The following announcement, excerpted from the H-Asia daily digest, may be of interest to many CMHS members.
The China Studies Program at the University of Washington and the Institute of Modern History at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing are calling for proposals on a joint project, “War and Society in Modern China.” The project includes three components: a workshop to be held on July 10-12, 2015 in Beijing, a conference at the University of Washington in Seattle in the summer of 2016; and the publication of an anthology of selected essays presented at the conference, possibly in both English and Chinese.
We would like to invite interested scholars (including Ph. D students working on their dissertations) to submit a 250-word proposal that outlines the project, as well as a list of readings that you suggest for the 2015 workshop. The readings can be in English or Chinese, on China or for comparison and theoretical inspiration.
Below are some preliminary thoughts on the project.
Wars have occupied a crucial position in the history of twentieth century China. From the Opium War in the mid-19thcentury to the Sino-Vietnamese War in the late 20th century, China experienced a large number of wars in the past one and half centries. These wars lasted for long durations, spread widely across the country, and impacted a large portion of the population. We will not be able to fully understand some of the constitutional elements of modern China without examining the wars that have made up such a large and important part of its history. Many of modern China’s institutions, systems, ideological convictions, personal experiences, collective memories, cultural values, and even aesthetic preferences originated from practices and experiences during the wars, were structured by the wars, or even realized through these wars. The wars were often the “turning points” in modern Chinese history -- society was transformed, and history was made. What we will attempt at in this project is a critical reflection on the relationship between war and history. Therefore, we hope to examine comprehensively the political, military, economic, legal, social and cultural meanings of the wars.
These wars were destructive, not only in material terms, but also to social structure and relations, as well as to cultural and moral values. The fundamental principles of human morality were often abandoned during wars; what had been unacceptable during times of peace became routine during the wars. But wars also became opportunities for “creation.” War mobilization efforts altered the boundaries and relationships among the individual, family and society, and new social structure and relations were established during these wars. Wars were “abnormal” in relation to the everydayness of time of peace, but long lasting wars also formed new types of “everydayness.” The modes of existence established during the wars would not vanish when the wars were over; instead, they were often carried on and became traumas, memories, or even the prototypes of a new post-war society. What destructions and “creations” happened during the wars in modern China? How was the society transformed through the wars? These are some of the central questions with which we are concerned.
The spatial dimension of these wars is another issue worth exploring. Population and goods moved on large scale and at high speed during the wars, including not only those organized by states and militaries, but also the chaotic movement of war refugees. Such migration often led people to places far away from their home regions. How did such experiences influence their understandings of “nation,” “country,” as well as regional identity and differences? What kinds of institution were created for mobilizing and organizing the flow of goods and people? In these institutions, how were the relationship between people, and between people and goods handled? During the wars, how did people negotiate their survival in space?
Cultural production played a central role in the wars of modern China as it was mobilized for war purposes – literature, music, visual materials, and film all played important roles and were transformed during the wars. Studying cultural production during the wars will not only allow us to understand the wars themselves better, but will also enable us to understand important transformations in cultural representation and production.
A society’s understanding of gender identity also experiences important changes during the war. The representations of gender distinctions and gendered divisions of labor tend to be different during the war from time of peace, and the social images and roles of men and women also change during the war, which continue to influence the restoration and reconstruction of social order after the war. This is an area that is understudied in the case of modern China. For instance, the images of children, women, and mother were often used as symbols and signs during the war. What role do these symbols play in the representation of the war, and what did they mean to these social groups and individuals themselves?
Wars create traumas and trans-generational traumatic memories through various textual, visual, and oral means. As events that impact society as a whole, wars live in long-lasting collective memories. It is important to study the relationship and differences between individual memories of wars and wars as subject of collective and trans-generational memories, and to understand the role of memory in historiography of war. As historians, our study and writing of history of war is also part of the creation of collective memory. Then, how should we think about wars? What constitutes truly beneficial “historical lessons?” To whom should we be responsible in our writing of historiies of wars?
These are only some potential topics the participants of the workshop and conference might be interested in exploring. We invite proposals on a broad range of topics. We would like to focus on the first half of the 20th century, but will also welcome projects outside of this time frame, from the Opium War to wars during the PRC.