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Title:Excavating the Nation: Archaeology and Control of the Past and Present in Republican Sichuan
Author(s):Kyong-Mcclain, Jeffrey
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Fu, Poshek
Department / Program:History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Anthropology, Archaeology
History, Asia, Australia and Oceania
History, Modern
Abstract:This dissertation considers whether or not archaeology was an effective tool for nation-building elites in Republican China (1912-1949), by looking at the discipline's fortunes in the off-center locale of Sichuan province. Through consideration of the multiplicity of agents and motives involved in archaeological enterprise in Republican Sichuan, Excavating the Nation shows that while nationalists believed the discipline held much propagandistic promise, in actual practice it failed to produce a coherent national narrative in the region.
The modern discipline of archaeology developed in China, as it had elsewhere in the world, in tandem with modern nationalism. Many intellectuals in Republican China hoped that archaeology would prove a useful tool in their efforts to construct a new national history, one that did away with myths and Imperial genealogies and in their stead produced a history of the triumphs of the Chinese nation as it spread from the Yellow River outward for five thousand years. Such a narrative, however, never could completely gain traction in Sichuan, which throughout the Republic remained only very weakly connected to China's political and academic heartland. Instead, archaeology in Sichuan grew in several disparate directions. First, Protestant missionaries pioneered the discipline in Sichuan in the 1920s and 1930s, and while they made some inroads against antiquarian tradition, they were not themselves united over how best to interpret Sichuan's archaeological past, David Graham arguing for interpretations favorable to Chinese nationalism, but others defending understandings that placed their ethnically non-Chinese Christian converts more at the center of history. When Chinese archaeologists arrived in Sichuan en masse, during the War of Resistance against Japan (1937-1945), it seemed that archaeology in Sichuan might yet be useful in telling national history. However, the archaeologists affiliated with the central government met one problem after another as Buddhist monks refused to be awed by "national treasures," the people resisted tomb excavation as a sacrilege, and local antiquarian Huang Xicheng defended the honor of Sichuan's native culture over that of the Central Plains Finally, Chinese nationalism had its greatest success on the archaeological front in Sichuan in reinterpreting archaeological sites in ways favorable to finding ethnic Han presence in Sichuan's antiquity, particularly in transforming "Barbarian Caves" into "Han tombs," yet even here there was resistance. Ultimately, archaeological knowledge production in Republican Sichuan proved to be too unwieldy for Chinese nationalists, as it could not overcome diverse local opinion on Sichuan's past.
Issue Date:2009
Description:240 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2009.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI3392106
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-17
Date Deposited:2009

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