AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 333

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Session 333: The Politics and Practices of Knowledge Production in China Studies

Organizer: Ping-Chun Hsiung, University of Toronto, Canada

Discussant: Xiangming Chen, Peking University, China

This panel brings together four papers that critically analyze the politics and practices of knowledge production in China Studies. The first two papers demonstrate how investigative work, whether it is taking census in colonial Taiwan in 1905 or conducting rural investigation throughout China during the Great Leap Forward (1959-1061), is central to the regime’s governance. The third paper which examines how the concept of “class” was presented, constructed, and contested during the Cultural Revolution will be presented alongside the fourth paper, an analytical journal in which the researcher reflects upon how middle-class consciousness operates in ethnographic inquiry in contemporary China. The panel offers a platform to explore how knowledge is constructed, by whom, with what means, and in order to bring about what objectives. It intends to lay the ground work for an emancipatory paradigm in research and praxis in China Studies.

A Census for Policing the Colony: The First Census in Colonial Taiwan in 1905
Akiko Ishii, National University of Singapore, Singapore

The Meiji government planned to conduct its first census in Japan and colonial Taiwan, which had been a statisticians' dream since the mid-19th century, in 1905. Japanese intellectuals who were steeped in statistical thinking about society believed that accurate numerical data produced by the census would reveal the true strengths of their nation and provide a more rational mode of governance. However, just before it was to be carried out, the government decided to postpone the Japanese census due to financial difficulties following the Russo-Japanese war. By contrast, the Taiwanese census was conducted according to its original schedule. This paper explores discussions concerning the first Taiwanese census among Japanese statisticians and politicians. It examines the rationale behind the census in Taiwan, which was related to the immediate needs of police administration in the colony, and reveals a clear contrast with the intentions of the Japanese census, which was often described as a long-term project "to know the society as it is." Using the case of the census in colonial Taiwan as a lens, this paper explicates the differing logics in the governance of Japan and its colony. While statisticians understood the census in Japan as a process of making the society visible as a collective body of people, and sought ways to govern people as a mass, the Taiwanese census was partly shaped by more conventional interests of government, such as tracking individual bodies and maintaining social order by controlling them.

The Practices and Politics of Investigative Research during the Great Leap Forward
Ping-Chun Hsiung, University of Toronto, Canada

It has been axiomatic that Mao’s rural investigations in the 1930s, and his slogans, such as “No investigation, no right to speak,” are the very essence of “social research with the Chinese, socialist character,” with lasting implications for how social science research is done in contemporary China. This paper examines the politics and practices of investigative research during the Great Leap Forward (GLF, 1959-1961), when investigative research was carried out throughout China. The paper asks three empirical questions: (1) How was the investigative research carried out at the individual and institutional level? (2) How was the investigative report constructed and interpreted, by whom, and in order to accomplish what objects? and (3) What were the consequences of such interpretations? By examining the recollections and reflections of those who have participated in the investigative work, the reports they have produced, and other, related, historical documents, the paper identifies the methodological practices and epistemological principles that governed the production of investigative reports during the GLF. It discusses the implications of such a legacy for social sciences research in contemporary China.

Representing and Practicing Class during the Cultural Revolution
Yiching Wu, University of Toronto, Canada

The Cultural Revolution was ostensibly all about “class” and “class struggle,” which constituted the political framework of the movement and framed the everyday experience of hundreds of millions of Chinese. But what did it really mean to talk about “class” during the Cultural Revolution, and what was the meaning of “class struggle?” This paper explores the production, representation, and contestation of knowledge about class both before and during the Cultural Revolution. I begin with a consideration of crucial ambiguities in the official language of class, as embodied in the institutional matrix of Chinese society in the mid-1960s, and proceed to discuss the ways in which received possibilities of political signification conditioned the dynamics and trajectory of collective politics. How was class understood and represented, both in the official framework and by various social groups? How was knowledge about class produced, acted upon, contested, and reconfigured—in often contradictory fashions and with unintended consequences that the state could neither foresee nor control? How did certain key ambiguities in the Cultural Revolution’s authorizing discourse of class both restrained and enabled the mass movement? Through analyzing the ideology and politics of class during the Cultural Revolution, this paper aims to explore the meaning of class and rethink its multifaceted significance in contemporary China society.

The Pitfall of the Middle-class Conscience in Doing Ethnographic Research in China
Suowei Xiao, Beijing Normal University, China

This paper draws upon reflections of my personal feelings and attitudes towards two different groups of women, local urban and migrant women, during my twelve-month ethnographic study of the mistress arrangements in contemporary China. Although I endeavor to devote equal amount of effort in understanding their particular choices and experiences, I found myself, similar to many other middle-class intellectuals, more empathetic towards women from low socio-economic positions who become mistresses than those who are better off. Why does this middle-class conscience emerge in contemporary China and how does it impact investigative work on China studies? I suggest that with the rise of social inequality in the post-socialist China, middle-class intellectuals imagine a “culture of survival” that perceives (and legitimates) the actions of the “deprived” (often by intellectuals’ definition) as their few means to survive while disapproving those with “options” (also by intellectuals’ definition) of moving up the social ladder in illegitimate ways. Such conscience, as I reflect upon the work of my own and some others’, may fall prey to ignoring the agencies of the poor and overlooking the structural constraints of the “better off” in doing fieldwork and analyzing the collected data.