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China’s Pursuit of Modernity  

Kent Deng

China’s history in the past one hundred to two hundred years has been full of dramas, changes, progresses, and setbacks. This article navigates China’s trial-and-error process regarding accepting incoming Western technology, trade practices, institutions, and ideology/cosmology, things that were genuinely attractive to the Chinese elite but were at the same time largely incompatible with China’s own age-old, well-entrenched, and highly functional traditions. This set the stage for a difficult birth for modernity in China in comparison with neighboring Japan, for example, despite the fact that most ideas of learning from the West originated in China before traveling to Japan. The more progressive party inside the Chinese establishment was made of enlightened individuals who understood the costs and benefits associated with learning from the advanced West. The real challenge came from the question of how to reduce the cost and thus tip the balance in favor of accepting good things from the West. Given that Qing China had a small and cheap Confucian state that commanded only a tiny proportion of China’s wealth, to build a larger state from within became the precondition for China to learn from the West, a point that has only recently been recognized with the rise of the progressive California School and the decline of the groundless Oriental Despotism Hypothesis. It has become clear that much depended on China’s domestic conditions and internal timing, rather than external persuasion accompanied with an increasing degree of political violence that stemmed from Western military supremacy. It is thus not surprising that the 1839–1840 Opium War merely woke China up while the 1850 empire-wide social unrest started to change China from within. What followed was a combination of state rebuilding and economic modernization with or without external threat, a national obsession that continued until Deng Xiaoping’s reforms after 1980.

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Commodities and Consumption in Modern China  

Karl Gerth

How did the introduction and spread of countless new commodities and their consumption shape modern Chinese history? The intersection of commodities and consumption provides the flipside to the better-studied history of production and underlies countless topics at the center of Chinese and world history since the 19th century, such as imperialism, trade, industrialization, revolution, social hierarchies, and the ascendance of China as a global manufacturing and export superpower. Consumption includes the introduction and spread of mass-manufactured consumer commodities, the proliferation of discourse about these goods in new forms of mass media, and an ongoing shift toward creating and communicating hierarchical social identities through the consumption of mass-produced commodities. While consumption is often viewed as an individual matter, one related to creating personal identities, a key theme that emerges throughout modern Chinese history is that the Chinese states and elites have long sought to link commodity consumption with ideas of patriotism and national strength, helping shape what it means to consume commodities right down to the present.

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Copyright, Publishing, and Knowledge Economy in Modern China  

Fei-Hsien Wang

As a major form of intellectual property, copyright is a person’s right over their original literary and artistic works. Based on the idea or principle that the creators own what they created as property, copyright laws grant the author an exclusive right to use their creations. How was this doctrine, which emerged from the complex dynamics of commerce, lawmaking, and knowledge production in Western Europe, introduced and developed in China, a society with its own long and sophisticated book culture and legal tradition? Books and written texts occupied a centrality in imperial Chinese culture. As printed books became more commercialized in the late Ming dynasty, a printing block–centered literary ownership emerged and was practiced by cultural entrepreneurs. Since the mid-19th century, Western knowledge, technologies, and Westernization political reforms shook this late-imperial book production tradition and Confucian classic–centered epistemological order. Modern (and Western) copyright was introduced and popularized in the late Qing dynasty as a progressive alien doctrine to modernize China and as a new tool against piracy. Two Japanese kanji phrases—banquan/hanken版權 (right to the printing blocks) and zhuzuoquan/chosakuken著作權 (author’s right)—were borrowed as the Chinese translation of the term “copyright,” with the former more widely used than the latter. Multiple systems and understandings of banquan/copyright developed in the first half of the 20th century. Despite the modern and universal rhetoric used in these systems, they were influenced by late-imperial norms and customs in practices. Their effectiveness was also limited by the political uncertainties at the time and the capacities of institutions that executed them. When the publishing sector was reconfigured after 1949, these systems and the concept of copyright faded out in Maoist China. After the economic reform in the 1980s, China reintegrated into the international copyright system, but piracy also returned as an acute issue for its knowledge economy. This article only discusses copyright and piracy in China’s publishing world, not in film, other audiovisual recordings, and digital products; the copyright development and struggles of these modern mechanical forms of cultural (re)productions deserve a separate discussion.

Article

Geology, Mineralogy, and Exploration  

Shellen Wu

Why is coal the most important energy source in China? Why has the National Geological Survey of China focused on and devoted significant resources to the exploration of borderlands and frontier areas? The answers to these questions have a great deal to do with how the scientific disciplines of geology and minerology developed from the waning decades of the Qing dynasty in the late 19th century through a period of political turmoil and war in the first half of the 20th century. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many of the leading explorers in China were foreigners. Exploration and science became imbued with the greater significance of imperialism’s impact on the country and the growing nationalism in response. China’s leading scientists argued for the importance of a national geological survey to lay claims to the natural resources and territorial extent of the country, lest these be lost to foreign prospectors. These political undercurrents became an inseparable part of the history of geology in China.

Article

Museums and Exhibitionary Culture in Twentieth-Century China  

Denise Y. Ho

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

Taiwan and Modern China  

Emma J. Teng

The China–Taiwan relationship continues to be one of the most highly fraught international political issues in the post-Cold War era, and a potential flashpoint in US–China affairs. Lying 180 kilometers off the southeastern coast of China, Taiwan’s relation to the mainland has undergone numerous permutations since the 17th century, when it was a Dutch colony. In 1662, Taiwan was conquered by Ming loyalist forces who retreated to the island from China and took it from the Dutch. This loyalist regime then held the island until 1683, when Qing imperial forces crossed the Taiwan Strait to quell the insurgents. The Qing in turn ruled Taiwan until 1895, when it was ceded to Japan as an outcome of the Sino-Japanese War. Taiwan was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1945, following Japan’s defeat in World War II, but has been divided from mainland China since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. Taiwan’s evolving relationship to modern China has been profoundly shaped by three crucial factors: the island’s location along China’s strategic maritime perimeter; its role in global trade networks; and fears of its being used as an enemy base against the mainland. Taiwan has also played an important role in Chinese migration history. The island was one of the earliest destinations for overseas migration from China, and it has seen successive waves of Han Chinese migrants over the centuries, making it home to the largest ethnic Chinese population outside the PRC in the early 21st century. In addition to ancestral and cultural ties, a staggering volume of trade and investment links the two sides together economically, despite ongoing political friction, and the contemporary cross-Strait relationship is thus characterized by collaboration as well as conflict. Important historiography of the subject has been produced in China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, the United States, and Europe within the frameworks of Chinese history, East Asian regional and maritime history, comparative colonial history, and the history of international relations. It is worth noting that beyond the China–Taiwan relationship, a different strand of historiography, that of Pacific history, treats Taiwan as part of the history of the Pacific Islands, focusing on its indigenous people rather than the Han Chinese majority, and on their links to other Austronesian-speaking peoples across Oceania.

Article

The 1989 Tiananmen Movement and Its Aftermath  

Rowena Xiaoqing He

In spring 1989, millions of Chinese took to the streets calling for reforms. The nationwide movement, highlighted by a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, ended on June 4 with the People’s Liberation Army firing on unarmed civilians. Over 200,000 soldiers, equipped with tanks and machine guns, participated in the lethal action. Student leaders, intellectuals, workers, and citizens were subsequently purged, imprisoned, or exiled. Tiananmen remains one of the most sensitive and taboo subjects in China today, banned from both academic and popular realms. Even the actual number of deaths from the military crackdown remains unknown. Every year on the anniversary of June 4, the government intensifies its control, and citizens who commemorate the events are put under various forms of surveillance. The Tiananmen Mothers are prohibited from openly mourning family members who died in the massacre, and exiles are prohibited from returning home, even for a parent’s funeral. Many older supporters of the movement, leading liberal intellectuals in the 1980s, died in exile. The post-Tiananmen regime has constructed a narrative that portrays the Tiananmen Movement as a Western conspiracy to weaken and divide China, hence justifying its military crackdown as necessary for stability and prosperity and paving the way for China’s rise. Because public opinion pertaining to nationalism and democratization is inseparable from a collective memory of the nation’s most immediate past—be it truthful, selective, or manipulated—the memory of Tiananmen has become highly contested. While memory can be manipulated or erased by those in power, the repression of both memory and history is accompanied by political, social, and psychological distortions. Indeed, it is not possible to understand today’s China and its relationship with the world without understanding the spring of 1989.

Article

Tobacco, Cigarettes, and Women’s Status in Modern China  

Carol Benedict

Cigarette smoking in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is a highly gendered practice. The vast majority of China’s three hundred million plus smokers are men: in 2016, about 48 percent of men over age 15 were current smokers, but less than 2 percent of women smoked. The stark difference in this pattern of men and women’s smoking behavior is often attributed to lingering cultural taboos against female smoking assumed to have been in place for centuries. In fact, the virtual exclusivity of male smoking in China is of relatively recent vintage, dating only from the mid-1900s. From the 17th to the 19th centuries, smoking was socially acceptable for Chinese women. Granted, there were gendered and class differences in the location of tobacco consumption. Chinese men could smoke in public, but well-mannered women smoked privately out of view. After cigarettes were introduced into China at the end of the 19th century, some women, especially those living in coastal cities, took to smoking them rather than pipe tobacco. In the opening decades of the 20th century, the number of women who smoked cigarettes increased, but this trend was reversed in the 1930s and 1940s. After the establishment of the PRC in 1949, the number of women who smoked diminished even further such that by the 1980s, only a small percentage of women consumed tobacco products of any kind. Many social, economic, and cultural factors contributed to the gendered pattern of smoking that emerged in China over the course of the 20th century. An essential aspect of this history was the transformation in social norms that made cigarette smoking less rather than more respectable for women as time went on. At the beginning of the century, many women were already accustomed to smoking pipe tobacco. Some women, including those who identified as forward-looking “New Women,” preferred cigarettes. However, by mid-century cigarettes came to be widely associated with a stigmatized type of New Woman known as the “Modern Girl.” Portrayed in popular culture and political rhetoric alike as extravagant and sexually promiscuous, the Modern Girl’s pursuit of luxury came to symbolize bourgeois decadence and insufficient national loyalty. These associations came forward into the PRC period and as a result, most women born after 1949 elected not to smoke at all. Major differences in male and female smoking prevalence rates persist because female smoking remains objectionable to many Chinese citizens in the 21st century.

Article

Transnational Film in East Asia  

William Carroll

To most Western scholars, “East Asian cinema” calls to mind either a small number of globally recognized art house auteurs or specific genres that have found cult audiences in the West. However, this overlooks the enormously complex history of the popular film industries in the region. The tendency to group together films from the region as East Asian cinema can elide some important differences in the film industries and cultures in individual parts of the region, but, at the same time, the “national cinema” framework fails to appreciate the interconnectedness of these cinemas both to each other and beyond the region. The earliest film screenings in China, Japan, and Korea were in the last decade of the 19th century, within a few years of the Lumière Brothers’ first demonstration of their new invention in Paris in 1895. Japan and China both developed robust popular film industries by the mid-1920s. Colonized by Japan in 1910, Korea nevertheless also developed a popular film industry by the mid-1920s, albeit one that was dominated by business interests (if not necessarily talent) from Japan, and subject to the censorship laws of the colonial government. It is impossible to extricate the networks of commodity and artistic exchange from the history of colonialism in the region—both the colonial designs of Western powers on East Asia, and the reach of the Japanese Empire, whose ascendance coincided precisely with the first half-century of film history, and whose shadow has continued to have implications for cultural exchange within the region ever since. Major geopolitical events such as World War II and the Cold War have also played an important role in shaping film production, and its circuits of exchange, in the region.

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The Uyghurs: Making a Nation  

David Brophy

The Uyghurs comprise a Turkic-speaking and predominantly Muslim nationality of China, with communities living in the independent republics of Central Asia that date to the 19th century, and now a global diaspora. As in the case of many national histories, the consolidation of a Uyghur nation was an early 20th-century innovation, which appropriated and revived the legacy of an earlier Uyghur people in Central Asia. This imagined past was grounded in the history of a Uyghur nomadic state and its successor principalities in Gansu and the Hami-Turfan region (known to Islamic geographers as “Uyghuristan”). From the late 19th century onward, the scholarly rediscovery of a Uyghur past in Central Asia presented an attractive civilizational narrative to Muslim intellectuals across Eurasia who were interested in forms of “Turkist” racial thinking. During the First World War, Muslim émigrés from Xinjiang (Chinese Turkistan) living in Russian territory laid claim to the Uyghur legacy as part of their communal genealogy. This group of budding “Uyghurists” then took advantage of conditions created by the Russian Revolution, particularly in the 1920s, to effect a radical redefinition of the community. In the wake of 1917, Uyghurist discourse was first mobilized as a cultural rallying point for all Muslims with links to China; it was then refracted through the lens of Soviet nationalities policy and made to conform with the Stalinist template of the nation. From Soviet territory, the newly refined idea of a Uyghur nation was exported to Xinjiang through official and unofficial conduits, and in the 1930s the Uyghur identity of Xinjiang’s Muslim majority was given state recognition. Since then, Uyghur nationhood has been a pillar of Beijing’s minzu system but has also provided grounds for opposition to Beijing’s policies, which many Uyghurs feel have failed to realize the rights that should accord to them as an Uyghur nation.