China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
What did Chinese citizens think about their government? How did ordinary members of China’s various communities feel about their elites, and about sensitive topics of public interest? Public opinion is an elusive topic, and especially so for historians of twentieth-century China, given uneven literacy rates and pervasive censorship in many times and places. Given that standard historical sources for many periods were generated primarily by officials and elites, it can be a challenge for historians to avoid replicating elite opinion. This panel offers new approaches to exploring public opinion in China’s twentieth century by centering types of sources often overlooked in historical research. Four major types of records will constitute the focus of the panel: public and private correspondence; literary sources; oral histories; and internal state reports on popular opinion. Joshua Freeman will present on letters to the editor in 1940s Uyghur-language newspapers as proxy to public opinion in late Republican Xinjiang, when the regional government carried out a brief experiment with press liberalization. Daniel Leese’s paper will view public opinion from the other side of the state-society divide by analyzing xuanjiao dongtai, a type of CCP internal publication that reported on public opinion at the grassroots and issued propaganda guidelines for officials. Guldana Salimjan’s presentation will traverse the borders between states as well as those between history and literature, and will demonstrate how historical fiction by Kazakh émigrés from China to the USSR offers insights into public opinion among Xinjiang’s Kazakhs during the Mao era.