Research Notes: The creation of the Chinese geobody

As I am creating a foundation based on other peoples' studies for my research , one of the crucial studies I am using is Robert Culp's Articulating Citizenship. His chapter on images of the nation through history and geography textbooks argues that textbooks and classes presented students with not one single narrative of what the Chinese nation is, but instead a plurality of symbols, images, or definitions of "nation." One of these narratives was the Chinese nation as a geobody, a national narrative we are not unfamiliar with in America. What this means is that students were taught to recognize the Chinese nation through maps and pictures of a Chinese territory, a bounded and cohesive unit that constitutes the "nation." We can think of this in terms of our own experience; when we see a map of America, we think of it as a complete and cohesive nation. In our textbooks, it is often presented by itself (sometimes with a faded Canada or Mexico perched on either side, but it is always marked as clearly separate from the United States). Even Hawaii and Alaska are often taken out of their original geographic position and placed in the middle of the Atlantic ocean right off the coast of California (or this great example to the right, where Alaska is actually in Mexico); it doesn't matter that this is geographically incorrect because it is not about maps based in reality, but a symbol of the national geobody.

In the case of China, most history and geography textbooks argued that China has been a cohesive unified unit since the Qin dynasty (221 BC), and the emperor who began this dynasty was considered the "unifier of China." In fact, the name used for this emperor, Qinshihuang, literally means the first emperor of China, indicating a specific time when China was unified. However, to argue that from 221BC onwards the people of "China" had a clear image of a unified geobody is anachronistic; they knew they had a single head of state, but the concept of "nation" was not something we saw until the 20th century, and indeed was not even widely propagated until the 1920s and 1930s, mainly through the textbooks which Culp uses as his main source (and the sources I plan to use as well).

However, there seemed to be a pretty standard map for this imagined geobody which demonstrated the nation "China," a map that, like those of our 50 states, was depicted to students separate and sovereign . The "China" that was considered the modern nation was based upon the boundaries of the last decade of the Qing dynasty (1900-1911), thus including territories such as Xinjiang, Tibet, Mongolia, and Manchuria. This geographical unit was depicted as a timeless entity, a bounded nation dating back 2000 years, when really the nationalist government had very little control or influence in many of these western territories.

Culp also talks about the narratives of territories "lost" and territories that must be "regained," a narrative that was anti-imperialistic in nature. He includes a map titled "China's map of humiliation" which shows the pieces of the Chinese empire lost through a series of humiliating battles, such as Hong Kong to Britain, Korea and Taiwan to Japan, and parts of Burma and Nepal to Britain and France. I found a map that is not quite the same, but shows a similar theme; it shows a map of China from the Qing which includes Korea and parts of Southeast Asia, but also shows territory ceded to the British. The common metaphor was to compare the Chinese geographical entity to a mulberry leaf which was continuously being nibbled away; another common one was a melon that outside powers were "carving away." These metaphors were important because they not only gave Chinese students a tangible entity with which they could associate the nation, but also legitimized further governmental control over and migration to these western territories that needed to be either regained or protected. However, the territories that were "lost" and those that were to be regained didn't exactly correspond; it was considered a humiliation that China lost its sovereignty and control over Vietnam, Korea, and Afghanistan, but it was not considered imperative that they be reclaimed, whereas Mongolia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and after 1931 Manchuria were part of the Chinese geobody.

Culp points out this disparity in territories lost and territories that should be regained, but does not give a sufficient answer as to why some territories were considered permanently lost and others were not. He claims that the borders from the last decade of the Qing (see map to left) were standard for the Chinese geobody, (which, as he points out, is quite optimistic; much of this territory was only fleetingly "under Chinese control" and had very little connection with the newly formed nation); however, why was Burma permanently lost, but Tibet was necessarily part of the Chinese state (regardless of the fact that it, like parts of Xinjiang and Mongolia, had declared independence)? This to me is a crucial question; how, when, and why exactly was this particular border decided, and was it as uniformly standard in education as Culp makes it out to be?

This is not only important for understanding the origins of Chinese geographical nationalism, but also for understanding Chinese nationalism today. This narrative, and indeed this geobody, exists today. Many of us don't understand why Chinese people still consider Tibet and Taiwan part of their country; the roots are here. This imagined geobody, regardless of the fact that it is mainly idealized by nationalists and not really based in a real imagined community (i.e., many Tibetans do not feel a strong sense of Chinese nationalism), is the geobody that Chinese students are taught today. This is especially crucial now as the international community threatens the Chinese image of their nation, and the Chinese government may end up cracking under the pressure and will thus have to change their geographical symbolic nation.

It also allows us to look at our own image of our "nation." Take for instance, a map of the 13 colonies; this is never in history textbooks labeled a "map of America," but instead a map of the 13 colonies. Furthermore, maps of the United States before all 50 states were formed is still placed in the goegraphical entity of the US (see "emerging nation" map to right). Ultimately, a map of the US that does not include this geographical territory is inchoate, it is not the United States that we associate with our nationalism. We can also ask the question, then: does our textbooks point to a political platform that favors a federal government over states rights? It has been a common argument throughout our history; it is interesting to note that through images of a geobody we are taught to imagine a unified America, one in which the nation supersedes states.

As I delve into my research, I hope to return to the question of the origins of this particular geobody, as I think it will illuminate a major source of national identity in the hearts of Chinese people in the 1930s and today.

Culp, Robert. Articulating Citizenship: Civic Education and Student Politics in Southeastern China, 1912-1940. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007.
"Map of an Emerging Nation." US Geological Survey. http://education.usgs.gov/common/lessons/images/emerg_1810.jpg
"Map of China." http://gyemo.files.wordpress.com/2008/04/dynasty-qing-s1.jpg
"Map of China." History of China. http://www-chaos.umd.edu/history/chinamap.gif

"USA Map" Maps of the World . http://www.mapsofworld.com/usa/usa-maps/world-map-usa-political-enlarge-view.gif

Research Notes: Where to start

I wish I could begin my research on a more compelling note; unfortunately, my current situation puts me in such a position where I find that the best thing to write about is a series of questions that can serve as jumping off points. My original research proposal was to look at secondary school history textbooks from the Nanjing decade (1927-1937) and explore how the Nationalist government used education and curriculum to create a national identity among students, and what sort of nation they imagined would serve as the new China. As fate would have it, a month after I sent in my research proposal, Robert Culp wrote a book that explored that exact topic, and as I have delved further into this, it seems as though secondary school history textbooks have been pretty well explored.

So from Culp's book (and conversations with Dr. Culp himself) I've moved into new areas to explore that still allow me to stick with my area of interest: education and nation building. Before I go into some of the areas I would like to explore, I want to summarize some of the themes I have seen emerge through this book and Helen Chauncey's book (at the current moment, these are the only books I have in hand because I bought Culp's book and I stole Chauncey's book from Dr. Baumler...but only temporarily, I promise I will return it and NOT fling it into the Pacific ocean) about the Guomindang government. Both scholars have outlined a lot of changes they saw happening in the Nanjing decade in school administration and curriculum; this is a more broad collection of discourses that I see.

One of the more obvious discourses is that we see in the Nanjing decade a trend from a very free exchange of ideas to censorship and control. This includes government infiltration into school circles on a national and local level, the disbanding of autonomous student and faculty organizations, a strict control on textbooks, curriculum, and extra curriculars, to name a few. It is more than that, however; it is also a more subtle method of control, such as control over time schedules, over personal space, over standards of ethics, even attempts to exert control over the body (as Culp pointed out).

Another trend we see is a move from deconstruction to construction. The leaders of the May Fourth and New Culture movements, and even reformers before them, were concerned with deconstructing the social forces that defined, and in their opinion detrimentally restricted, China. This included everything from the family unit to the government, from gender roles to education methods. Culp calls this the "universe of discourse" of social forces, all of which floated around as reformers broke down much of what defined society. The GMD was very concerned with building it back up. They wanted to rebuild a working family unit, a social order, and a government structure, and string it all together with nationalist ideology.

A third trend is away from the intellectual and towards the practical, especially in terms of education. Much of the literature taught during the 1910s and 1920s was that of social critics, speaking of the importance of the intellectual; these were replaced (not entirely, but in some ways) with political ideology based upon Sun Yat Sen. There was a move towards independent thought in schools, the mark of an intellectual atmosphere, to mass education based upon 3 people's principles. Furthermore, as Chauncey points out, the GMD emphasized teacher and vocational training over higher education, and pumped a lot of money into normal schools. This emphasis away from independent thought and higher education, I believe, is similar to many trends we see in fascist/autocratic governments.

A final trend I've observed (which Culp has touched on) is a move away from the New Culture emphasis on societal reform separate from political reform, and instead a trend in which the GMD attempts to place itself into the discourse of the new China. The purposes of education was two-fold: to create a modern understanding of civility, and to make the GMD a part of that vision. This was done through a lot of the methods described above, such as changes in textbooks and curriculum, mass education, and control over behavior, space, and time.

From here, I would like to touch on a few ideas of areas which could use further exploration, or different possible directions I might take from here. One idea which Dr. Culp suggested to me is to look at primary textbooks rather than secondary textbooks. This could be quite illuminating since much of what Culp focuses on is the way that older students participated in this creation of the Chinese nation through student government organizations (which, on a side note, reminded me a LOT of our student government organizations in America, and even the IUP ambassadors). It would be good to contrast this with the lowest levels of education, on children who were taught the most fundamental ideals of nationhood and a modern citizenry. Furthermore, Culp talks a lot about the organization of space and time through strict schedules and classroom set up; it would be good to know what this looked like in primary schools as well.

Another area of interest which I will only touch on briefly here, since I wrote an entire post about it below, is the creation of the national geobody. I would really like to know where the nationalist standard boarders of China came from, how they were decided and why.

A further direction I would possibly explore is the distinct way that women are treated in textbooks, and how women's schools' textbooks differ from male schools. Culp touches slightly on the difference in curriculum, but it would be good to explore this further. Furthermore, I assume that there were female-only extra curricular activities; I would like to perhaps explore the unique structure and creation of female student government organizations in secondary schools, or (as Boy Scouts was popular and eventually required) look at female scout organization.

A final idea of where I might go with all of this is to further examine how the GMD sought to control time, space, and body. This has been explored through studies about physical education classes, and Culp talks about how class schedules and and classroom set up contributed to a GMD controlled national body. This also relates to all of the topics listed above. It would interesting to look at how student journals and textbooks portray the issue of hygiene (control of which was included in the duties of student government organizations) and physical education. Similarly, any information on the governmental decision making process regarding the control of space and time would be good to explore. Chauncey also talks briefly about the architecture of mass-education facilities; a further exploration into political architecture could be equally illuminating. All of this can be further connected to the differences among females and males, secondary and primary education, and the creation of national space.

This is a bit of a fluid list of ideas, and any contribution, ideas, or sources will be welcome (I do have other sources, I just haven't been able to really thoroughly read them yet). More is yet to come.


1.3 billion bicycles not enough...

Just a short post on a humorous experience I had the other day. The mall near my university (well, the largest and most Western-style mall...along with 1.3 billion people and 1.3 billion bicycles, there are also 1.3 billion shopping malls) called "Cloud Nine Shopping Center" is a bit of taste of home for me (seen top right): Haagen Daaz, Starbucks, and Cold Stone are right next to each other, and directly below is a large Carrefour (kind of like a French/Chinese Wal-Mart) and Ajisan, one of my favorite Japanese chain restaurants. I made my way over there for dinner the other day, and as I entered the mall, the usual loud buzz of the bustling Chinese crowds was drowned out by techno music, and people were crowded on the balconies of the second floor watching the source of such loud music on the first floor. The center of the mall on the first floor, which was usually empty (although one time Dreyers was giving out free samples of ice cream), was now filled with people on exercise bikes. In addition, a make-shift stage held 5 athletic trainers shouting commands from their own exercise bikes. I immediately recognized this as a public spinning class, a class I really enjoyed while I was at IUP (seen mid right).

However, spinning class in China I found quite humorous for a number of reasons. First of all, at my local gym in Colorado, the told me they had canceled spinning classes for the summer because too many people wanted to ride their bicycles outside, so spinning was really moot (why bicycle inside when you could bicycle outside, right?) Apparently, such a deterrent did not exist in China. While in Colorado, I may have seen maybe 4-5 people total bicycling around town (and as a state, we really do have a love affair with bicycles in comparison with the rest of America), whereas in China, I get nearly run over by thousands (literally no exaggeration) of bicycles a day (I posted a picture of the bicycles on the road to the right, but this by no means captures the sheer mass of bicycles I dodge everyday). They are THE major mode of transportation here. But that is not enough for the healthy Chinese; spinning classes must supplement the hours that cannot be spent on a bicycle riding around town. Similarly humorous is the way that the Chinese people in this class were approaching spinning. Spinning classes are infamous in America for causing a person to sweat buckets, a really difficult workout. But the Chinese people, not following commands or the beat of the music and lazily peddling their exercise bikes with no resistance, barely broke a sweat. Seeing these people in the local gym at IUP, I always thought "why bother?" My immediate reaction is to think that this is just an attempt to copy Western methods of staying healthy...perhaps it is more complex than that, I don't know.

With the 1.3 billion bicycles in China, spinning classes are still double the size they were at IUP...oh the irony...


Defining Shanghai: Paris of the East or Big Brother Domain?

Oftentimes, when thinking about the current Chinese situation, I get pulled in 2 directions. Part of me feels very defensive against the tumultuous, oppressive, and dangerous picture the Western media paints of China's totalitarian dictatorship of the CCP; but when I read (or hear) fear and anger strikes me as I know that these people are in many ways being brainwashed, and the CCP cares more about staying in control than it does about making the lives of Chinese people better. Today, out of curiosity, I hopped onto the Reporters Without Borders website to check out the Press Freedom index. Of 169 countries surveyed, China finds itself ranked at 163 (interestingly, however, the US is at ultra nationalistic propaganda sincerely recited from the mouths of Chinese people, a sense of 48...) It is true that the press in China is harshly censored; furthermore, it was pointed out to me that the main reason China ranks below countries like Saudi Arabia is because China, unlike most countries, filters and censors its internet.

But when I look around my surroundings, I can't help but think: "Either the CCP did a fabulous job of creating a false image of a free country, or perhaps China isn't as bad as many people, Reporters without Borders included, believe it to be." When I imagine an authoritarian rule, it doesn't include cute girls in fashionable clothing holding hands with boys or copies of the Economist being sold on the street (including the issue with the cover article about China's atrocities). I have had public conversations on buses with students about the problems with the CCP, complaining about the censorship in textbooks. Before I left, I asked for a place where I could pick up cheap American souvenirs like American flag pins or t-shirts, and my dad (sorry, dad) asked "are they allowed to wear American flags?" I think this is a common idea, that the society is so oppressive that they are completely anti-other countries, but I have actually seen more American flags on clothing than I have Chinese flags, mostly because it is fashionable (I haven't had the courage to ask a person adorning such attire for a picture yet).

Perhaps all these things are surface level, and they only stick out in my mind because of all of the Western media attacks against Chinese society. I also have to remember the discrepencies in wealth in China, as evidenced by the top photo on the right of a sci-fi 21st century skyline compared with the crumbling ghettos in the photo below, both taken in Shanghai. But it seems to me that Chinese press and Chinese society are two very different things. While their media and flow of information is censored, their lives, especially economically, seem quite American (Haagen Daaz is a pretty popular hang out, and shopping malls with privately owned clothing stores are the number one place to be). As far as the omnipresent police force, I don't see them very often (although when I do, they always smile when I smile). Once I saw them breaking up a fight on Nanjing road, where one man had hit another. Eric, who also witnessed this event, told me it made him feel quite satisfied to know that the police was no longer only involved in suppression, but actually took part in protecting the rights of people and solving problems. Furthermore, the government has worked more towards helping out the poor in medical expenses; while medical care is much (and by much, I mean MUCH) more affordable than the states, unlike before, a hospital will not turn away someone who needs emergency care, even if they can't pay (something we often take for granted in the USA). I was also surprised at the state of the medical facilities; the picture on the right somewhat captures the state-of-the-art facilities we found in China (although, this is probably one of the best hospitals in Shanghai).

It is true that in Shanghai, I get a very different picture than say a minority Uigher village in Western China, but as one of my classmates told me, he can feel China getting freer by the day. There is still a lot of room for improvement (which my classmate also told me), but I don't think that the picture we get in the West is accurate. One of our guest lecturers at our Fulbright conference said that we should not look at Chinese foreign policy or domestic policy as a snapshot (as in, "what is wrong with this picture?") but instead as a movie. No one wants the CCP gone, but they do want more freedom, and they are getting more freedom. Only time will tell how all of this will play out.

Week 2: Classes in China

I've begun auditing 2 classes, one in English and one in Chinese. The one in English called "Changing Roles of Women in China" by my adviser, Dr. Jiang Jin, is not super challenging, but really interesting, and has some pretty awesome readings. I also get to meet with exchange students from NYU. The class in Chinese is...insane. The professor speaks at light speed for 3 hours in a thick Shanghai accent, and I understand very little; furthermore, the graduate students all look at me strangely as I write down the pinyin of words I don't know, clearly looking uncomfortable and scared.

One interesting comparison I have been able to make is the difference in classroom decorum and teaching technique between the class for Americans and the class for Chinese. The NYU class is largely discussion based, where students (regardless of whether they did the homework or not) contribute their opinions on the subject. All opinions are welcome, few are shot down at all. Actually, of all the comments that were dismissed by the professor, only one girl was declared "wrong," and she was the only Chinese girl in the group. This may be a coincidence, but I found that fascinating. The Chinese class, on the other hand, was entirely lecture. The students copied down important points (all of which were clearly organized as "this topic is broken into 3 parts" or "we can analyze this from 4 vantage points." My professor from IUP humorously stated that much of Chinese scholarly writing is written in patterns such as "the 5 doors which are opened by the 4 locks which leads to the 6 roads of this theme.") No one talks, no one discusses, no one answers questions, and the only interruption is the ring of the professor's cell phone, which he answered 3 times in the middle of class.

Fortunately, through this class and through a lecture I went to on my first week by Bryna Goodman, a Chinese scholar doing research on the the stock market crash on 1921 and Chinese culture, I have been able to meet some of Dr. Jiang Jin's (my advisor) graduate students. While some have better English than others, all were very eager to exchange contact information. This is truly a very friendly city.

September 4, 2008: The quest for Starbucks

Greetings from Shanghai everyone! This will be the first installment of hopefully many to come on my experiences, observations, and research notes from my time in Shanghai. For those who want comments on my research, unfortunately, these past few weeks have been mainly settling in, and I haven't yet had the chance to really begin my research. But these are my experiences thus far.

Before I arrived, I had read that Shanghai was a lot like Los Angeles; very difficult to navigate and extremely spread out. I am finding out just how true that is, as nearly every time I try to go somewhere new, I get really lost. My first experience with getting lost in Shanghai was on my second day. After a restless, jetlagged night resulting in 3 hours of sleep, I decided that my priority for the day (besides unpacking and familiarizing myself with East China Normal) was to find a Starbucks (make fun all you want, it's my comfort food). I knew there were zillions in Shanghai (just like America), so I asked the people at the front counter of my dorm where I could find the nearest one. They gave me directions to a nearby shopping center about a kilometer away, and (being the adventurous girl that I am) decided to walk. I walked around this area for nearly 3 hours until I finally chanced upon a subway stop; after looking at the map, I realized I had overshot my goal destination by a few kilometers. I asked a few people in convenience shops (after refueling with a couple of tea eggs) how to get to the shopping center with the Starbucks, and they gave me confusing directions, telling me to go in opposite directions from what my map indicated. I decided to (and rightly so) ignore these instructions, and try my luck with my crappy Lonely Planet map.

All this exploration involved partaking in the most dangerous activity one can do in China: crossing the street. Many would think of robbery or kidnapping as something to fear, but in China, a society marked by punctuality, rush, and urgency meets a complete dismissal of traffic laws. Multiply this by 17 million people, and you have Shanghai's insane road system. Even if you decide to abide by pedestrian traffic laws and only go when the green walking man appears, that does not mean you are safe to cross the street. There is no concept of "yield to pedestrians on right hand turns" and the 17 million bicycles on the road will travel amongst car traffic, in designated bike lanes, or on the sidewalk, whichever is fastest. While some Chinese feel safe talking on their cell phones or listening to ipods as they cross the street, many are much more aware of the acute attention that must be paid as one traverses on foot. In China, there is a clear hierarchy on the road according to size, and sadly, pedestrians are at the bottom of the food chain.

Eventually, by 2 in the afternoon (I had set out around 9:30) I found a Starbucks. This may seem like a pretty stupid experience, but I actually had fun exploring the area near the university.

I also learned how Chinese people give directions; they don't give clear directions, but instead tell you to "go that way." Beware if you have to turn, because they usually don't tell you where. I learned this on my quest for Starbucks and on my way to find a bus stop; supposedly, this bus stop was right near Zhongshan Park (the same location as the elusive Starbucks), but once again, I wandered the streets of Zhongshan park, asking multiple people for directions. I had written down the bus number and my destination (the airport), and with every person I asked for directions, the added more and more street names, shopping centers, or landmarks to look for. I was bounced around a 2 kilometer radius for 2 hours until finally I gave up, mostly because the buses had stopped running by then, and I grabbed a taxi. On the plus side, people were very friendly, even if they didn't know what I was talking about. Oh, and ironically, I found 3 more Starbucks...

This pretty much took up my first week, other than registering with the university and meeting with other people. More will soon follow.