I wrote the following believing that I had to give a presentation on my research at a conference in Hong Kong. While our presentation time is far too short to fully explain the following ideas, I thought it would be good to put something slightly more formal than usual on this blog.
Philadelphia recently opened a new museum to house the original Constitution and Bill of Rights. One of the highlights of the museum (besides taking pictures with metal models of the founding fathers) is a 20 minute interactive presentation about the meaning of the constitution for us today. Viewers are surrounded with a montage of images and sounds which, after spending about 10 minutes on the Revolutionary War and the writing of the Constitution, confronts them with numerous events that shape our identity as Americans: the Civil War, the ending of slavery, the World Wars, Martin Luther King, early cinema, Rosie the Riveter, 1960s culture wars, and numerous patriotic phrases and songs. I remember watching many members of the audience wipe their eyes at the end, moved to tears by a confrontation of our identity as it connects to the past and the seemingly timeless ideals we cling to today.
This is mainly what I have been trying to grasp in China. Chinese identity today stems from its creation throughout the 20th century, and the main venue for the creation of identity (like it is in most countries) is through education. This is especially complicated in China because of the political shifts it has seen in the past century. Americans have been able to attach their identity to a political ideology because its essence has remained for over 200 years, which is also the amount of time our country has even existed as a feasible entity. Chinese people, on the other hand, have had and still have a variety of political ideologies upon which to build their identity, but their history as a collective has remained for thousands of years. Because of this, narratives on what in means to be "Chinese" are drastically different depending upon the time period and the geographic location of the intended audience and the creators.
While this topic is large enough to encompass multiple full length studies, I would like to present a small scale comparison of three sets of textbooks (supplemented by textbooks from similar places and time periods). All are primary school "changshi" textbooks, a rather perplexing trend of textbooks meant to encompass the expected "everyday knowledge" that an educated primary school child should know. These textbooks, which include everything from basic physical science and engineering, to wildlife and history and culture, were supplemented in classes by more discipline specific courses (such as civics and health textbooks), but I found these to be a good documentary basis because, as their name suggests, they are meant to provide children with a foundation. Thus, while some chapters are irrelevant to the creation of identity, many of the chapters point to the publishers' most basic concepts of what "Chinese" identity should be.
The comparison lies in their geographic location and time period, as these geographic and chronological differences point to the variegations of Chinese identity. The first set was published in the 1930s in Shanghai, thus subject to Guomindang influence. The second set was also published in Shanghai, but in the 1950s, thus under the direction of the CCP. The final set was actually not published in China proper, but in Hong Kong, and was also published in the 1950s. These textbooks are also unique in that their audience was not Hong Kong primary school students, but overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia, thus giving us a glimpse into a diaspora identity. For a more accurate comparison, I have also supplemented this last set with a set meant for Southeast Asian overseas Chinese published in the 1930s, thus demonstrating the importance of the time period on the message within the textbooks. By comparing these sets of textbooks, we can better grasp the multifacetedness of Chinese identity, specifically as how the connect to political system and historical memory.
In the 1930s, the Guomindang reformed the ministry of education and helped to create a "new curriculum" for students that included political ideology in tune with the current regime. We first see this new curriculum in a set of textbooks published in 1934. Since this is the first set of textbooks within which we see the height of Guomindang control, these textbooks can best reflect the kind of Chinese identity the government wished to create. For this reason, it is not surprising that one of the most important facets of Chinese identity emphasized in these textbooks is attachment to a governmental institution. In a chapter called "The Republic of China,"the textbook states:
I asked the teacher "why is my country called the Republic of China?" Teacher said "China (中华) is our country's name, and Republic (民国) demonstrates our democratic ideology. Therefore, we are called the Republic of China (中华民国).
Through this quote, we see that even the name of China was tied to the type of government, thus making Chinese identity dependent upon the political system. The textbook also included many chapters about Sun Yat Sen as the father of the modern Chinese nation. It reads: "I asked 'how was the Republic of China established?' Teacher said 'In the last years of the Qing dynasty, the government collapsed. Mr. Sun Yat Sen came and saved our country and our people by acting as our leader..." The chapter then continued with the story of the 1911 revolution. Once again, as we established that China is synonymous with the Republic of China, the association of Sun Yat Sen with the foundation of the country tied government to country, and country to national identity.
However, Chinese identity was not only associated with the government, but also to behavior and civic responsibility. In fact, national sentiment was considered crucial to being Chinese. The textbook explained the importance of nationalism "民族主义" which was one of Sun Yat Sen's founding principles. After explaining its meaning, the textbook told children that they must maintain a nationalistic spirit so that China may one day be equal to the great countries of the world. Similarly, textbooks emphasized civic responsibility through classroom activities, including school groups and meetings. The curriculum outlined the proper format for class meetings. It also emphasized the correlation between public group meetings and the public group, thus contributing to the politicization and growth of the public sphere in the classroom. As Robert Culp has pointed out, the government also heavily emphasized student government organizations after class time, thus furthering the connection between civic behavior and national identity.
The connection between behavior and identity was not limited only to civic engagement. This textbook was published in the height of the New Life Movement, in which the Guomindang attempted to recreate public behavior so that it fit Western models of hygiene. Specifically, the movement focused on the hygiene of "食衣住行" or the cleanliness of our food, our clothing, our living spaces, and our behavior. With this movement in mind, the textbook series emphasized proper ways to brush teeth and wash oneself, proper clothing, proper bathroom etiquette, etc. This was to, as a hygiene teaching manual posits, to bring China to a higher world status through proper hygiene practices. Thus, through a control of personal and corporeal behavior, the government associated modernity with hygiene, and associated itself with this new type of behavior, bringing the understanding of identity to a much more physical light. To put it another way, the government created a certain kind of citizen by limiting the space within which a child can use and approach his or her own body. 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. This concept of identity through body is not a new one, and many scholars have addressed it. I think it is important to bring up here, however, to demonstrate the variety of ways that citizenship can be expressed during this period, and, as we will see, this concept is also borrowed by the Communists in the 1950s.
Finally, this 1934 textbook associated identity with a certain recreation of historical memory. There are two major trends in the history chapters: modern history and colonization, and great Chinese contributions to the development of society. The series stressed the importance of the Opium wars in China's humiliation, and the colonization of China, and specifically the defeat at the hands of Japan. The authors juxtaposed this national pride as associated with victimization and national humiliation with chapters about China's greatness. The chapters about the invention of paper and the antiquity of Chinese civilization demonstrate a proud history to which no great power at the time could compare.
The politicization of identity was (and is) not unique to Guomindang China, and in fact many of these techniques were recycled in the 1950s. The CCP also tied the concept of "China" to the People's Republic of China with similar chapters about the name and its association. One of the chapters that emphasized this most heavily is the chapter about Taiwan. The chapter stated that Taiwan is a Chinese territory, but because of its governmental body and its "colonization by western capitalists" its people (who are still Chinese) live with great pain and suffering. This dichotomy clearly shows that, while Chinese people live everywhere, they were suffering without their government. Similarly, a pride in China is associated with a pride in the socialist way of life. Socialism and Communism is often associated to standing up to the Western way of life and proving that non Western countries can create an equal if not greater way of living. With the establishment of the Peoples Republic, China became a great and prosperous nation. To say that the Chinese nation is simply equivalent to the government is simplistic; instead, we should think that the nation can realize its full potential with the help of the government. One chapter in particular outlines the characteristics of this new China: it is independent, it is a true democracy (which is defined as a society where every person is equally important), it is very free, it is very prosperous, and it is lead by the Communist Party.
Like the Guomindang textbooks, identity is also tied to correct behavior. Hygiene is still considered crucial, and there is an emphasis on science and anatomy, thus creating citizenship in a similar manner as the Guomindang. Children were also taught for the first time a Western scientific method. This new emphasis on science took the Guomindang efforts of the New Life Movement and takes them even further. Science was considered the alternative to backwardness and feudalism, and by relying on science, China could become even better. This element of Chinese identity remained from the Nationalist period. Civic engagement behavior was emphasized as well, though with different behavioral expectations. Unlike the Guomindang, which never mentioned its soldiers in these textbooks, the Communists made the red army members the most important national heroes. A chapter on the liberation army listed the freedoms and privileges that Chinese people received because of the liberation army's sacrifice. Similarly, stories about the long march, the Japanese invasion, and the ever famous Luding bridge story furthered this glorification of military service which encouraged mimetic behavior. Children were also urged to continue the revolution, and textbooks reminded them that the battle against Feudalism and Imperialism was not won despite the establishment of the new China.
Also in continuation with the 1930s, these textbooks emphasized certain parts of modern history over others. While the Opium war and the 1911 revolution received chapters of their own, the authors regarded these incidents as only the first steps. Chapters about the Communist purge in the 1930s, the Communists' role in the war against Japan, and the war of liberation served to shift the creation of "China" as a country from 1911 to 1949, thus painting the 1911-1949 China as inchoate. These textbooks obviously did not forget the importance of the early revolution, and continued to paint Sun Yat Sen as a hero. However, Chiang Kai Shek's collaboration with capitalists makes him the person who failed the new China (although his Communist purges probably in reality gained him that role).
The history of early China was also important, though slightly deemphasized. In one textbook, writers claimed that the origin of man was actually in China. Other chapters talk about China's bronze age and, like the 1930s textbooks, China's great inventions. These chapters, when combined with pride-filled chapters about China's large size in both population and square miles, demonstrate nationalism that stems not only from the Communist party, but also from non-political concepts. Thus, nationalism was not completely politicized, but instead played upon an emotional tie to Chinese cultural entities. However, because of the emphasis on the "New China" this apolitical nationalism is largely restricted. Confucius, for instance, was nowhere to be found.
One large difference between the earlier textbooks and these 1950s textbooks was the emphasis on types of people in society. The nationalist government and the 1930s textbook authors were not concerned with class, as civic behavior could come from any type of person. Communism by definition, however, glorifies the laborers and the workers. Thus, chapters in these 1950s textbooks explained the plight of the rural laborers, and how before the new China, landlords and rich peasants exploited their hard work. Unlike the 1930s, these textbooks granted citizenship only to certain types of people, and very harshly excluded others. The extension of class association to national pride, therefore, is a mark of the Communist platform, and is important in the creation of identity because of who were included and celebrated, and who were eternally excluded from the Chinese nation.
Clearly, the intended audience's time period and geographic location drastically influenced the type of politicization of Chinese identity in the 20th century. How does this identity manifest itself, however, when politics are abandoned? In order to see this, we can look to similar textbooks published in the 1950s in Hong Kong for Southeast Asian overseas Chinese, as the messages about Chinese identity in these textbooks were almost entirely apolitical.
In these textbooks, Chinese identity was almost entirely based upon a celebration of China's achievements before the 20th century. This includes chapters about the great inventions of China, including print, the compass, paper, and fireworks. There are also chapters on Confucius, and chapters about the Chinese writing system, which stresses its antiquity and complexity. This was necessary because of a divorce from politics, however this had ramifications. In mainland China, where traditional culture was being uprooted by intellectuals, these textbooks regress back to a celebration of tradition and antiquity. Gone are the criticisms of "feudal" society, and instead these elements are celebrated, creating a new brand of Chinese identity.
However, these overseas Chinese textbooks do create identity on more than ancient history. Beyond history, overseas Chinese are taught to be proud of their country's current achievements in production. There are chapters on the development of all the major Chinese cities, as well as about China's natural resources. The textbooks celebrate China's rapid development into first world status. A chapter on China's current development claims "China is currently diligently rebuilding, whether it is in the factory and labor sector or the agricultural sector, all sectors have seen great success, and the speed at which China is developing seems without limits." With these two types of chapters, students' connections to the mainland are based mainly upon antiquity and tangible achievements. Current intellectual struggles are abandoned in favor of a remembrance and elevated recreation of China's ancient past.
While all of the chapters referred to China as "my country," truthfully, the chapters about China were very few in number. In fact, there were just as many chapters about Southeast Asian countries as there were about China. Similarly, history was not heavily emphasized. There were a few chapters on dynastic histories, and a history of independence movements in Southeast Asia, but in general, history related chapters were discarded in favor of more chapters on science and anatomy. Similarly, the textbook emphasized a certain amount of multiculturalism. It recognized that the classmates of many of these students may not have been Chinese, and celebrated multiethnic neighborhoods and friendships. It also recognized that China was not limited to Han race people, and a colorful map that included small pictures of China's 56 races furthered the concept of plural identity, both in terms of race and geographic location. In addressing this possible contradiction, there was a chapter dedicated to the Huaqiao of Southeast Asia, which legitimized their Chinese identity as cultural ambassadors to other places. The chapter on Southeast Asian overseas Chinese claimed, "They (overseas Chinese) have given much towards the opening up of Southeast Asia. The have also brought their Chinese culture to Southeast Asia." These chapters, and other chapters that emphasize multiculturalism within a proud Chinese heritage, helped them to solidify their identity as Chinese people living outside of China.
Obviously, the geographic location of the audience of these textbooks was crucial in determining the manifestation of "Chinese identity" as perceived through textbooks. But the time period was also crucial. If we look at changshi textbooks from the 1930s, also meant for overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia, we see another narrative altogether. The textbook still taught children about the geography of Southeast Asia, but besides those few chapters (numbering 7 altogether), they were almost exact replicas of the new curriculum textbooks from 1934. There are chapters about Sun Yat Sen, Chiang Kai Shek, and the nationalist flag had its picture proudly displayed throughout the textbook. Therefore, not all textbooks meant for Southeast Asian overseas Chinese were apolitical; on the contrary, this was a post 1949 phenomenon.
This can be understood by the politics of the time period. First of all, after 1949, many of the publishing companies had fled to Hong Kong, the only geographic location in greater China that had managed to escape the Nationalist/Communist battle. Therefore, it was not either government who determined the content of the textbooks, which was the case in the 1930s and for mainland Chinese textbooks in the 1950s. Furthermore, by this point, both Taiwan and mainland China had begun to look inward rather than embracing the influence of outside countries. Perhaps it is the case (though I admit that I don't know) that neither location wanted to send textbooks to huaqiao of Southeast Asia, and the job fell to Hong Kong. Regardless of the reason, the fact is that after 1949, the dominating force controlling narratives of Chinese identity shifted from mainland China to Hong Kong, a place that after 1949 had also removed itself from the political battles of greater China. These textbooks were not only a reflection of a Southeast Asian overseas Chinese identity, but also of a Hong Kong Chinese identity, which was much more cultural than it was political, and also embraced a certain amount of multiculturalism. This is true today in Hong Kong as well, and while the education system is now in the hands of the People's Republic, Hong Kong Chinese pride is still divorced from a strong pride in a political system.
What does this mean to us today? It helps us to better understand the government and political environment of China in the 1930s and the 1950s, and also helps us to trace the evolution of Chinese nationalism and identity. The nationalism we see in China today, and the lack of fervent nationalism we see in Hong Kong today, is a product of this battle of identity creation. It also helps us to see the process of the construction of identity in general. Different people in different places approach nationalism in different ways, we attach to things we know and understand. Therefore, the nationalism of an overseas Chinese must be presented in a different way from their mainland counterparts. This is only a small comparison, but it helps us to see the broader picture. And it is through small comparisons like these that we can begin to piece together the layered ways in which Chinese all around the world approach their own identity.
 Culp, Robert. Articulating Citizenship Civic Education and Student Politics in Southeastern China, 1912-1940.Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2007; 50 -52.
王创星。 常识课本， 第五册。上海：世界书局印行, 1934; 2.
 Ibid, 3.
 Ibid, 15.
 Culp, 97-108.
 N.A.新生活运动。 新生活运动促进总会编印，1934; 3.
王创星。 常识课本， 第五册。上海：世界书局印行, 1934; 67-70.
 N.A. 初级小学常识课本: 第六册. 上海：人民教育出版社, 1949; 28.
 N.A. 初级小学常识课本: 第八册. 上海：人民教育出版社, 1949; 46
 This is probably an oversimplification, but I admit that I don't know enough now to further extrapolate on this topic.
 十年制学校小学课本（试用本）常识第一册。人民教育出版社编出版， 上海教育出版社重印，1961; 35-40.
 N.A. 初级小学常识课本: 第七册. 上海：人民教育出版社, 1949; 24.
 N.A. 初级小学常识课本: 第三册. 上海：人民教育出版社, 1949; 6-17
N.A. 初级小学常识课本: 第八册，4-9
N.A.华侨适用初级小学课本常识 ：第六册。香港：中华书局，商务印书馆，1957; 1-2.
 N.A.华侨适用初级小学课本常识 ：第八册，62.
 N.A.华侨适用初级小学课本常识 ：第四册，1。
 N.A.华侨适用初级小学课本常识 ：第八册，22-23。
 N.A.华侨适用初级小学课本常识 ：第八册， 22-23。