Kevin Landdeck

BA, Valparaiso University. MA, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. PhD, University of California-Berkeley. Recipient of a Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation dissertation grant for archival research in Chongqing, China. Research concerns 20th-century China, specifically Kuomintang war mobilization and interior society during the Sino-Japanese War (1937-45). Dissertation, “Under the Gun: Nationalist Military Service and Society in Wartime Sichuan, 1938-1945,” presently being revised for future publication, examines the state-making projects embedded within conscription and voluntary enlistment in Chiang Kai-shek’s army. Translating the confessions and jottings of a captured KMT spy, who spent 16 years undergoing self-reform in a communist prison, is a side project currently in progress. Key areas of interest include China’s transition from a dynastic empire to a nation-state; the role of war in state-making; modes of political mobilization and their intersection with social organization; and private life and selfhood, including national, regional, or local and personal identities. Broadly teaches on modern (17th century to present) East Asian history, with a focus on politics, society, and urban culture. In addition to a course on war in 20th-century Asia, a personal involvement in photography has inspired a course on photographic images and practice in China and Japan from the 19th century through the present. Member of the American Historical Association, Association of Asian Studies, and Historical Society for Twentieth-Century China. SLC, 2011–

Current undergraduate courses

First-Year Studies: Reform and Revolution: China’s 20th Century

FYS

In 1900, China was a faltering empire ruled by an autocratic foreign dynastic house and an entrenched bureaucracy of Confucian officials. Its sovereignty heavily battered and its territory compromised by foreign powers, it was commonly called “The Sick Man of Asia.” In 2000, China was a modern nation-state ruled by an authoritarian party and an entrenched bureaucracy of technocrats and administrators. With a surging economy, swollen foreign reserves, dazzling modern cities, and a large and technologically advanced military, China is regularly predicted to be the next global superpower. Yet, the path between these two startlingly different points was anything but smooth. China’s 20th century was a tortuous one, full of tragedy, incredible hardships, wrenching setbacks, and disastrous disappointments. Policymakers, elites, and the common people oscillated between the poles of reform and revolution—bouts of wild radicalism alternated with more sober policies—as they pursued changes that they hoped would bring a better society and nation. This course examines some of the major events and personalities of this arduous century and its momentous political, social, and cultural changes. We will learn and apply skills of historical analysis to primary documents (in translation), some fiction, and film. Along the way, we will encounter a rich cast of characters, including Sun Yatsen, China’s “national father,” colorful warlords, corrupt bureaucrats, fervent intellectuals, protesting youths, heroic communist martyrs, the towering and enigmatic chairman Mao, long-suffering peasants, and fanatical Red Guards. These men and women made and remade modern China. This class is history and thus is not primarily concerned with contemporary China; but by the end of the year, students will be well-equipped with an understanding of China’s recent past—knowledge that will help immeasurably in making sense of today’s China as it becomes increasingly important in our globalized economy and society.

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Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Making Modern East Asia: Empires and Nations, 1700-2000

Year

This yearlong seminar is a sustained look at the recent history of China and Japan, the major countries in East Asia. Placed alongside each other, the often wrenching history of Japan and China over the past three centuries raises important historical themes of Asian modernity, questioning both its sources and how we define it. Often portrayed as a direct import from the West in the 19th century, we will ask whether modernity might instead be traced to legacies of Japan’s isolationist feudalism and China’s multiethnic Manchu dynasty, even as we acknowledge the far-reaching impact of Euro-American imperialism. Both China and Japan have entrenched master narratives that portray themselves as victims of the West, but we will also investigate the contours of Asian imperialism: Qing dynasty colonization of the untamed Southwest and the Japanese Empire (1895-1945). What features (if any) did these different empires share, and what set them apart from others? Does Qing ethnic policy toward native Miao tribes differ from Western racism and its Civilizing Discourse? What about Japanese colonial rule on Taiwan (1895-1945) or Korea (1910-1945)—or even toward Japan’s internal Other, the Ainu on Hokkaido? In short, how and why were Asian empires built, and how did they end? In both polities, how were nation-states formed, and how was nationalism constructed (and reconstructed)? What role did wrenching socioeconomic, cultural, and international crises play in fueling nationalist sentiments? How and where was radicalism (of various forms, including radical Maoism) incubated? The impact of war, preparing for it, waging it, and rebuilding in its wake will be a repeated theme, too. And finally, we will look at Asia’s economic dynamism, covering both Japan’s post-World War II capitalism (and its roots in the wartime imperialist project) and China’s transition to a market economy. Course readings consist of historical scholarship regularly punctuated by primary sources, documents, fiction, and some film.

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Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Previous courses

Cataclysm and Catharsis: 20th-Century Chinese Fiction

Spring

Filled with wars, political revolutions, cultural change, and social upheaval, the 20th century was an extended cataclysm for China and the Chinese people. As writers participated in and commented on these wrenching changes and events, literature (particularly fiction) and literary practice stood at the heart of the cataclysmic century. Grappling with the problems of national resistance to (Western and Japanese) imperialism, the construction of a modern nation-state, and the emancipation of the individual, Chinese literature became one of the battlegrounds for cultural, political, and esthetic issues. In this century of radical and wrenching change, what did authors hope to accomplish with their stories? In other words, why write? And why write what they wrote? Were these stories of tragedy, farce, and satire simply literary responses to the emotional disorientations of massive change, a “cathartic” response to the batterings of a whirlwind world? Or was something more interesting, more complex, going on? To get at these questions, we will look at both the politics of literature and the literature of politics by examining the radical critique of traditional Confucian culture, the unique perspective and dilemmas of women writers, the rise and decline of Marxist socialist-realism, the problem of wartime literature, the reform-era rewriting of Maoist excesses, and the place of literature in the recent apolitical atmosphere of post-Tiananmen China.  While the focus will be on mainland Chinese fiction, we will also dip our toes into Taiwanese literature for its unique mixture of colonial history under Japan, sojourner mainlanders, and political separation from the mainland. Among others, our readings will include Lu Xun’s cannibalistic madman and hapless Ah Q, Ding Ling’s tubercular Miss Sophie, Zhang Ailing’s college student turned mistress-assassin, Yu Hua’s indefatigable peasant, and Mian Mian’s heroin-addicted young woman in 1990s Shanghai. 

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Chinese History II: From the Ming Dynasty to Yesterday

Spring

This course provides a solid grounding in the important political events and sociocultural changes of the densely-packed centuries from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) to the post-Mao reform era (1976-present). The course challenges many conventional views on modern China; for example, rather than seeing Chinese “modernity” as a reaction to defeat by Britain in the Opium War (1842), we will explore the modern features of the last two dynasties, such as late Ming consumer culture and the multi-ethnic Manchu imperium with its colonial expansion in the northwest and southwest. Other topics covered include the domestic crises facing China in the 19th century, the impact of Western imperialism, the collapse of the dynastic system in 1911, the desperate attempt to remake Chinese culture in the New Culture Movement (1915-1923), the rise of revolutionary parties, the flowering of urban culture of the 1920s-1930s, the extended trauma of the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), the roots of the Communist revolution and its painful denouement in two decades of spasmodic Maoist radicalism (1957-1976), and finally the reforms that underpin China’s recent economic success and resurgent nationalism. Group conferences will read historical scholarship and engaging primary documents (in translation).

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Crucible of History: China in World War II, 1937-45

Fall

China’s experience in World War II has long been overshadowed by, and at times literally overwritten with, the Communist revolution that followed the war. With the deepening of post-Mao reforms and China’s rise as an economic juggernaut, historians have turned their attention to World War II as a key watershed period in China’s recent past. The war’s significance is just now being pieced together from fragmented stories and experiences while its wounds linger, raw and sensitive, as witnessed by the simmering anti-Japanese sentiment in China in late 2012. This seminar is an extended and intensive look at China’s eight-year (1937-45) “War of Resistance” against Japan. Course material ranges from the terrain of contemporary journalism to US intelligence reports, historical scholarship, memoirs, propaganda, fiction, and film. We will cover the wide geographical differences in how the war was experienced, Nationalist (KMT) mobilization and strategy, Communist insurgency and rapid expansion, cultural change, the social dislocation of vast numbers of refugees, propaganda and art, the Nanjing Massacre (December 1937), life in occupied territory, American aid and involvement, and the political legacies and recent remembrances of the war.  We will interrogate the gender dimension of the conflict, as well as Chinese collaboration with Japan, exploring their implications for national orthodoxies and conventional patriotic understandings of the war. At the heart of this course are implicit questions about the limits of historical representation. Can we construct an authentic story of a conflict of this magnitude and complexity? Or does the contingency, chaos, and suffering defy any coherent understanding? Can we, in fact, understand modern war, or do all our lenses inevitably distort it and mislead us?

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Gender and History in China: Beyond Eunuchs and Concubines

Year

This seminar is a sustained exploration of gender in the Chinese context. We will treat women and men, female and male, as historically constructed categories, examining how both have been imagined and portrayed, made and mobilized, at different times. A recurring theme will be the relationship of gender to power in its various modes: social, familial, economic, and political. We will confront, head on, stereotypes about the passive Chinese woman and the Confucian family, asking: Where do we find and how do we understand women’s agency within the permutations of traditional Chinese family systems? And what are the implications of viewing imperial-era Confucianism as male oppression of women? Topics of conflict within families and the practice of footbinding will highlight female agency within and complicity with the gender hierarchy. We will delve into the appearance of feminism in the early 20th century and its subsequent fate to see how gender shaped revolution and how gender was shaped by it. And rather than leave masculinity as an assumed constant, we will examine historical and cultural constructions of what it meant to be a man in China. Located between the poles of the scholar and the warrior, Chinese manliness exhibits unfamiliar contours and traits. The course will also cover same-sex desire in both traditional and modern China. For example, in the late imperial era, we will look at homoeroticism among fashionable elite men and at female “marriage resisters” who dared to form all-women communities in a society where marriage was virtually universal. Class readings consist of historical scholarship and appropriate (translated) primary sources, including ritual prescriptions, (auto)biographies, essays, drama, and fiction that will ground the course in the authenticity of real lives of both men and women. This class has a heavy reading load, but no prior knowledge of gender theory or Chinese history is required.

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Holding Up Half the Sky: Chinese Women in History

Fall

What was it like to live as a Chinese woman? What were their concerns and worlds like? This intermediate seminar looks at women in the Chinese past (covering roughly the period from the Tang dynasty, 618-907 CE, to the present). Primarily historical in approach, this class will not be heavily theoretical but is designed to introduce some of the key issues of historical understanding of women in the Chinese context. No prerequisite knowledge of China or gender theory is required—just an enthusiasm to understand people who are separated from us by time, geography, and culture. We will encounter and explore the lives of concubines and fashion models, goddesses and demons, housewives and prostitutes, empresses and peasants, writers and revolutionaries. Beyond this biographical lens, we will treat women as a historically constructed category, too, by examining how “women” have been imagined and portrayed, made and mobilized, at different times. A recurring theme will be the relationship of women (and the idea of woman) to power in its various modes: social, familial, economic, and political. We will ask questions such as: What are the implications of viewing Imperial Era Confucianism as male oppression of women? Where do we find, and how do we understand, women’s agency within the permutations of the traditional Chinese family system and gender norms? Addressing the topics of intergenerational conflict within families and the practice of footbinding, we will explore issues of female agency within, and complicity with, the gender hierarchy. Family reform and feminism in the 20th century will open up questions of women’s problematic place within modern nationalism and women’s participation in the political, social, and cultural revolutions that have fundamentally shaped and reshaped modern China. 

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Personal Narratives: Identity and History in Modern China

Year

This yearlong seminar explores the realm of private life and individual identity and their relationship to the historical events and changes taking place in modern China from the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) into the Reform era (2000s). Our investigations will cover an eclectic mix of “personal” writings: diaries, letters, memoirs, oral testimony, autobiographies, third-party anthropological reconstructions of individuals, and (auto)biographical fiction. Among others, we will encounter late imperial Confucian radicals and mystics, petty literati, young urban women and their mothers with bound feet, peasants, radical revolutionaries, intellectuals, Maoist Red Guards, and factory workers. 

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Post-Revolutionary Chinese Fiction: The Novel as History in a Neo-Liberal Age

Spring

This seminar looks to mainland and Taiwanese fiction as a window on recent Chinese history. In the 1980s, China emerged from the paroxysms of the Maoist period (1949-76) and began its transition toward a market-based economy. Accompanying this economic liberalization, many of the tight political controls on writers were loosened. All types of literature, but particularly fiction, boomed. China returned to its rich heritage of a book culture, with a mass book market sustained by avid consumers. And Chinese fiction has won an international audience and acclaim, culminating in 2011 with Mo Yan’s Nobel prize in literature. Literature, thus, stands at the heart of China’s post-revolutionary history. We will interrogate fictional works in post-revolutionary China for how they deal with and understand a rapidly changing society and economy. What are the legacies of decades of revolution for Chinese literature? By examining narratives that deal with the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), we will look at how writers have assessed and appropriated the Maoist period, especially the experience of intellectuals “sent down” to the countryside. How did the “nativist” fiction of the 1980s and 1990s reevaluate Chinese tradition and traditional society? Urban fiction, often decadent and gritty, will raise issues of how authors and narratives portray China’s breakneck economic development. What is the relationship between art and politics in these works? Do they tacitly support or subtly resist political authoritarianism? We will also look at Taiwanese literature from the 1960s through the 1990s, as it, too, grappled with economic development, its political basis, and social effects. Along the way, we will encounter Mo Yan’s blood-drenched bandit heroes; Yu Hua’s long-suffering peasant; Su Tong’s vicious sadists; disaffected urban youths in an age of sex, drugs, and rock and roll; Han Shaogong’s novel written in the form of a dictionary; and Bai Xianyong’s homosexual young men searching for love. The majority of the course consists of fiction from mainland China and Taiwan, but we will also read some short memoir pieces by novelists and the debates in Western media about Mo Yan’s 2011 Nobel prize. There is no prerequisite knowledge of China (history or literature) for this course.

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