River sands/urban spaces : Changsha in modern Chinese history

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2015-05

Authors

Hudson, James Joshua

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This work is a modern history of Changsha, the capital city of Hunan province, from the late nineteenth to mid twentieth centuries. The story begins by discussing a battle that occurred in the city during the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864), a civil war that erupted in China during the mid nineteenth century. The events of this battle, but especially its memorialization in local temples in the years following the rebellion, established a local identity of resistance to Christianity and western imperialism. By the 1890’s this culture of resistance contributed to a series of riots that erupted in south China, related to the distribution of anti-Christian tracts and placards from publishing houses in Changsha. During these years a local gentry named Ye Dehui (1864-1927) emerged as a prominent businessman, grain merchant, and community leader. When a massive urban riot erupted in April 1910, Ye and other gentry were accused of withholding grain from starving peasants and other disgruntled locals. At the end of the same decade, in 1919 the Treaty of Versailles ended the war in Europe but awarded German owned territory in north China to Japan. Students and activists erupted in protest in cities throughout China, especially in Changsha. The climate of urban activism that emerged by the 1920’s inaugurated an age of civic identity in the city. Activists embraced certain ideas associated with western modernity—such as Marxism—in order to overcome western imperialism. Among the voices of dissent were young activists such as Mao Zedong (1893-1976). Students from foreign missionary schools even joined the protests. This new generation of activists published articles in the local press and other journals denouncing the West’s influence not only in Changsha, but also in communities throughout China. I also discuss the history of women in Changsha, most notably the experiences of an activist named Zhu Tierong (1915-2009). During World War II she worked with the local chapter of the YMCA to care for refugees. The war also brought intense carnage to Changsha, as much of the city was destroyed by a fire in 1938.

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