Following a series of military setbacks since the nineteenth century, Chinese elites turned to the West in hope of finding solutions to catch up with Western civilization, restore their military and technological power, develop their economy and strengthen the Chinese nation. While Europe and Japan had been the main models until WWI, the center of gravity shifted after the war. From the 1920s to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, the United States became the dominant source of inspiration.
The Boxer Indemnity program, the growing interest in China from a variety of American actors (businessmen, academics, engineers, government officials) and the US policy of interventionism in the interwar years, were major driving forces in this shift. How far we can interpret these movements as efforts to “Americanize” China from both sides is the main line of inquiry for this project. Substantially, it aims to illuminate how Chinese elites appropriated American knowledge and know-hows in China, and how American ideas and practices circulated within Chinese society more broadly.
Drawing on recent trends in transcultural and transnational studies that focus on non-state players and point to complex processes of transfer and appropriation instead of merely passive imports, this project will explore the informal networks of actors (individuals, institutions) who brought American ideas and practices across state borders and between the interstices of official institutions.
We will focus more specifically on two major channels of Americanization — education abroad and American-style social clubs in China —through two concrete case studies : the Rotary Club and American-returned students.