Sprague Word

The future and more from Richard Sprague

30 (more) new books on my Contemporary China reading list

Posted by sprague on September 13, 2014

Dr Jonathan Sullivan Hompeage


Its that time of year again: Crisp mornings, football on TV and a growing buzz on campus as more and more students return for class. Preparing syllabi, reading lists and otherwise getting geared up for a new semester’s classes is one of my favorite recurring tasks. In the autumn semester I teach a freshman module (c. 200 students), entitled Introduction to Contemporary China. It is a wonderful and challenging class: For one thing about half the students have rudimentary to zero previous exposure to teaching on China, while another half were born and raised in the country. The quest to get the pitch right, and to keep up with all the fantastic work being done in China Studies, requires a lot reading over the summer. My extended reading list this semester comprises about 350 titles, split evenly between books and journal articles. Online sources form a separate (long) list. Last…

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BodyMedia and Me

Posted by sprague on September 8, 2013

My data for the past week, presented using Excel’s graphing functions.


Can’t believe, after all these years, there’s no easy way for Excel to save this in resolution-independent graphics.

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This is not my blog

Posted by sprague on March 20, 2013

Sorry, you may have come here by mistake. I’ve been playing with the web and blogs and more since the beginning, and this is one of a long trail of half-started, half-abandoned experiments that I do in order to learn more about various platforms. (I also have a thing about claiming the name ‘sprague’ before any of my rivals get it). I’ve decided that I like WordPress, and maybe if I were starting anew, this is where I would set up camp, but for various reasons, alas, this site is not meant to be. You’ll notice that most of the content here was imported from my Tumblr. It didn’t come through very well and I didn’t have time or energy to fix it.

The best way to track me these days is on Twitter: @sprague.  I post something there every single day.  You can also check my “real” blog at http://blog.richardsprague.com, where once upon a time, before Twitter, before Facebook, I was reasonably active. I still post there once a month or so and I still intend to fire it up more passionately once I have a better idea of what I want to say.

So, thanks for visiting, but that’s all.

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The power of decentralization in the ancient world

Posted by sprague on December 9, 2012

The Terra Cotta warriors of ancient Xi’an are an impressive legacy of the early centuries BC, and they better be: during that period, something like 10% of the Chinese population was involved in Big Government-sponsored construction projects, including those tombs for the Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. The Great Wall, the Grand Canal, and many others are distinguished high points of Chinese civilization, and all of them were built by a powerful central non-elected government.


The Chinese legacy puts to shame the comparatively modest monuments that sprang from the market-based democratic economy of Ancient Greece. From the long viewpoint of history, this seems to show the advantages of powerful centralized governments.  A thousand years from now, nobody will remember the achievements of our greatest corporations, but who will forget the government-sponsored Apollo moon landing (or today’s Mars Curiosity probe)?


Or will they?  That’s why I thought this Econtalk podcast interview with Josiah Ober was interesting, because it shows that in fact Ancient Greece was a thriving, economically successful place that in general was almost certainly far wealthier than anything in China at the time. The legacy they left behind, while not visible like the monuments of the Qin Dynasty, is far more influential today.


From Ober’s Princeton/Stanford Working Paper, Wealthy Hellas.


Here are three reasons to believe that, compared to other ancient societies, Hellas was wealthy:

  • Premise 1. The Greek economy grew steeply and steadily from 800-300 BC, both (a) in its aggregate size and (b) in per capita consumption. 
  • Premise 2. By the fourth century BC Greece was (a) densely populated and (b) remarkably urbanized, yet (c) living standards remained high. 
  • Premise 3. Wealth was distributed relatively equitably across Greek populations; there was a substantial “middling” class of persons who lived well above bare substance, yet below the level of elite consumption.


A few more claims:


  • 30% of Greeks lived in cities with populations greater than 5000 (versus only 10-12% of the later Romans)
  • 25-35% of the population lived on imported grain (evidence they were producing important trade goods)
  • The Gini index of 0.7 corresponds favorably to 1472 Florence (0.788) or 1998 USA (0.79)


Many other fascinating thoughts throughout.



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Posted by sprague on December 6, 2012

Whatever faults the Chinese may have, & they are not faultless, bad treatment of commercial foreigners is not one of them & they appear to me to have the right side of the question in their quarrel with the English.

Augustin Heard, American trader living in Canton during the 1830’s, commenting on The Opium War, as quoted on p.40 The Golden Ghetto: The American Commercial Community at Canton and the Shaping of American China Policy, 1784-1844

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Posted by sprague on November 19, 2012

Chinese are rude to people they don’t know. Unfortunately, when it comes to tourism, you don’t know most of the people you meet.

Georg Arit, a German sociologist who has studied Chinese tourists, told the Los Angeles Times: http://factsanddetails.com/china.php?itemid=113 

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Posted by sprague on November 18, 2012

Better hurry to see this movie.

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Posted by sprague on November 17, 2012

Today’s lunch is a step up on the food safety scale. If they can’t be the best, at least they try. (at 悠唐广场 U-Town)

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Posted by sprague on November 16, 2012

It’s true: you can’t roll down taxi windows in Beijing while the Party Congress is in session (at BEIJING)

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Posted by sprague on November 15, 2012

Eating lunch at a restaurant with high standards.

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