Cross-Currents e-Journal (No. 26)
In the years following the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), Chinese conceptions of children and childhood underwent a massive transformation. In particular, Communist educators in Northeast China and other parts of the country placed a new labor-oriented ideal of childhood at the center of the nation’s modernizing project. This article focuses on two issues related to this “remaking” of Chinese childhood in the mid-twentieth century. First, how did lower-elementary reading primers and other textbooks help create for children the idea of a Chinese nation, of which they were part and with which they were expected to identify above and beyond the domestic spheres of their natal families? Second, how did such textbooks teach children to think of themselves as laboring contributors to national causes? Following the physical and emotional devastation of war, Communist textbooks reordered the social world of children not by resubjugating them under traditional Confucian hierarchies but by elevating them to the position of national co-subject. Moreover, productive labor—framed through agriculture, industry, and military service—became one of the primary criteria for children’s inclusion into the nation. Through narrative, linguistic, and visual means, midcentury textbooks increasingly brought children into the fold of an imagined national community and, simultaneously, extended to society’s youngest members the importance of productivity as the primary condition of their inclusion.
Keywords: Modern China, children, childhood, literacy, imagined communities, Guoyu, textbooks, labor, visuality, materiality, identity formation
This article frames the Museum of Modern Art, Hayama’s 2017 exhibition on Japanese modernism during the simultaneously vibrant and tumultuous 1930s through the lens of Japan’s uneven capitalist development and wartime mobilization. The author suggests that the exhibition’s unique international scope, rich selection of figurative and abstract modernist works, and emphasis on the year 1937 as a nexus through which the decade’s competing tendencies can be reevaluated readily disclose the constitutive, dialectical relationships between historical difference, total war, and modernist form in imperial Japan and its colonies. The exhibition’s featured works and curator Asaki Yuka’s direction together emphasized the inseparability of Japanese modernism from the encroaching conditions of world war during the late 1930s, thereby contributing to a growing body of scholarship and series of exhibitions challenging the received oppositions between autonomous modernism, proletarian realism, and wartime propaganda. After introductory remarks on the reassessment of 1930s-era Japanese avant-garde aesthetics, the article provides a series of close readings of significant paintings included in the exhibition, including Murai Masanari’s 1937 Urban, Matsumoto Shunsuke’s 1935 Building, and Uchida Iwao’s 1937 Port. These formal readings explore how the year 1937 marked a pivotal “branch point” for Japanese society, not only in terms of the confluence of various artistic trends but also in terms of the fierce opposition between socialism and fascism that bifurcated potentialities for Japan’s future.
Keywords: modernism, imperial Japan, total war, fascism, uneven development, avant-garde, proletarian arts, 1930s, museum exhibitions