Manufacturing Loyalties from Mao to Now: Education and Conflicting Duties in China's 20th Century and Beyond, 19382018

AHA Session 150
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Water Tower Parlor (Palmer House Hilton, Sixth Floor)
Margaret Mih Tillman, Purdue University
Margaret Mih Tillman, Purdue University

Session Abstract

This panel has two goals. First, to examine how, over the last eighty years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has cultivated and mobilized the loyalty of its citizens through public education. Second, to assess how historical actors such as primary school and university students have responded to calls for allegiance. During the second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), for example, the Party banded together disparate social groups behind a “United Front” policy. At this time, an individual’s loyalty was more to the Chinese nation than to the CCP. This changed during the early years of the People’s Republic, when demonstration of fealty to Party doctrine and unwavering support of Chairman Mao greatly impacted one’s lived experience. Moreover, in the context of global socialist revolution, ideologues substituted devotion to the nation for class solidarity, aiming to unite the world proletariat against the imperialist powers of the West. The ideological vacuum that followed Mao’s death in 1976 prompted Party leaders to fill this void with an ethnic nationalism that conflated the nation and party-state. By doing so, the CCP has effectively narrowed the range of political, intellectual, and even social choices open to its citizens. It continues to draw on discourses, some circulated since the late Qing dynasty (1644-1911), that have prioritized state wealth and power as necessary antecedents to personal liberty.

As the Chinese Communist Party, founded in 1921, approaches its centennial celebrations, this panel takes stock of how the Party’s commitment to manufacturing loyalty among its citizens has contributed to its longevity. Collectively, our papers query: Which ideas of the early Communist leaders have had the most staying power, and which have been discarded? Which vehicles for cultivating and mobilizing loyalty have been most efficacious, and at which historical junctures? What changes has the Party made in the post-Mao and post-Tiananmen eras? Equally important is our focus on how individuals at the grassroots level have received Party-led appeals for obedience. How, for example, have historical actors such as children, youth, and university students responded to Party efforts to nurture loyalty? Have Party narratives been misinterpreted, and, if so, with what consequences? How have students pushed back against these narratives?

We invite attendees from any geographic specialization interested in how the approaches of authoritarian regimes to foster loyalty among their citizens have changed over time. Historians of education, childhood, and youth will be especially interested.

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