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  • Articulating Citizenship: Civic Education and Student Politics in Southeastern China, 1912–1942
  • Jennifer Liu (bio)
Robert Culp. Articulating Citizenship: Civic Education and Student Politics in Southeastern China, 1912–1942. Harvard East Asian Monographs 291. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007. xvi, 400 pp. Hardcover $49.50, ISBN 978-0-674-02587-5.

Robert Culp’s book reveals how secondary-level students, intellectuals, and political leaders played an active role in demonstrating concepts of citizenship during the Republican period. In the early twentieth century, the term “citizen” literally meant guomin (people of the nation/state) and gongmin (public people). Late Qing and early Republican reformers formulated the idea of modern citizens as a reaction to foreign imperialism.

Culp’s study explores secondary-level (middle school) students, an area that most scholars have overlooked, tending to focus instead on university-level students. Articulating Citizenship builds on Henrietta Harrison’s The Making of the Republican Citizen, a groundbreaking study of etiquette, dress, and political ritual in the early Republican era, while attempting to examine a different dimension of citizenship. In particular, Culp argues that “lessons about national identity, political participation, and the social order in the lower Yangzi region secondary schools reinforced one another and promoted a coherent conception of republican citizenship, characterized by direct participation and practical action for the nation’s welfare” (p. 9).

Culp centers his study on roughly two dozen Chinese-run regular middle schools (zhong xuexiao), as well as normal schools (shifan xuexiao), in the lower Yangzi region, particularly Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, Shanghai, and the Nationalist capital of Nanjing. He selects these locations because of its existing patterns of civic action and political participation, a result of its distinctive indigenous elite culture and influence from foreign norms of public decorum. In addition, Shanghai and Nanjing housed the national publishing centers that were [End Page 179] responsible for the dissemination of print media and government policies to the rest of the country.

Articulating Citizenship is organized into seven chapters. Chapter 1 outlines the institutional frameworks of schools and publishing companies. Intellectuals, educators, and reformist elites all played prominent roles in establishing and running secondary schools (p. 23), and this same group was also responsible for shaping the content of textbooks — compiling, licensing, and censoring information. One of Culp’s major themes, running throughout the study, is the shift in the extent of state control over Republican-era education. During the 1910s and 1920s, publishing houses hired elite intellectuals, who spread their ideas in textbooks with little state interference. However, after 1927, the Nationalist Party effectively censored textbook content according to state-approved curricula. Interestingly, only a small number of students had access to secondary education. On the eve of the Second Sino-Japanese War, there were roughly 100,000 middle school students in the Lower Yangzi region, and only about 500,000 nationwide, in a country of 400 million people (p. 24).

In chapter 2, Culp analyzes history and geography textbooks to explore the concept of nation and its relation to race, culture, and territory. More specifically, students gleaned from these books the Nationalist message of protecting a geo-body and ethnocultural community threatened by imperialism. Therefore, as modern citizens, students needed to take part in civic action to unify politically and culturally, as well as to defend, their country’s borders.

Chapter 3 examines student self-government organizations, which educators “imagined as institutions of democratic government in miniature” and which also “cultivate[d] civic morality through civic action” (pp. 100–101). As Culp writes, elite intellectuals and educators held particular ideas about civic republicanism that emphasized “the citizen’s full and active participation in the political community,” ideas that grew out of Western conceptions (p. 103). In particular, John Dewey’s vision of democracy and civic action highly influenced Republican-period intellectuals. In the late 1910s and early 1920s, students experimented with forms of direct democracy by establishing autonomous and self-regulating self-government organizations. However, by 1927, the Nationalist Party began to impose government supervision on these associations. Again the Nationalist state began to tighten its grip on students during the Nanjing Decade; despite its political control, party leaders, nevertheless, continued to promote and...