Spotlight

Communist Childhood in China

Kyle David, a PhD candidate in History, has been awarded a Luce/ACLS grant and a Fulbright-Hays fellowship for dissertation research

My dissertation is a study of the theory and practice of "communist childhood," with an emphasis on young children living in Chinese Communist Party (CCP) border regions. My primary case study examines the CCP's Communist Children's League (CCL), a mass mobilization organization that shaped the lives of over a million children aged seven to fifteen during the interwar and World War II periods. I demonstrate how adult communists fashioned a theory of childhood that served as an alternative to liberal bourgeois conceptualizations, arguing that adults constructed analytical frameworks informed by indigenous and exogenous ideas and ideologies. With regards to the practice of communist childhood, I excavate child-centered archives, such as child-authored publications, memoirs recollecting personal childhood experiences under CCP rule, and county-level "child work reports" in order to dovetail how adults imagined and practiced childhood with how children actually experienced it.

A finer objective of my research is to problematize the prevailing notions of agency and the ideal-type historical actor. In this regard, I join a growing number of scholars who approach my historical subjects—in this case, children growing up during the interwar and World War Two periods—as sentient, intentional beings, who acted autonomously, albeit with limits, within and on their social environments. Whereas much of the scholarship on the history of childhood examines what happened to children, I ask instead what children themselves were doing. I read against the archival grain to see how children's everyday activities embodied agency and purposefulness. In doing so, I argue that through participation in various local grassroots mobilization movements and contributions to multiple war efforts children played a constitutive role in both the CCP's rise to prominence and building Party hegemony.

With the support of a Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS pre-dissertation grant, I was fortunate enough to carry out three months of research in the People's Republic of China. From June through September 2016, I explored the former Shanxi-Chahar-Hebei border region, visiting provincial and municipal archives and establishing critical professional relationships. These three months allowed me to assess the feasibility of my project while gathering primary sources crucial to the success of my project. A 2016-17 Fulbright-Hays DDRA fellowship will allow me to build upon the foundation I established during the summer of 2016. From June 2017 through March 2018, I will carry out ten months of research in Hebei and Shanxi provinces, making use of underutilized county archives and difficult-to-access museum archives.