Knowledge was in motion in twentieth-century China. With the decline of Confucian orthodoxy, the Republican era witnessed a dizzying flow of information circulating from Euro-America, Japan and elsewhere into China that was at once stimulating and jarring. With the 1949 Revolution, orthodoxies were upended yet again as the PRC embarked on producing knowledge suitable for the new socialist nation often drawing on models from the Soviet Union. Over the course of these two periods, knowledge producers engaged with global circuits of information as well as navigated the dictates of local mediascapes and pedagogical projects to produce appropriate knowledge for new targeted audiences of common readers, new citizens, speakers of putonghua (“common language”) and by the Mao era, communist cadres.
The panel reveals a set of strategies twentieth-century knowledge producers used to standardize, classify, and render “common,” knowledge and language for an increasingly broad audience in China. Judge explores the relationship between common reading and mass politics in and beyond the Republican era by examining the materiality and consumption of a new brand of vernacular knowledge that was both familiar and imported. Lean asks how the 1920s’ newspaper column “Common Knowledge for the Household” domesticated globally circulating flows of knowledge on chemistry and manufacturing by rendering such information as “common knowledge,” tasteful tidbits of knowhow to be consumed by the literate and semi-literate urbanite. Moving into the Mao era, Chen addresses how educators and linguists experimented with global forms of linguistic knowledge (from Euro-America to the Soviet Union) to standardize speech in a new nation. Culp sheds light on the Knowledge Series, a publication of the 1960s launched by the Ministry of Culture to promote the necessary knowledge – much of it translated from Europe and America and Japan – for the making of the new cadre.
Spanning the Republican era to the early Mao years, the panel traces convergences and linkages between the two periods, as well as change over time. Sela will serve as Chair of the panel and Nedostup, as our discussant, will bring her expertise as a modern China historian, to this discussion. Their depth of local knowledge will further illuminate the complex ways Chinese knowledge producers avidly engaged with transnational flows of knowledge that linked Asia with Euro-America and by the post-49 era, the Soviet Union as well.