2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 246

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Localism in Modern Chinese History: Sichuan in the Republican Era

Organizer: Nagatomi Hirayama, University of Nottingham, China

Chair: Arthur Waldron, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Discussant: Kristin Stapleton, State University of New York, Buffalo, USA

From the Qing Empire to the Republic of China, modern Chinese history has been framed through inquiries into the rise of the modern Chinese nation. Recent scholarship has questioned China’s status as a homogenous political identity with uniform cultural traits. Instead, China has been re-problematized as a broadly defined discourse formed through the conflicts and tensions of multifarious visions and movements promoted by different collectives and individuals. This panel explores the rise of modern China through a local perspective. Taking Sichuan Railway Company as a lens, Xiaowei Zheng examines the conflicts between a group of Sichuan Provincial Assemblymen’s political lives and the new political culture they helped create at the very beginning of the Republic. Nagatomi Hirayama studies the Chinese Youth Party’s political construction in Sichuan between 1927 and1937, highlighting the party struggles in the contested realm of Republican politics. Guo Wang specifically analyzes social construction in Beibei during the same era, focusing on the symbols surrounding this local success. Jennifer Liu and Colette Plum examine Sichuan during the Anti-Japanese War (1937-1945). Liu discusses the tensions among displaced middle schools, local communities and the central government in Sichuan during a time of national crisis. Plum considers the Nationalist strategies aimed at creating model citizens out of wartime orphans through labor education, with the engagement of local communities and markets. The papers in this panel work together to present Sichuan as a case study of how “the Chinese nation” was perceived, contested, and reshaped through local constructions during the Republican era.

Constitutionalists in Republican Sichuan
Xiaowei Zheng, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

From May to December in 1911, after the court announced the policy of nationalizing the privately owned Chuan-Han Railway Company and the decision to incur foreign loans to pay for it, the entire province was in action. The leadership of the Railway Protection Movement consisted of the “constitutionalists”; its backbone was a group of Sichuan provincial assemblymen, who also controlled the lucrative Chengdu branch of the railway company. It was they who first organized the Railway Protection Association and masterminded the effective propaganda campaign under one slogan, “to recover the railway and to break the [foreign-loan] treaty”. What happened to them and the railway company after the establishment of the Chinese Republic? To be sure, Sichuan constitutionalists continued playing a crucial role in provincial politics, allocating power in the provincial administration and holding meetings in the provincial assemblies. Drawing upon newspapers, archival sources, memoirs and transcripts of meetings, this paper examines the actions and the decisions of the constitutionalists over the railway company and other provincial matters. It argues that the actual logic in which they organized their political lives was far from the democratic political culture centering on the issue of “rights” (quan) that they helped create.

Partifying Sichuan: The Chinese Youth Party in Sichuan 1927-1937
Nagatomi Hirayama, University of Nottingham, China

This paper examines the Chinese Youth Party’s partification of Sichuan between 1927 and 1937. The Youth Party was established in 1923 in France by a group of Chinese confronting the rise of communism in the Chinese community in Europe. After its founding members returned to China in 1924, the Youth Party expanded its influence opposing the “national revolution” promoted by the Nationalist and Communist Parties. Facing the Nationalist Party’s suppression from the mid 1920s, the Youth Party determined to cultivate Sichuan as its political base since many of its leaders were Sichuan natives with good political connections and economic recourses. The Youth Party’s plan was successful, and it outstripped both the Nationalist and Communist Parties until 1937, when the former started concentrating administrative and military resources in Southwest China to resist Japan’s aggression. How did the Youth Party partify Sichuan? This paper identifies three effective strategies which helped the Youth Party establish its power in Sichuan: 1) appealing to students and teachers, 2) establishing connections with local gentry, and 3) seeking support from warlords. The existing scholarship of Republican state building centers on the study of the Nationalist Party and Communist Party, one urban and the other rural. Yet, China was far from integrated in this era. Focusing only on these two parties blinds us to the diversified roots of the Chinese nation. This paper explores the multiplicity of China’s state construction by analyzing the Youth Party’s national project through local political construction.

Creating a New World in Beibei: The Vestige of an Urban-Rural Continuum in Modern China,1927-1936
Guo Wang, Peking University, China

This essay aims to discuss how Beibei, a suburban county of Sichuan Chongqing, was transformed from a barren and bandit-ridden local place to “the most successful model for China’s urban planning” within a decade from 1927 to 1936. This success may be attributed primarily to the effort of Lu Zuofu, a Sichuan native equipped with the traditional Chinese concept of urban-rural unity and spatial and temporal reasoning. In the context of the expansion of capitalist political economy, the worldwide widening of urban-rural division, and the degradation of Chinese traditional statecraft, Lu created a model of development, integrating again the Beibei local community which was already divided by the dichotomous lines of urban-rural, spiritual-materialistic, and state-society . Beibei is located inland, and is so peripheral compared to the central metropolitan cities in the coastal areas, but its remarkable development nonetheless illuminates a nationalized realm of trans-local flows of money, people, knowledge, technologies, merchandise and so on. Therefore, by shedding light on Beibei’s development sustained by the trans-local interactions, I argue that Beibei made its local success a symbol of China’s state building in the 1930s by forming a channeling zone between tradition and modernity, rurality and urbanity, and nationalism and cosmopolitanism.

Survival During the War of Resistance: Secondary Schools’ Relocation to Sichuan, 1937-1945
Jennifer Liu, Central Michigan University, USA

On July 7, 1937, the War of Resistance began when Japanese forces attacked Marco Polo Bridge (Luguoqiao), capturing nearby Beijing. Over the next three month, the Japanese expanded their attack. In response, the Chinese Nationalists (Guomindang, GMD) moved their capital inland, first to Wuhan, then to Chongqing, deep in Sichuan’s mountains. Over the next eight years (1937-1945), the War of Resistance drove waves of refugee students out of Japanese-occupied cities in northern and coastal China, where officials either closed schools or relocated them away from the conflict. This process of migration to the Southwest China (Sichuan and Yunnan) critically impacted the development of GMD education policy, especially concerning primary and secondary (or middle) schools. This paper explores how displaced middle schools coped with the War of Resistance. Some students managed to escape inland with their teachers, where the central government set up national schools to accommodate them. Those who fled enemy invasion encountered many hardships along the way. Some students and their principals feuded with local citizens, Buddhist monks, farmers, and the military itself. Displacement also led the GMD to explore and implement several changes in its education policy, including exerting stronger centralized control over some Chinese middle schools (which traditionally were run entirely by local officials). For most students the story of mass relocation was ultimately one of remarkable tenacity, an extreme commitment to education, and triumph – for the majority were able to continue their studies amidst the destruction of war and invasion that severely disrupted their lives.

Orphans’ Factories and Fields: Local Communities of Production and Learning in Wartime Sichuan
M. Colette Plum, Johns Hopkins University, China

Historians of China’s war with Japan have argued that the wartime era was critical for creating the economic, social and political foundations of China’s modern nation state. The establishment of Chongqing as the nation’s capital during the Anti-Japanese War (1937-1945) placed Sichuan at the center of China’s national salvation and reconstruction projects. The creation of modern citizens via social welfare programs was central to these projects. A large refugee population arrived in Sichuan beginning in the fall of 1938. Amongst these refugees were a sizable number of war orphans who had been transported from the front lines and were destined for newly constructed wartime children’s homes scattered throughout the interior. State builders and educators viewed these children’s homes as an important site for nation-building efforts and the cultivation of child-citizen-laborers with the dispositions and skills deemed necessary for building a modern nation. This paper argues that engagement with local communities and markets was a key part of the Nationalist strategy for creating citizens out of children. Small-scale production was an essential part of the Nationalists’ wartime production base and this lent itself well to the participation of child laborers. Labor education (laodong jiaoyu) and production education (shengchan jiaoyu) were central to the curriculum of Sichuan’s wartime children’s homes, and were instantiated through children’s participation in wartime production rooted in local resources and opportunities.