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Jeffrey Wasserstrom Fields of Interest:
Modern China, Protest
I am a specialist in Chinese history interested in a wide range of topics, ranging from the gendered symbolism of revolutions to patterns of student protest, and from the way that globalization affects urban life and popular culture to American images of Asia. I am fascinated by seeing what light the past can shed on the present, and am committed to finding ways to reach and engage general as well as specialist audiences.
These diverse concerns have influenced my publications, including my first book Student Protests in Twentieth-Century China: The View from Shanghai (Stanford, 1991) and my more recent ones, such as Global Shanghai, 1850-2010 (Routledge, 2009) and China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 2010, updated edition 2013, with contributions by UCI graduate student Maura Cunningham). It is also shows through in my teaching, my community outreach activities, and my past involvement in the Irvine-based group blog/electronic magazine, "The China Beat: Blogging How the East is Read"--some of the postings from which were incorporated, along with many other materials, in China in 2008: A Year of Great Significance, a 2009 book that I co-edited with Kenneth Pomeranz and Kate Merkel-Hess (formerly a UCI graduate student and then post-doc and now holder of a tenure-track job at Penn State).
I have contributed to many academic periodicals, including China Quarterly, Urban History, the Journal of World History, the Journal of Global History, and History Workshop Journal. I've also served for several years as one of the editors for the Oxford University Press “Pages from History” series, the goal of which is to produce high quality, document-based books for use in introductory classes, and worked as a consultant to the talented filmmakers of the Long Bow Group, whose documentary on Tiananmen, “The Gate of Heavenly Peace,” was shown on PBS, and whose documentary on the Cultural Revolution, “Morning Sun,” won a prize from the American Historical Association. In addition, during the last decade-and-a-half, I have routinely written commentaries and reviews for general interest magazines (e.g., Time and Newsweek, The Nation, and the TLS in London), newspapers (such as the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times), and websites (for example, I blog regularly for the Huffington Post). And I’ve sometimes been interviewed by and quoted by journalists, which has allowed me to get my opinions on historical issues and Chinese contemporary affairs across to readers of periodicals such as the Financial Times and the Economist and the audiences who listen to shows such as “Morning Edition” and "All Things Considered" on NPR. And last but not least, I'm now part of an exciting publication venture that began at UC Riverside, serving as co-editor of the Asia Section of the Los Angeles Review of Books.
I am still a relatively recent addition to the UCI History Department (arriving here in 2006), though no newcomer to the UC system. I came to UCI after spending fifteen years at Indiana University in Bloomington, where in addition to teaching I spent a year as the Acting Editor of the Bloomington-based American Historical Review (an experience I liked a great deal, which is one reason I sought one of my current positions—Editor of the Journal of Asian Studies) and served for three years as the Director of IU’s East Asian Studies Center. As for previous UC ties, I received my B.A. from UC Santa Cruz (in 1982) and my doctorate from UC Berkeley (in 1989), after a brief stint on the East Coast studying at Harvard (where I got a Master’s degree in 1984). And my previous teaching positions, in addition to IU and two years before that at the University of Kentucky, included a one-year visiting position at UC San Diego.
» China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford University Press, April 2010 and 2013.
» Chinese Characters: Profiles of Fast-Changing Lives in a Fast-Changing Land (co-edited with Angilee Shah). University of California Press, 2012.
» China in 2008: A Year of Great Significance (co-edited with Kate Merkel-Hess and Kenneth L. Pomeranz). Rowman & Littlefield, 2009.
» Global Shanghai, 1850-2010. Routledge, 2008.
» "Beijing Games Call to Mind Our Fair," Chicago Tribune, September 2, 2008.
» "What Would Mao Think of the Games?" The Nation (web exclusive), August 22, 2008.
» China's Brave New World--And Other Tales for Global Times. Indiana University Press, 2007.
» "New Ways in History, 1966-2006," History Workshop Journal, 64(1), 2007, pp. 271-294.
» Human Rights and Revolutions, second edition (co-edited with Greg Grandin, Lynn Hunt, and Marilyn B. Young). Rowman and Littlefield, 2007.
» Chinese Femininities Chinese Masculinities (co-edited with Susan Brownell). University of California Press, 2002.
» Popular Protest and Political Culture in Modern China (co-edited with Elizabeth J. Perry). Westview Press, 1992 and 1994 editions.
» Student Protests in Twentieth-Century China: The View from Shanghai. Stanford University Press, 1991.
Q & A: Jeffrey Wasserstrom on History, Dissent and the Power of May 4 in China
May 04, 2014
The political tumult that erupted in China in 1989 was a struggle over rival views of the country’s future, often fought through rival views of the past, and no date mattered more than May 4, an anniversary claimed by both the student protesters and the Communist Party.
Many of the students who occupied Tiananmen Square claimed inspiration from the May Fourth Movement of 1919, a student protest movement incited by outrage over China’s poor treatment in the international settlement after the First World War. The 1919 protests came during a period of intellectual flux, called the New Culture Movement, when students and intellectuals embraced iconoclastic currents of thought from abroad, famously summed up by one of their advocates as “Mr. Science and Mr. Democracy.”But the Chinese Communist Party also claimed the May Fourth Movement as part of its patrimony – a patriotic campaign that paved the way for the spread of Marxism and the founding of the party in 1921. Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a history professor at the University of California, Irvine, who has studied student protests in China, answers questions about why May 4 mattered in 1989:
佔領天安門廣場的許多學生聲稱，他們受到 了1919年「五四運動」的感召。中國在第一次世界大戰後的國際和會上遭受的惡劣對待激起了人們的怒火，從而引發了史稱「五四運動」的學生抗議運動。這場 抗議爆發時，思想激蕩的「新文化運動」正在發生。當時，學生與知識分子大量吸納了海外的反傳統思潮，而其中一名倡導者將其總結為著名的「德先生與賽先 生」。不過，中國共產黨也宣稱「五四運動」是其傳統的組成部分，稱這場愛國運動為馬克思主義的傳播和1921年的建黨鋪平了道路。加州大學歐文分校 (University of California, Irvine)的歷史學教授華志堅(Jeffrey Wasserstrom)一直在從事中國學生抗議運動的研究工作。在下文中，他將回答為何「五四運動」對1989年至關重要。
Q. It seems that in 1989 many students and intellectuals were animated by a deeply idealistic view of themselves and their status in society, and that view harkened back to the May Fourth Movement, if not earlier. What did the May Fourth tradition mean in the eyes of the students?
A. The 1989 protesters identified strongly with the May Fourth Movement of 1919, a student-led patriotic popular struggle that is as celebrated in the Chinese educational system as, say, the Boston Tea Party is in the American one. Invoking that 1919 struggle conjures up two sets of intertwined associations. It calls up memories of a specific student demonstration, held on May 4, 1919, which was staged in the name of protecting the nation from autocratic rule at home and from foreign bullying. It also refers to a more general intellectual ferment of the time, when intellectuals argued that embracing “science and democracy” was the first step toward helping China become modern and regain its place in the world as a strong and respected country. In a key 1989 student manifesto, which dubbed the current struggle a “New May 4th Movement,” there are allusions to all of these aspects of the 1919 tradition, except the part about resisting bullying by foreigners. Many 1989 rallies were staged in front of a monument in Tiananmen Square that includes a frieze showing 1919’s students speaking out against injustice and calling on workers to join them in a patriotic struggle.
答：1989年的抗議者對1919年的 「五四運動」有強烈的認同感。「五四」是學生領導的愛國民眾運動，在中國教育體系里備受推崇，就好比波士頓傾茶事件之於美國。回顧1919年的鬥爭，可以 激發出相互交織的兩類聯想。一是喚起對1919年5月4日的記憶，也就是為抗議政府對內獨裁、對外屈服於列強而開展的那場學生示威運動；二是泛指當時的更 為宏大的思潮，即知識分子提出，接納「民主與科學」，是幫助中國實現現代化，重新獲得強國地位，贏得尊重的第一步。在1989年一份關鍵性的學生宣言里， 他們自稱正在進行是「新五四運動」，還提及了「五四」傳統中除了抵禦列強欺凌之外的方方面面。1989年的集會活動里，有不少在天安門廣場的一座紀念碑前 舉行的。這座紀念碑鑲嵌的浮雕中，有一幅展現的是「五四運動」中學生呼喚正義並號召工人，與他們一道加入愛國運動的情景。
Q. Do you see a link between 1989 and the intellectual ferment of the 1980s, and what was it?
A. While I wasn’t in China in 1989 itself, I spent a year at Shanghai’s Fudan University not long before that and remember the special character of the time well. What’s striking to me looking back is the sense then that it felt to many that it was a completely open question how exactly the Communist Party would evolve. It had begun to do things that no other group like it had done before, especially in the economic realm, but there was hope that soon political shifts might accompany them.
答：雖然1989年的時候我本人並不在中 國，但之前不久我在上海復旦大學待過一年，清楚地記得那種特殊的時代氣息。回顧過去，讓我印象深刻的是當時的氛圍，很多人感到，共產黨究竟會如何演變的問 題完全沒有定論。中共已經開始嘗試其他類似的集團未曾採取過的做法，尤其是在經濟領域，而且當時也存在一種期望，即政治變革或許很快就會隨之而來。
Q. While the students tied themselves to the May Fourth tradition, the party elders, especially Deng Xiaoping, described the students as successors to the extremes of the Cultural Revolution. Do you think that those fears were heartfelt?
A. You’ve hit on a central aspect of 1989 – the battle of historical analogies. Deng and company claimed that they, not the students, embodied the May Fourth patriotic tradition, and the students insisted that the authorities, not they, were resurrecting dangerous patterns from the past, acting like the emperors of old and using Cultural Revolution-style terms of denunciation. It’s hard to say how heartfelt those fears of Deng were, perhaps a bit, but he must have also realized the differences between 1989’s students and the Red Guards, including the lack of a charismatic figure to whom they were fiercely loyal the way 1966’s youth were to Mao. One thing I’m sure of is that he thought, incorrectly as it turned out, that likening protests to Red Guard-style “chaos” would be very effective in alienating popular support for the students and getting them off the streets and back in to the classroom. Late in 1986 and early in 1987, I saw official announcements go up at Fudan University that dubbed that period’s protests, which ended up being dress rehearsals of a sort for the ones of 1989, “New Red Guard” actions. Those posters had a chilling effect and did indeed help bring the wave of campus unrest to an end.
答：你的問題觸及了1989的一個核心層 面——歷史類比之爭。鄧小平等領導人宣稱，他們，而不是學生，才代表着「五四」的愛國傳統；而學生則堅稱，是當局，而不是他們，在危險地效仿過去，採用封 建君王的行為方式和文革式的討伐語言。很難說鄧小平的擔憂在多大程度上是發自內心的，或許的確有一點，不過他肯定也意識到了1989年的學生與紅衛兵之間 的區別，包括缺乏一個魅力人物，讓他們像1966年的青年對毛澤東那樣，表現出瘋狂的忠誠。我可以肯定的一件事是，鄧小平以為——事後證明這種想法並不正 確——將抗議活動類比成紅衛兵式的「動亂」，能非常有效地離間民眾對學生的支持，並讓他們遠離街頭重返課堂。1986年底到1987年初，我看到復旦大學 張貼的一些官方聲明，將那段時間的抗議活動貶為「新紅衛兵」行為，而這些抗議實際上成為了1989年的某種綵排。海報起到了恐嚇的作用，的確有助於平息當 時那一輪的校園動蕩。
Q. Often in the press our thumbnail description of the 1989 student protests is “pro-democracy.” But from what you’ve described, it sounds like the protests emerged from a flux of ideas: patriotism, vague ideas of democratic self-determination, a strong sense of egalitarianism, but also an elite sense of students’ special status. How did these inspirations hang together?
A. It was a multidimensional event, with all the elements you listed in the mix. One thing I’d add is that some of the first posters called for an end to nepotism and corruption – grievances that are very much in play today as well. I think that what held it together was something so basic that it almost seems trite to say it: a shared sense among the students and those who supported them that China, as a beloved country, deserved to be governed by good people who were devoted to living up to the ideals they espoused. The call was not for the party to be overthrown, but for its leaders to do a better job of carrying out things it claimed to stand for. The most powerful collective act was the hunger strike that students staged, which was widely interpreted as showing that they were more committed to the common good than those in power. This was an especially potent act since one symbol of corruption then, as at later points, was officials treating themselves to lavish banquets at the people’s expense.
答：這一事件有多個層面，包括了你所說的 全部因素。我想再補充一條，首批海報里，有一些是在呼籲根除裙帶關係和腐敗現象——和今天聽到的抱怨非常類似。我想，讓它們融合在一起的是一種非常基本的 東西，可以說已經是老生常談：學生及其支持者普遍認為，他們心愛的祖國，應當由那些全心追求心中理想的好人來統治。他們不是在呼籲推翻共產黨，而是呼籲中 共領導人更行之有效地貫徹他們自己宣揚的主張。最有力的集體行動是學生們舉行的絕食抗議，此舉被廣泛解讀為，學生比當權者更勇於為公眾利益獻身。這是一個 格外有力的舉動，因為在當時和日後的多個時間段里，腐敗的一個標誌就是官員們濫用公款大吃大喝。
Q. You noted that the authorities seemed to have been surprised by the extent of popular support for the students. What explained that popular outpouring?
A. One thing that led me to focus on student protests in my dissertation, which concentrated on pre-1949 struggles and was completed just as the 1989 demonstrations were starting, was precisely the question of why, in so many cases, Chinese movements that began with campus actions developed into multiclass upsurges. This just contrasted so dramatically with the U.S. case, in which others were much less ready to take their cues from students. This brings us back to the May Fourth tradition, which carries forward even older visions of intellectuals – and university students in China are seen as belonging to this group – having a special calling to speak out when rulers lose their moral compass. Throughout the 20th century, when Chinese students called for change in a ways that linked up with popular grievances and concerns, members of other social groups often joined them on the streets. This happened yet again in 1989.
答：促使我在博士學位論文里重點研究學生 運動的一個原因，剛好就是想探究，為什麼發端於校園的中國國內運動，許多都演變成了席捲多個階級的浪潮——論文的主題是1949年以前的歷次運動，剛好在 1989年的示威開始之前寫完。這與美國的狀況形成了鮮明的對比，在美國，其他階層以學生為榜樣的情況要少得多。這讓我們回想起「五四」傳統，它發揚了更 加古老的知識分子觀念——在中國，大學生被視為知識分子的一員——即當統治者失德之時，知識分子有直言相諫的責任。縱觀整個20世紀，當中國學生呼籲變 革，並用某種途徑把變革與民怨和民眾的關切相聯繫時，其他社會群體往往會走上街頭，支持學生運動。1989年，這種情況再次發生了。
Q. It’s hard to imagine student appeals for democracy and rights having the same galvanizing effect on Chinese society these days. Or is that too jaded?
A. I wouldn’t write the May Fourth tradition off completely, as it has proved a protean one. Still, much has certainly changed. For example, one thing animating students in 1919 and in the various subsequent years when there were calls for a “New May 4th Movement” was the idea that China was lagging behind other countries and needed to shift course to have a shot at becoming a truly modern country. Now, there is a sense that China has become “modern,” at least in some material ways. So protests often focus not on how things need to change for the country to modernize effectively, which was still a theme in 1989, but on the negative impact of rapid development.
答：我不會做出「五四」傳統已經徹底消亡 的論斷，因為事實顯示，「五四」的傳統是不斷變化的。不過，有很多情況確實已經改變了。例如，有一種想法激發了1919年的學生，也激發了之後多年裡多次 呼籲發動「新五四運動」的學生，那就是中國落後於其他國家，需要改弦更張才有機會成為一個真正現代化的國家。現在，人們的感覺是中國已經「現代化」了，至 少在某種物質層面如此。所以，目前的抗議關注的往往不是需要如何開展變革，才能讓中國更有效地現代化，而是快速發展帶來的負面影響。而在1989年，前者 仍是抗議的主題。
Q. Could you imagine students ever again being the chief force of political protest in China?
A. It’s hard right now to imagine something like 1989 happening again for various reasons, one of which is simply that the government has spent a lot of energy over the last 25 years working to minimize the chances of a replay. This has taken many forms, including giving students some of the less politicized things – like more control over their private lives, more choices about what to buy, what music to listen to and generally how to spend their time – that they sought during the 1989 protests. A lot of the official handling of protests since 1989 needs to be seen as trying to apply lessons learned then, not just from what happened in China, but also what happened in Eastern and Central Europe. For example, the authorities clamp down early and swiftly on anything that seems to be linking up protesters of different social groups or connecting those based in different parts of the country, while letting those with grievances blow off steam in other cases.
答：鑒於多種原因，現在很難想像1989 年的那一幕會再次上演，其中一個原因就是過去25年里，政府耗費了大量精力，竭力要把那場運動重演的機會減到最小。政府採取了花樣繁多的舉措，包括讓學生 享有一些不那麼政治化的權利——比如讓他們更多地掌握自己的私人生活，讓他們擁有更多的購物選擇，讓他們決定聽什麼音樂，以及大體上如何打發個人時間—— 這是他們在1989年的抗議中所尋求的。我們要看到，自1989年之後，官方處置抗議活動的許多舉動，不僅是在設法運用當時得到的教訓，而且也在設法運用 從東歐和中歐各國的經歷中汲取的教訓。例如，一旦任何事件似乎能將來自不同社會群體或位於中國不同區域的示威者聯繫起來，當局會及早、迅速地進行壓制。同 時，當局也會讓有積怨的人，對自己的個案發泄情緒。
And yet, I don’t think we should write students off completely. The Communist Party is still nervous enough about them that, even though they were happy enough to see outbursts of anti-NATO sentiment 15 years ago, when the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was hit, and in anti-Japanese upsurges periodically since then, they quickly try to get students off the streets after a short period of demonstrating in those cases. The government is nervous, in part because of knowing that this is just what has happened sometimes in China’s past – students who start out clamoring about the wrongs done by foreigners will segue into complaining that the current rulers are unworthy of running the country they are eager to defend. I can’t think of where a spark would come from exactly that would set off a new nationwide conflagration, but there are still issues, including concern that those in power ultimately care more about protecting their assets and power than doing what is best for the country, that could resonate with many social groups if something happened that inspired students to once again insist that China was experiencing a crisis that needed to be handled by people who were truer patriots than the corrupt old men in charge.
儘管如此，我還是認為，不應該就此否認學 生的影響力。雖然共產黨很樂於看到，15年前貝爾格萊德的中國大使館被炸時，學生中爆發了反北約(NATO)情緒，在那之後也時而湧現出反日浪潮，但他們 依然對學生感到頗為不安，在學生們通過短暫的示威發泄不滿後，政府就會迅速地設法把他們從街上驅走。政府感到緊張的部分原因是，他們知道，過去在中國時有 發生的情形是，最初因為外國人作惡而大聲疾呼的學生，會演變成現任統治集團的抨擊者，指責他們不配治理自己迫切要維護的國家。我想不出，引發下一場席捲全 國的燎原之火的火星，究竟會源自哪裡。不過問題依然存在，其中一個擔心是，當權者最終會更在乎保護自己的資產和權力，而不是做最有利於國家的事。一旦出現 導火索，促使學生們再次堅定地認為中國正在經歷危機，必須由真正的愛國者來處理危機，而不是垂垂老矣、手握大權的腐敗政客，那麼這種擔憂可能就會引發眾多 社會群體的共鳴。
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