Models, Martyrs, and Miscreants: The Making of Communist China’s “New Child,” 193848

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 8:30 AM
Water Tower Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Kyle David, University of California, Irvine
This paper examines children’s contributions to the construction of a unique socialist modernity in rural north China during the second Sino-Japanese (1937-1945) and Chinese Civil (1945-1949) wars. I argue that the Chinese Communist Party, via Shanxi-Chahar-Hebei border region government, institutionalized children’s participation in public and private spheres through two establishments: primary schools and the Anti-Japanese Children’s League. Together, these two institutions marshaled children’s involvement in a range of public activities, which included agricultural labor, theatrical performances, conducting clandestine reconnaissance and counterespionage missions, and ransacking Japanese encampments. Children also acted on private domestic spaces by surveilling friendly populations, mobilizing parental participation in mass rallies, reporting truant children to government bureaus, and regimenting their own bodies through new hygienic practices and physical exercise. Yet such empowerment had unintended consequences. Throughout the war, the Children’s League regularly challenged the authority of their “intellectual” teachers, prompting either the instructor’s resignation or his or her dismissal. And during the Land Reform movement (1946-1948), children organized their own Poor Peasant Leagues, which launched struggle sessions against both teachers and their affluent classmates. The result was the near collapse of the border region’s education system. Using government documents, county- and village-level work reports, and newspaper and periodical archives, this paper examines how the border region government molded and mobilized Communist China’s “new child.”
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