Pacific Transmissions: New Histories of US-China Information Networks in the 20th Century

AHA Session 215
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Centennial Ballroom G (Hyatt Regency Denver, Third Floor)
Annelise Heinz, University of Texas at Dallas
Timothy B. Weston, University of Colorado at Boulder

Session Abstract

Historians have characterized cultural relations between China and the United States variously as “scratches,” “dreams,” “romances,” and “preoccupations.” These interpretations call attention to the nature and quality of information available to different groups of Americans about China. How was this information created or selected, and by whom? Where and how did it circulate? How was the information received, and what changes did it effect? Guided by these questions, the proposed session brings together historians of China and the U.S. who share transnational methods of scholarship, but who each examine a different set of actors working to convey information in a variety of formats about Chinese culture, the People’s Republic of China, and the Republic of China to audiences in the United States during the twentieth century.

The session moves to reconsider the significance of information networks and exchanges for 20th-century U.S.-China relations in three major ways. First, it questions the process by which information about China was validated as authoritative. Second, it re-evaluates the hegemony of official channels at midcentury. Finally, the panel investigates how national governments engaged in new ways of circulating information to achieve their strategic objectives during the Cold War. Ian Shin (Columbia University) examines the contributions of amateur writers during the 1920s and 1930s, many of them women, against a backdrop of increasing professionalization and institutionalization in the study of Chinese art. Matthew Johnson (Grinnell College) draws from newly available documents in the archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China to show how news production by American reporters visiting the PRC during the 1950s and 1960s challenged Cold War propaganda circuits. Yanqiu Zheng (Northwestern University) uses bilingual sources to recount the unprecedented “Chinese Art Treasures” exhibition of 1961–1962 as a cultural diplomacy initiative by the Guomindang that was also heavily mediated by American curators. By focusing on historically marginalized informants and new directions of transmission, these papers reveal a vibrant and contested information landscape on both sides of the Pacific Ocean over five decades.

Information is a particularly useful analytic to study spatial and temporal scales in history. It is vital to making a particular scale legible and coherent—to facilitate the imagination of communities of human experience in a given place and time—yet also carries the potential to transcend them. In this way, the proposed session will engage the theme of the conference by exploring how information in transit simultaneously reinforced existing national formations while constituting new, transpacific modalities of politics and culture.

See more of: AHA Sessions