From Warlord Democracy to People’s Rights: Electoral Experiments and Cultures of Legality in Colonial Manchuria and Socialist Northeast China, 192857

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 3:50 PM
Salon 10 (Palmer House Hilton)
Rui Hua, Harvard University
This paper reconstructs and compares the experiments with electoral politics in the Manchurian borderland under the Zhang Xueliang regime in the late 1920s and during the socialist decolonization of the region in the 1950s. At the height of the Sino-Soviet-Japanese rivalry for Manchuria in the late 1920s, the Chinese regional authorities under Zhang Xueliang attempted to instill nationalist loyalty among the frontier peasants through political enfranchisement. Resonating with similar movements in the Russian and Japanese spheres of influence, the project reverberated widely in the Manchurian countryside, involving everything from the contentious production of electorate maps to the revamping of rural judicial infrastructure. Zhang’s liberal utopia nevertheless ended in a borderland dystopia. It gave rise to a new culture of legality, which revolved around the right to self-governance and grassroots legal activism against the interventionist state. Dividing the loyalty of the rural elites, the effort arguably laid the groundwork for spontaneous collaboration after the Japanese take-over in 1931. Two decades later, the Chinese communist state revived the strategy, using “socialist” peasant elections as a ritual to restore Chinese identity to the formerly colonized. Using county and village level archival sources, I explore how two ideologically different states deployed the same notions of legal rights and grassroots political subjectivity to reshape loyalties in a transnational borderland. These obscure transwar dynamics also hints at the possible interwar frontier origins of the CCP’s socialist strategies of decolonization in the early Cold War.