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  • Raising China's Revolutionaries: Modernizing Childhood for Cosmopolitan Nationalists and Liberated Comrades, 1920s–1950s by Margaret Mih Tillman
  • Stig Thøgersen (bio)
Margaret Mih Tillman. Raising China's Revolutionaries: Modernizing Childhood for Cosmopolitan Nationalists and Liberated Comrades, 1920s–1950s. New York: Columbia University Press, 2018. xx, 339 pp. Hardcover $65.00, isbn 978-0-231-18558-5.

This well-researched book provides a nuanced discussion of the discursive construction of "modern childhood" in China in the first half of the twentieth [End Page 89] century and of the development of an institutional framework for children's welfare and education. Margaret Mih Tillman emphasizes in her preface that she has not intended to write a social history or an anthropology of childhood. Instead, we get a thorough and detailed study of the intellectual and institutional history of the field. The book is divided into two parts. Part I mainly discusses the 1920s and 1930s, when child experts introduced and popularized modern ideas of childhood leading to the establishment of nurseries, kindergartens, and child welfare centers. The focus of Part II is on the 1940s and 1950s, when the state—in both its Nationalist and Communist incarnations—took control over the field while still to varying extents cooperating with civil society and experts.

In Chapter 1, Tillman starts her account of the Chinese discourse on childhood with a discussion of Chen Heqin, a U.S. trained child psychologist whose practical experiments and writings on children's development, kindergartens, home education, and modern parenthood exerted considerable influence on Chinese middle class parents in the Republican era. In Western academic literature, Chen, who was one of the main architects behind the Republican curriculum for kindergartens, has often been overshadowed by his more famous friend and colleague Tao Xingzhi, but Chen's extensive writings provide an excellent window to the discursive changes taking place at this time. Tillman particularly emphasizes how Chen Heqin, a Christian convert with a highly westernized lifestyle, managed to indigenize modern ideas of childhood and offer a positive redefinition of Chinese parenthood that represented a less radical break with traditional ideas and practices than the total denunciation of the Confucian family so popular among the May Fourth generation.

One of Chen Heqin's many roles in the Republic was as a secretary of the National Child Welfare Association (NCWA), which is the subject of Chapter 2. During the Nanjing decade (1927–1937) this organization, supported by China Child Welfare, a Christian U.S. charity, worked to protect children's health, build Child Welfare Homes, and prevent child prostitution, crime, and other social ills. Tillman meticulously demonstrates how a broad range of actors—American and Chinese, Christian and non-Christian, child experts and philanthropists—shaped the aims and practices of the NCWA. The diverse institutional interests and cultural backgrounds of these actors were reflected in their different approaches to charity, as when an American photographer wanted photos of child beggars for more effective fundraising, while the NCWA preferred "images of orderly, clean charity institutions" (p. 65) to demonstrate strong and competent Chinese leadership. The chapter also shows how female professionals, and elite women in general, played important roles in the emerging field of child welfare with its modern institutions and science-based practices. [End Page 90]

The Japanese occupation in 1937 and the ensuing refugee crisis created an even greater need for supporting child welfare. Chapter 3 examines how the NCWA and other charities revised and developed their strategies and activities as "child corpses accumulated on the streets" of Shanghai (p. 79). The occupation of the city gave foreigners an even more important role in relief work. New fundraising techniques attracted both Chinese and foreign donors and with less control from the Nationalist government the evangelical aspect of relief work became more explicit. At the same time, however, the "interface between Chinese and American charitable activism … became … enmeshed in consumer capitalism" (p. 91) as charitable organizations sold Chinese material and cultural products to US costumers, including to the young generation who was encouraged to spend their pocket money to help needy children in China.

Part II looks at the period after 1942, when the attack on Pearl Harbor fundamentally changed...


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