Timothy Cheek

Professor

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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - May 2021)
Beyond the bounds of revolutions: Chinese in transnational anarchist networks from the 1920s to the 1950s (2021)

Modern anarchism came to China in the twentieth century via transnational student networks in Tokyo and Paris. Even as anarchism and anarchists proliferated within China, the transnational links through which it came and the transnationalism of anarchism itself remained. However, scholars have subsumed the narrative of Chinese anarchism under larger ideological issues of nation and state building. Moving away from such frameworks, this dissertation aims to decouple Chinese anarchists from the nation and to treat anarchism in China not as a mode of thought, but as a set of concrete actors and practices. To analyze Chinese anarchists’ transnational endeavors, the dissertation makes use of recent methodologies of network tracing from the field of Anarchist Studies to both map the dense and often overlapping networks of three important anarchist figures, Ba Jin 巴金 (1904-2005), Ray Jones 刘钟时 (1889-1974), and Lu Jianbo 卢剑波 (1904-1991), and detail the actions these networks produced. Ba Jin operated in France and Shanghai, Lu in Shanghai and Chengdu, and Jones in San Francisco. By looking at the extent, direction, and flow of their various networks, the dissertation argues Chinese anarchists created global connections that situated China and Chinese in an anarchist world stage and reflected modes of existence that were not bounded by the nation or revolution. Chapter 2 utilizes Ba Jin’s status as a hub within multiple networks to introduce the lines and dots of transnational Chinese anarchist activity. Chapter 3 traces Ray Jones and the anarchist Pingshe’s place within a multi-ethnic and trans-Pacific radical environment. Chapter 4 untangles how Ba Jin’s association was used to overshadow the radical transnational pasts of schools in Fujian. Chapter 5 examines Lu Jianbo’s attempts to weave together China’s Anti-Japanese War and Spanish Civil War in a global anti-fascist front. Chapter 6 probes the afterlives of these networks through the stories of two younger anarchists, Darren Kuang Chen and Liu Chuang. In the end, these networks faded with the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), but the connections they left have continued to serve as unconscious templates for later generations of Sinopshere anarchists.

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Boundless revolution: global Maoism and communist movements in southeast Asia, 1949-1979 (2017)

This dissertation argues that Chairman Mao Zedong’s written texts, his thought (毛澤東思想, Máo Zédōng Sīxiǎng), and the institutions that he envisioned and established in China formed an ideological system, which evolved through several stages until manifesting outside China. In relevant scholarship thus far, due attention has not been paid to the complex interplay between Maoism and the intellectual foundations of Communist movements in Cambodia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The dissertation applies a theoretical framework that expands upon Edward Said’s concept of “Traveling Theory,” which outlines three principal conditions of production, transmission, and reception by introducing three subsidiary problems of reception, adaptation, and implementation to uncover how Maoism came to be and, subsequently, globalized. Philip Kuhn’s theory of the ideal socio-contextual “fit” of exogenous ideas allows us to uncover how one receives, interprets, and adapts exogenous ideas. Kenneth Jowitt’s understanding of Leninism allows us to understand the essentials of implementation, whereby an adapted theory is put into practice by a regime tinged by the outside ideology. By focusing on Said’s triad, we may approach the problems of reception of radical thought in Southeast Asia, its adaptation into different thought streams, and its implementation under Maoist or Marxist-Leninist courses.Radical intellectuals from these countries who became Communists were networked individuals within a situated thinking responding to crises by taking a radical turn. Their reception of radical thought led to the original idea’s transformation into a variant that was congruent with contemporary norms. As a genealogy of the social experiences and a close textual exegesis of political writings and pronouncements by the Cambodian Paris Group (Hou Yuon, Khieu Samphan, Hu Nim, and Saloth Sar), José Maria Sison, and Dipa Nusantara Aidit ultimately reveals, their reception of radical thought from outside their milieus was dialectical in nature. They spoke back, investing Maoism with new signification, without abandoning the universality of the original theory (its Russian or its Chinese accretions), which stood as an alternative global model for waging national revolution and socialist transformation. In this way, this empirical study contributes to a better understanding of radical thought.

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A durian for Sun Yatsen : interwar communism in British Malaya (1926-1942) (2012)

The Malayan Communist Party (MCP) is known because of its insurgency against theBritish government in the 1950s, the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960). This dissertation is aboutearly history of the MCP, in the 1920s and the 1930s. It examines the unintended consequencesand contingencies of the revolutionary connections between China, Southeast Asia, and the thirdCommunist International (Comintern) in the shaping of the MCP. This dissertation is based onlittle-studied MCP sources deposited in the Comintern archive in Moscow. It examines the MCPas a hybrid of communist party and a Chinese association and in the context of interwarideological globalization that had distinct indigenization and internationalisation trends. By 1930,the unintended consequence of this indigenisation and internationalisation, as shaped byComintern participation, was the emergence of the discourse of the Malayan nation that theCommunists sought to lead to liberation. The ambiguity of the meaning of the Chinese wordminzu, at once nation, nationality, and ethnic group, provided the discursive foundation of thisMCP nation as the Comintern promoted the establishment of “national” communist parties. This“nation,” i.e. the MCP support base, was taken away from the MCP by its radical language by1940. The rise of the MCP was conditioned on the anti-Japanese propaganda of the ChineseNationalist Party (the Guomindang, GMD) in Southeast Asia and Japanese war atrocities againstChinese population of Malaya.This dissertation offers fresh light on the internationalist aspects of the Chineserevolution, the role of the Comintern in the Southeast Asian nationalism, the early Chinesecommunist party’s relation with Chinese overseas, and the political participation of overseasChinese (huaqiao) in their host countries. The story of the MCP is a showcase that the history of China is inseparable from the history of the Chinese communities overseas -- and that of theworld.

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The Legacy of the Maoist Gender Project in Contemporary China (2010)

This study examines various ways in which the Maoist gender project manifests itself in Chinese women’s lives today, as conveyed by a range of women currently living in Beijing. Oral histories were collected from fifteen women, four of whom were selected for in-depth analysis using a method informed by narrative studies and feminist approaches to women’s auto/bio/graphy. Judith Butler’s ideas on gender as performative serve as a framework to examine these individual negotiations with changing models of femininity, and the first chapter presents a critical account of the limits and applicability of her theory in this specific transnational context. The four following chapters provide detailed, contextualized analysis of these particular performances of gender in relation to the Maoist model woman (funű, or socialist labourer), whose presence remains in the shadow of the currently preferred nűxing (feminine, consumer-oriented woman), while the even older pre-revolutionary devoted wife and mother remains in the background. Their gender performances bring out the intersections of physical embodiment and the construction of subjectivity through discourse. Analysis of the content of each story is complemented by a discussion of the structure and language of their narratives, including an innovative interviewing method of “telling and retelling”. Hybrid language—various mixtures of official dialect, regional dialects, and imported terms—is a feature that becomes prominent, conveying changing performances of being a woman, as do the visual representations (photographs, artwork) that some of them shared. The analysis reveals how women individually appropriate, resist or synthesize the ideologically motivated models proposed by government and media, from China and from the West. The concept of gender performance as a “project” is introduced to convey both conscious manipulation at the collective level, and personal agency for individuals. This research shows that the Maoist legacy still manifests itself in various ways in the lives of women with different social locations and sexual orientations, and is one of the resources for women to formulate strategies for gender subversion. The persistent existence of this legacy sheds light on how to formulate subversive strategies to challenge the narrowly defined, class-encoded, normative gender model of the post-Mao nüxing, and create a more diverse and democratic gender landscape in China.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2020)
Seing like a village: local leadership, survival, and the great leap famine in China (2020)

This thesis examines grassroots leadership during China’s Great Leap Forward, which Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) launched in 1958 to industrialize and transform the People’s Republic of China (PRC) into a communist state. Owing to the CCP’s competitive political culture, the campaign incentivized the exaggeration of harvests and the violent punishment of anyone who dared criticize the state’s new policies. Food shortages led to famine, and by 1962 over 30 million people had died from unnatural causes. Ignoring its own role in perpetuating an ideology that valued orthodox thinking over the truth, the state blamed the famine largely on the excesses of unscrupulous or fundamentalist cadres. Because research on atrocities is often concerned with the identities of perpetrators, many scholars have also rightly emphasized the role played by these grassroots leaders. Nevertheless, investigations carried out by the state indicate that many leaders also prioritized the well-being of their communities over the interests of the state. I argue that the grassroots leaders who put their constituents first were acting in accordance with an intangible body of localized expectations, practices, and beliefs called the local logic of survival. This logic was always embedded in the rhythms of daily life, accommodating of new situations or crises, and tied to the physical and historical space in which it operated. Because it existed within rural people’s assumptions and values and was never necessary to document in full, this thesis positions the experiences of a rural intellectual named Geng Xiufeng from Hebei as a case study. When the Great Leap Forward upended life in the countryside, leaders who shared Geng’s worldview and experiences worked hard to ensure their communities’ survival. They tolerated people eating raw crops from the field, distributed larger rations than were permitted, used what had worked in the past to shape village policy, and valued the knowledge and expertise of seasoned farmers. Their actions illuminate longstanding continuities in the history of China’s countryside and contribute to a more nuanced understanding of a contentious moment in the country’s past.

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