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Frontiers of History in China

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, Volume 12 Issue 4 Previous Issue   
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Orginal Article
Remapping Chinese Cities: From Empire’s Political Centers to Battlefields of “Commercial Warfare”
Zhiguo Ye
Front. Hist. China. 2017, 12 (4): 519-537.
Abstract   PDF (852KB)

This article examines the late Qing urban transformation as a conscious effort by reformist officials, like Zhang Zhidong, to confront imperialist expansion and the challenges of the treaty port system during the dynasty’s last decades. It shows how “commercial warfare (shangzhan)” thought among the urban, reformist elite provided impetus for the radical transformation of traditional cities from military and administrative centers to battlefields of commercial warfare (shangzhan) against the West. No place better illustrates the urban structural changes in the late Qing dynasty than the tri-cities of Wuchang, Hanyang, and Hankou, the base of Zhang Zhidong’s late Qing reform in Hubei. Zhang’s daring urban modernizing efforts replaced the hierarchical structure of the three cities with relatively equal and symbiotic relationships. More importantly, Zhang Zhidong resurrected the concept of shangzhan (commercial warfare)—the idea that China could fight foreign expansion through commercial competition, which Zeng Guofan first used to address Western commercial advancement in the 1860s. This thought enabled Zhang to use the increasing global pressure and Chinese nationalistic sentiments to advance his reform agenda and break from the restrictions of the traditional urban ideal. Analyzing the intellectual foundations of late Qing urban reform is also crucial to understanding cities’ central position in Qing’s defensive global engagement.

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New Life Meets Real Life: Chinese Women in Nation Building and State Making, 1934–1949
Xiaoping Sun
Front. Hist. China. 2017, 12 (4): 538-565.
Abstract   PDF (327KB)

This article uses gender analysis to reexamine the New Life Movement, illustrating how strategies for women’s leadership cultivation played an important role in Guomindang (GMD) state-building efforts during the 1930s and 1940s. The GMD government promoted the New Life Movement to rectify the morals and conduct of civil servants and the general public for the purpose of building a modern nation-state at minimum cost. Although the New Life Movement is best known for employing urban middle-class centric approaches to reform, its Women’s Advisory Council (WAC) carried the modernizing project to China’s rural interior, where the GMD was previously bereft of access to local society. Although the WAC prioritized the mobilization of rural women for the war effort, its endeavors transcended the confinement of “women’s work” and were instrumental in bridging the central government and local authorities, bringing the state into rural households.

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Lofty Expectations and Bitter Reality: Chinese Interpreters for the US Army during the Second World War, 1941-1945
Zach Fredman
Front. Hist. China. 2017, 12 (4): 566-598.
Abstract   PDF (411KB)

Between 1941 and 1945, the Nationalist government supervised a program that trained more than 3,300 male college students and recent graduates to serve as interpreters for the US military in the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater. These interpreters made the Sino-US alliance a reality by enabling American servicemen to communicate with other Chinese. But despite the program’s operational success, interpreters suffered from intractable morale problems. Interpreters began their service with lofty expectations. Senior officials and intellectuals encouraged them to see themselves as central figures in China’s struggle for national rejuvenation. They would uplift the country by convincing American servicemen to see Chinese as equals and by introducing American technology, traits, and habits to the Chinese Army. It all sounded glorious to cadets undergoing training, but actual interpreter service proved bitterly disappointing to most young men. They found their monotonous duties unworthy of their position. The Nationalist government, for its part, lacked the capacity to keep them clothed, paid, and fed. Their own compatriots—soldiers and civilians alike—regarded them with suspicion. Most frustrating of all, American soldiers refused to treat them as equals. By examining interpreter morale problems in China from 1941 to 1945, this article enriches our understanding of wartime interpreting, China in a global World War II, and sources of friction in the Sino-US alliance.

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Further Definition of Di Renjie’s Identity(ies) in Chinese History, Literature and Mass Media
Lavinia Benedetti
Front. Hist. China. 2017, 12 (4): 599-620.
Abstract   PDF (424KB)

This research attempts to introduce a preliminary reflection on Di Renjie’s past and contemporary representations, in order to decode the language of contemporary imagery found in Chinese media culture and to decide which of his historical and literary identities is now the most acknowledged in Chinese imagery. Moreover, we will briefly advance some reflections on whether Robert Hans van Gulik’s representation has or not totally influenced Chinese imagery.

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The Case in the Vase: What Can a Ming Novel Tell Us about Traditional Chinese Legal Culture?*
Michael Szonyi
Front. Hist. China. 2017, 12 (4): 621-625.
Abstract   PDF (263KB)

The more than thirty legal disputes and cases mentioned in The Plum in the Golden Vase (Jinpingmei) make this late Ming novel an invaluable source for the study of law and legal culture in premodern China. This lecture illustrates that the cases in the novel describe in considerable detail each of the formal steps in the Ming process of legal adjudication. But the work also conveys the message that despite the formal process, the legal system does not deliver justice. However, an alternative system of justice that is mostly implicit in the text, the justice of a disinterested and moral Heaven, ultimately prevails. Finally, the contemporary implications of this traditional understanding of law and justice are explored.

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9 articles