2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 22

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Foreign Bodies: Foreigners and Foreign Institutions in Republican China

Organizer: Anne-Marie Brady, University of Canterbury, New Zealand

Chair: Guido Samarani, University of Venice, Italy

Discussants: Anne-Marie Brady, University of Canterbury, New Zealand; Douglas Brown, John Abbott College, Canada

China in the 1930s and 1940s was a nation in upheaval, with no single entity controlling the whole country and no one ideology dominating debate. The past was rejected and the future was uncertain. Foreigners were intimately involved in both creating and trying to resolve this state of upheaval. Their competing ideologies and interests were a complicating factor in China’s ultimate rebirth into a modern, united nation state. Foreigners were participant-observers in this tumultuous process and frequently were personally transformed by what they experienced in China. The various papers in the panel examine how a range of foreign communities in Republican China had an influence on literature, education, trade, sexual morality, and architecture there, and were themselves influenced by the society of China in the period from the 1920s to 1940s.

“The Smell of the Orient”: Cultural Critiques and Connections in 1920s Peking Language Classrooms
Eric Henry, St. Mary's University, Canada

Drawing upon historical material related to foreign language instruction in Republican China, this paper puts forward an anthropological interpretation of the language classroom as an arena of cultural critique. Mission educators flocked to China during the 1920s to satisfy growing demands for foreign language education, blending formal linguistic instruction with Christian proselytism. Although dreams of transforming China into a Christian nation were left unfulfilled, I argue that the encounter between foreign teachers and Chinese students provided an opportunity for creative engagement where assumptions, biases and criticisms were put to the test, and novel cultural solutions proposed. Employing frameworks from linguistic anthropology, I suggest that language was the medium through which Chinese and foreigners came to understand each other.

Tianjin’s Hyper-colonial Space and the Italian Dream of Empire
Maurizio Marinelli, Independent Scholar, Australia

This presentation focuses on the sole Italian concession (zujie) in China (1901-1947), which was located in the Hebei district of the modern municipality of Tianjin and constituted the only example of Italian colonialism in Asia. Through the historical investigation of the former Italian concession, from its acquisition to its socio-spatial reorganisation as a ‘laboratory of modernity’, the paper will emphasise the imposed notion of the concession as an Italian-style ‘neighbourhood’: a miniature Disneyland-style venue of ‘Italianness’ or ‘Italian spirit’ (Italianità). Focussing on the conceptualisation of the concession as a ‘neighbourhood’, and not a colony, Italy tried to give shape to a short-lived, although in colonial terms glorious, projective idea: the ‘neighbourhood’ was meant to contribute to establish Italy’s status and prestige among the other colonial powers operating in China at the time.

Takeda Taijun in Shanghai: Recollections of Republican China and Imperial Japan
Barbara T. Hartley, University of Tasmania, Australia

In mid-1944, the then little-known writer and translator of Chinese, Takeda Taijun (1912-1976), boarded a boat bound for Shanghai. Takeda first travelled to Shanghai in October, 1937, as a Japanese Imperial Army conscript. On this second visit he went as a civilian to work as a translator. After his repatriation in February, 1946, he became a prominent writer of fiction and non-fiction in Japan. This paper will draw on Takeda’s reminiscences of Shanghai to demonstrate the fraught nature of the contact zone cohabited by the Japanese invaders and the local residents of occupied China. While drawn to this zone, as a subject of Imperial Japan Takeda was inevitably influenced by the “novel [modern] mythologies of nation and empire” (Saurabh Dube, 2002). He was therefore inextricably tied to the excesses of Japan’s imperial project. In 1976, during the final months of his life, Takeda published Shanhai no hotaru (1976, Shanghai Firefly), a candid, semi-autobiographical account of his time in Shanghai. One of the key themes of this work is the nature of the interaction between the first-person narrator/ protagonist and the local community. The ambivalent status of a “friendly” Japanese in war-time Republican China is the source of much of the tension that drives Takeda’s narrative. This presentation will discuss a selection of excerpts from the novel that foreground this tension, including the protagonist’s drunken account of how Japanese soldiers at the front hold and shoot a gun while his Chinese hosts sit impassively and listen.

Sissywood versus Alleyman: Going Nose to Nose in Shanghai
Douglas Brown, John Abbott College, Canada

In 1938 W.H Auden and Christopher Isherwood traveled through China observing the war against the Japanese. This paper reviews the transformative impact of Isherwood’s observations of the KMT-CCP rivalry and China’s geo-political position; of the religious dimensions of Western and Chinese interaction in Republican China; and of the mingling of Western and Chinese homosexualities. Isherwood’s meeting with Rewi Alley in Shanghai is a critical moment in his “Travel Diary”. Alley had just written with Helen and Edgar Snow a pamphlet advocating wartime industrial cooperatives which Isherwood took to British ambassador Archibald Clark-Kerr, who would persuade the KMT to support the cooperatives. Despite this endorsement of Alley’s project, Isherwood’s ambivalent text sketches a dehumanized, self-denying figure. While presenting Alley’s perspective without impediment, Isherwood dissents from Alley’s ethical, sexual, and political position. Isherwood associates Alley with an impersonal vision of human existence, homosexual obliteration, and a disturbing evocation of violence. Isherwood’s rejection of Alley announces his turns from proto-Communism to a less materialist view of life; from homosexual repression to Isherwood’s later gay liberationism; and from the Snow-Alley accounts of Chinese politics to a sceptical representation of a pluralist China.