China through Travel: Pleasure and Politics in the Twentieth Century
Travel for leisure and exploration is by no means new to Chinese. Throughout the restless twentieth century, the potential power of organized touring was grasped and wielded by many Chinese who sought to use it to fulfill their own ambitions, whether ideological, commercial, or political. By chaperoning others across a curated selection of places, images, and experiences, they tried to demonstrate a China that they wanted to exist.
This panel examines three cases of travel in China during the Republican period and early People’s Republic, investigating how travel in various forms has long been one of the major forces underpinning China’s nation-building objectives. Focusing on China Traveler, the most circulated travel magazine in China in the 1920s and 1930s, Yajun Mo scrutinizes how different travel narratives conjured specific and powerful imaginaries of the nation. Qian Zhu examines in the 1930s how teenaged travelers reconfigured education through travel and how their travelogues were discovered as manifestos of human emancipation and national consolidation. Christopher Leighton analyzes how “red” capitalists in Mao’s China served as spokesman for and guides to the revolution before an international audience from the 1950s to the 1970s. Collectively, these papers highlight not just the intermingling of the pleasures of touring with the political impulses that promoted it, but also how the often appealing glimpses of China in motion reflected a broad effort to construct an alternative image of the nation.