Cleanliness, Godliness, and Social Habits in the New Life Movement, 1934–48

Saturday, January 4, 2014: 11:50 AM
Embassy Room (Omni Shoreham)
Helen M. Schneider, Virginia Tech
Cleanliness, Godliness, and Social Habits in the New Life Movement, 1934-1948

Helen M. Schneider 

This paper links aspects of the New Life Movement that have not often been carefully analyzed together, the pursuit of cleanliness and the role of Christianity. Movement activists emphasized both better hygienic practices and moral and spiritual purification in their quest to mobilize disciplined citizens and to create the appearance of a modernized population. This paper will examine how Protestant Christian values influenced the ideology of the Movement’s Chinese leaders and foreign advisors, including Anglo-American missionaries. The first part of the essay will investigate the origins of the New Life Movement’s emphasis on cleanliness. The second portion will examine how those ideas were articulated through China’s war with Japan and the late 1940s by examining the Women’s Advisory Council of the New Life Movement. By taking state-guided cleaning efforts seriously, this work explores longer term effects of inducing the public to clean up its act through changing daily habits and regimens. These include increased state monitoring through intervention in details of everyday life and the continued intellectual and state concern about the appearance of a clean and modern China.