Beyond Nationalism: Globalizing China’s World War II

AHA Session 8
Thursday, January 4, 2018: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Maryland Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level)
Parks M. Coble, University of Nebraska
Parks M. Coble, University of Nebraska

Session Abstract

Most scholarship on World War II in China focuses on the role of Japan’s invasion in galvanizing national consciousness among the Chinese, who had been fractured by civil war and social instability since the fall of the Qing Empire in 1911. Instead, this panel shows how war complicated, rather than resolved, the issue of Chinese nationhood. Joining new research recovering China's role in a truly global World War, these papers show that Chinese subjects visited and revisited the question of national identity through participation in transnational wartime discourses, institutions, and practices, challenging definitions of the political community based only on common culture, ethnicity, or class. Globalizing China’s World War II allows us to examine how the circulation of European legal ideas through China offered new ways for defining and prosecuting betrayal, or to investigate the way inventive Chinese efforts to procure military aid from the United States created new venues for economic nationalism. In exploring the movement of ideas, people, and goods across borders during the war, as well as their migration's lasting impact on the development of the Chinese nation-state in the post-war era, the papers in this panel show that transnationalism during the Second World War was crucial for developing political identities and state practices in China.

By narrating one group’s hajj pilgrimage from Japanese-occupied North China through Italian-occupied Eritrea to Mecca, Kelly Hammond illustrates the complicated relationship of Chinese Muslims to Chinese nationalism and refines our understanding of the politics surrounding collaboration. Yiyun Ding’s paper reinterprets the New Life Movement, Chiang Kai-shek's civic education program for investing Chinese citizens with a modern “Chinese” identity borrowing influences from American Methodism and German fascism, to understand its evolving cultural logic as it transformed into a technical project for producing pliant state subjects during wartime. John B. Thompson examines the legal redefinition of treason and political inclusion through Nationalist Party (Guomindang or Kuomintang) adaptations of emergency laws and procedures from Europe, Japan, and the United States, and finds state loyalty in "Free China" was as potent a source of political affiliation as national solidarity. Finally, Wankun Li’s paper examines the construction of a firm charged with exchanging tung oil for American loans and military equipment, bringing financiers and merchants into the fight for survival. Li demonstrates the ways this institution molded the economy of Southwest China into the Communist period after 1949.

The panel relies on multilingual archives, journals, and records from China, Italy, Japan, Germany, and America. Together, these papers move beyond the inherited research on Chinese nationalism and native designs for state-building during the Second Sino-Japanese War to place China into the global war and foreground the emergence of contemporary China and post-war international orders.

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