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Lena Scheen

Over the past millennium, Shanghai transformed from a relatively insignificant market town and county capital into a major global metropolis. A combination of technical advances in agriculture, waterway management, and the natural changes in the course of some rivers and the silting of others led, in 1292, to the founding of the county capital Shanghai. The town went through alternate periods of growth and stagnation, but by the mid-19th century, it was an international trading hub with a population of a quarter of a million people. One of the turning points in its history came in 1842, the year that the Treaty of Nanking was signed by the Qing Empire and the United Kingdom and the Treaty Port of Shanghai opened up. Over the following century, Shanghai was divided into three main sections, each operating under its own laws and regulations: the International Settlement, the French Concession, and the Chinese city. In the 1930s, the fate of the city fell into the hands of yet another foreign power: Japan. After Japan’s surrender on 15 August 1945, Chinese nationalists and communists continued their struggle for control of the city for another four years until the People’s Liberation Army “liberated” Shanghai on 25 May 1949.

Article

Mårten Söderblom Saarela

The Manchu language was the language of state in the Qing empire, which ruled China and large parts of Inner Asia from 1644 to 1911. For much of its history, it was used by communities in which Chinese was also spoken and written, but Manchu is a Tungusic language that is unrelated to Chinese. Its implementation in China and maintenance as the administrative language of core elements of the Qing imperial bureaucracy prompted the development of a Manchu education system and a tradition of bilingual Manchu-Chinese language pedagogy. Long before upwardly mobile individuals in China from the late 19th century onward committed to the study of the languages of the industrialized West and Japan, numerous Chinese-speaking servants of the Qing throne applied themselves to the study of Manchu. Over time, not only a voluminous government archive accrued in Manchu but also a literature in several genres that consisted largely of translations from Chinese. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Manchu ceased to be a vernacular language in many areas where it had been previously spoken. It remained in use longest on parts of the imperial periphery, even beyond the fall of the Qing empire itself. Both as an administrative language and as a vernacular, Manchu survived into the tumultuous new century. Over time, however, it was supplanted by Chinese in most places. Yet dialects of Manchu remain spoken by small communities as of the early 21st century.

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An expeditionary force soldier. A jungle war survivor. A patriot who traded opportunities in the United States for a tedious journey home to the newly founded People’s Republic of China. A “counterrevolutionary.” A forced laborer who spent the last third of his life translating English and Russian literature.—A poet. Careful study of Mu Dan’s (1918–1977) poetry enables us to explore a string of moments in modern China’s transformation. Twenty-two poems by Mu Dan have been selected as a history of China from the climax of the New Culture Movement (1919) through the end of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1976). Fusing linguistic audacity, philosophical acumen, and historical vision, they weave a thread of themes illuminating the tortured path of a nation and an individual. Further, they span a spectrum of sentiments ranging from those of ordinary people to those of extraordinary intellectuals. To reveal the turning points in modern China’s history, the twenty-two poems have been contextualized along two axes. A vertical axis, the thread of themes, consists of eleven motifs developed and revisited by Mu Dan from 1940 through 1976; they are: Youth, War, Disillusion, Maturity, Sacrifice, Exposure, Enlightenment, Conversion, Awakening, Anguish, and Reflection. A horizontal axis, the spectrum of sentiments, exhibits Mu Dan’s contradictory attitudes toward modern China’s transformation by identifying him with his countrymen or distancing him from them as a free spirit and cultural critic. This conceptual framework assists in examining the interaction between history and literature. It demonstrates how modern China’s history informs, provokes, and shapes a poet whose life span coincides with it and, at the same time, how poetry can be and is being read as history itself. This reading allows more than new access to the historical events that mold a poet and his poetry. Reading poetry as history uncovers lost sentiments, struggles, observations, and critiques that advance our understanding of modern China.

Article

From the first establishment of a museum in 1905 to the early-21st-century drive to build local museums, Chinese elites and officials have recognized the role of exhibitions in shaping the modern nation. Across this long 20th century, China’s exhibitionary culture has reflected three themes: the deployment of antiquity and tradition to inculcate national consciousness, the creation of revolutionary narratives to model political participation, and the presentation of modernity to inspire a vision of national “wealth and power.” During the Republican period (1912–1949), the Nationalists protected the imperial collection and established revolutionary memorial halls, and elites built local museums while businessmen championed native goods in national product fairs. The Communist Party, which came to power in 1949, created a Museum of the Chinese Revolution while also developing a cultural bureaucracy to preserve cultural relics. During the Mao years (1949–1976), exhibitions were part of everyday life, from rural exhibits about agricultural production to propaganda displays that justified class struggle. Since China’s period of “reform and opening-up” in 1978, exhibitions have played a central role in cultural diplomacy while also serving national aims of domestic tourism and “patriotic education.” The enterprise of the Chinese museum has always had a dual aim: to make the modern nation and to serve the pedagogical state.

Article

Print culture in imperial China spans over twelve hundred years, from the late 7th century ce to the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1911. During this long period, mechanical reproduction of texts and image meant primarily woodblock printing (xylography), and, to a lesser extent, typography, using movable types made of wood, metal, and ceramics. Xylography was first used for religious purposes, such as prayer sheets and scriptures, but by the late 8th century, nonreligious imprints for daily use were produced. Only in the mid-10th century, however, did the state and the literati elite begin to produce and disseminate many nonreligious works in print. Thus, the dramatic growth in the number and diversity of imprints produced by government, private, religious, and commercial publishers took off in the Song Dynasty (960–1279), due in great part to the state’s efforts to compile and publish many works. One may argue, however, that not until the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) would print culture be sufficiently widespread to be in ascendance, as evidenced by the great variety of works, the evolving page designs, and the changing attitudes of readers toward imprints. By the mid Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), printing had spread throughout the country into remote regions and throughout all levels of society. Changes in publishing culture from the 19th century onward were spurred by the adoption of new print technologies from the West, such as lithography and movable-type letterpress, which allowed for faster publication of far greater press runs, even as the traditional printing technologies continued to be used. Finally, it is important to note that a thriving manuscript culture continued to coexist with print until at least the late 19th century. The parting of the ways between print and manuscript became lasting only with the dominance of modern print technologies in the 20th century.

Article

The Chinese media has been discussed either as a challenge to the authoritarian regime or as an instrument to consolidate state power in the recent debates concerning the impact of the Internet and the expansion of social media on China’s authoritarian rule. Both views have adopted the framework that was developed out of the liberal model of media in the West. In the liberal model, the news media should go through full-flown commercialization to achieve autonomy and independence from the state. The independence of the news media from the state is the precondition for the news media’s role as watchdog of the state and check on the government. However, the liberal model does not fit the actual historical experiences of the news media in China. Throughout the 20th century, state control of the media expanded in the context of state-building, war, and revolution. The Chinese media did not go through full-flown commercialization to the extent that the media would achieve complete independence from the state. Rather, in the context of state expansion, the media and the state became interdependent rather than antagonistic. In the state-dominated environment, the media did not necessarily seek independence from the state. Nevertheless, even without independence, the media can still play a significant political role within the limits and boundaries set by the state. This has important implications for understanding the resilience of the contemporary Chinese government.