AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 414

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Session 414: "Networking Power in the Late Qing and Early Republic: an Examination of the Political, Social and Cultural Landscape of Early Twentieth Century China."

Organizer: Anne S. Chao, Rice University, USA

Discussant: Ke-wen Wang, St. Michael's College, USA

This panel focuses on using a social network perspective as key to explore the dynamics of late Qing and early Republican society. A “social network” is defined as a set of actors and the ties that bind them. The power of social network analysis lies in its ability to consider the multiple identities and ties of each individual actor as he or she interacts with different sets of people, thus providing a more fine-grained view of historical events--their origins, evolution and consequences. Keith Schoppa traces the tortuous career of Wang Jinfa (1883-1915), as co-founder of the Restoration Society, respectable revolutionary, to corrupt Republican and shadowy scoundrel, by linkage through his various networks. Schoppa’s study of Wang’s ties to people in high and low places yields a nuanced construction of the political and social milieu of the late Qing and early Republican China. Elya Zhang highlights the way the Manchurian mandarin, Duanfang (1861-1911), built up his networks of political and bureaucratic connections over six provinces by harnessing a new technology, the telegraph. Anne Chao looks at the proliferation of liminal political and social organizations located in the Anhui-Shanghai-Tokyo corridor during the first few years of the twentieth century, and studies how these network ties are shaped by the social and political exigencies of the time. Moving further into the Republican era, Ling Shiao uses network analysis to demonstrate how the culture of Kaiming Press, an avant-garde small spin-off of the Commercial Press, came about by virtue of the friendship, school and native place ties among members of the editorial board.

“Chinese Kaleidoscope: The Multi-Network Faces of Wang Jingfa, Revolutionary Hero and Scoundrel”
R. Keith Schoppa, Loyola University, Maryland, USA

This paper explores the phenomenon of the linkage through networks of politically and socially legitimate historical figures with shadowy and corrupt “underworld” figures. Wang was a founding member of the Restoration Society, cohort of Qiu Jin, who consorted with the most respected intellectuals and political radicals in the late Qing and early Republic—Cai Yuanpei, Sun Yat-sen, and Chen Qimei. Yet his leadership of the Shaoxing military government in the chaotic days of the early Republic was condemned by many (including Sun and Lu Xun) as startlingly corrupt. He then absconded with tax monies to Shanghai and led a dissolute life in the French Concession. In 1915 he was assassinated because of his role in anti-Yuan Shikai activities. Schoppa's analysis of his life emphasizes the social networks that allowed this man to move from the lowest echelon of society to its zenith.

“Spider Manchu: Duanfang and His Telegram Webs, 1900-1911.”
Elya J. Zhang, University of Rochester, USA

Manchu Duanfang (1861-1911) was one of the most well connected statesmen of the last decade of the Qing dynasty, moving around seemingly disparate groups with great ease. This paper pays attention to the significance of telegram, the new technology Duanfang embraced to build up a communications and spy networks second to none. Though Duanfang governed six provinces in a row and his associates resided sporadically around the pacific region, he sustained himself as the center of information by providing his contacts with telegraph expense accounts. One the other hand, the telegraph also opened vast possibilities of horizontal communications within Duanfang's web and alternative pathways grew out of the original patron-client design. After his brutal death in 1911, Duanfang's networks took on lives of their own and blossomed around Yuan Shikai in the early years of fledgling republic.

“The Landscape of Networks in Early Twentieth-Century China.”
Anne S. Chao, Rice University, USA

In the first two decades of twentieth-century China, a proliferation of anti-monarchical study societies, radical presses, assassination squads, anarchist groups and revolutionary alliances formed a configuration of extremist networks that linked together the most subversive elements of society. At the same time, gentry members also founded political parties, commercial ventures, professional associations and native-place organizations that galvanized the moderate majority of concerned citizens. The boundaries of these social units are far from being distinct, as memberships in these networks often intersect, and many even maintained ties with secret societies and other elements on the fringe of society. When taken together, how do these networks shape Chinese society at the turn of the twentieth century, and where do they stand in relation to each other? This paper will reconstruct the topography of these networks at one location in the Anhui-Shanghai-Tokyo corridor, extending from the radical social networking of Chen Duxiu to those of his cohorts who chose a less confrontational approach to navigate these social groupings.

“Culture from Connections: Guanxi Networks that Shaped the Kaiming Publishing, 1925-1930.”
Ling A. Shiao, Southern Methodist University, USA

The avant-garde small presses that mushroomed in the streets of Shanghai during the second half of the 1920s constituted a primary force that popularized May Fourth New Culture and promote newer cultural experimentations of the time. A majority of these presses were founded by young writer-publishers who had no significant financial backing. Instead, they relied upon their social capital—personal, social, and intellectual networks which they had previously cultivated. A prime example of such practice is the Kaiming Press (Kaiming shudian). Founded in 1926, Kaiming was a rebellious off-spring of the leading Commercial Press. Kaiming’s founder and its main supporters had all worked together a the Commercial Press’s editorial department. Additionally, Kaiming enjoyed enthusiastic backing by three mission driven May Fourth societies—the Women’s Question Research Association, the Literary Research Association, and the Lida Society, all with overlapping memberships. Equally importantly, Kaiming’s editors and the authors they published shared friendships, school ties, native place ties that were traceable back to the hubs of political and cultural activities of Zhejiang Province during the late teens and early twenties. Through a close examination of these multilayered connections and their dynamics, my paper reveals the distinctive pattern of May Fourth intellectual sociability that both drew upon and departed from traditional literati practices. It also moves away from the conventional focus on political ideologies, social visions, literary styles, and financial resources as determining forces in cultural production. Instead, it highlights the significance of networks and shared experiences. I argue that intellectual connections and mutual commitments amongst the Kaiming intellectuals not only laid the groundwork for the press’s success but also contributed to its particular vision and style.