhou and continue his missionary work. Except for one long trip to Europe between 1654 and 1656, he spent the rest of his life in China.
Martini’s legacy is still visible in Hangzhou, where he built one of China’s oldest Catholic churches, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (1661). Moreover, he is considered one of the fathers of Western sinology. He had a profound interest in the country and, although he was a Christian Catholic, he proved himself capable of adapting to the local traditions and customs. For instance, he defended traditional Confucian practices in the famous Rites Controversy.
This was a time of fruitful exchange between China and the West. The Qing Empire was still powerful, and the Western states were not threatening the country with imperialist aggression. Jesuits like Martini accepted Chinese culture and did not seek to impose on the Chinese Western customs. He believed that Confucianism, and especially ancestor worship, was not against Christianity. This attitude of mutual benevolence between Chinese and Westerners, however, would soon change with the hardening of Christian dogmatic positions.
Martini wrote several ground-breaking books on China. the most famous one is “Novus Atlas Sinensis” (New Chinese Atlas). It was the best map of China available in the West when it was first published in 1655.
Another important book was “Sinicae Historiae Decas Prima” (The First Ten Divisions of Chinese History), which explained the history of China from the beginning to the birth of Jesus. Martini was planning on continuing his history of China to cover the period from Christ’s birth to the 17th century, but he never finished it.
My favourite one is “De Bello Tartarico Historia”, a 200-page long eyewitness account of the Manchu invasion of China from Martini’s own perspective. The book became extremely popular in the West. Between 1654 and 1706 it was reprinted over twenty times and was translated into French, German, English, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish and Danish.
Martini also wrote several other works, among them an account of the Christian converts in China (Brevis Relatio de Numero et Qualitate Christianorum apud Sinas); the first Western grammar of the Chinese language (Grammatica Linguae Sinensis); and the philosophical treatise “On Friendship” (De Amicitia), which was the first anthology of Western writings published in China.
In 2014 Italy issued a set of commemorative stamps to celebrate Martini’s 400th birthday.
Obviously, my blog will have nothing to do with Martini himself. But I like him as a symbolic figure of West-East encounter, like Marco Polo before him. Martini was a Westerner who lived in China, tried to understand as much as he could and have a dialogue on an equal footing with this civilisation so different from his own. To a certain extent he even succeeded in adapting to the society that surrounded him and win over the Confucian elites of the time.
So, even if “kuangguo” was not my first choice, I think it is simple and meaningful enough to be an acceptable name.
If you have resisted and read this post until the end, please share your thoughts about the new name or give me your suggestion, if you have a better idea.