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"China-The Land and its People": Fashioning Identity in Secondary School History Textbooks, 1911-371 by Robert Culp Secondary school history textbooks are valuable artifacts for understanding historical and, consequently, national consciousness during China's Republican period (1912-1949), for they were at once popular histories and the product of elite intellectual discourse. As mandatory reading for secondary school students , they received the broadest circulation, and probably had the greatest impact , of any historical writing of the period. At the same time, those textbooks fell within the mainstream of China's developing modem historiographical tradition . Many of the authors who were charter members of China's new historiographical community, such as Gu Jiegang, Lii Simian, He Bingsong, and Chen Hengzhe, also wrote important textbooks that were used in Republican period schools. Influenced by Western historical writing and/or overseas study, these authors followed conventions set by the modern historiographical community in the West. Less prestigious textbook compilers, whose career horizons were confined to the editing departments of the major publishers, were influenced by these new historical trends and reproduced them in their textbooks as well.2 Because of their status as popular histories situated within the developing genre of modem historiography in China, these textbooks provide us with a rare opportunity for understanding how modem forms. of national history reached secondary school students. Insofar as these textbook histories initiated Chinese youths into particular forms of national identity, understanding the narratives they presented and the context in which those narratives were read is essential to understanding the production of modem Chinese nationalism. This essay argues that Chinese history textbooks operated within a shared paradigm of modem historical writing, but that they offered competing versions of national history that made imaginable various forms of national community and political action. As teachers and students in local schools circulated and studied or challenged and questioned these historical accounts, they helped to shape Chinese national consciousness. In early twentieth-century China, Euro-American conventions of historical writing provided the basic structural elements of Chinese historical narrative. Recent work by Xiaobing Tang and Prasenjit Duara illustrates that European Twentieth-Century China, Vol. 26, No.2 (April, 2001): 17-62 18 Twentieth-Century China patterns of linear, progressive, evolutionary history, focused on the emergence of the nation-state, became the central mode of historical writing during the late Qing and Republican periods (Duara 1995, chap. 1; Tang 1996, 1-79). Early twentieth-century Chinese historians adopted the techniques of a universal, progressive periodization and a critical relationship to sources. Moreover, their accounts shared a common structure, narrating the progressive development in linear historical time of a unified people into a nation-state. They portrayed "an agent constituted by a homogeneous community (race) within a territorial state (nation) that had evolved into the present so that it was now poised to launch into a modem future (History) of rationality and self-consciousness in which contingency or history itself would be eliminated (end of History)" (DuaraJ 995, 49). Textbook authors followed these historiographical trends. From early in the Republican period, Chinese history textbooks employed a progressive periodization and assessed historical arguments critically, based on the presence or absence of believable sources. In addition, all secondary history textbooks presented narratives centered around the teleological development of a protonational community into a modem nation-state. Republican period world history textbooks taught students the normative version of this narrative structure by presenting the modem histories of European and American nation-states as representative of a universal world-historical trend. Those textbooks offered repeated narratives of peoples or ethnicities (minzu) developing into sovereign, constitutionally governed nation-states. Contemporary Chinese history textbooks presented the Chinese nation's historical process in the same mode, reconstructing a cohesive national community in the past, tracking its movements through linear, progressive historical time, and identifying the modern nation-state as the telos of that community's historical development. But Chinese states, educators, and textbook authors also sought to adapt that narrative to serve as a vehicle for their particular visions of Chinese nationalism . For example, presenting the Chinese historical experience as a subspecies of a world-historical trend whose basic pattern had been established by European and American...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5065
Print ISSN
1521-5385
Pages
pp. 17-62
Launched on MUSE
2021-05-25
Open Access
No
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