Mapping the Important Changes of 20th Century China: Writing History, Political Maneuvers, and National Transformation

Saturday, January 7, 2023: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Room 306

Yao Ping, California State University, Los Angeles 

Sheng Shicai, the CCP, and the Soviet Influence in Xinjiang, 1933–43
Xiao-Bing Li, University of Central Oklahoma

Writing History in China from the Late Qing to Reformed China
Qiang Fang, University of Minnesota Duluth

Li Dazhao and the Formation of the United Front between the KMT and the CCP
Patrick Fuliang Shan, Grand Valley State University

Comment: Guo Wu, Allegheny College

Panel Description

China was significantly transformed in the 20th century, along with its extreme makeover from empire to republic, from tradition to modernity, and from imperial stability to violent revolutions. The three papers here examine China’s dramatic changes from some unique perspectives. Historical writing in 20th century China underwent dramatic changes, as diverse paradigms were adopted for historical interpretation. Yet, the Marxist doctrine introduced from the USSR (also from the West) has dominated China’s historiography for decades. The USSR was a matchmaker for the alliance between the KMT and the CCP in the 1920s. Yet, this alliance was forged with the substantial assistance of China’s early communists, such as Li Dazhao. The Soviet penetration into China’s northwestern frontier of Xinjiang and Chinese communist maneuvers are discussed in the third paper. Thus, a common theme of this panel is to investigate China’s dramatic transformation and its special ties with its northern neighbor. 

Paper Abstracts

  • “Sheng Shicai, the CCP, and the Soviet Influence in Xinjiang, 1933-1943”, Xiaobing Li, University of Central Oklahoma

From 1933 to 1942, the Soviet Union provided military, economic, and political support to warlord Sheng Shicai’s government and sent Russian advisors to Xinjiang by working in Sheng’s administration. Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s brother-in-law led a Russian economic construction committee to Xinjiang to help the provincial government with the first three-year plan (1937-1940). This paper examines Moscow and Comintern’s intention and policy toward Sheng during the 1930s and explains how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) failed to open a western route from Yan’an to the Chinese-Russian border through Xinjiang, to receive Soviet aid. However, the CCP took the opportunity and sent some officers to study military and aviation skills in Russian-sponsored academies in Xinjiang. The Chinese Communists had their first group of graduates in 1940 capable of forming an independent technical aviation team during World War II. This young group of students from Xinjiang Airlines Training Academy grew into the backbone of the PLA Air Force after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and many of them took leadership roles at the high levels of the Chinese Air Force.

  • “Writing History in China from the Late Qing to Reformed China”, Qiang Fang, University of Minnesota Duluth

Chinese historical writing can be traced back to ancient times. Yet, China’s historiography underwent four major overall changes in terms of paradigms. Starting from the Han dynasty, historians were organized by imperial rulers to compile histories of the former dynasty, which centered on the rise and fall of different empires with a focus on former emperors, officials, wars, and legal systems. Very little ink had been spilled on science, medicine, agriculture, and art. In the late Qing dynasty, new historiography from the West was introduced, which differed sharply from the traditional one, as it shifted to people, social changes, and human evolution. In the 1930s, Marxist historians emerged with a clarion call of a historiography based on class theory and historical materialism. After the communist takeover of mainland China, communist historians were compelled to write histories appealing to the political needs of the party, including tweaking and fabricating histories. Mao’s death helped loosen the political grip, while historians enjoyed more freedom and thus were eager to deviate from the orthodox Marxist historiography by embracing Western historiography. More importantly, the latest paradigm of historiography markedly demonstrates a wide variety of and interest in microhistories that have been either downplayed or dismissed previously. 

  • “Li Dazhao and the Formation of the United Front between the KMT and the CCP”, Patrick Fuliang Shan, Grand Valley State University

This paper investigates the important role of Li Dazhao in the shaping of the first united front between the Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the mid-1920s. In fact, this political alliance was so vital that it changed the history of modern China, as it enabled the Nationalist Party to unify China and to end the warlord era. Traditionally, many scholars focus on Sun Yat-sen and his close relationship with the Soviet Union to interpret the shaping of this united front, which neglects the important role of China’s early communists. In this paper, Li Dazhao’s role will be highlighted. Li was China’s first communist and a co-founder of the CCP. By working closely with his political partners, he promoted this united front and personally supported it vehemently. By utilizing voluminous primary sources, this paper reveals Li’s crucial roles in communicating with Sun Yat-sen, in persuading the early communists to embrace the alliance, and in working closely with the Soviet Union for its finalization. In fact, Li worked diligently for this united front for which he ultimately sacrificed his life, as he was executed by the warlord Zhang Zuolin in 1927.

Transnational Gender and Women in Modern China

Friday, January 6, 2023: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Room 306

Dewen Zhang, Randolph-Macon College


  • The Making of Modern Female Citizens in Republican Beijing

Aihua Zhang, Gardner-Webb University

  • Herlinda Chew: A Chinese–Mexican Woman’s Identity Formation through Negotiation along the US–Mexico Border, 1900s–1930s

Xuening Kong, Purdue University

  • Promoting American Sexuality: The “Glocalization” of American Beverages in Wartime Shanghai (1930s-1940s)

Haoran Ni, University of Kansas

  • Departure from the Household Kitchen: The Great Leap Forward toward Women’s Employment in China, 1958–62

Hanchao Lu, Georgia Institute of Technology

Comment: Margaret Mih Tillman, Purdue University

Panel Description:

In the twentieth century, Chinese women’s lives underwent great changes under the influence of Westernization and globalization. Chinese women undertook more social responsibilities as citizens rather than staying at home, as most of them had done in earlier times. Their public and global activities even changed the social expectation of Chinese womanhood. Thus, discussing women’s stories not only helps to understand the gender dynamics in China, but also offers an angle from which to study the interactions between China and the West and the formation of modern Chinese society. The four papers of this panel focus on the period from the 1900s to the 1960s and explore, from global and transnational perspectives, how formerly marginalized Chinese women were integrated and mobilized into the modernization and nation-building process in China.

Paper Abstracts

  • “The Making of Modern Female Citizens in Republican Beijing”, Aihua Zhang, Gardner-Webb University

There are two major strands of scholarship on women in Republican Beijing: one focusing on the educated or elite; and the other on the lower class. Sparse attention has been paid to the interactions between the two groups of women beyond the areas of charity and political mobilization. This paper will take up this scholarly insufficiency by examining the Beijing Young Women’s Christian Association’s (YWCA’s) anti- binü (bonded girl servants) and mass literacy campaigns, which were launched in response to the nationwide fervor during the 1920s. Regarding binü, the Association not only took action to help emancipate them from bondage, but also taught freed ones to learn employable skills, including skills for paid domestic work in modern terms, with mixed outcomes. In its literacy education, the Association targeted working-class women, who constituted more than half of the city’s illiterate population. While not intending to raise class and political awareness among women as the Shanghai YWCA did, the Beijing YWCA was successful in attracting students through a variety of instructional methods and instilled civic consciousness in them. Both programs contributed to the making of independent, literate female citizens in Beijing’s modern transformation.

  • Herlinda Chew: A Chinese-Mexican Woman’s Identity Formation through Negotiation along the U.S.-Mexico Border, 1900s-1930s”, Xuening Kong, Purdue University

Born with a mixture of three cultures, Herlinda Chew (1893-1939) engaged with Chinese, Mexican, and Anglo-American communities in the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez region while developing friendships with local immigration officers and military troops. She once helped 200 local Chinese residents and their family members cross the border to avoid warfare during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). Moreover, as a mixed-race Chinese, Chew established connections and a sense of belonging to China through multiple relationships in her life, including her husband, her assistance to Chinese individuals in returning to China, as well as her own travel to China with family members. This paper focuses on Chew’s life in the border region and the establishment of her transnational connections. I will examine how her negotiation among regional powers and the formation of Chinese identity were under the influence of transnational, national, and regional politics, familial cultural background, as well as her personal goals. I argue that, in addition to “born as a half-Chinese,” multilateral borderland lives and transnational travel largely contributed to Herlinda Chew’s formation and adaptability of her self-identity. Affiliation with China thus did not necessarily stem from feelings of belonging instilled among overseas families, but rather developed in the intercultural exchanges of daily life. This paper highlights overseas mixed-race Chinese women’s agency and challenges preconceptions of nation-centered citizenship in defining overseas Chinese people. It also a-geographizes the concept of “China” by placing the historiography of overseas Chinese in U.S.-Mexico borderlands in conversation with that of modern Chinese history, expanding the focus of both.

  • “Promoting American Sexuality: The “Glocalization” of American Beverages in Wartime Shanghai (1930s-1940s) “ Haoran Ni, The University of Kansas

This paper explores how American beverages promoted gendered modernity in China and how the sexuality they presented became cultural targets of criticism that stimulated Chinese nationalism during wartime (1930s –1940s). First, the images of sexy modern Chinese women wearing Cheongsam or swimsuits were often featured in Coca-Cola posters. Watson’s Mineral Water Company, the bottling company for Coca-Cola in Shanghai, used these women’s images to arouse public desire for sexuality, as well as for the American Coca-Cola. These posters reveal that Coca-Cola became a common beverage at fashionable women’s gatherings, through which the bottling company built a natural connection between American beverages and Chinese modernity. Second, the images of Coca-Cola and ice cream usually emphasized the intimacy and romance between the two sexes: men and women hugged and even flirted with each other in the context of consuming American beverages. This mixed-gender socialization and romance conflicted with the Chinese tradition of physical segregation between men and women. Third, in the 1930s, because ice cream was the favorite of Hollywood actresses, the Chinese audience used the term “ice cream for the eyes” to refer to men’s pleasure in watching the erotic scenes in Hollywood movies. It was a time when Japan was invading China, thus Chinese patriots criticized ice cream, as well as the sexy Hollywood movies as American indulgence that would weaken Chinese nationalism in the war. Overall, through discussing the relationship between Western food and sexuality, on the one hand, and modernity and nationalism, on the other, I argue that American cold beverages promoted gender modernity in China; yet, Westernized sexuality and romance stirred up great resentment among the Chinese people during wartime.

  • “Departure from the Household Kitchen: Great Leap Forward towards Women’s Employment in China (1958-62)”, Hanchao Lu, Georgia Institute of Technology

The Great Leap Forward (1958-62) was the economic and social campaign led by Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that resulted in great famines and ecological disasters. Even the CCP today admits that it was a major mistake that the party had made during the Mao era. This paper looks at a “positive” side of the campaign, arguing that the Great Leap Forward marked the beginning of a large-scale and irreversible trend toward near universal employment of women in China’s cities.  It takes Shanghai as a case study to examine urban neighborhood workshops established during the campaign that employed hundreds of thousands of women, mostly former housewives, with lower pay and little fringe benefits. By the end of the Mao era, nearly half of China’s women workers were employed in this kind of non-state-owned enterprises. This employment pattern created an institution that contributed to high employment rate of women in urban China and deserves attention in the study of women, labor, and state-society relations in the People’s Republic of China. It represented a significant departure from the Soviet and communist East European model of industrial development in which the governments during high Stalinist period simply denied that anyone but a worker in heavy industry could be a legitimate part of working class.

Roundtable: Teaching Contentious China in Polarized American Universities

Sunday, January 8, 2023: 11:00 AM-12:30 PM
Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Room 306

Yidi Wu, Elon University

Yidi Wu, Elon University
Qiong Liu, Virginia Military Institute
Xiangli Ding, Rhode Island School of Design
Lei Duan, Sam Houston State University

Roundtable Session Description

With the rising nationalism and increasing tension between China and the US in recent years, teaching PRC history in the US has not only become more relevant but also more challenging. This is particularly true for historians with Chinese origin. The diversification and internationalization of American higher education have brought different views into the classroom. When teaching about modern China, especially contentious topics such as the Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen Protests, and ongoing suppression in Xinjiang, students with different cultural backgrounds and political ideologies would react very differently. While discussions and debates are helpful for students to understand these topics, we also see confusion and pushback from students.

Our roundtable panelists have experienced challenges with our students and witnessed heated exchanges between students with different political positions. Our discussion explores PRC historians’ pedagogies when teaching PRC history in the US, aiming to make the classroom a safe and respectful space for learning and communication. Xiangli Ding will talk about challenges and cultural bias in the classroom, and how he coped with them. Yidi Wu will share her experience using role-playing games and news reports to discuss contentious subjects such as the 1989 Tiananmen Protests and the contemporary struggles of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. Qiong Liu will discuss various forms of materials in her teaching, students’ different responses, and her skills in coping with students’ confusion. Finally, Lei Duan will discuss how he approached the issues of Taiwan and Hong Kong in a politically diverse classroom.

Snapshots: Perceptions and China-US Encounters on Diplomatic, Commercial, Cultural, and Educational Fronts from the Early 19th Century to the Present

Saturday, January 7, 2023: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Room 306

Yanqiu Zheng, Social Science Research Council

Black Gold and White Gold: Weaving a Global Network through the Chinese–American Tea Trade, 1815–42
Dan Du, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Ko Kunhua at Harvard, 1879–82: Receptions, Teaching, and Interactions with New England Elites in the Age of Chinese Exclusion
Shuhua Fan, The University of Scranton

Lost Chance? Revisiting CCP’s Policy toward the United States on the Eve of the PRC’s Founding
Tao Wang, Iowa State University

Popular Nationalism, Social Media, and the US–China Trade War: A Case Study of Weibo, 2018–20
Mao Lin, Georgia Southern University

Comment: Guolin Yi, Providence College

Panel Description:

This panel examines the changing perceptions and multifaceted Sino-American encounters from the early 1800s to the present. Dan Du explores how collaboration between Chinese and American traders in the tea trade and Asia’s money market helped trigger the Opium War (1839-1842). Shuhua Fan uses the experience of Ko Kunhua, teacher of the first Harvard Chinese class, to examine the interactions between Chinese and New England elites in the age of Chinese exclusion. Tao Wang explores the CCP’s handling of several specific issues to reveal the convolution of its US-policy making on the eve of the founding of the PRC. Mao Lin analyzes how Chinese popular nationalism has evolved over time, which has in turn shaped China’s response to the current trade war. Using primary and secondary sources, this panel reveals collaboration, conflict, and other features in the multi-layered China-US encounters on diplomatic, commercial, and cultural/educational fronts, contributing to expanding the literature on Sino-American relations.

Paper Abstracts

  •  “Black Gold and White Gold: Weaving a Global Network through the Chinese-American Tea Trade (1815-1842)”, Dan Du, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

The research explores how the collaboration between Chinese and American traders in the tea trade and Asia’s money market helped to trigger the First Opium War (1839-1842). The United States was the second largest importer of tea from China in the nineteenth century. To purchase Chinese tea, U.S. traders became the major suppliers of silver from South America to China. However, the rise of opium smuggling between India and China from the late 1820s gave Americans a new way of raising funds: they sold bills of exchange in Asia. A bill of exchange, resembling the feiqian or “flying cash” in Tang China, was a paper device that enabled the remittance of money to different locations without physical transfers of cash. British-Indian merchants’ demand soared for bills of exchange to remit their proceeds from the opium sales in China back to India and Britain. With the endorsement of prominent Chinese merchants, American traders had sold millions of dollars’ worth of bills—generated in the trans-Atlantic cotton trade or issued by the Bank of the United States—in Asia and dramatically reduced their shipments of silver to China. The structural change in the Chinese-American tea trade inflated the American economy and aggravated the silver drain on China. Contributing to the Panic of 1837 in the United States, Chinese merchants’ bankruptcies in Canton, and the Qing government’s crackdown on opium, these developments provided another steppingstone for the First Opium War in 1839.

  • Shuhua Fan, University of Scranton

This paper uses the experience of Ko Kunhua, teacher of the first Harvard Chinese class (1879-1882), to explore the interactions between Chinese scholars and New England elites in the age of Chinese exclusion. Selected by Francis Knight, U.S. merchant and consul in China, and invited by Harvard, Ko Kunhua, accompanied by his wife, five children, servants and interpreter, arrived at New York City and Cambridge in late August 1879 to carry out a three-year term of teaching at Harvard. How did New England media report on Ko and his family’s presence in America? How was the Ko party received by the NYC mayor and the Harvard community? How did Ko conduct his teaching at Harvard? How did Ko interact with New England elites, including his American friends at Harvard and Yale, Harvard alumni at the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, public librarians, and his medical doctors in Boston? What was Ko’s position on China’s recall of the boys from the Chinese Educational Mission and on America’s Chinese exclusion?

Using rich primary sources and secondary works, this paper aims to answer the above questions. The paper argues that Ko made great efforts to adapt to American life while keeping Confucian traditions and his own identity and adopt a unique style to teach the Chinese class and spread Chinese culture in the age of Chinese exclusion. It fills a gap in the study of Chinese scholars in America in the age of Chinese exclusion, thus expanding the literature on nineteenth century China-U.S. relations.

  •  “Lost Chance? — Revisiting CCP’s Policy toward the United States on the Eve of the PRC’s Founding”, Tao Wang, Iowa State University (Co-authored with Niu Jun)

Abstract: Was there a chance for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the United States to reach an accommodation when the People’s Republic of China was established? If so, when, why, and how did they forsake this opportunity? Previous works on the CCP’s policymaking often approach this topic from the perspective of ideology and focus on such factors as the influence of the Cold War, Sino-Soviet relations, and Mao’s revolutionary theory. This approach sometimes overlooks some other factors affecting China’s policy making, and tends to give a static analysis of the role ideology played throughout this period.

Recent declassification of new archives—especially several document collections published by local archives in China—has offered an opportunity to delve into China’s policymaking in this period. Based on these new sources, this article explores the Communist leaders’ handling of several specific issues to reveal the convolution of their U.S. policymaking. It argues that far from predetermined and consistent, China’s policy toward the U.S. underwent constant adjustments. CCP leaders remained uncertain about relations with the United States most of the time. And the final decision to give up efforts for a working relationship with the U.S. was contingent on circumstances, including CCP’s domestic agenda, U.S. attitude, and the Soviet influence. 

  •  “Popular Nationalism, Social Media, and the US-China Trade War: A Case Study of Weibo (2018-2020)”, Mao Lin, Georgia Southern University

The United States and the People’s Republic of China have been waging what the Chinese social media called “an epic trade war in human history” since early 2018. This ongoing trade war has attracted unprecedented attention from all types of Chinese media.  While the Chinese government tries to maintain a tight control of public opinion, it cannot always shape the narrative of the trade war based on official policies. The paper examines how popular nationalism has evolved over time and shaped China’s response to the trade war. During the early months of the trade war, China’s response was largely defensive. The Chinese public opinion claimed China as an innocent victim of the trade war, initiated by a reckless Trump administration. Many, especially those in social media, were also optimistic, believing that the trade war would be over soon once the U.S. government came to it senses. After the American government-imposed sanctions on Huawei, a popular Chinese high-tech company, the public opinion shifted to an offensive mode. Many now argued that America was not looking for fair trade policies but trying to block China’s rise as a global power. Furthermore, the Chinese popular nationalism started to argue that China’s model of development was superior to America’s liberal democracy. Other issues such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang, and the South China Sea further confounded the bilateral relationship and led to the rise of popular nationalism.

In the Realm of Modernization and Revolution: Exploring James Gao’s World of History

Friday, January 6, 2023: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Room 306

Zhiguo Yang, University of Wisconsin–River Falls

James Z. Gao, 1948–2021: From a Son of Hangzhou to an Explorer of a Cutting-Edge Paradigm
Zhiguo Yang, University of Wisconsin–River Falls

Dangerous Tracks: Risk, Safety, and Crime on China’s Railways during the Mao Zedong Era
Jeremy Brown, Simon Fraser University

Gao’s Perception on War and Society: The Impact of the Korean War on China, 1950–54
Xiao-Bing Li, University of Central Oklahoma

Comment: Xi Wang, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Full Panel Description

A tribute to James Z. Gao (1948-2021), a founding member and the first president of the Chinese Historians in the United States (CHUS), this panel consists of three papers exploring the impact of modernization and Communist revolution on modern China, a defining theme in Gao’s scholarship.  Leading the panel is Zhiguo Yang’s discussion of Gao’s life, teaching career, and scholarly accomplishments. Jeremy Brown, a scholar of modern Chinese history, will then discuss the rural-urban dynamic of railway safety during Mao’s era, a topic addressed in Gao’s first monograph. The third paper, to be presented by Xiaobing Li, a specialist in the history of the Korean War, deals with how the Korean War had helped consolidate the Communist rule in China in the early 1950s, which is a major theme in Gao’s acclaimed monograph The Communist Takeover of Hangzhou as well.  Zhiguo Yang will also chair the panel. Xi Wang, the first editor of the Chinese Historical Review that published two of Gao’s studies on modern China, will serve as the discussant of the panel.

Paper Abstracts

  • “James Z. Gao, 1948-2021: From a Son of Hangzhou to an Explorer of a Cutting-Edge Paradigm”, Zhiguo Yang, University of Wisconsin-River Falls

This paper is a tribute to James Z. Gao, a founding member of CHUS and the organization’s first president (1987-1988), who passed away in 2021. It traces his life, education, and teaching career in China and the United States in the context of China’s social and economic changes during his lifetime. It also describes his success as a history educator in the United States, focusing on the pedagogy and teaching methodologies that Gao applied to making his history courses meaningful and inspiring to his students. Gao devoted his academic career to searching for a paradigm to better explain the role of modernization and revolution in the transformation of China in the twentieth century, and the third part of the paper illustrates such a commitment and his scholarly achievement.

  •  “Dangerous Tracks: Risk, Safety, and Crime on China’s Railways during the Mao Zedong Era”, Jeremy Brown, Simon Fraser University

As James Z. Gao found in Meeting Technology’s Advance: Social Change in China and Zimbabwe in the Railway Age, trains and train tracks had a major effect “on the lives of local people” in China and beyond. This paper examines the unintended consequences of railways in China between the 1950s and 1970s through the lens of danger. How did people whose work, homes, and commutes put them in risky proximity to train tracks deal with new dangers in their lives? How did the Communist party-state’s security apparatus strive to protect what it considered vital infrastructure from protests and sabotage? Drawing from gazetteers and internal public security reports, I explore the rural-urban dynamic of railway safety, which provided convenience to city dwellers but presented disproportionate risks to people who lived in the hinterland. Inspired by James Gao’s approach to social change, I find that trains and train tracks meant different things to diverse groups of people in various places throughout China: they were not only a means of conveyance, they also became deadly threats and targets of protest.

  • “Gao’s Perception on War and Society: The Impact of the Korean War on China, 1950-1954”, Xiaobing Li, University of Central Oklahoma

James Gao contributed to the Korean War history studies by explaining the impact of the Korean War on urban society in his book, The Communist Takeover of Hangzhou. He moved away from conventional interpretations of political control, propaganda, and law enforcement, and instead explored the “cultural dimension” as the key for the CCP to consolidate power in urban areas from 1950-1954. His research provides a better understanding of the party’s political nature of flexibility through cultural negotiation, consultation with the intellectuals, adaptation to the new environment, and readiness for changes as “the party of learning.” In the formulation and execution of the new policy toward the urban population, the CCP not only asserted its authority over the society but developed an outline for further social transformation. While the continuing revolution rocked urban China, the CCP leadership was also concerned about the moral decay of the rank and file of the revolution. The new urban policy sought to embrace the war in Korea, which required a solid base and stable economic growth. In retrospect, the Korean War moved China to the center of the global Cold War, while contributed significantly to shaping the specific course of Chinese cities.