Books

You are currently browsing the archive for the Books category.

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.

By Mike Frick

“Since you have gone, the house is empty, it has been three seasons now
Extinguish the lamps, let the twilight come, we must endure the setting sun” —Chinese funeral couplet

In 2000-2001, Elisabeth Rosenthal published a series of reports in the New York Times that alerted the world to a startling AIDS epidemic among farmers in central China. Beginning in the early 1990s, thousands of farmers in the Yellow River provinces of Henan, Hebei, Hubei, and Shanxi had contracted HIV through commercial blood selling. Local government officials in Henan promoted blood and plasma selling as a rural development scheme that would lift farmers out of poverty. State-run collection centers and private collectors known as “blood heads” would pool blood, extract the desired plasma, and then inject the leftover blood back into donors, thereby enabling people to donate more frequently. Unsafe pooling and re-injection practices exposed thousands to HIV; secondary transmission then occurred on an even wider scale through the use of contaminated blood products in hospitals as well as transmission to sexual partners and children by those already infected. After the epidemic came to light, the Chinese government banned the sale of blood and worked to increase the safety of the blood supply. Yet local officials also denied the scale of the epidemic and harassed journalists, physicians, and other activists who sought to document the extent of the blood disaster.

Yan Lianke’s novel Dream of Ding Village, a nominee for the 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize, opens in the waning years of the blood-selling frenzy, as a small farming community in Henan province watches “the fever” begin to claim the lives of working-age adults. By the mid-1990s, the Chinese government had acknowledged the spread of HIV/AIDS among drug users on China’s southwestern borders, but no one expected AIDS to appear among poor farmers in China’s heartland. The discovery of aizibing cun, or AIDS villages, in central China forced government leaders to confront a pattern of HIV transmission among Han Chinese unrelated to opium trafficking and injecting drug use among ethnic minority communities along the Chinese-Burmese border. At the outset of the novel, so many people have died in Ding Village that families have stopped observing mourning rituals such as pasting funeral couplets outside their homes, and grave markers have become “as dense as the sheaves of wheat” that those healthy enough to work struggle to harvest.

The narrator of Yan’s novel is Ding Qiang, the murdered twelve-year-old son of Ding Hui, the village’s most notorious blood head. The villagers poison Qiang in retaliation for his father’s actions; Ding Hui had established Ding Village’s largest blood bank and used the profits to modernize the family compound. Not content to wait for customers, Ding Hui put his plasma bank on wheels, pushing it out to the village’s fields to collect blood from working farmers, who then fell sick. After Qiang’s murder, the boy lingers over Ding Village as a clear-eyed observer. His omniscient narration serves mainly to illuminate the thoughts of his grandfather, who tries to care for sick villagers while shouldering the remorse his son Ding Hui never musters.

Yan’s writing is at once richly metaphoric and attuned to the rhythms of Chinese farming life. He describes needle marks on the underarms of blood sellers as “angry red sesame seeds” and pinched veins as “fat-streaked pork.” Mostly this language is effective, though at its weaker moments the metaphors can feel overwrought, particularly in the dream sequences that mark major turning points in the plot. Dreams haunt the sleep of Qiang’s grandfather and serve as convenient devices for moving the narrative forward, although this sometimes occurs at the expense of good story-telling. Major revelations about Ding Hui’s greed and artifice are revealed through lushly animated dreams that allow Yan to transcend the narrative strictures of time and place. Through these dreams we see Ding Hui ingratiate himself with government officials until they appoint him chairman of the county taskforce on HIV/AIDS. In his first move as chairman, Ding Hui intercepts the free government-issued coffins intended for AIDS patients in Ding Village and sells them to other AIDS-affected villages for a profit. For his efforts, he labels himself a “philanthropist.” Left without coffins, those dying in Ding Village ransack the school for blackboards and desks to build their own. The transformation of the school into a funereal supply yard carries particular poignancy given China’s storied reverence for learning and scholarship.

Yan sometimes paints the villagers as comical rubes, easily placated by even the smallest self-serving kindness from Ding Hui and other officials. The tone of this portrayal borders on patronizing and is surprising given Yan’s training as an anthropologist. Yan’s academic background comes across more clearly in his perceptive description of how the sick villagers reproduce Communist Party bureaucracy in the way they handle a stream of small dramas, including prosecuting petty thieves, supplanting Qiang’s grandfather as school overseer, and legislating morality among amorous (unwed) HIV-positive couples. AIDS quickly infiltrates every level of Party, village, and clan politics.

Unsurprisingly, the Chinese government levied a “three nos” ban—no sales, no distribution, and no promotion—against Dream of Ding Village after its publication in 2005. Though the storytelling relies heavily on dream sequences, Yan takes little poetic license when exposing the depth of the state’s culpability in spreading HIV among poor, medically-naïve farmers. He is just as uncompromising when detailing how officials denied responsibility for the ensuing AIDS epidemic, even as they profited from its human tragedy. No one in Ding Village receives medical care, mental health counseling, food assistance, or a chance to hold the blood heads legally accountable. Cast adrift by government administrators, the sick villagers quarantine themselves in the school and wait to die.

Yan’s novel dares to imagine the early years of China’s AIDS epidemic, when farmers in central China awoke from visions of wealth and prosperity to find instead incurable illness and death. Aside from a few stories in newspapers, academic articles, and the memoirs of activist-physicians like Dr. Gao Yaojie, we have few personal accounts from the earliest victims of the blood disaster. Many of these individuals passed away before the Chinese government began offering free anti-retroviral treatment for AIDS in 2003. While the language is sometimes sentimental, Yan’s novel offers powerful testimony of the suffering victims of the blood disaster, their families, and communities have endured in the wake of a wholly preventable tragedy.

Mike Frick is a China program officer at Asia Catalyst, a US-based nonprofit that does training, research and advocacy on health and human rights in Asia. Together with the Korekata AIDS Law Center in Beijing, Asia Catalyst recently released a report on the difficulties victims of the blood disaster have faced in getting compensation from the Chinese government.

Rian Dundon, whose photographs have previously appeared at China Beat, will soon be releasing a new book of photography on China, Changsha. Dundon’s book will feature a forward written by friend of the blog Gail Hershatter and includes his photos of and essays on the Hunan province city of Changsha. For more information, and to pre-order a copy of the book, see the book’s website (pre-sales of the book are part of a crowd-funding campaign raising funds for its first run with the publisher, Emphas.is). Below is a special teaser of Changsha material that Dundon has prepared for China Beat readers.

KTV

Off Yingpan Lu in the old city center is a small neighborhood karaoke club. 100 meters down the alley opposite the south entrance of No. 1 Hospital, it sits next to a noodle shop and across from a massage parlor. The sidewalk outside is cracked and littered with cigarette butts and slick with grease from the restaurant next door. Its windowless, white cement façade is punctured by a wide door with an arc of faux stained glass through which you can glimpse the glow of a TV and colored stage lights. The club’s doorframe is draped in thick green sheets of plastic designed to keep the interior air-conditioning from escaping into the hot summer night. Through those heavy curtains is a long bar behind which sits an elderly woman smoking a soft pack of Baisha cigarettes. Bottles and glasses and piles of used ashtrays are stacked on the bar along with other objects: rags and poker cards and packs of cigs, half-chewed betel nut and keys and cell phones, packs of gum. Behind the bar is a refrigerator containing dozens of yellow 600 ML bottles of Harbin Beer. Their labels match those on the empty cardboard boxes strewn haphazardly to the side. In front of the bar is an arrangement of cushioned chairs and couches covered with cigarette-burned upholstery, all dark green like the plastic over the door. Spilled liquids slicken the tile floor and glass knee-high tables where swollen ashtrays slide back and forth, sometimes crashing onto the floor or clanging loudly against empty bottles and thick glass mugs of green tea. In the front of the room is a yellowed big screen TV where music videos play. Their faded images of 1980’s Hong Kong pop stars sporting fashions and hairstyles long forgotten. Alex To is there singing to a woman he’s met at a pool hall:

Baby don’t go ~don’t go~
Don’t go ~don’t go~
How can I wake up tomorrow?
I feel so sad
I can’t trust love anymore
Baby don’t go
Don’t go
Our love will be hard to follow
It breaks my heart
If you don’t love me no more

In the back of the room a woman is crumpled in a chair mouthing the Cantonese lyrics to a song she doesn’t know. Next to her a man is alternating between vomiting into a waste bin and taking shots of beer with his brothers. On the screen a woman runs along a beach, crying and tripping over herself as she chases a scornful lover. ZY, who is pacing at the center of the room and twirling a microphone cord as he easily croons the familiar love song, walks to the monitor and motions as if to dry the desperate woman’s tears before turning to face the packed room. With a wide smile and deep baritone chorus all the stresses of his week and year and life are extinguished into the crowd, absorbed by their loving faces and unconditional affirmation. Singing, more than any other vice, is his release. His comfort zone. Surrounded here by loved ones in a tiny bar on an old street where he grew up in a city he no longer recognizes, ZY is at the center of his world. King of the Old City, master of how things should have been.

Old friends at lunch, 2008

Backstage at the Night Cat gay bar and cabaret, 2007

Sleeping on the bus, 2011

Abandoned construction, 2010

KTV, 2006

Pool hall, 2011

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.

« Older entries