Research notes: Textbooks found so far

I've spent the last few weeks both figuring out the archive system at the Shanghai library (which is supposed to be the easiest one...I'm not looking forward to using other archives) and sorting through different kinds of materials. I've found a wealth of history and geography textbooks, which I had originally wanted to use as my material basis. I've also found some neat ethics, civics, and 常识 textbooks. From the material I have looked at so far, I have extracted some interesting themes that I would like to further explore.

Many people have already looked at history geography textbooks to examine the creation of citizenship and identity. However, one of the themes I have come across that could be neat to explore is the idea of race relations, specifically in Asia. Frank Dikotter's The Discourse of Race in Modern China explores how, from the late 1800's through WWII ideas about race, citizenship, and nationhood were shaped and brought together. While I've read a fair amount about the eugenics movement in China, Social Darwinism, and the comparison of China to the West, and while there has been plenty about Chinese/Japanese relations at this time, I found the way that Japan was talked about in these textbooks quite fascinating. Last year in a class about the history of the body, I wrote a paper about Japanese colonialism, and how the Japanese used different kinds of racial discourse to justify their colonization of Taiwan and Korea. What I found in this paper is that the racial narrative was not always consistent. There were some times when a different race, such as the Koreans, could never reach the level of the Japanese because they were biologically and fundamentally different. However, the people of Taiwan were not as developed as the Japanese, but had the potential to become so if they let go of their Chinese language, culture, and values. The Chinese were also hopeless, and could never quite reach the level of the Japanese; it would be interesting to explore why Taiwan got a status with more mobility.

We see a similar racial hierarchy in school textbooks. The Japanese are talked about as being more developed as a country, but their ability as a race was more limited than the Chinese. Even the most flattering terms used to describe the Japanese race are still somewhat condescending, such as 可爱 (cute). Much of the other descriptions include their arrogance and ignorance. In history textbooks that talk about Japan, the Japanese cultural dependence on China is heavily emphasized. A few textbooks have entire chapters that show how all of Japanese culture ultimately stemmed from Japan. Similarly, the origin of the Japanese people assumed that they came from the mainland. Finally, Japanese colonialism is heavily emphasized, showing how they have developed like the West, but also emphasizing them as a threat. Ironically, this textbook is prefaced with a forward that talks about mutual cultural understanding.

I find it quite illuminating that the rest of Asia is not talked about in such almost defensive terms. The textbook talks about the spread of Buddhism throughout China, even the development of Southeast Asia, without constantly defending the importance of Chinese culture on the rest of Asia. My assumption is that this is because Japan at the time was viewed as a threat to China, (the few textbooks I read were published between 1935 and 1937), and therefore proving China's dominance was much more important. It was already assumed that Southeast Asia was inferior to China, whereas Japan was currently in the process of invading China. These textbooks needed to assert that, while Japan was currently threatening China, historically China has always been superior to Japan.

Another type of textbook I have come across I've loosely put into the category of civics textbooks, although this name may not be quite accurate. These include textbooks such as 常识 (which translates loosely as "everyday knowledge") and other textbooks about being a 好公民or a 新公民( a good or a new citizen). The themes in a lot of these textbooks are strikingly similar. Almost all of them talk about basic hygiene practices (I found more than one textbook, published by different companies, whose first chapter is "why we don't put things in our mouths that we can't eat"). Others are more ripe with symbolism, such as the 好公民 textbook which includes the story of 3 children whose names loosely translate to Chinese people, Yellow race, and Chinese virtue (Chinese virtue is a girl). This textbook includes very obvious lessons, such as how important it is to eat healthy and work hard, but it is also ripe with symbolism. For example, Chinese people is the oldest of the children, and he often explains and teaches things to both his siblings and his parents. The role of Chinese virtue is also interesting, but I discuss that in another post.

I feel like this will be a great direction to take my research, perhaps more so than the discourse of Japanese history education. There have been a few writers to talk about ethics textbooks and female schools, but none have been explored thoroughly. I've created a few other posts that are more specific about my thoughts of the textbooks I have found.

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