2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 24

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Constructing Spatial Knowledge in Modern China: Geography, Law, and Literature

Organizer and Chair: Robert J. Culp, Bard College, USA

Discussant: Robert J. Culp, Bard College, USA

We are accustomed to viewing early twentieth-century China, a period of international competition and intense nationalism, as a time in which space was reconfigured and re-imagined. However, we have only begun to explore the systems of knowledge and modes of cultural, social, and political practice through which those processes occurred. This panel interrogates how the modern academic discipline of geography, literary writings, and international legal concepts of sovereignty conditioned and mediated the construction of spatial knowledge in China during the twentieth century. Together, the papers describe a contentious and tension-filled process. Euro-American-inspired fieldwork-based approaches and historical geography, which was more continuous with late imperial scholarship, competed to define the academic field of geography in the Republican period. Legal principles of uti possidetis (as you possess) and jus sanguinis (the bloodline principle), which related to academic fields, including geography, in complex ways, offered distinct bases for demarcating sovereign territory. On the ground in borderlands like Manchuria, where sovereignty was contested, literary writings provided a vehicle for competing groups to claim space in ways different from legal and academic discourse. Juxtaposing these diverse modes of configuring space, finding points of resonance and friction, this panel will offer a preliminary map of the terrain of spatial knowledge in twentieth-century China. Building on David Harvey’s distinction between relational space and representational space, the panel will also demonstrate the interplay between political competition to define and demarcate territory, on one hand, and emergent technologies of representation, on the other.

Traveling for Ten Thousand Li (Xing wanli lu) - Trudging Towards A “New Geography”
Zhihong Chen, Guilford College, USA

My paper probes the connection between territorial nationalism and the disciplinary formation of modern geography in early twentieth-century China. It examines how a group of Republican Chinese geographers criticized traditional dynastic geography (yange dili) and defined the nature and methodology of what they deemed to be the “new geography” in the context of foreign imperialism and Chinese nationalism. Geography was not a completely new mode of scholarly inquiry. China had a long history of compiling geographic treatises and maps. But in the traditional Chinese knowledge classification system, geography was attached to history (shi) - one of the four overarching categories of traditional scholarship. Geographic research was largely influenced by historical approaches, and textual research characterized its main methodology. During the Republican era (1912-1949), as China tried to refashion the imperial domain into modern sovereign territory, the traditional dynastic geography seemed utterly insufficient to offer empirical, practical, or “scientific” knowledge about the land. Under such circumstances, a group of geographically trained scholars (such as Zhu Kezhen and Zhang Qiyun) tried to establish a “new geography” that was not only scientifically based but also useful for solving China’s frontier crisis. My paper describes this definition process, emphasizing how territorial nationalism and frontier concerns shaped how they negotiated between foreign and Chinese geographic traditions. As they identified fieldwork as the main methodology that differentiated the “new geography” from the “old geography,” the paper also examines the logic and nature of their emphasis on fieldwork.

A New Knowledge for a New Society: The Rise of Historical Geography During the Nanjing Era (1927-1937)
Tze Ki Hon, State University of New York, Geneseo, USA

In this paper, I trace the founding of “historical geography” (lishi dili) as a new system of knowledge in early twentieth-century China. Through this account, I argue that the creation of historical geography was a milestone in the Chinese quest for modernity. To highlight the importance of historical geography in Chinese modernity, I compare two groups of historical geographers. First, I focus on the former literati who, in the wake of the abolition of civil service examinations, reinvented themselves as educators in the national school system and writers in the print market. Represented by the Chinese Geographical Society (Zhongguo dixue hui) in Beiping, this group of “amateur” historical geographers wrote for Dili zazhi (1910-1937)—the first academic journal devoted to geography, geology, meteorology, mineralogy, and population studies. Second, I discuss the professional academicians who worked in state-supported universities such as Southeastern University (Dongnan daxue) and Central University (Zhongyang daxue). Represented by the Historical and Geographical Society of China (Zhongguo shidi xuehui) in Nanjing, this group of professional academicians wrote for Shidi xuebao (1921-1926) and Shixue yu dixue (1926-1928). By comparing these two groups of historical geographers, I demonstrate the momentous change in the cultural habitus of the educated elite in post-imperial China. In particular, I show the drastic social changes that occurred when the civil service examinations were replaced by the national school system, and the exclusive cultural market for the literati was superseded by a culture industry that mass produced print products.

The Contestation over Manchukuo as A Space/Place: Japanese Thought Control and Chinese Literary Production in Manchukuo
Yuehtsen Juliette Chung, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

How did the Chinese youth in Northeast China resist the Japanese invasion? How did the Japanese secret service monitor these youth’s cultural activities in Manchukuo? How did the Manchus view these activities in a situation where they saw the Republican government as their enemies and they were dominated by the Japanese? The different modes of spatial knowledge these historical actors have employed in narrating the borders of culture and geography have stretched our horizon of this conflict zone of time/space. This paper explores the Chinese youth’s anti-Japanese activities in Manuchuo, based on the materials donated by the renowned Chinese novelist Ji Gang. Ji Gang participated in these activities under-cover as a medical student and recorded 90% of these activities in his well-received non-fiction book Roaring Liao River (Gungun liaohe). Special focus will be placed on the Japanese secret police’s reports, donated by Ji Gang to the Tsing Hua University Library, that analyze the anti-Japanese content of Chinese literary works. These reports can be described as hidden transcripts in terms of James C. Scott’s definition. However, Scott’s work on domination and resistance is framed within the binary dichotomy of dominator/dominated. This paper will explore the multi-sided contention in Manchukuo involving interactions among the Japanese, Manchus, Han, Nationalists, and Communists through their art performances and literary writings.