East Asia Workshop: Politics, Economy and Society

April 5

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Workshop on East Asia:
Politics, Economy and Society Presents

“The Ambivalence of Modernity: Body Discipline in Early Tsinghua College (1911-1928)”

Chen Chen
Doctoral Student, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago
4:30-5:50pm, Tuesday
April 5, 2011
Pick Lounge
5828 South University Ave.

Workshop website: http://cas.uchicago.edu/workshops/eastasia/
Student coordinator: Jean Lin (jeanlin@uchicago.edu)
Faculty sponsors: Dali Yang and Dingxin Zhao
The workshop is sponsored by the Center for East Asian Studies and the Council on Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences. Persons with disabilities who believe they may need assistance, please contact the student coordinator in advance.

Abstract: Supported by America’s returned indemnity funds, Tsinghua College was established to educate a generation of Chinese elites in the hope that they would embraced the cultural ideals of western modernity and develop a friendly attitude towards American Open Door policies. Discipline, I argue, was an important mechanism for inscribing ideals like rationality, civility, hygiene and efficiency onto the bodies of Tsinghua students. Discipline colonized space and time at Tsinghua, introducing a structured timetable to regulate daily the routines of students according to clock time and transforming a space of national humiliation into a modern disciplinary institution. The disciplinary space and time, however, never ceased taking on hybrid forms and evoking students’ self-contradictory feeling towards colonization and modernity. Ironically, Tsinghua students internalized disciplinary order. They perceived self-discipline as a type of Confucian self-cultivation and as a means to increase their chances of survival in international and interracial competition. This hybrid body discourse on self-discipline and self-governance revealed students’ ambivalent political subjectivity: on the one hand, they imagined their “modernized” bodies to be models for other “unenlightened” Chinese individuals. On the other hand, they were aware of their identity as the subjects to the superior West. The cultural politics of students’ resistance, however, were trapped in the discourses of Chinese modernity, full of contradictions, heterogeneities and ambivalences.

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