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Lam, Tong. A Passion for Facts: Social Surveys and the Construction of the Chinese Nation State, 1900-1949. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. xiii, 263 pp., $60.00 (cloth).

By Maggie Clinton

Tong Lam’s engaging new study A Passion for Facts analyzes the processes by which modern modes of apprehending and ordering the social world were forced upon and ultimately embraced by Chinese political and intellectual elites during the late Qing and Republican periods. Lam focuses on the rise of the “social survey” (shehui diaocha) as a means of knowing and constituting a new object called “society” (shehui), as well as the epistemological violence of imperialism that rendered the social survey a seemingly natural way of investigating the world. By the time the Nationalists assumed state power in 1927, Lam argues, “seeking truth from facts” (shishi qiushi) gathered via empirical observation of social phenomena had supplanted the methods of text-oriented evidential scholarship prevalent during the Qing. A Passion for Facts explicates this paradigm shift in terms of the forms of imperialism to which China was subjected, resulting in a novel and compelling contribution to studies of colonialism, knowledge production, and state-society relations in modern China.

Lam pursues three primary lines of argument. Although these lines do not always successfully intersect, each is provocative and unfolds with illuminating detail. First, the book addresses how nineteenth-century colonialist discourse, epitomized by the writings of Arthur Smith, disparaged Chinese people for disregarding time and concrete particulars, and for generally lacking facts about themselves. As China was subjected to imperialist violence that rendered it commensurate with global capitalism, the concomitant invalidation of indigenous forms of knowledge collectively traumatized Chinese intellectual and political elites and charted the winding road by which they came to embrace the social fact as a “medium for discerning the truth about the human world” (p. 6). Second, the book traces how the adoption of new enumerative modalities (in particular a revamped census) by the late Qing and Republican states not only rendered society legible to the state in new ways, but also disciplined citizens to recognize themselves as members of a coeval national community. By the 1930s, this generated what Lam, following Timothy Mitchell, calls the “state effect” by which social surveys, as well as state-affiliated surveyors, effectively conjured the state into being as an entity apparently distinct from society. Third, as per the word “passion” in the book’s title, Lam argues that objective facts gathered by social surveyors inevitably contained traces of sentiment. These extra-scientific traces, which became manifest in surveyors’ narratives of hardship and sacrifice, had to be locked away in what Bruno Latour has called a “black box” if facts so gathered were to successfully assume the position of authoritative truth.

The six chapters plus introduction and epilogue that comprise Lam’s study develop these points and many others. The introduction and Chapter 1 establish the historical and theoretical stakes of the project. Chapters 2 and 3 chart transformations in Qing state methods for knowing and tabulating Qing subjects. These chapters pivot around a fascinating analysis of the 1909 census that attempted to collect population data “using a singular enumerative framework,” as well as the anti-census riots that revealed popular dissatisfaction with the invasive, homogenizing efforts of the modernizing state (p. 63). Chapters 4 through 6 turn to the 1920s and 1930s, highlighting the ways in which the by-now widespread practice of social survey research functioned to gather “empirical evidence of the nation,” in particular at the hands of surveyors employed by the Nationalist state and affiliated research institutes (p. 93). Here, Lam elaborates on how Nationalist-sponsored surveys and censuses graphed Chinese society as uneven and heterogeneous, blighted by “backwards” and “immoral” populations, which in turn prepared the ground for state expansion and biopolitical intervention. Lam also sheds light on the ways in which researchers, many of them trained in methods of American positivist social science, came to see the endurance of hardship and toil as a necessary precondition for the production of truthful facts. Particularly telling are elite characterizations of life among the impoverished, such as researcher Li Jinghan’s exhortation to investigators to accustom themselves to “the peasants’ smell, their disgusting food, and their unhygienic condition” (p. 163).

The book’s insights are too numerous to summarize here, but an important one involves Lam’s attention to the speed and enthusiasm with which certain liberal intellectuals turned colonial derision of China’s ostensible factual deficiencies and general “backwardness” against fellow nationals, in particular subaltern populations. Lam presents Hu Shi’s character “Mr. Chabuduo,” who supposedly embodied Chinese imprecision, in this light, as well as James Yen’s frustration with Ding county peasants who refused to yield the kind of factual information he desired. Much of Chapter 6 discusses liberal researchers who criticized the urban bias of the Nationalist state that provided an umbrella for their own endeavors, and who also characterized the peasantry as ignorant and uncivilized. This chapter is careful to note that Republican-period social scientific practice was neither standardized nor politically univocal; investigators worked with “different assumptions, methods, theories, and conceptual categories,” and society itself was “far from a stable and well-defined object” (p. 142). In this vein, Lam discusses the rural surveys of Mao Zedong and Marxist Chen Hansheng, but the overarching point is to underscore Republican-period struggles between “which vision of truth … would be elevated and implemented” and which vision would be “delegitimized and suppressed” (p. 143). Although this was certainly at issue, Lam might have reflected more deeply on the ways in which certain methodologies and social perspectives countered rather than facilitated capitalistic development and hierarchical national integration, and how the plurality of approaches to “the social” suggest fissures in the Nationalist “state effect.”

Lastly, Lam might have pushed his conclusions about the role of affect in the production of objective truth a bit further, in particular regarding its gendered implications. For instance, how did the emphasis on hardship and long hours in the field render the production of knowledge a masculine endeavor? What did this mean for truths generated about the emergent social category “women”? As these questions are intended to suggest, readers will find A Passion for Facts compellingly written, thoroughly researched, and thought-provoking.

Maggie Clinton received her PhD from New York University and is Assistant Professor of History at Middlebury College.

© 2012 by Twentieth-Century China Editorial Board. All rights reserved.

Nedostup, Rebecca. Superstitious Regimes: Religion and the Politics of Chinese Modernity. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Asia Center, 2009. xiv, 459 pp. $45.00 (cloth).

By Stefania Travagnin

The past decade has seen the publication of several studies examining the new conceptualization and practice of religion that developed in China at the end of the nineteenth century and continued throughout the twentieth century. From a variety of perspectives, these books have connected religion with other topics, such as state, society, gender, modernity, globalization, and material culture. These books include, among others, a monograph by Francesca Tarocco (The Cultural Practices of Modern Chinese Buddhism, 2007), volumes edited by May-fair Yang (Chinese Religiosities, 2008), Yoshiko Ashiwa and David L. Wank (Making Religion, Making the State, 2009), and a book by Vincent Goossaert and David Palmer (The Religious Question in Modern China, 2011). Rebecca Nedostup’s research contributes to this emergent field of study. Superstitious Regimes is an interdisciplinary work that sheds new light on the interaction between the state-body and the religion-body in early twentieth-century China, with a focus on the Nanjing Decade (1927-1937).

Nedostup develops her analysis from both a diachronic and synchronic perspective. The author underlines shifts and continuities between a few historical periods: Sun Yat-sen’s time, the early years of the Nanjing Decade, the late years of the Nanjing Decade, and the post-Nanjing Decade. In terms of agency, Nedostup draws a distinction between the nation-body and local offices within the political context, while within the religion-body agency is shared by communities and individuals, monastics and laity, worship leaders and worshippers. The articulation of any interaction between the political level and the believers turns around the definition(s) and the modalities of “religion.” This volume is result of extensive fieldwork-based research and the consultation of documents from the central and local governments, archive material of religious associations, local gazettes and historical journals, and previous writings from both East Asian and Western scholars.

Nedostup assesses the role of religion in the construction of modernity and political power in the years 1927-1937, as well as identifies the role of modernity in the reconstruction of religious practice. She thus addresses questions of traditionalism, modernity, secularism, and superstition through the historical narrative of the reinvention of religious practices in China.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part, entitled “Of Legislation and Ling,” analyzes the early attempts by the KMT to define the meaning and implication of “religion” and “superstition.” The chapter “Inventing Religion” covers the intellectual and—especially—political debates about what could be defined as “religion,” the role that religion should play in building the nation and in respect to patriotism (and so the role of the clergy as citizens in the renewed Chinese nation), the domestication of the concept of “religious freedom,” the new terms of integration of Christianity, and the creation of organizations such as the Buddhist Association. In “Temples and the Redefinition of Public Life,”‘ Nedostup analyzes motives and criteria behind the anti-religious propaganda that the KMT initiated in 1928, a movement that not only affected religious infrastructures but also shook the religiosity of the masses. The consequences of attacks on City God temples demonstrated the challenges that Nationalists would face by insisting on the imposition of drastic changes in local rituals and religious power structure.

The second part, entitled “Material Motives,” unveils levels and forms of connection between temples and their communities by using Jiangsu province as a case study. In “Jiangsu temples as Target and Tactic,” Nedostup highlights the tensions between localities and the nation, local social and cultural realities and national policies, and the KMT dilemma of how to negotiate modernity while allowing for the continued practice of deity worship. The shift in local power structures, and the redefinition of terms and elements of a new religious landscape that enshrined the party and the nation as object of worship and target of pilgrimages, are all examined in the chapter “Idealized Communities and the Religious Remainder.” Nedostup demonstrates that the KMT’s previous anti-religious sentiments eventually turned to the adoption of religion as a tool for “underwriting the nation” (p. 175).

The book’s third section, entitled “Transactional Modernity,” examines the agency of religious rituals and the formation of a new modern and secular form of belief that could serve the cause of nation-building. The chapter “Embodying Superstition” discusses an anti-superstition campaign in the winter of 1929-1930, when the KMT targeted ritual specialists—especially spirit mediums, geomancers, and fortunetellers—since they were not helping to build the nation. They were thus construed as less socially useful than the clergy of established religions. A crucial part of this campaign was the attempt to replace local Chinese medical practices with modern (Western) medicine. The reasons behind, as well as the difficulties encountered during, this campaign reveal the “embeddedness in the local social fabric” (p. 212) of local customs and old religious practices. In “Affecting Regimes,” the author describes various instances of what she terms the “religious remainder.” First, the Nationalists were merely substituting traditional beliefs with faith in the party, and so traditional Chinese festivals had to be replaced with anniversaries of (secular) political events. Then, important occasions like rituals linked to Confucius, the Ghost Festival, and funeral and burial rituals were all questioned and reconsidered in the light of the new (secular) faith (in the party and the nation). Nedostup reinforces her argument in the conclusion, where she explores the legacy of “superstition” and “religion” in the KMT government.

The book ends with the English translation of the three main regulations on religious properties and clergy issued by the KMT: the Rules for Temple Registration (寺廟管理條例 simiao dengji tiaoli, 1928), the Temple Management Rules (寺廟管理條例 simiao guanli tiaoli, 1929), and the Regulations for Temple Oversight (監督寺廟條例 jiandu simiao tiaoli, 1929).

Nedostup’s interdisciplinary study is of interest for a large readership: students and scholars of Chinese studies, Chinese politics, Chinese religions, and Chinese history would all benefit from reading this book, both for its contents and for the research methodologies that the author adopted.

Stefania Travagnin is Visiting Assistant Professor of East Asian Buddhism at Pennsylvania State University, Department of History and Religious Studies.

© 2012 by Twentieth-Century China Editorial Board. All rights reserved.

Wang Chaoguang, ed. 蒋介石的人际网络 (Chiang Kai-shek’s Interpersonal Relationships: Perspectives Across the Strait) Beijing: Shehui kexue wenxian chubanshe, 2011. RMB 39.00

By Sherman Lai

This book brings together papers and panel discussions of a conference on Chiang Kai-shek held in Taipei in January 2011 with the joint participation of historians from both the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Taiwan. It reflects new scholarship on Chiang Kai-shek in the Chinese-speaking world and showcases the approaches that historians in the PRC adopt in handling challenges that their Western colleagues do not encounter. While Chinese historians have enormous audiences, they do not share the academic freedom enjoyed by their colleagues in the West and Taiwan. Because their careers and livelihood are dependent on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), this poses certain dilemmas they must face as they address the important twentieth-century figure of Chiang Kai-shek. Therefore, historians across the Strait will benefit from collaboration, as those on each side have different perspectives and approaches.

Beijing leaders are hungering to consolidate cross-Strait ties at the same time that the numbers of mainland-born Taiwan-Chinese who share their vision are diminishing. On Taiwan, younger generations—including newer scholars—may identify themselves with Taiwan more than with the rest of China. In parallel trajectory to this social change, Taiwan’s democratization project has resulted in the open political competition between the Guomindang (GMD), generally oriented toward unification with the PRC, and the independence-oriented Democratic Progressive Party (DDP), which regarded the GMD as an alien regime and accused Chiang Kai-shek of having been a dictator. Due to challenges to the goal of maintaining one-China identity in Taiwan, the CCP is increasingly willing to portray Chiang in a positive light, despite his anti-Communist stance, because he was an ardent nationalist and proponent of the one-China principle. Chiang is thus, somewhat oddly, becoming a shared cross-Strait figure. For Beijing, permitting the publication of a few works on Chiang seems a goodwill gesture. This, however, is a tricky balance, because positive appraisals of Chiang might encourage the mainland audience to suspect the legitimacy of the CCP party-state. Caught between this CCP leaders’ dilemma and the growing desire of readers to learn more about pre-1949 China, PRC historians have responded by providing detailed studies of Chiang’s life, but have not linked those studies to big issues such as modernity or the efforts and achievements of pre-1949 Chinese governments to modernize their country.

A chapter by Yang Kuisong (Huadong Teacher’s University) about the historiography on Chiang Kai-shek in the PRC suggests a course for future research. Yang criticizes the pre-determinism that is dominant among the PRC historians when studying Chiang Kai-shek and Republican China. He points out that there was no academic study on Chiang in the PRC until the early 1980s; the flourishing of scholarly works on Chiang was in mainland China one of the outcomes of Chen Shui-bian’s campaign of de-Chiang-ification in Taiwan during his presidential tenure from 2000-2008. Yang states that it is too early for PRC historians, who do not know fully the factual aspects of Chiang’s life, to assess Chiang’s historical significance. Perhaps out of coincidence or tacit understanding, the essays of the book are the outcome of authors’ detailed research on specific aspects of Chiang’s life, as suggested by Yang.

The essays of Wang Jisheng (Beijing University) and Lu Fangshang (Donghai University) focus on the formation of Chiang’s personality, which they claim to be responsible for Chiang’s rise and fall in mainland China. Wang explores Chiang’s childhood and argues that Chiang’s success came from his search for the patriarchal authority and love that was absent during his childhood. Chiang was only able to experience these when he worked with Chen Qimei and Sun Yat-sen, both of whom, Wang argues, appreciated Chiang’s loyalty and talents and treated him as a son. Wang also explores the origin of violent aspects in Chiang’s personality and attributes them to the overindulgence of his widowed mother as well as the brutal treatment he received from his teacher in the local private school, from his father when he was alive, and, occasionally, from his mother as well. Lu Fangshang argues that these extremes—overindulgence and violence—contributed to forming Chiang’s strong will and his swift responses to any attempt to control him, such as those by Mikhail Borodin in 1926 and Joseph Stilwell in 1944 (p. 29). Lu further contends that it was Chiang’s clash with Borodin that led to his violent strike against the CCP in 1927 and, consequently, to his assumption of a leadership position that same year. His rejection of Stilwell, on the other hand, fatally damaged his relations with the United States and ultimately resulted in his defeat at the hands of the CCP in 1949.

The second aspect of Chiang’s life addressed in other essays in this book is, broadly defined, Chiang’s renpin (人品), a term that might be translated as “morality” or “integrity.” One issue of renpin concerns Chiang’s marital relations, particularly polygamy. Although polygamy was common in Confucian patriarchal societies, divorce without good reason was regarded as an issue of renpin and frowned upon. Chiang, however, divorced his first wife and deserted his concubine and courtesan to marry Soong Mei-ling, a young girl from an elite Christian family in Shanghai who had been educated in the United States. Previous historiography had generally regarded Chiang’s marriage to Soong as a political contract and viewed it as a reflection of his greed and heartlessness. Not surprisingly, this marriage became a topic of fiction in the PRC. Among the most popular of these fictional accounts was the voluminous Jinling cunmeng (A Dream in Nanjing 金陵春梦, 1958).

Luo Ming (Institute of Modern History, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, or CASS) has revised this oversimplified explanation of Chiang’s marriages through her thorough research of related parts of Chiang’s diaries. She presents a complicated picture of Chiang’s encounters with his four spouses and argues that divorce and desertion of his concubine and courtesan were reflective of clashes between Confucian tradition and Western-oriented modernity, not indicative of a moral deficiency on Chiang’s part.1 She demonstrates that Chiang was a victim of custom, which gave parents the power to arrange early-age marriage for their children without input from the future spouses. Chiang, therefore, had not consented to the marriage and his relationships with his three spouses had been in crisis for years before he decided to marry Soong Mei-ling. Luo argues that Chiang truly did love Soong. Although Chiang’s diaries reveal his occasional frustration with Soong, Chiang also admired her: his diaries contain many words of praise and expressions of gratitude for his wife, words which he never used to describe previous relationships. Luo also points out that Chiang took care of his previous spouses to the end.

The third aspect of Chiang’s life that emerges from some of the essays collected in this volume is the structure of his power and its deficiencies. Lu Fangshang argues that Chiang was an outstanding network-builder—a quanzi (圈子, circle), in Lu’s terms—and that Chiang based his power on a series of exclusive networks. The core of these networks consisted of the family clans of Chiang, Soong, and Kong (banker and politician H.H. Kong being Soong Mei-ling’s brother-in-law). The most important network, outside his family clan was that formed by his friends, followed by that of colleagues, birth-place and provincial natives (同乡 tongxiang), and schoolmates (同学 tongxue). The final network drew from the academic world (p. 32). In his essay, Yang Weizhen (National Chung Cheng University, Taiwan) demonstrates that Chiang had regional preferences in appointing and promoting GMD cadres. He defines the Yangzi Valley as Chiang’s “core region,” with the three “extension regions” of Guangdong, China’s southwest (the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Hunan and Guangxi), and Taiwan. Despite such regional preferences to the peoples from his native Yangzi Valley, Chiang developed a sophisticated approach to bringing together regional warlords (pp. 245-246), as argued by Liu Weikai (National Chengchi University, Taiwan) in his essay on Chiang’s networks in various Chinese armies before the Second Sino-Japanese War. Liu found that Chiang used his various networks during his military career, including his study in the Baoding Military Academy and in the Tokyo Military School, Japan (東京振武学校), a special school for Chinese students, to establish his relations with regional warlords. Liu’s article examines the intellectual foundations of the modern Chinese armies—with the exception of the Communist one—as well as similarities, links, and continuities among them. Liu also points out that despite its name, the GMD’s Chinese National Revolutionary Army (NRA), except its “Central Army,” was actually a coalition of forces (p. 56). This was an army based on individual networks, rather than the united chain of command on which a modern military organization was built. Yang Weizhen (National Chung Cheng University) argues that the absence of such a united chain of command forced Chiang, the Chairman of the Military Council of the Nationalist government who was the commander-in-chief of the NRA, to control the troops directly, a practice that handicapped the formation of a nation-wide military institution and was directly responsible for his defeat on the mainland in 1949 (p. 91).

Building on Yang Weizhen’s ideas regarding Chiang’s problems with individual control of the troops, Wang Chaoguang (Institute of Modern History, CASS) and Lin Tongfa (Fu Jen Catholic University, Taiwan) analyze the link between Chiang’s dependence on various kinds of exclusive networks and his defeat by the CCP. Both Yang and Wang agree that Chiang followed the Confucian tradition of providing his clan members with extra care and privileges. For example, it is unknown whether donations to the development projects in his native town were from his own private funds or from the public treasury (pp. 131-132, 139). Wang explains that Chiang was dependent on H. H. Kong, China’s wartime Treasury Minister in fiscal affairs. Frequently, however, Kong acted as Chiang’s willing scapegoat for China’s financial difficulties and for the worsening corruption in the government. Although this relationship between Chiang and Kong helped Chiang’s regime in accessing financial resources before the war with Japan, it badly damaged Chiang’s imagine domestically and internationally during and after the war. In contrast to Chiang’s favoritism toward his clan, the Communists, adhering in principle to the Marxist ideas of class interests and class struggle, did not follow these traditional bonds of clan and regional identity, according to a number of contributors in this volume (pp. 93, 140, 142, 299). Yang Kuisong even attributes the defeat of the GMD on mainland China to this difference (p. 299).

Yang Kuisong cautions against scholars putting forth premature assessments of Chiang’s historical role in modern China as a strategy to avoid potential political risks in mainland China. Lu Fangshang and Yang Weizhen (both from Taiwan), however, have an academic freedom that permits them to try to make just such an assessment of Chiang’s contribution to twentieth-century Chinese history. They show that, in mainland China, Chiang Kai-shek was a transitional figure, contributing to the transformation of China from a feudal state based on personal dependency to a modern one founded on nationalistic and ideological appeals (pp. 253-254). Lu Fangshang uses the term “heritage-starter (继承性创业者 jicheng xing chuanyezhe)” to outline Chiang’s role in the GMD. He claims that Chiang was dedicated to the ideas and agendas of Sun Yat-sen. While Chiang inherited the GMD hierarchy from Sun, he had to face the challenges of a newcomer to a system that had obvious organizational deficiencies (p. 23). Jin Yilin (Institute of Modern History, CASS) refines Lu’s claim, saying that Chiang inherited Sun Yat-sen’s unfinished mission and gave it a new start by establishing a GMD party-state (p. 253). Jin points out that Sun brought into China the concept and practice of party-state (一党独裁 yidang ducai), while the previous administration in Beijing remained simply a “dictatorship by an individual” (p. 253). Because the GMD party-state was based on nationalism, it could mobilize many more resources than the various warlords whose power was built on personal loyalty. The creation of the party-state became Chiang’s source of power and brought about his success.

Jin’s refinement of Lu’s claim serves the purpose of the conference of encouraging cross-Strait academic exchanges. The minutes of the conference illustrate that this goal was achieved, even though a reader might find it difficult to identify arguments in individual essays if one loses sight of the broader context of the volume. The inclusion of the conference’s minutes of discussion, marked by colloquial language with slang—in what the volume’s editor comments is an experimental approach—was surprisingly informative and helpful in understanding the broader conversations across the Strait. They, however, also increased the length of the book and at times distract from its main theme. Nevertheless, this book is a valuable contribution to the field of the study of Republican China and post-1949 Taiwan. Although it is not always an easy read, it provides critical insights into a major figure in China’s modern history while showing the changing historiographical landscape in China today. It deserves to be read.

1 Chiang’s four spouses were Mao Fumei (毛福梅, 1882-1939), Yao Yecheng (姚冶诚,1887-1966), Chen Jieru (陈洁如,1905-1971) and Soong Mei-ling (宋美龄, 1897-2003).

Sherman Lai is a Research Associate at the Leverhulme Program of China’s War with Japan at the University of Oxford.

© 2012 by Twentieth-Century China Editorial Board. All rights reserved.

Vukovich, Daniel F. China and Orientalism: Western Knowledge Production and the P.R.C. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2012. xviii, 185 pp. $130.00 (cloth).

By Fabio Lanza

This slim, sharply-argued volume should be a mandatory reading for all of us who work on post-1949 China. China and Orientalism is a refreshing and often eye-opening analysis on how knowledge of the object called “China” has been constructed in the West since the end of Maoism. That knowledge, as Vukovich cogently demonstrates, is fundamentally flawed.

Writing as a “barbarian” outside the disciplinary gates— i.e. a self-declared non-sinologist (pp. xii-xiii) —Vukovich argues that, since the late 1970s, Western knowledge production about the PRC has been dominated and defined by a new form of Orientalism. But while for Edward Said the East was the irreducible “other,” the location of the absolute difference, the new Sinological-Orientalism construes China as the place of “becoming sameness” (p. 2). By this he means that China remains the other—it is still not normal—but is now placed within a scale of hierarchical difference, one in which it is always in the process of becoming like the West: liberal, open, modern, and free. In Vukovich’s essential re-formulation, this China is always the realm of the “not yet” (p. 3). In this sense, Sinological-Orientalism, as embodied by the scholarship of the China studies field, continues on the well-worn path of Cold War discourse, which was in turn displacing and subsuming the language of colonialism. With this novel incarnation of Orientalism, the domination of modernization theory and anti-communism is even more total and unopposed, Vukovich argues, because the actual existence of Maoist China briefly allowed for the possibility of an alternative to this domination, and that possibility is now irreparably gone. Also gone, one may add, is the radical scholarship that China inspired in the West throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Without that counterpart, the dominance of the Sinological-Orientalist gaze is seemingly absolute and irrefutable.

Written with spunk and with attention to theoretical details, China and Orientalism relies on an impressive array of examples and Vukovich’s solid analysis. Vukovich is keen to show how the object “China” has not been produced only or specifically in the hallowed halls of Western academia; rather, the colonial discourse of Sinological-Orientalism is part of a larger knowledge/power articulation. In fact, one added bonus of the work is that it illustrates how this perception of China is manufactured through the repetition, across different fields, of the same colonial discourse. Vukovich moves with dexterity among literature, scholarship, film, and journalism, from Don DeLillo’s MAO II to the documentary The Gate of Heavenly Peace, from Slavoj Žižek to the pages of the New York Times.

To take just one example, looking at the Tiananmen protests of 1989, Vukovich singles out how the event has been recoded in Western interpretations as the narrative of an always-emerging civil society. His criticism is particularly biting when he illustrates how the statements of the workers in the Square were twisted and re-interpreted because of their criticism of the socio-economic effects of the reforms and their overtly Maoist vocabulary. The latter can only be ignored or ascribed to nostalgia, so that the workers can be incorporated under the civil society model. No matter what they actually say or do, Vukovich argues, the people of China are perceived by foreign observers as ultimately wanting to become the same with the West—and thus they are always doomed to fail.

Vukovich’s examination of the recent outpouring of literature on the Great Leap Forward and the ensuing famine is also particularly timely and subtle. By scrutinizing the claims and the narrative strategies of works such as Jasper Becker’s Hungry Ghosts and Frank Dikötter’s Mao’s Great Famine, Vukovich invites us to look at the meaning of the very act of counting, behind the race towards generating the always-increasing death toll accounts. He suggests that the drive to produce knowledge on the Great Leap disproportionately in the form of numbers—rather than analyses of its economy and the causes for its failure, as Jack Gray and Carl Riskin have provided—might have a more profound significance, masked behind the professed anti-theoretical empiricism of this scholarship. By reducing the experiments of the Maoist period to a statistical set of “excess deaths,” it becomes much easier to dismiss collectivism or socialism in their entirety, and with that any residual challenge they may still pose today to the neoliberal model. Moreover, as Vukovich illustrates by referencing Bernard Cohn’s theory on British knowledge production in India, this “enumerative modality” is essentially colonial. It is also, and this is another crucial point of the book, essentially anti-political. A fundamental aspect of Sinological-Orientalism in all its manifestations is the denial of any political value to the Maoist and post-Maoist periods, as though politics ceased to exist in China after 1949, or could exist only as failed mimicry of the liberal West (as in 1989).

Reading Vukovich’s book leads me to wonder what a volume about knowledge production of the PRC within China would look like. Anecdotally, one could cite examples of the penetration and absorption of Sinological-Orientalist discourse in the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan; self-orientalizing is nothing new, and Vukovich hints at it in his critique of Chen Xiomei’s Occidentalism, but a more systematic analysis is needed. This obviously exceeds the scope of China and Orientalism, but I hope that Vukovich might take it up in a future project.

China and Orientalism is an essential contribution to our self-awareness as producers of knowledge and offers a welcome and indispensable criticism of the field. But Vukovich also provides examples throughout the volume of how a non-orientalist approach can be formulated, be it in the analysis of student protests or in film criticism, as in his appraisal of the movie Breaking With Old Ideas (Jue Lie). As for the prospects for a post-orientalist practice in the field of knowledge production, I tend to be more hopeful—or maybe I am simply more naïve: the very existence of a book such as China and Orientalism demonstrates the fact that there are scholars striving to construe, with the tools of theory and empirical research, a different approach to the study of China.

Fabio Lanza is Associate Professor of Modern Chinese History at The University of Arizona.

© 2012 by Twentieth-Century China Editorial Board. All rights reserved.

Stewart, Roderick and Sharon. Phoenix: The Life of Norman Bethune. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011. xiii, 464 pp.

By David Webster

Millions of Chinese have memorized Mao Zedong’s 1939 lines “In Memory of Norman Bethune,” written soon after the Canadian surgeon’s death amidst the war against Japan. As a result, Bethune remains the best-known Canadian in China, still outstripping comedian Dashan (Mark Rowswell).1

“Comrade Bethune’s spirit, his utter devotion to others without any thought of self, was shown in his great sense of responsibility in his work and his great warm-heartedness towards all comrades and the people,” Mao wrote, extolling Bethune’s “spirit of absolute selflessness.” If Bethune was pure selflessness and internationalist heroism after coming to China, it was only after arising phoenix-like from a selfish, dissolute life plagued by betrayal, self-aggrandizement, brushes with death and perhaps mental illness, according to the authors of a new biography.

Roderick and Sharon Stewart trace Bethune’s life from his youth in the small towns of Upper Canada to his death in the Shanxi-Hebei border area, the result of infection incurred while operating on a People’s Liberation Army fighter. The figure that emerges is heroic only in the sense that he finally found “my mission in life” (p. 294) once he arrived in China in 1938 to work as a battlefield surgeon.

Roderick Stewart’s interest in Bethune runs back to the 1960s, and he has published three previous biographies on aspects of Bethune’s life. This book, co-authored with his wife Sharon Stewart, draws on additional research in China, Canada, and Spain. With documentary sources drawn from almost a hundred different archives, it is unlikely to be surpassed in depth of research or attention to Bethune’s psyche.

His life, the Stewarts argue, “exhibits recurrent cycles of achievement and self-destruction—the pattern of the phoenix.” Brought up by a Protestant minister, his faith turned from religion to communism, and he was “driven throughout his life to act as a saviour” (p. 375). This did not prevent a history of bullying of comrades, his off-and-on wife, and periodic alcoholism.

The young Bethune was conservative and loyal to the British Empire. Family tradition has him the eighth man in Toronto to volunteer to fight in the First World War. At the same time, he rebelled against the strict Christian moral code of his parents, insisting on drinking liquor on his visits home—though he agreed to take his drinks into the bathroom to avoid corrupting others.

Bethune trained to become a surgeon. The poverty of many of his patients led him towards the political left—first to the social-democratic League for Social Reconstruction, Canada’s answer to the British Fabian Society (this partly out of attraction to the wife of one of the League’s founders, social activist Marian Dale Scott). After visiting the Soviet Union, he became a secret member of the Canadian Communist Party. Secrecy, the party hoped, would make him a more credible activist during the campaign to raise funds for Republican Spain as it fought fascist forces in the 1930s.

Bethune chafed under these restrictions and under party discipline, and sought adventure and service in the Spanish Civil War, the international left’s great cause of the 1930s. There, he created a mobile blood transfusion unit designed to operate near the battlefield, but was removed from his post by the Canadian Communist Party over his heavy drinking, womanizing and misuse of donations for such purposes as buying himself monogrammed shirts in Paris. The Spanish authorities refused to permit him re-entry into the country, though this was kept quiet because of his value as a passionate speaker and fundraiser in Canada. The Bethune who left Spain, never to be permitted back, was a flawed hero at best.

More importantly, he was a man desperately in search of a mission, a cause where he could serve communism and his own thirst for adventure. The desire to aid Communist China, besieged by imperial Japan, combined with “the opiate of action” (p. 268) to draw Bethune across the Pacific. Phoenix tells the story of Bethune in China in five detailed chapters. Bethune was able to convince the US and Canadian Communist Parties to jointly sponsor a small medical mission of himself and two others—neither of whom he could get along with for long. One called him “nothing but a bloody missionary” (p. 264) while a missionary doctor who worked side by side on surgeries with Bethune commented: “The Angel Gabriel couldn’t get along with Norman Bethune. He’s a horrible man” (p. 295).

Meeting Mao, Zhu De, and other lions of Chinese communism left Bethune inspired by their ascetic and whole-hearted commitment to the cause (and flattered when Mao remarked that he resembled Lenin). On the other hand, he saw desperate medical conditions, to which he reacted with “his usual combination of compassion and rage” (p. 287). Shouting at local people was the first reaction; working to build more effective and sanitary treatment his second. Bethune embraced the life of a local partisan, refusing extra rations and giving much of his food to others, sacrificing personal comforts of any sort, and over-working himself in ways that risked his health. He created medical mobile units able to operate with great effectiveness close to combat, and this added to his growing legend.

It was entirely characteristic, then, that Bethune died because his finger became infected during an operation in which he used no gloves, and that he continued to operate even knowing his hand was infected. His legend was such, the Stewarts argue, that no one dared stop him and save his life by amputating. A New Zealand journalist perhaps summed it up best: “he wanted to be a hero or a martyr of the Revolution, at any cost” (p. 258). In his China work in 1939-39 and in his death, perhaps, Bethune earned both.

1. In 2011, 68% of Chinese surveyed knew Bethune, while 29% knew Dashan and others trailed far behind. Yuchao Zhu, “Making Sense of Canada’s Public Image in China,” paper presented at conference on “Canada-China Relations: past, present and future,” University of Regina, October 2011.

David Webster is Assistant Professor of International Relations and Asian Studies at the University of Regina.

© 2012 by Twentieth-Century China Editorial Board. All rights reserved.

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