AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 87

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Session 87: Propaganda and Nationalism in Asia

Organizer: Cheong Soon Gan, University of Wisconsin, Superior, USA

Chair: Denise Y. Ho, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Discussant: Denise Y. Ho, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Throughout the twentieth century, constructing national identity was integral to legitimizing state power and national policies. From the national unity required for territorial unification, to the inculcation of new citizens in post-colonial states, to the creation of national narratives, governments in Asia sought to define the meaning of the nation. This panel examines how the state in wartime Japan, postwar Taiwan, post-independence Malaysia, and Maoist China used propaganda to construct a national identity. Though each nation’s legitimating narrative was informed by its own historical experience, each state used propaganda through a variety of media to establish hegemony over the cultural and historical narratives of the nation. Noriko Manabe considers songs of Japanese schoolchildren during World War II, using songs, education manuals, and ethnography to examine the values promoted by music and their legacies in Japan today. Jennifer Liu looks at military training in early postwar Taiwan to argue that the Guomindang successfully inculcated students to be defenders of the state. Cheong Soon Gan, studying both personal propaganda and mass media in post-independence Malaysia, argues that the propaganda machinery of the state was compromised by its flawed bureaucratic practices and the inherently contradictory official nationalism. Denise Ho uses archival records of exhibitions in Maoist-era Shanghai to demonstrate how history and revolution were explained through display, arguing that propaganda in exhibitions blurred the distinction between reality and representation in everyday life. Together, these papers offer an interdisciplinary and comparative perspective across regional borders on the nature of propaganda, the narratives it was meant to support, and its reception and legacy.

A Silenced Legacy: Songs of Japanese Schoolchildren During World War II
Noriko Manabe, Princeton University, USA

Since the 1880s, the Japanese Ministry of Education has promoted the singing of school songs to inculcate morals. Among this vast repertoire, perhaps the most thought-provoking—and least well known—are those songs taught during World War II. Soaked with propagandistic messages, they assert the superiority of Japan to other nations, the power of the Japanese military, and the romantic imagery of conquered territories. Songs accompany children in playing war games, encourage admiration of warships and planes, glorify teenagers working in munitions factories, and show death in battle as honorable—and probable. Banned after the war, they were nevertheless still remembered: when I asked informants who had attended Japanese elementary school during World War II about these songs, they instantly and instinctively sang them—sixty-five years later. Songs taught in schools and sung in official ceremonies were an important part of the wartime propaganda machine. What values were these songs reinforcing? What legacy did they leave in the minds of the children who sang them, after the war? This paper explores these issues through analyses of school song texts, the directives found in instructors' manuals, and personal testimonies of children of that time. I note the repetition of tropes from military marches in school songs and consider how their melodies and harmonies catered to the ideals of "national" music, as promoted by the military government. I consider the psychological and musical significance of this rarely studied period in Japanese school song repertory.

Student Military Training in Early Postwar Taiwan
Jennifer Liu, Central Michigan University, USA

When the Guomindang (GMD or Chinese Nationalists) retreated to Taiwan in 1949, Chiang Kai-shek and GMD leaders feared imminent Communist invasion. Since there were no soldiers in the reserve army, Chiang turned to senior high school and college students to recruit and train for the armed forces. In 1953, the Ministry of National Defense systematically implemented military training in all senior high schools on the island. The General Political Warfare Department trained and dispatched military instructors (jiaoguan), both male and female, to gender-segregated schools. These instructors held the duty of indoctrinating students with the Three People's Principles, loyalty to the leaders, nationalism, youth's responsibility, and honor. Military instructors also taught students skills for combat and other ways to contribute to the war effort. Boys received basic training for the infantry, target shooting, military hygiene, salutes, the GMD'S revolutionary and military history, and martial law. Meanwhile, girls participated in some of the similar exercises as their male counterparts, but they also acquired skills in nursing. Through these activities, the GMD attempted to instill patriotic loyalty and nationalism in students, teaching them how to defend the newly-formed country and how to be "modern citizens." As a result, compulsory military training was a powerful force in Taiwan's classrooms and campuses throughout the 1950s. It prevented the formation of student protests against the government and instead, successfully mobilized youth to become defenders of the state.

Propaganda, the Chinese ‘Problem’ and the National Imagining in Malaysia, 1957-1969
Cheong Soon Gan, University of Wisconsin, Superior, USA

When Malaya gained her independence in 1957, one of the pressing problems faced by the state was the forging of a new post-plural society out of various ethnic communities with different imaginations of citizenship and nation. A critical challenge was to make loyal citizens out of the ethnic Chinese, who were previously sojourners and were still viewed as transient by the indigenous Malays. This process was complicated by the inherent tension in the state’s definition of an independent Malaya/Malaysia, which on one hand promised equality to all ethnicities, while also asserting the privileged position of the indigenous group. This paper examines the two principal arms used by the state in promoting its definition of citizenship and the meaning of Malaya/Malaysia – the Departments of Information and Radio, the two-pronged micro and macro engine of official propaganda. The former placed men and women on the ground in daily, face-to-face contact with citizens while the latter served as the main medium of mass propaganda and entertainment. I examine the practical challenges in making minorities citizens, including the difficulty of recruiting Chinese information officers with the requisite fluency is two or more dialects and the contradiction in using Chinese languages in propaganda work that aims to advance Malay as a sole national language. These difficulties illuminate how the state, which was one of many actors seeking to define Malayan nationalism in the colonial era, never managed to gain a strong hold over the meaning of Malaysia even after independence.

Comparing Past and Present: Propaganda and Exhibition in Maoist China
Denise Y. Ho, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

The state in Maoist China had many tools of propaganda; from official history to public celebrations, from the drama of public criticisms to political campaigns, all engaged with and served to confirm an official revolutionary narrative. One such tool of propaganda was the exhibition. As Tony Bennett has argued in the case of Europe, exhibitions were a way of regulating the public; the viewers were themselves part of the spectacle of exhibition. In the same way that Western exhibitions put their audience at the pinnacle of a story of civilization and progress, the museum in China placed its visitor within the text of the narrative of revolution. This paper uses archival documents from the Shanghai Municipal Archive to examine three exhibitions in 1960s China. It begins with the revolutionary site of the First Communist Party Congress, demonstrating how officials wrote the story of the Chinese revolution from the point of view of Shanghai. Next, it looks at the Lei Feng exhibition put on at the Shanghai Youth Palace, to show how revolutionary behavior and revolutionary understanding was modeled for youth. Finally, it considers a neighborhood exhibition of “Past and Present in Fangua Lane” to show how ordinary people were asked to interpret their past, to understand their present, and to exhibit it for Chinese visitors and foreigners alike. This paper argues that exhibitions were a tool of participatory propaganda, placing the viewers within the display and asking them to take the exhibitions’ framework into everyday life, ultimately blurring the boundary between lived experience and exhibition, and between historical reality and its representation.