Jie Gao. Saving the Nation through Culture: The Folklore Movement in Republican China. Contemporary Chinese Studies. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2019. 364 pp., 20 b/w photos, appendices, notes, glossary, bibliography, index.
Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), the “Father of the Republic,” often lamented that the Chinese people were “a sheet of loose sand,” for their supposed failure to cohere as a nation. Indeed, between the First Opium War (1839-1842) and the founding of the People’s Republic of China (1949), many intellectuals, reformers, and revolutionaries in China were vexed by the apparent problem identified by Sun: how to build a modern nation-state on the rubble of traditional dynastic empires, with a people not used to the idea of national belonging? One group that manifested very high levels of enthusiasm for this nation-building project were early-twentieth century academics, who believed that introducing Western fields of study (often filtered through Japan) could serve as an antidote to what they saw as a stifling traditional Confucian education with its emphasis on hierarchies and virtue rather than fraternité and power. Happily, for the twenty-first century researcher, these intellectuals wrote a lot. In Saving the Nation through Culture, Jie Gao plumbs the extensive library of one sub-group of these intellectuals, the folklorists. As Gao puts it, the folklore movement emerged in China “as a means of providing evidence of unity and a rich, vibrant popular culture that would, they believed, rally the people around the flag in a time of great national difficulty” (3).Continue reading