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Reviews 283 Wen-hsin Yeh. ProvincialPassages: Culture, Space, and the Origins ofChinese Communism. Berkeley: University ofCalifornia Press, 1996. x, 403 pp. Hardcover $50.00, isbn 0-520-20068-3. In her reinterpretation ofthe origins ofurban communism as it emerged in Shanghai, Wen-hsin Yeh incorporates space and its cultures as integral historical actors, alerting us to new historical approaches and possibilities. She argues that two of the seven members of Shanghai's Marxism Study Society—the forerunner of the first communist cell—were from the provincial backwaters (the "middle counties") ofZhejiang, having become radicalized while studying at Hangzhou's First Normal School. One member is the focus ofthis work; he is Shi Cuntong (1899-1970), who did no less than to "grasp and shape Hangzhou's progressive ideals by infusing them with the radicalizing anguish ofa middle county youth" (p. 176) and who became one ofthe Party's most important early ideologues (pp. 221, 232, 237). Yeh's biography ofShi humanizes this important figure through psychological insights and a deep sense ofinteraction between his life experiences and his ideological development. Her picture of the dynamics and process ofthe May Fourth Movement in Hangzhou is the best that we have for any locale. Her comparisons of the early communist movements in Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou are enlightening. Especially insightful are her descriptions of the transformative effect ofthe united front on the fortunes ofthe Communist Party and her depiction of the cataclysm of the White Terror on Chinese politics. But most striking in this analysis is the treatment of space. In recent years, the explicit delineation of space has become increasingly an essential element in setting the context for historical action. But in Yeh's hands—most strongly in the "middle counties" of the Jinhua basin and in Hangzhou, and less strongly in Shanghai—space becomes a crucial actor, always part ofthe process ofhistorical change, even part of the human actors themselves: Jinhua's construction ofits own past "was an awareness in the very air, so to speak, that Jinhua's native sons breathed, and it informed their perception ofthemselves as historical actors" (p. 29). The center ofthe Jinhua school ofNeo-Confucianism between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, this middle county (seen as a microcosm of the Middle Kingdom) continued to celebrate its past as "the idyllic embodiment ofthe Confucian way oflife that combined agrarian self-sufficiency with moral self-cultivation " (p. 28). Yeh poetically celebrates this idyll with names like "die garden,"© 1998 by University "the haven," and "a place for icons and relics." But by the seventeenth century, ofHawai'i Pressmjs Eden had deteriorated into "valleys ofshrines and tombs," where the once vibrant morality ofidyllic Confucianism had turned customary or, even worse, 284 China Review International: Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring 1998 masked immorality. Jinhua had been transmogrified over the centuries into "a rigidly ritualized society that had been encapsulated by its own past" (p. 50). In addition, the book argues that with the rise ofShanghai in the late nineteenth century and the consequent pulling ofnorthern Zhejiang (Zhexi) into its orbit, Jinhua and neighboring middle counties along the Qiantang River became provincial backwaters in stark economic decline. While northern Zhejiang flourished and participated in progressive political activity in the early twentieth century , the middle counties were "still in the hands of conservative landlords, remained tradition-bound and economically stagnant" (p. 67). It was diese middle counties that produced men like Shi Cuntong, who, in studying in Hangzhou, were "confronted by the economic expansiveness of northern Zhejiang . . . (and) could not but have lamented the backwardness of their hinterland homes" (p. 67). It was not only the economic provincial passage that propelled Shi into radicalism , however; under the teaching of progressive principal Jing Ziyuan at Hangzhou's First Normal School, the ethical passage was crucial. For Shi the question was what Confucianism meant in the modern world; could it be more than the mask that it had become in the middle counties? Even aside from provincial passages, Shi's own lifetime passage was perhaps psychologically and emotionally traumatic enough in itself to give rise to radical rebellion against the system. Impoverished at the division of a large extended household, Shi's family...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 283-288
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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