The Calculus of Child Welfare in the “Lone Island”

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 4:30 PM
Roosevelt Room 3 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Margaret Tillman, Purdue University
In 1937, the Japanese Army invaded Shanghai, and after three long months of battle, the Chinese Nationalists retreated from the city. Chinese refugees flooded into Shanghai’s International Settlement, which remained in US jurisdiction until the United States entered the Second World War. Americans and Chinese residents continued much of their child welfare work, and they even increased these activities to address the medical needs of new refugees in receiving centers. They raised funds from local Chinese Christians, received money from sympathetic Americans abroad, and even sometimes coordinated with the Nationalist government office.

These five years helped reveal the ongoing semi-colonial dimensions of Christian child welfare work. Even though organizations such as the National Child Welfare Association had allowed Chinese leadership to control mission work and American donations, the absence of the Nationalists illustrated the limits of child protection for national state-building. In the absence of Nationalist regulations about religious education, the NCWA also became much more obviously Christian and evangelical. At the same time, Japanese propaganda accused Christians of colluding with Western imperialists. By decoupling childhood from the Chinese state, the Second World War removed the veneer of patriotism from previous Christian-led welfare efforts. After 1942, the collaborationist government continued many of the child welfare programs of previous eras, but their message about childhood differed greatly from those of their fellow Chinese in the hinterland. Whereas both Communists and Nationalists saw children as “future soldiers,” the collaborationist government focused on the supposedly innate “peaceful” and “self-sufficient” nature of Chinese children. Thus, shifting territorial control over Shanghai influenced definitions of “innate” Chinese childhood and its relationship to structures of power.

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