Research notes: The creation of a citizen through the control of time and space

One of the themes that is prevalent throughout textbooks, especially the hygiene and everyday knowledge textbooks, is the emphasis on a controlled sense of time and space. Culp mentions this briefly in Articulating Citizenship, in which he claims that the Nationalist government instituted strict control over the school day in terms of schedules, classroom arrangement, free time, etc. He claims that this strict control over time and space contributes to creating an environment that mirrors a transition to industrialization. He claims "such organization an control of time as a valued resource, and the coordination of simultaneous collective activities, reflected the shifting conceptions of time that have accompanied industrialization, with its commodification and synchronization of labor." Similarly, Culp claims that a control of space allows an individual to understand his "generic self as an individual citizen in relation to the composite whole of a wider community."[1]
I believe it goes beyond this, as it not only represents a shifting perception of time and space, but a control over the body. By controlling the body, the government can create and mold a certain sense of citizenship that is very real and tangible. Being a citizen was not only imagined, it involved a bodily participation in ritualistic behavior, and the body existed within a certain space and time with others; this new perception of space and time in essence changed the body, conforming it to the "Chinese citizen," which was defined by the government.
This is evident in textbooks. Hygiene and everyday knowledge textbooks both give children a certain sense of controlled time and behavior. They often begin with chapters that tell children to get up early. The first few chapters of each book then bring a child throughout his or her day: get up at a set time, brush teeth and wash face, go to school on time, return home on time, eat dinner at a set time, and go to bed early. Also included in some hygiene textbooks are that children should defecate at the same time every day, that children should learn how to tell time (in later textbooks, when clocks were more common) and how to keep a schedule[2], and what children should do during set time periods, such as "this is what we do during recess time." This sense of controlled time is also expanded to include holidays; most everyday knowledge textbooks include an explanation of certain rituals and activities on important holidays, including October 10th (GMD National day) Children's Day in April, and Sun Yat Sen's birthday. All of these contribute to this controlled sense of time, where children are forced into a certain understanding of time wherein their experience is limited to that of the ideal Chinese citizen, thus compelling them to assume that role.[3]
There is a similar attempt for control of space. Everyday knowledge textbooks include many chapters that describe "the place that I live" "my home" "our classroom" "where we eat" "how to decorate our rooms" etc. Similarly, hygiene textbooks emphasize the environment and cleanliness of the classroom, and chapters on "public hygiene" (公共卫生) talk about the importance of classroom organization. Similarly, teachers’ manuals demonstrate the importance of designing the classroom in a specific way so as to ensure a controlled sense of uniform space.

However, that which is most evident was the government attempt to control the way that children use and handle their own bodies. This concept has been discussed by scholars before; Wang Zheng and Susan Brownell (to name a few) have talked about the importance of the body in creating the ideal citizen. In fact, Mark Elliot discussed the connection of body, time, space, and identity in early China. However, while “hygiene” to us implies cleanliness, to these textbooks it implies much more. Of course there is a heavy emphasis on keeping one’s body clean and free of disease, but there are also chapters on posture, on how to walk in a straight line, on how to exercise, which clothes to wear in the winter, how to greet guests, etc. This echoes a few ideas. First, it echoes Henrietta Harrison’s idea of public ritual in creating the modern citizen through dress and behavior. Similarly, it is reminiscent of a current Chinese public campaign that was put into full swing around the time of the Olympics. The purpose behind this particular campaign was to teach people to be very “文明” or civilized in order to show the world how “first world” China was. This included a smoking ban, harsh penalties for spitting areas where one shouldn’t spit, and to get on and off the subway in a 文明 sort of way. All of these ideas (the subway, obviously, excluded) are included in these textbooks as a way to control behavior through the body. In some ways, this process almost echoes the process explained in Elias’ Civilizing process, with one large difference: all of these changes are not compelled by society, but are compelled by a government desparately wanting to create a modern Chinese citizenry.
There are a few more important points to consider. One of these points is that the control of time, space, and behavior is not limited to the school day; many of the chapters attempt to control behavior and time at home. A teacher’s manual[4] claimed that children spent nearly 2/3 of their time at home, and thus, that time needed to be controlled within the house. This shows the government’s attempt to create this sense of controlled space both at school and at home. Another important point to consider is that much of this control of the body was not only to control personal behavior, but to place one’s body into a group dynamic. Even chapters such as “大家的东西 and “大家的事”imply an attempt to create a collective identity among children. This collective identity would change depending upon where the book was published and when; the Guomindang books emphasized the importance of Chinese collective, while those published for overseas Chinese, especially after 1949, emphasized a more multiracial and international collective.

A final point to consider is that almost all of these examples come from early textbooks, for children ages 7 to 9. In the upper volumes of the elementary school textbooks and in the middle school textbooks, there is less blatant instruction on how to behave. For instance, instead of telling children to brush their teeth and use the bathroom at certain times in the day, the chapters explain the scientific reasons behind maintaining oral hygiene. This shows us that this sense of space and time was to be established very early on, and once the parameters of a citizen’s existence were created at a young age, hygiene became much more of a physical science class rather than a behavioral class.

There are, of course, other examples I did not list here, but this shows an overall attempt to create a certain kind of citizen by limiting the space within which a child can create his own sense of time, space, behavior, and bodily action. By manifesting citizenry in this very physical way, a child’s entire outlook on life is determined by the parameters set. This is not foreign to us today. Americans are still shocked when they go to China and hear others spitting; in fact, the sound itself creates a Pavlovian response of nausea or discomfort. Similarly, we take for granted how on time we are expected to be. For us, classes start at a certain time, buses come at a certain time (as opposed to many places where buses leave when they are full). Desks in a classroom are consciously organized in a certain way; a circle implies discussion, rows facing towards the front imply lecture. This is not just for practical reasons, it is meant to create a certain type of behavior. And even in college, if desks are in disarray, the first students who arrive often spend time managing the desks into an “orderly” fashion. This understanding affects our identity; we are the product of a “modern” nation, and we are prepared to be as such because our schedule determines it that way. However, in China, it was not maintaining a system, but creating it, which is why these rules and ideas had to be a part of the curriculum. It was through this curriculum that all children could be on the same page, prepared to accept an identity as a modern citizen.

[1] Robert Culp. Articulating Citizenship. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2007: 167-169.

[2]南洋书局编。南洋初小常识教学法 (第三册). 新加坡:南洋书局有限公司,1948

[3] All of this information comes from the following textbooks, unless specifically indicated: 最新南洋华侨小学常识课本教学法。新加坡:中华书局, 1939;徐允昭。小学卫生课本 中华, 1933。上海图书馆;杨?如。 卫生课本 (高等)。世界书局印行。1933;文堇. 卫生课本 (初等)。世界书局印行。 1933

[4]赵楚为。小学教育参考书 (上)。上海商务, 1925。上海图书馆


  1. Hi!

    I stumbled across your blog today and must say it's such a pleasure to read about the trials and tribulations of someone in a similar situation - researching for a Ph.D. thesis on a Chinese topic, that is... I have a rather prosaic question: how did you do the footnotes in this post? I haven't figured out how to do that in my own blog (thoughtshelf.blogspot.com - it's a blog on some quirks in my current research and music, though I have been neglecting it a bit lately in favor of reaching some deadlines) and would be grateful for some technical advice!

    all the best for your further studies and happy new year 2009 from berlin,

  2. Hey, great to meet you! I love meeting new Ph.D. students. Although, I will admit, I am still a bit behind, I haven't finished Ph.D. classwork yet, so my dissertation is still a few years away.
    As far as footnotes, well, I cheated...I wrote the entries on microsoft word first and then cut and paste, and when I did, the footnotes came with it. I still don't know how to actually insert footnotes on the blog itself. But the cut and paste from word seems to work really well!