Timothy Cheek


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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - Nov 2020)
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 - 2018)
From local to national: the creation of a new Hong Kong identity (2016)

Hong Kong is undergoing major political change. Its citizens have expressed concern over Beijing’s implementation of “One Country, Two Systems” and the Basic Law in protecting the city-state’s autonomy. The socio-political discontent arising from the re-sinicization of Hong Kong since 1997 has furthered the development of localism, a process whereby Hong Kongers are beginning to prioritize a local Hong Konger identity over a national Chinese identity. Situating this analysis within the nationalism literature, this thesis analyzes three types of localism: (1) preservationists who seek to protect local Hong Kong spaces through the discourse of cultural and socio-economic struggle (2) an ethnic localism which uses nativism to create a Hong Kong nation based on Southern Chinese traditions and an ethno-cultural superiority over China and (3) a civic localism that emphasizes an acquired identity based on liberal democratic values, universal suffrage as well as the right to self-determination. To illustrate this, an analysis of the 2014 Umbrella Movement will identify the diverging ideology of localism from other pan-democratic groups through an examination of the movement’s successes and failures and the impact of localist political forces on the electoral system. This is further analyzed through a case study of the 2016 New Territories East by-election. This thesis attempts to provide three main contributions to the study of Hong Kong: (1) to understand how the “local” is being articulated by various localist groups, (2) to analyze the process by which a Hong Konger nationality is becoming integrated into the political orientations of the people and (3) to link how the geopolitical relationship between Hong Kong and China is connected to an evolving Hong Kong identity. The transformation of localism from a social movement into political participation suggests not only a widening identity gap of Hong Kong from China, but the rising rationalism of Hong Kongers in defending their home.

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Weibo and Local Governments in China: Contributions towards Good Governance? (2016)

Though some studies have focused on how media is an essential component of good governance, there is very little existing literature on the most recent media platform – social media – and the realization of good governance in China. This thesis tries to fill in the gap and to demonstrate the ways local governments in China have used Weibo – the most popular Chinese social media platform – to improve their governing and to fulfill the criteria of “good governance” proposed by different parties internationally. This thesis uses the case study of a local government Weibo account – the Ma’anshan Release and analyzes the contents of its posts, reposts and private messages. It concludes that through the Ma’anshan Release, the Ma’anshan local government shows a notable level of responsiveness, responsibility, effectiveness and efficiency, and transparency, as well as efforts for preventing the abuse of power and corruption. All these criteria are in parallel with the variables proposed in current studies of good governance. It also proposes that the Ma’anshan Release is not an isolated case; its practices can be found in different jurisdictions in China. Thus, Weibo as a social media tool can help local governments in China contribute to the realization of good governance.

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Islamic religiosity, revolution, and state violence in southwest China: the 1975 Shadian massacre (2013)

The 1975 Shadian conflict was the largest religious rebellion of the Cultural Revolution, however, its political and social impacts have been neglected by both mainstream western scholars and the Chinese state-sponsored historical account. The event also has remained a controversial issue in China, in Yunnan, and of course in Shadian itself. The unresolved questions of the Shadian massacre and the inability of the Chinese government and local community to come to resolution are the focus of this thesis. By stressing the agency of the Shadian villagers and focusing on the interactions between the Shadian villagers and local authorities, it seeks to explain why the conflict between the Shadian Muslims and the government has persisted, even after the CCP redressed the massacre in 1979 and has changed its religious policies in order to cultivate Islamic revival in today’s Yunnan. Although the communist party-state has aimed to strengthen the socio-political stability of China by undertaking state-sponsored projects, such as rebuilding mosques, opening Islamic schools and so forth, to encourage public practice of Islam in Shadian; it maintains the Cultural Revolution-period mentality (radical secularism and atheism) and continues to deny Islamic religion as the very fundamental virtue that shapes the way the Shadian Muslims understand their religious—Muslim (rather than ethnic—the Hui) identities and the way in which they interact with the communist state. The conflicts and struggles between the Shadian Muslims and the CCP government in the Mao and the post-Mao period reflect the constant power dynamics between the local authorities’ denial of the religious centrality of Islam and the determination of Shadian villagers to define their ethnic identities based on Islam. While the CCP denies the religious motivation of the Shadian Muslim’s resistance by constantly regarding the villagers as reactionaries who always intended to make a disturbance, the Shadian villagers continues to emphasize their Muslim identities by regarding their resistance against the local authorities as religiously glorious and just, meaningful in just the sense that Geertz suggested. As a result, down to today, the mutual understanding between the CCP authorities and the Muslim communities therefore has not been established.

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