2005 Student-Faculty Fellows: Fairfield University
China: Women in the Anti-Japanese War
Mentor: Danke Li, History
Students: Lauren Howard, ’05; Sarah Howe, ’07; Katie Molteni, ’05
Professor Danke Li
What is most valuable to me is to observe and understand what China meant to the three American students and why it became important to them. Knowing their perceptions helps me better understand why and in what ways China intrigues young Americans and what teaching materials I should incorporate in my future classes to better nurture such interest in students. During the trip, we videotaped 13 hours of interviews, historical sites, and documents and pictures on women in China’s war against Japan. In addition, by using digital camera and copy machine, I was able to copy or film hundreds of pieces of original documents preserved in the Municipal Archives and Historical Library of Chongqing, including wartime political cartoons, musical sheets of war-related songs, original registration forms of wartime women’s organizations, and hand-printed handbills for the celebration of Women’s Day.
This coming fall semester I will teach an upper-level seminar called East Asia in the 20th Century American Wars. Since China’s Resistance War against Japan will be part of the course, the audio-video materials and original documents will be great additional sources for the class.
The impact of the trip on my professional development is important as well. The new materials we discovered in the Archives and Historical Library will enrich my manuscript, Women at War. The discussions with local scholars made me realize that many worthy topics on Chongqing and China’s Anti-Japanese War remain understudied and unknown to the West. For example, the importance of war-related music in China’s resistance war against Japan in the Chongqing region would be an interesting topic for my next research project. The interaction with local scholars has helped to generate a lot of ideas and mutual willingness for future collaborations. For instance, we have decided that we will work together to organize a conference on Sichuan and the Anti-Japanese War.
This research project focused upon the experiences of female survivors of the Anti-Japanese War, more specifically the Chongqing bombardment. The stories told by women aged seventy to ninety-four not only poignantly described the struggle of living in a war ravaged country in the middle of political upheaval, but also explained why China has seen such positive changes since that time. One thing is certain: all the women interviewed suffered. The poor nearly starved during the war; the rich were punished at its close. Those associated with the Communist party lived in fear of being discovered during the war years, while those with ties to the nationalist government were hunted after the war ended. Though this project has a specific focus, its content illuminates issues over the entire spectrum of Chinese studies.
This research trip to Chongqing, China was an incredible opportunity for me, both personally and academically. When I first arrived I had no frame of reference for the experience. I quickly found that I had come to China with preconceptions about the people and the country. This trip widened my worldview and taught me not to trust my first impressions. In the process of interviewing elderly women who had lived through the Sino-Japanese War we encountered both poverty and wealth in Chinese homes. As Dr. Li noted, we saw parts of China rarely visited by foreigners. Through our efforts to record these interviews we not only learned about the daily effects war has on a population (and women in particular), but we also preserved the voices and memories of these women for the future.
I spent four and a half months in Beijing during the fall of my junior year learning about Chinese language and culture. During that time, I was living on a floor full of American exchange students and behaving as though I was in college. This trip, where I returned to China for almost another month to study the history of women in the anti-Japanese war, has allowed me to a more authentic China. We visited apartments that were obviously the best that money can buy in this country, with swimming pools and BMW cars in the garages. We also visited apartments that were the lowest of the low. We met women who had devoted their lives to opposing the war and others committed to mobilizing their fellow countrymen against the Japanese invasion.
This trip has only reinforced my desire to study China. There is so much that I haven’t learned – our experiences on this grant have shown me that. My Chinese is not much better than it was before I left, but I did make an effort to speak and I have a new motivation to improve. The next time I come to China, it will likely be on my own, and this time around I realize just how important those language skills will be. Overall, I feel that this experience has been most valuable for my development both as a student and as a human being. The people I have met here have taught me more about China, the real China, than I could have learned on my own, and I am incredibly grateful for that. I look forward to returning to China in the future to continue learning more about what I have studied on this grant and visiting other places in order to keep learning about this fascinating country.