AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 378

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Session 378: Creating Socialist Urban Space: Chinese Cities in the 1950s

Organizer: Zhao Ma, Washington University, St. Louis, USA

Chair: David Strand, Dickinson College, USA

Discussant: Janet Y. Chen, Princeton University, USA

The Communist revolution in the 1950s was not just a regime change but also created a new social milieu, cultural form, business practice, neighborhood structure, and above all a new framework under which the state’s political agenda and bureaucratic apparatus interacted with individual people’s everyday life. Mass campaigns re-ordered urban society by charting social and cultural geographies with new binary categories such as revolutionary vs. reactionary, progressive vs. backward, working-class vs. feudal/bourgeois, and new vs. old. The categorization, on the one hand, empowered some social groups and allowed them to play an active part in the revolutionary process; on the other hand, it marginalized, criminalized, stigmatized, and even demonized people whose political view or institutional practice did not conform to the Communist state’s agenda. Three papers focus on diverse groups, such as performers and professionals in cultural institutions in Chengdu and Shanghai and women in lower-class neighborhoods in Beijing. Panelists examine how people responded, negotiated, and manipulated the Communist Party’s top-down mass mobilizations. We ask how political mobilization and purge in the 1950s created a new socialist “mass,” “mass politics,” and “mass culture?” How did local contexts — political organization, cultural setting, and business pattern in three cities — affect and shape the national movement? How did these campaigns create new social, recreational, and emotional space in socialist cities? What was the form and content of the PRC regime’s vision for socialist urban spaces, and how did ordinary people and different social groups interact with this vision? This panel focuses on the changing urban space under Communist rule, not only as a research topic in itself but also as a window onto larger issues of mass mobilization, state-building, and state-society relations in China during a time of rapid and profound change.

State and Popular Entertainment in Early PRC Shanghai
Jin Jiang, East China Normal University, China

In the early 1950s the PRC State Council issued a directive ordering the so-called thrice reforms of the entertainers, the entertainment market, and the performances in order to establish a new socialist culture in the popular theater. The Shanghai local government devoted a great deal of state resources accordingly to first establish a state-controlled new institutional structure to be imposed on the cultural market. In the meantime, all theaters in Shanghai went through a socialist reform and were turned over to the state. By the end of 1956, thus, a socialist structural framework was firmly established and imposed on Shanghai’s entertainment market and, with this done, the government was ready to embark on its ambitious goal of creating a completely new socialist popular culture that would be embraced by the people. But, the state was not the only player in the game. The performers, the audiences, the professional staff members, and even the state cadres all had different ideas and invested different emotions and interests in this cultural enterprise. This paper proposes to look at the process of this undertaking and to ask what it meant for the various players: What kind of political accesses did it open up or close down and to what extent did it expand or diminish social and emotional spaces for those involved? And, more generally, what kinds of ideas of citizenship and identities did it help to forge during the long 1950s?

State Control and Rise of Socialist Amusement: Reform of Popular Performance and Performers at the Teahouse in early 1950s Chengdu
Di Wang, University of Macau, Macau

As soon as the Communist Administration was established in Chengdu in the end of December of 1949, it immediately carried out measures of control of daily life and popular entertainment. However, this task was only achieved after the state’s long effort, and in the early years of the new regime people, to a great extent, lived in the traditional way of life. From 1950 to 1956, the socialist state gradually extended its power into the arena of popular performances, in which we can see how socialist entertainment gradually formed while the communist state controlled and changed traditional way of daily life and amusement. Under the communist regime, at the first time of Chinese history state was able to extend its power into the lowest level of people’s daily life and entertainment, to change forms and contents of popular performance, to determine performers’ livelihood and fate, and to decide what ideas and value people could receive from entertainment. During the late Qing and Republican periods, popular culture constantly resisted control from Westernized elites and a modernized state, which could also be seen in the early 1950s. However, such a resistance was too weak to stand attacks of a strong state machine, and as a result, many forms of traditional entertainment and popular culture that were not recognized by revolutionary culture and propaganda disappeared within a short period.

Mobilizing Women and Creating Socialist Neighborhood in Beijing, 1949-1952
Zhao Ma, Washington University, St. Louis, USA

After taking over Beijing in early 1949, the Communist authority immediately realized that its political reconstruction and women’s mobilization was at stake. There had just been too few existing women’s organizations that could represent women across class or professional boundaries, too many lower-class women who had traditionally been left out of the political process, and no established venue to penetrate neighborhood social fabric available for the newly created Communist government. To mediate the gap between the government’s ambitious revolutionary goal and the less-politically-motivated women population, the Communist state launched successive mass campaigns that targeted women’s daily life, such as education, public and personal hygiene, child care, and work. Campaigns made the Communist authority a relevant, significant, and ultimately a dominant force in women’s daily political and socioeconomic life. The mobilization process gave women unprecedented opportunities in terms of political participation; but as their lives and voices were increasingly directed by Party policies, their leverage in negotiating and asserting their interests were drastically curtailed. Based on my examination of internal documents of party organizations and local cadres’ reports, this paper intends to explore the following questions: How were women recruited in the revolution process? How did women’s participation in the political process affect their configuration of urban political and socioeconomic geographies? How did the Communist revolution reorder the urban neighborhood space?