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Martyrs, Models, and Miscreants: The “Communist Child” in Wartime North China, 1937-1948


This dissertation argues that children have contributed significantly to the rise and longevity of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) power. Utilizing a broad and varied source base—including cadre work reports, newspapers, and wartime primary school textbooks—it asks and answers three broad questions. First, prior to China’s War of Resistance (1937-1945), how had individuals associated with the Chinese Communist movement historically conceptualized children and childhood? In short, what was their ideal-type “communist child,” and what type of childhood should this young individual experience? Second, during the war, what institutions did adults devise in order to realize their ideal-type “communist child” in the flesh? Third, what was the lived experience of children who grew up during this critical period? How did they respond to adult prerogatives? To what extent, if at all, did they become “communist children”? Relying on close readings of government directives, cadre work reports, newspapers, pedagogical journals, wartime primary school textbooks, and many other primary source materials, this project aims to contextualize and excavate rural children’s life experiences. In doing so, it argues that children made critical contributions to multiple war efforts, as spies, sentries, and saboteurs, and to building Communist Party hegemony as agents of revolutions. It concludes that a focus on children as historical actors highlights the centrality of their labor to the CCP’s military success, state-building efforts, and ascendance to political power. Finally, by juxtaposing the bourgeoning party-state’s ideal-type “communist child” with accounts of what actual children did and said, this project moves the historiography of Chinese children from one focused solely on the intellectual history of childhood to, instead, the first generation of children to be fully raised with the Chinese socialist system.

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