Molding the Future: Images of Childhood in Wartime China

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 8:50 AM
Water Tower Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Maria-Caterina Bellinetti, University of Glasgow
The relationship between the construction of childhood and the creation of a nation during a period of social disruption and change is explained by Orna Naftali (2007: 23) as such: “the importance of guiding and developing the actions of children has been a central concern of many modern nation-states due to the crucial role children play in the imaginary and corporeal construction of the nation.” This is to say that in terms of wartime expectations in Communist propaganda strategies, children embodied not only the hope for a free, united China, but were exploited and portrayed by the political establishment as “national assets.” The visual construction of childhood by the Communist Party during wartime can be seen as the initial, embryonic stage of what the construction of China under the Party’s leadership would eventually be.

Through the analysis of the photographs that appeared in the Communist propaganda magazine, the Jin Cha Ji Pictorial, this paper explores how children were imagined during the war, which type of propaganda purposes did these images serve, and whether these photographs did somehow predict what Chinese society would become after 1949. The reasons for the interest to represent how children lived during the conflict and contributed—whether symbolically or for real—to the war effort can be identified in the Party’s needs to connect the visual nationalistic and anti-Japanese propaganda with the political plans for the country. During the war, children became the future of the whole nation and, as a consequence, childhood was not a private, unofficial period in the life of a family anymore, but became a national, public matter that had to evolve in the correct way so to ensure the appropriate development of the nation.