National Aspirations and Anxieties: Images of Ideal and Problematic Children and Youth in 20th-century Nation-building Projects in Asia

Conference: AAS-in-Asia2020 (AAS-in-Asia2020)
Title: National Aspirations and Anxieties: Images of Ideal and Problematic Children and Youth in 20th-century Nation-building Projects in Asia
Stream: History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Authors:
Edgar Liao, University of British Columbia, Canada (organizer, chair, presenter)
Ying Chen, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (presenter)
Si Zhou, Fudan University, China (presenter)

Abstract:

The emergent historiography of childhood and youth has provided many insights on how many 20th-century state governments centered children and youth in their national construction and reconstruction projects, and on how Cold War rival superpowers made children and youth pawns and symbols in their global competitions for hearts and minds. Compared to the historiography of childhood and youth on Europe and North America, however, there is less extant literature on the cultural politics of childhood and youth in Asia. This is notwithstanding important recent work by historians of East Asia and Southeast Asia that underline the value of age as a category of historical analysis in illuminating social, political, cultural transformation and contestation in Asia.

This interdisciplinary panel shows how state officials, adult reformers, educators, and film-makers in 20th century China and Singapore sacralised the young as symbols and agents of national construction and revitalization. They placed children and youth in the center of their nation-building projects and sought to discipline them through a variety of methods, such as education, sports and youth recreation, and children’s films. Through interrogating these projects, this panel illuminates how converging and colliding nationalist aspirations and anxieties were played out on the bodies, minds, and souls of the young. We argue for more attention to be paid to age-relations as another important axis of power that shaped state-society relations and adult-youth relations, and to the study of images of children and youth in nation-building projects as sites of political and cultural contestation in 20th-century Asia.