This collection of mostly historical studies of modern China opens with Wen-hsin Yeh’s brief summary of “state of the field” in 2000. According to her, opening of China and rise of social sciences brought about a vogue of “functional approaches” in probing China’s long-term institutional features. As a result, there emerged a view of cultural China with negotiated boundaries, and a heightened sensitivity to the multiplicity of historical subjects. This volumes focuses on three topics: city, nation and self.
Leo Lee’s study of Shanghai is simply the first chapter of Shanghai Modern. Sherman Cochran introduces how Huang Chujiu(1872-1931), the King of Advertising in early 20th century China, and other sellers of “new medicine” produced images of the West, economic nationalism, and women and widely distributed these and other images through advertising in China. He adopts two terms of “poaching” (Michel de Certeau) and “aggressive popularizing” to describe Chinese advertiser’s commercial marketing. In general this article provides a case study to show how local Chinese people, without life experience in the West, appropriated knowledge of and from the West in its localization.
Continuing his study of Beijing city, David Strand in this articles discusses the mutual influences between inland cities such as Lanzhou with coastal cities like Shanghai. He talks about cities’ functions in fostering social criticism and modern political thoughts which, together with other conceptions, gave rise to a modern state of China. After all, as Strand concludes, technical and institutional modernity, ...and the formation of Chinese identity started from cities(127).
William Kirby, teaching at Harvard B school, discusses GMD’s central policy based on China as a “developing country”. Richard Madsen studies Tianjin Gong Shang College, which was started by the French Jesuits in Xian county of Hebei Province in 1920s. It describes the hierarchical organization of the Catholic communities and the college by which to “add some complexity to standard accounts of Chinese modernization”(163).
Helen Siu continues her discussion of the Pearl River delta, focusing on the local merchants. In conversation with William Rowe’s study of Hankou and David Faure’s study of Foshan, Siu further unravels the complex connections between Guangdong merchants and state, rural community and the literati group, through examining local lineage, ethnicity and property management.
Then Siu asks how the merchants’ “integrative function” collapsed in the Republican period. The demise of town-based ancestral estates, the degentrification of commerce and local warlords combine to provide an answer. As a result, local merchants lost their identity, together with their dialogue with the state through lineage, temple, guild, and academy. Question remains, Siu continues, as the post-Mao reform produces new consumptions and political networking. What are the nature and identity of these newly born bosses?
Four of the six articles in part one address commerce and merchants, respectively from the perspectives of advertising and marketing, city, state policy, and the transformation of the merchant group. Literary materials, Lee proves, add a great deal of color to such discussions. Thus completes part one.
Part Two on the Nation and the Self starts with Wang Hui’s discussion of Zhang Taiyan.
With acuteness in literary appreciation, David Wang continues his probes into Chinese modernity, this time on violence and justice. “One must understand justice as a discourse under which some forms of violence are condemned while others are taken for granted.(261)” The article in turn examines four groups of texts, respectively composed in late Qing, post-May Fourth, 1930s and Yan’an, to show how literature provided a textual space in which legal cases were presented for debate and deliberation.
Lao Can’s intrusion into the hall of justice shows the dramatic moment in which the incipient issues of legal praxis and its transgression, governmental mandate and individual agency, social justice and poetic justice, are finally laid on the table for negotiation(262). Through Lu Xun and Yan’an period literature, a new Communist discourse finally appeared, defining a form of suffering and punishment, horrific as they are, as a result of justice. This discourse continues today.
Before and after this article, Wang wrote a series of articles on violence and modern Chinese literature, comprising the collection The Monster That Is History. It is not easy to follow Wang’s stylized close reading, but his persistent “literary” approach show the possibility of addressing important topics based on literature.
Wakeman’s fine study gleans through the connotations of the term hanjian, explicating its meanings of cultural and ethnic transgression, as well as political betrayal. It combs the development of the word in history from early Qing all the way to post anti-Japanese was periods, presenting all the historical cases when the word was used to instigate fighting and to purge collaborators. Through this study we can see how ethnic and political situations shape a special type of identity that differentiates between self and other.
Against the background of modern Indian nationalist campaigns which promoted an authentic India personified in the Mother India, Duara studies the Morality Society in Manzhouguo under Japanese rule. He tries to reveal the nuances in the formation of Chinese modern nationalist discourse, and that of modern subjectivity, in particular the female self.
Largely in accordance to the Indian situation, these spiritual societies, according to Duara, were built upon two dualities: that between the West which represents material culture, and the East which represents spirituality and morality; and that between the outer---social welfare, and the inner self-cultivating subject. Duara focuses on this inner space to examine how a modern self is constituted.
Duara finds that to construct an “inner realm of authenticity” in the modern discourse of Republican China, Chinese women, due to their self-sacrificial nature, were identified as the locus of unchanging authenticity---the “tradition within modernity”. Through examining Japanese records, Duara writes that women further became the upholder of the new family that was the basis of citizenship. Thus, the goal of these societies was to attain a level of moral and spiritual commitment that would enable the individual to transcend the walls of nationality and ethnicity.
This study brings together perspectives from gender, colonialism, nationalism and religious studies. What is dubious is that the picture Duara provides ends up little more than a replica of 20th century India. Is it out of coincidence, necessity, or intended reading?
Finally, Pickowicz uses post-war visual materials to reveal how urban Chinese people imagined, understood, and told their suffering experiences in the anti-Japanese war.
Intellectual, Hanjian, criminal, women, and war experience---these articles zoom in to the level of thinking, experiencing, and symbolic representation. Indeed, all of them touch on the issue of individuals under historical changes that finally gave birth to the nation.
Yeh boasts that each of these articles demonstrates a different picture of Chinese modernity. Indeed, most of these articles grow into book-length studies, showing the possibilities in the study of modern Chinese history and literature.
All that said, have we finally been lost into historical details? What can these interesting corners of modern China tell us about the changes that brought down the past and piled out a modern China? Or, can we only touch history like ants digging holes in a mountain?