Organizing Shanghai’s Youth, 1920-1942


A review of Organizing Shanghai’s Youth: Communist, Nationalist, and Collaborationist Strategies, 1920-1942, by KRISTIN MULREADY-STONE. 

Kristin Mulready-Stone’s dissertation documents the organization and activities of party-affiliated youth organizations in Shanghai from 1920-1942. Consisting of six chapters plus an introduction and conclusion, the dissertation traces the ways in which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the Chinese Nationalist Party (GMD), and wartime collaborationist governments attempted to harness the energies of young Chinese activists from the May Fourth Movement through World War II. Drawing from archival materials in Chinese, English, Russian, and Japanese, the dissertation offers a comprehensive overview of the structure, aims, and mobilization strategies of the Communist Youth League, the (Nationalist) Three Principles of the People Youth Corps, and the (collaborationist) China Youth Corps. By focusing on early Communist and Nationalist Party efforts to create durable institutions for ideologically remolding young men and women, Mulready-Stone sheds light on a neglected yet pivotal dimension of popular mobilization in Republican China. Further, by detailing the aims and activities of organizations created for Chinese youth by Japanese occupation authorities, this dissertation offers insightinto the popular resonance of Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere rhetoric and contributes to the burgeoning literature on wartime collaboration.

Mulready-Stone’s introduction establishes the stakes of the project and its principle interventions. After sketching the early twentieth-century emergence of “youth” as a politically-active and potentially-mobilized social category, Mulready-Stone distinguishes between student protests and the youth organizations which are the subject of her study (pp. 1-3). Whereas protests, she argues, can be considered spontaneous, ad hoc, and student-directed, the latter should be seen as enduring organizations created by party elders with long-term ideological agendas. Building on the work of protest-movement historians John Israel, Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Hao Yingde, and Shao Pengwen, Mulready-Stone argues that “student protests bucked the system,” while party-affiliated youth organizations were “of the system” insofar as they were “overseen by adults who not only believed they could provide essential services to China’s youth, but also that they knew what was best for them…” (pp. 3-4). Despite their top-down composition, youth organizations, in particular the Three Principles of the People Youth Corps, operated with degrees of independence from party leaders and skillfully marshaled the resources afforded by party affiliation. In this regard, youth organizations served pedagogical and disciplining functions for political parties during their formative stages, while also creating spaces for young activists to realize their own political aspirations.

Chapter one introduces readers to the Komsomol-modeled youth organization founded with Comintern encouragement in Shanghai in 1920. Christened the “Socialist Youth League (SYL)” to foster broad-based support under the First United Front, the SYL provided a template for future youth organizations and aimed to ideologically prepare young Chinese for full Communist Party membership. Drawing primarily from published Socialist Youth League records and memoirs penned by movement participants, this chapter traces the sporadic growth of the SYL, showing how it served as a critical conduit for disseminating knowledge of Marxism and facilitating travel to the USSR. Chapter two documents the activities of the Communist Youth League (CYL)—to which the Socialist Youth League was officially renamed in 1925——in Shanghai from 1927-1937. This chapter details how ongoing negotiations between CYL and CCP leadership over the former’s ultimate purpose dovetailed with crises plaguing the communist movement as a whole after 1927. As Mulready-Stone explains, Communist Party leaders simultaneously endorsed and condemned CYL vanguardism, adding to the CYL’s confusion and demoralization as its numbers dwindled under Nanjing’s white terror policies (pp. 73; 84-85).

Chapters three through five investigate the origins and aspirations of the Guomindang’s Three Principles of the People Youth Corps (TPPYC), founded in 1938. As relevant document collections in Nanjing’s Second Historical Archives remain closed, Mulready-Stone builds her argument on Nanjing-based periodicals, Shanghai Municipal Police files, documents in the Shanghai Municipal Archives, and participant memoirs. She explains how this GMD organization, modeled on the Communist Youth League, “was intended to mobilize youth and channel their energies in service of GMD goals, solve the problems of factionalism in the GMD, lead the struggle in the War of Resistance, and facilitate national reconstruction” (p. 110). Whereas the late historian Lloyd Eastman believed that this organization contributed to the GMD’s demise, Mulready-Stone argues that it actually provided a lifeline to Chiang Kai-shek’s government following its exile to Chongqing (pp. 110-114). The Shanghai branch of the TPPYC, which of necessity operated with a degree of autonomy from Chongqing, not only supplied Chiang Kai-shek’s government with intelligence but helped to keep pro-Guomindang sentiment alive in the occupied city. Although the organization devoted considerable resources to fighting communism, Mulready-Stone highlights their efforts to subvert Japanese-collaborationist rule in and around Shanghai. Chapter five documents the role of TPPYC members in creating a discourse of martyrdom around General Xie Jinyuan, the hero of the 1937 Battle of Shanghai whose 1941 assassination by mutinous GMD soldiers threatened to undermine what remained of Nationalist credibility. The assassination ultimately imbued the TPPYC with a renewed sense of purpose amidst relentless pressure from occupation authorities to disband or collaborate.

The dissertation’s sixth and final chapter documents the activities of the China Youth Corps (CYC) established under Japanese auspices in 1938. In this chapter, Mulready-Stone builds on Timothy Brook’s recent work on wartime collaboration to explore how the Shanghai branch of the CYC, known as the Greater Shanghai Youth Corps, served different purposes for Chinese and Japanese participants. Mulready-Stone maintains that CYC activities simultaneously helped to construct Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, while also helping “China to recover from the brutality of war and position itself more favorably for a highly anticipated future when Japan would be defeated and Central China would once again be under Chinese rule” (p. 253). Mulready-Stone’s sensitive reading of Shanghai Municipal Police files as well as wartime documents in the Shanghai Municipal Archives illuminates the constrained range of choices available to Shanghai’s youth during the Japanese occupation.

This carefully-researched dissertation makes a solid contribution to the historical literature on Republican Shanghai, popular mobilization, wartime collaboration, and Communist and Nationalist Party organizations.

Maggie Clinton
Assistant Professor
Middlebury College
History Department

Primary Sources

1. Shanghai Municipal Archives
a) Shehui tuanti dang’an [Archives on Community Organizations] b) Riwei jigou dang’an [Archives on Japanese Collaborationist Organizations]

2. Shanghai Municipal Police Files, 1929-1945 (U.S. National Archives and Records
Administration, microfilm)

3. Periodicals (Chinese): Zhongguo qingnian [Chinese Youth], 1923-1927 ; Zhonghua
qingnian yuekan [China Youth Monthly], 1939-1942; Shanghai qingyunshi yanjiu [Research on the history of the youth movement in Shanghai], 1987-1988; and many others

4. Published memoirs. Chen Bulei. Chen Bulei huiyilu [The Memoirs of Chen Bulei]. Hong Kong: Tianxing chubanshe, 1962; Chen Cheng. Chen Cheng Xiansheng huiyilu: Kangri zhanzheng (Shang, Xia) [The Memoirs of Mr. Chen Cheng: The Sino-Japanese War, Vol. I, II]. Edited by He Zhilin. Taipei: Guoshiguan, 2004; and many others

5. Periodicals (English and Russian): North-China Daily News, 1864-1951 (Microfilm);
The Shanghai Times, 1901-1945; Shanghai Evening Post and Mercury, 1856-1956, etc.; Izvestiia [News], 1917- ; Pravda [Truth], 1912-1991; and others

Dissertation Information

Yale University, 2009. 334 pp. Advisor: Jonathan D. Spence.

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