AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 760

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Session 760: Localizing Knowledge in a Global Age

Organizer: Chung-Li Wu, Academia Sinica, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

Chair: Par K. Cassel, University of Michigan, USA

Discussant: Par K. Cassel, University of Michigan, USA

How do ideologies that claim to have global explanatory power intersect with local knowledge, needs, and practices? The panel explores this question by examining how various global regimes of knowledge and belief were challenged, appropriated, interpreted and re-employed by actors and institutions on the ground in East Asia. The subjects covered in the panel include: struggles between German missionaries and Chinese Christians to define Shandong as a sacred space; American missionaries’ efforts to comprehend and convert Chinese Muslims; transnational state and business interests vested in waterway access to the economic trade of Tianjin; and Chinese military strategists and the global scientific and political debates that they monitored. In highlighting the dialogic nature of these interactions, the papers show how power and knowledge were negotiated through fraught processes, and how these regimes of knowledge were altered for the needs of the locality as a result. Underlying all of the papers is a concern with regimes of power and knowledge mobilized during an age of intensifying national rivalries and globalization. The panel examines the varied configurations of the “global” and “local” — in the context of imperialism in East Asia, in single-state national rivalries, as well as in the contact between the specific local institutions and the various global ideologies. A further common interest is the challenge of developing new approaches to writing transnational and global histories that are simultaneously concerned with the historical process of the formation of global ideologies as they are with questions posed by traditional national historiographies.

German Missionaries, Chinese Christians, and Shifting Conceptions of the Sacred in Shandong, 1890-1940
Chung-Li Wu, Academia Sinica, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

In the 1890s, German Catholic missionaries, conscious of Shandong as the “home of Confucius,” described Shandong’s Qufu in their popular journals as a “bulwark of the devil,” which needed to be converted to Christianity in order to save China. Yet, by the 1930s, in the same journal, a new generation of Catholic missionaries depicted Confucius’s tomb as a place of grandeur, filled with “happy tourists” instead of “pagans.” They further called Qufu a “sacred space,” and described Confucius as an “ancient Chinese philosopher, who shared many ideas common to our Christian worldview.” How did this shift happen? This paper examines how German Christian missionary discourse surrounding Shandong as a site of sacred space, as well as Confucianism as a venerable religious tradition, changed from the late 1890s to the late 1930s. The paper joins the trend in much recent scholarship on the missionary enterprise in China to focus on the dialogic relationship between the Christian missionary enterprise and China. This paper seeks to show the various ways in which local religious culture in Shandong impacted missionary discourses on the universality and primacy of Christianity. It further seeks to show how shifts in missionary discourse belonged to a transnational set of concerns in the wake of the First World War, as an attempt to respond to the perceived threat of global Communism. The paper thus explores how missionaries understood their rapidly changing global and local context, and how they crafted new ideas and approaches to understanding Chinese religion and sacred space.

“We Must Know of Them”: Christian Missionaries’ Efforts to Know and Convert Chinese Muslims, 1910-1950
Joshua Sooter, Northeastern University, USA

This paper explores early twentieth-century American Protestant missionaries’ endeavors to gain knowledge of, and convert, Chinese Muslims (Hui). These missionaries sought to make China a key battleground in their global struggle against “Pan-Islam,” and considered gaining an intimate, yet erudite, understanding of Chinese Muslims’ religious practices, history, gender norms, and social structures to be essential to their evangelistic aims. Thus, they created sophisticated networks through which knowledge pertaining to Islam in China could be gathered and disseminated. In spite of this scholarly knowledge, however, many missionaries clung to stereotyped imaginings of Chinese culture, Asian Muslims, and Islamic belief. Subsequently, missionaries failed to adapt their strategies and sufficiently articulate their message to a degree that would seriously challenge the complex, resilient nature of Chinese Muslims’ theology and identity. Thus, this essay demonstrates the particular difficulty that American missionaries had in converting Chinese adherents of Islam, a religion that matched Protestant Christianity in its exclusivity and universality.

River Conservancy and State-Building in Treaty Port China
Shirley Ye, University of Birmingham, United Kingdom

This paper examines the management of inland waters for access to China’s treaty port of Tianjin. Using the early institutional history of the Hai Ho Conservancy Commission as a lens through which to understand the period of change from sovereign imperial water control, to international management, and then to recovery by the Republican government, the paper argues that the modern Chinese state was strengthened by cooperation between native and foreign business and state interests. Though the conservancy commission’s origins can be traced to the early support of key imperial officials who were interested in flood prevention and ease of navigation, there were nonetheless conflicts with local groups over both larger projects and the everyday management of the Hai River. How were these conflicts resolved and what do they tell us about differing attitudes toward river use and the environment? River conservancy was an intrinsic part of Tianjin’s economic and urban development; the city’s modern trade grew at the expense of traditional livelihoods on the river banks, and sediment dredged from the Hai River became land filling for foreign concession areas. International in background and possessing a range of expertise, the conservancy commission’s staff came to be highly valued by the Chinese government and were regularly invited to consult on water management projects all over the country. The paper will show how the new institutionalism of water conservancy was at the heart of China’s urban, environmental and economic modernization in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries.

Clausewitz and the Geopolitics of the Chinese Empire, 1911-1949
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This paper attempts to draw out the connections between the popularity of German military and strategic ideas, in particular the works of Carl von Clausewitz, in Republican China, and the adoption of geopolitics as a science and branch field of political geography. Clausewitz was first translated in 1911. By the 1930s, the translation of his treatise On War became a standard text of military academies. In military periodicals from the 1930s and 1940s, Clausewitz frequently appeared next to Sun Zi as the two great military minds of East and West. At the same time, in military periodicals like Junshi Zazhi (軍事雜誌 Military Affairs), as well as politically oriented magazines like Minzhu yu Tongyi (民主与統一 Democracy and Unity), articles introduced the new science of geopolitics and its connections to German military exploits. How did the work of a nineteenth century German military strategist and a twentieth century branch of political geography become entwined in Republican China? I will argue that Clausewitz’ military treatise, taken out of its historical context, offered Nationalist officers and a broader intellectual community a new way to broach the question of civil war and nation building. Similarly, geopolitics presented a new ideology of empire, recast as a question of national defense. The interplay of science and politics opens a window into the tumultuous years of the Republican period, when the fall of a multi-ethnic empire left an ideological vacuum on the question of border and frontier regions.