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Of Authenticity and Woman
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I shall examine here the views of the Morality Society (the Daodehui) about women and the narratives of its women lecturers during the early 1930s in the

Japanese puppet state of Manzhouguo. The Society was founded in Shandong in 1918, and Kang Youwei served as its president in the 1920s, until he died in 1928.[26] The Society had a strong syncretic religious character through much of the 1920s (presumably when Kang was alive), but the religious component seemed to have waned by the 1930s, when its focus on morality and charity gained salience. Nonetheless, in identifying its source of moral inspiration, the founder of the Society, Wang Fengyi, declared that all three historical religions in China pointed to the permanence of the moral: Confucianism holds that without righteousness, wealth and nobility are like passing clouds; Buddhism, that that which has form must die; Daoism, that only good and evil are without form and so have a long existence. Thus morality persists and gives meaning to the universe, and it is the morality of the East that will save the universe from the materialism and destructiveness of the West.[27]

The Morality Society flourished in Manzhouguo—as did other similar organizations—because of state support and patronage of its activities. As organizations that promoted a civilizational ideal, these redemptive societies, as well as many secret societies that valued traditional Confucian ideals like zhong and yi, were attractive to the Japanese imperialists from the early 1930s, when they developed the ideology of pan-Asianism and Eastern civilizational values versus Western materialism. According to Japanese researchers and officials of the puppet administrations in north China, these societies claimed to command enormous followings. Thus the Fellowship of Goodness claimed a following of 30 million in 1929, and the Red Swastika Society, a following of 7 to 10 million in 1937.[28] However, Chinese nationalist intellectuals and scholars have tended to ignore them, and those who do care to mention them cite lower figures. Thus Wing-tsit Chan cites a figure of thirty thousand members (not followers) for the Red Swastika Society in 1927.[29] Further he dismisses these societies as "negative in outlook, utilitarian in purpose, and superstitious in belief."[30]

Given the paucity of Chinese data on these societies, the best we can do is to interrogate the Japanese records. While we can assume that the Japanese researchers may have wanted to exaggerate the numbers in these groups, there was also a concern for accuracy since these surveys were conducted principally to assess the potential for support for and opposition to their rule. The figures cited above refer to the spread of these societies all over China largely before the Japanese Occupation. A cursory glance at materials in the Number Two Historical Archives in Nanjing originally compiled at the county and city level during the Japanese Occupation of north China reveals an enormous number of these and other religious societies registered with the local government during this period; the total figure for participants or followers of all societies within a single county or city often reached beyond tens of thousands. Given that many of these were first registered only after 1937, it is not clear to what extent they may have emerged in response to the Occupation itself; but many, especially the many religious societies, clearly predated the Occupation.


Although a fuller analysis of this problem is the subject of another essay, my provisional interpretation of these materials is that a good number of traditional religious societies—secret societies as well as modern redemptive societies—existed and flourished during the Republic; but because of nationalist disapproval and governmental repression, they were forced into clandestine or semiclandestine status. As we shall see below, the Japanese regime in both Manzhouguo and north China sought to utilize these societies selectively, but I do not think that this should, ipso facto, disqualify these societies from being considered seriously.[31] As societies with civilizational or religious ideals, they may have considered the issue of a national government as less important than the ability to pursue their vision of a transnational community. However disingenuous the Occupation regime may have been, these societies must have seized the opportunity to operate openly in public, often for the first time. To disregard or condemn them would testify to our complicity with a nationalist narrative that imposes the stark choice of collaborator or patriot upon those who sought to live their lives as they might in any society.

At the time the Morality Society encountered the Manzhouguo regime, there was a remarkable convergence of ideological interests between it and certain currents in Japan. Similar "redemptive" societies in Japan, such as the Shibunkai, offering Confucianism and Shinto as the spiritual alternative to excessive materialism and individualism had begun to grow in strength during the 1920s, particularly as economic conditions worsened and social unrest grew. Asiatic moral systems emphasizing ethical responsibilities were celebrated as alternatives to capitalism and Marxism, both Western doctrines.[32] In the 1930s, the redemptive rhetoric of elite Confucian societies and the right-wing nationalists and militarists not only began to come together but was also assimilated in an active political and educational program by the Japanese government.[33]

By the 1930s, the Manzhouguo state, which drew its real power from the Japanese military, inherited an ideology and language with which to forge an alliance with the redemptive societies in northeast China. Like the KMT government in Nanjing, the Manzhouguo government censured the "superstitious" character of the redemptive societies, but instead of seeking to eradicate the societies themselves it saw the potential for their transformation into state-controlled civic organizations.[34] In this new political framework, the Manzhouguo branch of the Morality Society, which severed ties with its headquarters in Beijing in 1932, became, under the supervision of the Manzhouguo government, a jiaohua (kyōka in Japanese) organization—an agency engaged in the welfare and enlightenment of the people.[35] Indeed the transition from a more religious orientation to morality and charity in this Society is probably attributable to its closer supervision by the state.[36]

The Morality Society was perhaps the most elite Chinese organization among all such societies in Manzhouguo. Its membership and officeholders boasted top officials, merchants, and landowners at all levels of Manzhouguo society, from the

major cities to the subcounty townships. The message of peace, morality, and spiritual salvation of the world by the East befitted these successors of the old gentry elite. As a jiaohua agency it revealed a strong propagandist urge. It put great stock by its cadres or activists (shi), who were characterized as benevolent and resolute.[37] Through their activities in schools, their lectures, their spreading of baihua (vernacular) commentaries of classical morality, and through establishing popular enlightenment societies to "reform popular customs and rectify the people's minds and hearts," the Society propounded a strong rhetoric of reaching out to all—rich and poor, men and women.[38] By 1934, the 312 branches of the Manzhouguo Society operated 235 "righteous" or "virtuous" schools, 226 lecture halls, and 124 clinics.[39]

The records of this Society allow us to see how it evolved historically from the gentry culture of the late empire. In the biographies of model figures honored in the 1930s for their virtuous and moral actions frequently undertaken in the first two decades of the twentieth century, before the Society was founded, filiality and loyalty are often cited.[40] But the bulk of such honors are granted to men and women who established, managed, or contributed money for "virtuous and chaste girls' schools" (zhennü yixue; baonü yixueyuan). Moreover, while the biographies of model individuals traceable in these records to the late nineteenth century indicate that temple building and repairs were common activities in the last years of that century, by the Republican period the establishment of these schools may have become a more common virtuous activity than contributions to building temples or arches dedicated to chaste widows. Doubtless, the emphasis upon virtuous girls' schools developed with the spread of female education in public institutions. The pages of the journal Funü zazhi in the early 1920s are filled with essays about the problem of having boys and girls in the same class, and Lu Xun both records and satirizes this anxiety among gentry men in "Soap."[41] Virtuous girls' schools represented a core institutional means to manage a generalized anxiety about the loosening of morals and fundamental values, an anxiety that became increasingly focused upon the bodies of females. Thus, one woman claimed that she only really understood what it meant to read after her father transferred her from a regular school to a virtuous school. Learning to read was not true learning unless reading could shape the body and its conduct (xing dao shenshang, na jiao shizi).[42]

The twentieth-century discourse on female virtue found here is clearly continuous with the cult of chaste widows and virtuous wives of late imperial times.[43] Descriptions of the establishment of the virtuous schools are couched in the language of this tradition: model men and women who had established virtuous schools were inspired by chaste women's biographies in the Lienü zhuan (Records of Chaste Women), as well as by the personal examples of chaste widows and virgins in the family. But inevitably, there was also a shift in the meaning of female virtue. Just as nationalists like Wang Jingwei in the KMT reorganized the role and meaning of the ideal women, so too in the Morality Society; as the figure of woman pervaded the space of authenticity, it became the site for reconstructing tradition. It is hardly possible to characterize the attitude of this Society as an expression of nationalism,

since the Society operated under a puppet regime, but many of these modern redemptive societies in Manzhouguo developed an authenticity derived from the same sources as did KMT nationalism or the kind of conservative middle-class ideology that Lu Xun satirized. While nationalists sought to preserve a national essence in the evolutionary process, the Morality Society sought to preserve an East Asian essence while acknowledging the necessity of material evolution.[44]

Among the records of the Society, the Oral Records of Morality Seminars of the Third Manzhouguo Morality Society, held in 1936 in Xinjing (Changchun), comprise an extraordinarily revealing text of over three hundred pages of personal narratives and testimonials of the leaders and teachers of the Society, who taught in its righteous schools and went around the country giving lectures on morality. The bulk of these narratives is organized around five categories drawn from the classical tradition: zhiming (to know your fate), zhixing (to know your nature), jinxin (to devote your heart and mind, to devote yourself), and lishen (to establish your self or body); in turn lishen is often divided into lizhi (to resolve your will) and liye (to fulfill an enterprise or profession). Finally, there is the category zhizhi (to know your limits).[45] Participants in the seminar made presentations about how their lives were guided by the appropriate morality within each of these categories. We hear the life stories of about twenty-five women and an equal number of men, although the total number of speaking men was greater because of the many introductory speeches made by Manzhouguo civil and military officials. From the speeches and narratives of both the men and the women, I shall try to construct an image of how woman is constituted as a subject. From the personal narratives of the women I will try to demonstrate the gap between the constituted subject and the enunciating subject. The enunciating subject seeks to negotiate this interpellative gap in a variety of ways, even as she derives meaning and spiritual sustenance—identity—from the constituting ideology or pedagogy.[46]

The introductory lectures by officials inevitably stressed the mediating role of the Society between the state and the family. The Manzhouguo police were closely associated with the project for moral renewal of the citizenry. The head of the Capital Police Bureau declared that in order to attain national goals and renew the people, it was first necessary to cleanse the people's hearts. While this was the indirect responsibility of the nation-state, it was more directly the responsibility of such agencies as the Morality Society. Such societies should bond the people to the state (guanmin yizhi) by nourishing ethical attitudes and duties toward the family, society, and the nation.[47] Employing an orthodox Confucian rhetoric, these officials repeatedly emphasized the central importance of the five ethical relationships in constructing a chain of loyalty to the state.[48] This is how Tachibana Shiraaki formulated the logic: "Morality is the basis of belief, whereas superstition has no basis in morality. The youth at home must believe in the elders, the wife in the husband, and the husband in the wife. If there is no harmony within the family, then there will be no harmony in society and no harmony in the nation. The Morality Society thus represents the progress [jinbu] of morality."[49]


The goals of the nation-state could be fulfilled only when the family was strong, when husbands were righteous and wives obedient. Within the family, the ideal moral roles for men and women were very different. Masculine virtues were represented by loyalty, incorruptibility, bravery, and self-restraint. On several occasions in their narratives, men recounted as virtue the self-control by which they restrained the urge to beat their wives. One of them indicated that in showing restraint he was expressing his filiality because both of his marriages had been arranged by his mother.[50] Director Feng (Feng zhuren) was once faced with a serious moral crisis when his youngest wife threw his baby son on the floor: seized by a desire to avenge his progeny, he was about to strike her when he recognized the virtue of self-restraint.[51] Female virtue often entailed following the three obediences (sancong). The locus classicus of this doctrine is the Book of Rituals (Yili sangf u zhuan), which says that a woman should obey her father before marriage, her husband upon marriage, and her son upon the husband's death. But in the pedagogy of the Society, as we shall see, obedience on the part of women did not necessarily entail confinement to the household. It was more that the ideal woman was shaped (or regulated) by the virtues of the family and by the reproduction of these virtues in the righteous schools and the Morality Society itself.

It was thus in the representation of the family, and the special role of women within it as repositories of the essence of (all that was good in) tradition, that the new middle-class patriarchy made common cause with the Manzhouguo state. Woman became the upholder of the "new family" that was the basis of citizenship.[52] The new family was morally pure, selfless, and committed to moral regeneration of the world by adhering to the "kingly way" (wangdao).[53] Thus weddings were to be frugal and unostentatious since the goal was for the couple to achieve love and righteousness.[54] Women (and, to a lesser extent, men) were encouraged to rid themselves of jewelry and other accoutrements so that they could come to know their inner selves.[55] The Morality Society not only conducted lectures and ran schools but also organized many family research groups (jiating yanjiushe) in which the role of model wives and mothers was investigated. It was from these research societies that the righteous girls' schools received the knowledge necessary to improve women's service to the family and nation without their having to leave the home.[56]

The pedagogy of the Morality Society by no means merely reproduced the historical image of the ideal Confucian woman—whatever that may have been. It involved a representation of woman that was neither abject nor liberated in the way of the "Western woman." Wang Fengyi reported a conversation with a Christian pastor in which Wang reveals the inadequacy of historical religions. Wang declared that he believed in all religions since they all pointed to the same Way (dao), but he protested that these religions neglected or demeaned women in the education of the Way. He insisted that women should be educated and independent (liye) so that they could understand the Way.[57] Thus women's education was necessary both from the state's perspective of improving the family and home and from the Society's perspective of having them understand morality. The reconstructed tradition

here mobilized an image of woman that redefined her in accordance with modern discourse even while claiming a pristine traditionalism–East Asianism at the heart of the culture-and nation-building project.

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