China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Despite a growing body of knowledge on issues of Chinese nationalism, language reform, and literacy education in the twentieth century, scholars still know relatively little about the practical dimensions of how the creation and propagation of a national language intersected with people’s processes of identity formation. This neglect is particularly acute in studies of children. How did efforts to introduce children to a modern, standardized language mirror efforts to shape children into members of a modern, uniform nation? How did learning to read a national language affect children’s perceptions of themselves as “Chinese”? And how could these efforts toward standardization manifest themselves in different ways depending on a child’s age, gender, and local geographic or societal conditions, as children grappled with the ideological and practical implications of Communist rhetoric and labor ideals? Drawing on a range of wartime reading primers and civics textbooks aimed at lower-elementary schoolchildren in the mid-to-late-1940s, this paper shows how CCP textbooks strove to navigate the challenges of presenting a relatively unified linguistic standard and ideological worldview to children who varied in age, gender, and societal experiences. At the same time, this paper also pays careful attention to the illustrated and written responses of the children themselves, as these young readers engaged in sometimes unexpected ways with the material presented to them. Children’s drawings, written responses, and notational strategies for character pronunciation and meaning shed unique light onto children’s own experiences with language learning as they tried to make sense of the changing world around them.