China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
As previous scholarship has shown, the political vacuum of China’s Republican period (1912 – 1949) provided ample opportunities for political and social experimentation. Such works have frequently highlighted the impact of Chinese leaders and their political parties on such projects. This panel contends that Republican political and social life should be examined through more quotidian intellectual production, and specifically the ongoing tension between politics and the knowledge industry. In other words, the ideals of everyday professionals shaped Republican political engagement, just as the pull of social responsibility reshaped professional ideals, altering even the notion of who could be considered a professional.
Fan explores the notion of “social responsibility (shehui zeren)” among academics, highlighting the political and social role of transnational networks in shaping this debate. Smith and Day focus on the realm of mass education, where authors sympathetic to the Nationalist and Communist parties drew upon existing logistical and occupational networks to articulate new and politicized readings of “the masses.” Meanwhile, Pitts examines how Chinese foresters pushed the boundaries of scientific conventions by embracing state ideology and popular spirituality in order to promote mass reforestation programs. Her work demonstrates how Republican states could be deployed by activist professionals.
All of the papers on this panel highlight the agency of everyday actors in enacting socio-political change through the conscious deployment of professional networks and cultural resources. Given the fact that Republican professionals had to contend with nascent authoritarian states, such findings raise important questions for scholars of the PRC and beyond.