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Building the Nation, Serving the Frontier: Mobilizing and Reconstructing China's Borderlands during the War of Resistance (1937–1945)*

  • ANDRES RODRIGUEZ (a1)
Abstract

The wartime period between 1937 and 1945 provided an exceptional opportunity for the Guomindang state to experiment with a wide array of schemes that sought to further its nation-state project in the borderland regions of China. Under the rubric of ‘frontier reconstruction’ (bianjiang jianshe) it devised a series of plans that encompassed both the economic and cultural transformations of these regions. This paper discusses a particular scheme devised by Chinese anthropologist, Li Anzhai (1900–1985), during his stay at the Tibetan Buddhist monastery of Labrang where he sought to transform borderland societies into a modern Chinese citizenry. A key aspect to his strategy was the mobilization of youth where trained cadres and students performed what became known as ‘frontier service’ (bianjiang fuwu) establishing a dialogue with the community's own particular demands by means of building schools, hospitals and agricultural projects. This paper argues that the notion of ‘frontier service’ and the ‘cultural reconstruction’ project propounded by Li not only sought to modernize and unify China around a distinct multicultural identity, it was also an important mobilizing force amongst sectors of wartime youth which arguably introduced young Han Chinese to a region which they had hitherto only imagined in the pre-war period.

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1 ‘Labulang daibiaotuan jinjian Jiang zhuxi. Huang tuanzhang gong song zhijing ci, xiang zhongshu xian ji 30 jia [Labrang delegation presents itself before Chairman Jiang. Delegation leader Huang respectfully pays tribute and donates 30 aircraft to the center]’, Zhongyang Ribao [Central Government Daily] (10 January, 1944), p. 2.

2 ‘Peidu wenhua tuanti lianyihui huansong Labulang daibiaotuan, Huang Zhengqing jiang Zangqu wenhua jianshe. Xiwang qingnian dao bianjiang qu fuwu [Secondary Capital, i.e. Chengdu, Cultural Organization Friendship Association sees off delegation from Labrang. Huang Zhengqing discussed the cultural reconstruction of Tibetan regions. Desires youth to go to the frontier and serve]’, Zhongyang Ribao [Central Government Daily] (29 January, 1944), p. 3.

3 ‘Peidu wenhua tuanti lianyihui huansong Labulang daibiaotuan’, Zhongyang Ribao [Central Government Daily] (29 January, 1944), p. 3.

4 For Guizhou see Cheung, S. (2003). Miao Identities, Indigenism and the Politics of Appropriation in Southwest China during the Republican Period, Asian Ethnicity, 4:1 (February), 111.

5 Jiang, J. (1946). ‘Preface,’ in Xinan Jingji Dili [The Economic Geography of the Southwest], Shangwu Yinshu, Shanghai, p. 1.

6 Fiskesjo, M. (2006), Rescuing the Empire: Chinese Nation-building in the Twentieth Century, European Journal of East Asian Studies, 5:1, 1544.

7 Leibold, J. (2007). Reconfiguring Chinese Nationalism: How the Qing Frontier and its Indigenes Became Chinese, Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

8 On Manchuria see Duara, P. (2004). Sovereignty and Authenticity: Manchukuo and the East Asian Modern. Lanham, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Oxford; and Mitter, R. (2005). ‘Manchuria in Mind: Press, Propaganda in NE China’, in Tamanoi, M.Crossed histories: Manchuria in the Age of Empire, Association for Asian Studies and University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu, pp. 2552. On the unifying role played by Buddhism between Tibet and China as envisaged by intellectuals such as Dai Jitao (1891–1949) see Tuttle, G. (2006). Tibetan Buddhists in the Making of Modern China, Columbia University Press, New York. Justin Tighe has studied Dai Jitao's role in constructing historical narratives that incorporated the Northwest (Xibei) into teleological narratives of national unification. See Tighe, J. (2009). From Borderland to Heartland: the Discourse of the North-West in Early Republican China, Twentieth Century China, 35:1 (November), 73.

9 Lin, H-T. (2007). Nationalists, Muslim Warlords, and the ‘Great Northwestern Development’ in Pre-Communist China, China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, 5:1, 117.

10 Lin, H-T. (2006). Tibet and Nationalist China's Frontier: Intrigues and Ethnopolitics, 1928–49, UBC Press, Vancouver, p. 110.

11 ‘Sikang's contribution. Tibetan border province plays part in war effort’, China Newsweek 29 (20 March, 1943), 2.

12 Liangyou—Xin Xikang Zhanhao [Young Companion—New Xikang Special Issue] (1940), 158. This special edition was noticeably under the auspices of Liu Wenhui himself seeking to establish his credentials and vision for the region.

13 Benson, L. (1990). The Ili Rebellion: The Moslem Challenge to Chinese Authority in Xinjiang. 1944–1949, M. E. Sharpe, Armonk, New York, p. 17.

14 Leibold, Reconfiguring Chinese Nationalism, p. 142. Leibold also stresses the fact that the PPC during this period represented a wider segment of Chinese society, showing that both the GMD and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) agreed on the general principles behind this issue.

15 Zhu Jiahua (28 April, 1943). ‘Bianjiang Zhengce yu Bianjiang Jianshe’ [Frontier Policy and Frontier Reconstruction)]. Speech read at the Second Frontier Assembly Report, compiled in Zhu Jiahua Xiansheng Yanlunji (Mr Zhu Jiahua's Collected Speeches) (1977), Zhongyang Yanjiuyuan Jindaishi Yanjiusuo, Taipei, p. 634.

16 Leibold, J. (2006), Competing Narratives of Racial Unity in Republican China. From the Yellow Emperor to the Peking Man, Modern China, 32:2 (April), 209.

17 Li Anzhai (28 March, 1939). ‘Circular Letter to Friends about Tibetan Life in Southwest Kansu and our Soujourn at Labrang’, Box 312, Folder 4795, p. 9. United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia Archives [hereafter UBCHEA], Yale University Divinity School Library.

18 Leibold, ‘Competing Narratives of Racial Unity in Republican China. From the Yellow Emperor to Peking Man’, p. 202.

19 Nietupski, P. (2010). ‘Xuan Xiafu: A Chinese for the Tibetans’. Paper presented at the Association for Asian Studies Conference, Philadelphia, Pennysylvania (26 March).

20 Nietupski, P. (1999). A Tibetan Buddhist Monastery at the Crossroads of Four Civilizations (Photos from the Griebenow Archives, 1921–1949), Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, p. 35.

21 Li, Anzhai (1940). Lun Xibei Zangminqu Yingyong Chuanghua Jiaoyu [On the Practical Application of Creative Education in Tibetan regions in the Northwest)] in Gansu Kexue Jiaoyuguan Xuebao [Gansu Scientific Education Institute Journal], 2. Reprinted in Shumu Cankaobu [Bibliographic Reference Department] ed., (1984). Xibei Minzu ZongjiaoShiliao Wenzhai—Gansu Fence [A Compilation of Religious and Historical Materials on Ethnic Groups of the Northwest—Gansu Volume], Gansu Tushuguan, Lanzhou, p. 562.

22 For the development of rural reconstruction schemes in China see Chiang, Y.-C. (2001). Social Engineering and the Social Sciences in China, 1919–1949, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge; and Hayford, C.W. (1990). To the People: James Yen and Village China, Columbia University Press, New York.

23 de L'Estoile, B. (2005). ‘Rationalizing Colonial Domination’ in de L'Estoile, B., Neibrug, F., and Sigaud, L.Empires, Nations, and Natives. Anthropology and State-making, Duke University Press, Durham and London, p. 45.

24 An obvious reference is found in Goldstein, M. C., Sherap, D. and Siebenschuh, W. R. (2004). A Tibetan Revolutionary: The Political Life and Times of Bapa Phüntso Wangye, University of California Press, Berkeley.

25 Tuttle, Tibetan Buddhists in the Making of Modern China, p. 205.

27 Bai Chongxi, Fujiao Choubian [Spread Culture, Make Plans for the Frontier], Zhongyang Ribao [Central Government Daily] (15 January, 1944), p. 3.

28 Bianjiang Jiaoyu Weiyuanhui huiyi baogao [Borderlands Education Committee Conference Report] (1944), Chongqing, p. 5.

29 Ibid., p. 25.

30 Li Anzhai, ‘Lun Xibei Zangminqu Yingyong Chuanghua Jiaoyu’ (On the Practical Application of Creative Education in Tibetan regions in the Northwest) (1940). In Gansu Kexue Jiaoyuguan Xuebao [Gansu Scientific Education Institute Journal], 2. Reprinted in A Compilation of Religious and Historical Materials on Ethnic Groups of the Northwest—Gansu Volume], Gansu Tushuguan, Lanzhou, pp. 561–562.

31 Bianjiang Jiaoyu Weiyuanhui huiyi baogao [Borderlands Education Committee Conference Report], p. 25.

33 Peng, Jin (1943). Tuixing Bianjiang Fuwu Gongzuo de Genben Kunnan [The essential difficulties in the implementation of frontier service work], Zhongguo Bianjiang [China's Frontier], 2:1–3 (March), 11.

34 Fu Sijia (1944). Xikang Yiwu Huihua [Conversations in the Yi Language of Xikang], publisher unknown. This work is preceded by a series of prefaces written by frontier reconstruction personnel praising the usefulness of the text for their work.

35 Zhang, Bohuai (1943). Fuwu yundong zhi zhongyao [The Importance of the Service Movement], Bianjiang Fuwu [Frontier Service] 1:2 (June), 1.

36 On the Mexican cultural missions see Vaughn, M. K. (1997). Cultural Politics in Revolution: Teachers, Peasants, and Schools in Mexico, 1930–40, University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

37 Huaxi Bianjiang Yanjiusuo Zuzhi Zhan Caoan [Draft for the Organization and Rules of the West China Frontier Research Institute] in Sichuan Provincial Archives (hereafter SPA), Min 41 [Republican era files section 4.1], Folder 3010, p. 9.

38 Article 12 of the Huaxi Bianjiang Yanjiusuo Zuzhi Zhan Caoan [Draft for the Organization and Rules of the West China Frontier Research Institute] in SPA Min 41 [Republican era files section 41], Folder 3010, p. 9; Anzhai, Li (1943). Lun Bianjiang Gongzuo Ruhe Zuofa [On how to carry out frontier work], Daxue Yuekan [University Monthly], 2:11–12, 75.

39 Li Anzhai, ‘Lun Bianjiang Gongzuo Ruhe Zuofa’ [On how to carry out frontier work], p. 67.

40 Ibid., p. 68.

41 Ferlanti, F. (2010). The New Life Movement in Jiangxi, 1934–1938, Modern Asian Studies 44:5 (September), 9611000.

42 Ibid., p. 997.

43 Wasserstrom, J. N. (1991). Student Protests in Twentieth-century China: The View from Shanghai, Stanford University Press, Stanford, p. 183.

44 Israel, J. (1998). Lianda: A Chinese University in War and Revolution, Stanford University Press, Stanford, p. 225. See also Hung, C.-T. (1994). War and Popular Culture: Resistance in Modern China, 1937–1945, University of California Press, Berkeley.

45 MacKinnon, S. (2008). Wuhan, 1938. War, Refugees, and the Making of Modern China, University of California Press, Berkeley, p. 83.

46 Ibid., p. 89.

47 Ibid., p. 92. See also Eastman, L. (1982). Seeds of Destruction, Nationalist China in War and Revolution. 1937–1949, Stanford University Press, Stanford, p. 92.

48 Ibid., p. 98.

49 ‘Enclosure to dispatch no. 951 dated February 23, 1943, from the Embassy at Chungking, China’, Confidential U.S. State Department Central Files. China 1940–1944 [microform]: Internal Affairs (1984), University Publications of America, Inc., Frederick, Reel 31.

50 Israel, Lianda, A Chinese University in War and Revolution, p. 299.

51 Zhang Shudi, ‘Jiyizhong Xinan Lianda de Xuesheng Shenghuo’ [Recalling Student Life at the National Southwest Associated University] in Zhang, J. (2007). Jindai Shi Ziliao [Sources for Contemporary History)], 115, Zhongguo Shehui Kexue Chubanshe, Beijing, p. 260.

52 ‘Bianjiang wenwu mingri kaishi’ (Frontier relics begin tomorrow) in Zhongyang Ribao [Central Government Daily], (13 January, 1944), p. 3. According to this source, Chiang Kai-shek's call to youth is taken from his 1943 political testament, China's Destiny. The article also points out that the exhibit was held at the Sino-Soviet Cultural Association building and was fitting, in light of the Borderland Education conference taking place at the same time.

53 Xueben, Zhuang (January, 1942), Chouban Xikang Yingzhan Jingguo [The process of setting up the Xikang Photographic Exhibition], Kangdao Yuekan [Kangding Introduction Monthly], 3:10–11, 81.

54 Shulman, E. (2008). Stalinism on the Frontier of Empire, Women and State formation in the Soviet Far East, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 12.

55 Lin, Nationalists, Muslim Warlords, and the ‘Great Northwestern Development’ in Pre-Communist China, pp. 132–133.

56 ‘Canjia Bianjiang Jianshe. Qingnian tuan yuan 3,000 shu ren’ [Over more than 3,000 youth corps workers take part in frontier reconstruction], in Zhongyang Ribao [Central Government Daily] (1 February, 1944), p. 3.

57 Schneider, L. (2005). Biology and Revolution in Twentieth-Century China, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Lanham, Maryland, p. 95.

58 Zhu Jiahua, ‘Xibei Jianshe Wenti Yu Kexuehua Yundong, [The Problem of Northwest China's Reconstruction and the ‘Scientization’ Movement]. Speech aired at the Central Government Broadcast Station, 12 October, 1941, in Jiahua, Zhu (1997). Zhu Jiahua Xiansheng Yanlunji [Mr Zhu Jiahua's Collected Speeches], Zhongyang Yanjiuyuan Jindaishi Yanjiusuo, Taipei, p. 586.

59 Jin'gan, Wei (1944). Qingnian de Weida yu Jinhou Xikang Qingnian Yingyou zhi Nuli [The grandness of youth and Xikang youth's due efforts for the future], Qingnian Yuekan [Xikang Youth Monthly], 3:8, (March), 12.

60 Author Unknown (1940). ‘Tuanyuan Ying Danren Kaifa Ziyuan gongzuo’ [Corp Members should take charge of the development of natural resources], Xikang Qingnian Yuekan [Xikang Youth Monthly], 1:8 (August), p. 9.

61 This is not to say of course that the Christian enterprise was solely in the hands of the BJFWB. Scores of foreign missionaries arrived during this period attempting to reach out to non-Han communities, although many of these were ill-prepared due to their lack of language and familiarity with social conditions. For a testimony of these foreign-led enterprises which refer to the Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society, see Covell, R. (1990). Mission Impossible. The Unreached Nosu on China's Frontier, Hope Publishing House, Pasedena.

62 Author Unknown (1943). ‘An Address of Dr. H. H. Kung to the Border Mission Committee at its Fifth Annual Meeting,’ Folder 1–2, p. 4. Papers of the Border Service Department of the Church of Christ in China (hereafter BSDCCC), Record Group No. 17, Special Collections Yale University Divinity School Library.

64 Author Unknown (1943). Zhonghua Jidujiaohui Bianjiang Fuwubu, [Church of Christ in China Border Service Department], Fuwu Guicheng, [Service Regulations], Chengdu, p. 1.

65 Li, W. (1943). ‘Tan ben bu wei Ning Shu Bianmin Fuwu’ [Discussion on our department's service for the frontier people of Ningxia and Sichuan] BJFW [Border Service], 1:4 (November), 2.

66 ‘Zhonghua Jidujiaohui Xuesheng Shuqi fuwutuan choubei jingguo gaikuang’ [General survey of the Preparations and Process of the Chinese Christian Church Summer Service Corps], added document to Sichuan sheng Zhengfu Jiaoyu Ting, (Sichuan Provincial Government Education Department) to Sichuan Minzheng Ting (Provincial Department of Civil Affairs), (30 April, 1940), in SPA Min 54 [Republican era files section 54], Folder 2, p. 29.

67 ‘Zhonghua Jidujiaohui Xuesheng Shuqi fuwutuan choubei jingguo gaikuang’, p. 29.

69 Zhang Bohuai (1946). ‘An Oasis in a Vast Human Desert. The Story of the Border Mission of the Church of Christ in China’, Manuscript found in Folder 2–48, BSDCCC, RG 17, p. 10. Special Collections, Yale University Divinity School Library.

70 These included the five Christian universities stationed in Chengdu along with members of the Chinese YMCA.

71 Jiang, Y. n.d., Huaxi Qingnian Buxing dao Bianjiang [West China Youth Walk to the Frontier], Zhonghua Jidujiao Zongjiao Jiaoyu Cujinhui Huaxi Fenhui, Chendu.

72 Ibid., p. 4.

74 ‘Zhonghua Jidujiaohui Xuesheng Shuqi fuwutuan choubei jingguo gaikuang [General survey of the Preparations and Process of the Chinese Christian Church Summer Service Corps]’, p. 32.

76 Jiang, Huaxi Qingnian Buxing dao Bianjiang, p. 1.

77 ‘Zhonghua Jidujiaohui Xuesheng Shuqi fuwutuan choubei jingguo gaikuang [General survey of the Preparations and Process of the Chinese Christian Church Summer Service Corps],’ p. 32.

78 ‘The 1943 Summer Missionary Work of the Border Mission’ (circa 1943) in Folder 1–2, BSDCCC, RG 17, p. 3. Special Collections, Yale University Divinity School Library.

79 Zhang, ‘An Oasis in a Vast Human Desert. The Story of the Border Mission of the Church of Christ in China’, p. 11.

80 ‘Jinxun yishu [Recent News]’, p. 25. Research carried out by these students according to this article was published as a book entitled Chuanxi Songlifanwen Lunwenji [Collection of Essays and Thesis on West Sichuan's Songpan, Lifan, and Wenyuan counties].

81 Hu, S.Y. n.d., ‘Ethnobotany of the Gia-rung Tribe’, Manuscript found in Folder 3–51, BSDCCC, RG 17, p. 1. Special Collections, Yale University Divinity School Library.

82 For a reference of some of these works see ‘Memorandum on the War Service Projects in the Border Region of China. [Under the Auspices of the Border Service Department of the Church of Christ in China]’ (1945), Folder 1–5, BSDCCC, RG 17. Special Collections, Yale University Divinity School Library. Also see ‘The 1943 Summer Missionary Work of the Border Mission’, which mentions the elaboration of social surveys for the history and social environment of nine villages and later was published in BJFW.

83 Sichuan sheng Zhengfu Jiaoyu Ting [Sichuan Provincial Government Education Department] to Sichuan Minzheng Ting (Provincial Department of Civil Affairs), (30 April, 1940), SPA Min 54 [Republican era files section 54], Folder 2, p. 23. The document itself was a petition of the provincial educational department requesting an escort for the SSSC to be provided by the Sichuan Provincial Civil Affairs Department.

84 (1944). Xichang Xuesheng Shuqi Fuwutuan Gongzuo Jingguo [Summer Term Service Corp Work carried out by Xichang Students], BJFW 5 (February), 19.

85 ‘Memorandum on the War Service Projects in the Border Region of China [Under the Auspices of the Border Service Department of the Church of Christ in China]’, n.p.

86 Israel, Lianda: A Chinese University in War and Revolution, pp. 56–60.

87 Ibid., p. 30.

88 Zhang, ‘An Oasis in a Vast Human Desert. The Story of the Border Mission of the Church of Christ in China’, p. 12.

89 Ginling [Jinling] College, ‘Ginling in Chengtu—Dancing around the fire. A farewell ceremony given by the Chiang people to the College group (Border Service, Summer, 1942)’, Box 397, Number 1176. UBCHEA Collection, Yale University Divinity School Library.

90 Jacobs, J. ‘How Chinese Turkestan Became Chinese: Visualizing Zhang Zhizhong's Tianshan Pictorial and Xinjiang Youth Song and Dance Troupe’, p. 571.

91 Jacobs produces good evidence to suggest that Zhang Zhizhong was very much inspired by Soviet ‘soft line’ approaches to ethnic minorities. However the point in question here is to suggest that such practices were not only diverse in their origin but also not necessarily borne out of official state-sanctioned enterprises.

92 ‘Minutes of a special meeting of the General Committee of the Border Mission of the Church of Christ in China (The Nanking Section),’ (10 June, 1948), Folder 1–8, BSDCCC, RG 17, p. 6.

93 In one of the letters written by the BJFWB's English Secretary, Archie Crouch, he remarks the fact that SSSCs enjoyed financial aid from United China Relief, British Aid to China and the Chinese government only up to 1945. In many ways it is an irony that the end of war brought a higher brunt of financial strain as foreign aid began to dry up. See Crouch to Elizabeth Pollock (16 March, 1948), Folder 1–19, BSDCCC, RG 17, Special Collections, Yale University Divinity School Library.

94 Liu, X. (2003). Frontier Passages: Ethnopolitics and the Rise of Chinese Communism, 1921–1945, Stanford University Press, Stanford.

95 Fiskesjo, M. Rescuing the Empire: Chinese Nation-building in the Twentieth Century, p. 30.

96 Li Anzhai is a fascinating character in this respect. Despite his links with the GMD during the war, official CCP narratives identify him as having been a communist in his youth. After 1949 Li played an important role in advising the People's Liberation Army with regard to policies for Tibet. See Zhang, Q. (1991). Xiahe xian Dang Shi Ziliao [Chinese Communist Party Historical Materials for Xiahe county], Lanzhou, pp. 1516. I am grateful to Paul Nietupski for providing me with this valuable source.

97 ‘Xikang Jiaoyu’ [Xikang Education] (1948), in SPA Min 228 [Republican era Files Section 228], Folder 51.

* The author would like to thank the British Academy and the University of Southampton for research and conference travel support that made important parts of this paper possible. The author is also indebted to Martha Smalley and Joan Duffy for their invaluable guidance whilst conducting research at the Yale Divinity Library Special Collections. Comments from Rana Mitter, Paul Nietupski, Lily Chang, and an anonymous Modern Asian Studies reviewer helped shape the final version of this paper. Portions of this paper were first presented at the Association of Asian Studies Conference, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (26 March, 2010). The conference where this paper was presented was organized by the China's War with Japan programme at Oxford University, funded by the Leverhulme Trust (www.history.ox.ac.uk/china [accessed 21 December, 2010]).

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