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Chinese, Christian, Global: Discussing Chinese Popular Histories with Dr. Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye

The Republican Period (1911-1949) was an extremely important period for modern China. During this time, China was often politically divided, while there was no strong central government. Meanwhile, however, people in China enjoyed relative cultural, social, and religious freedom. Some people became Communists, while others converted into Christianity. Although China was generally seen as a weak and poor country by people in the West in the first half of twentieth century, some ordinary Chinese  people grew increasingly aware of China’s position in the world. Among them, Chinese Christians played important roles as they could act as bridges between people in China and the outside world. Chinese Christians became more aware of the global situation, since they often enjoyed international networks.

Scholars often study Chinese church leaders, and their institutional structure, but we know little about Chinese Christians’ life experience at an everyday level. That’s where the research of our latest featured scholar on the Global History Forum comes in. Based at the University of Auckland, Dr. Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye seeks to enhance our understanding of social and cultural histories of China by studying Chinese ordinary people and in particular Chinese Christians in the first half of the twentieth century. Her research suggests that many Chinese Christians were increasingly aware of the global affairs and China’s position in the world during this early twentieth century conjuncture. How, then, did Chinese converts view the place of the Chinese nation in the world? How did they perceive events like the Great War? Like the partial disintegration of European empires following that conflict? And how were the egalitarian ideals of Christianity reconcilable with a world that still spoke the language of “yellow perils” and which often limited the circulation of Chinese into the “white man’s world” of European, North American, and Oceanian spaces?

Dr. Melissa Inouye, our guest to this latest installment of the Global History Forum

Dr. Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye, our guest to this latest installment of the Global History Forum

These are some of the questions that Toynbee Prize Foundation Editor-at-Large Tiger Li discusses with Inouye in the interview that follows. In it, he discusses Inouye’s initial road from her upbringing in Costa Mesa, California to her undergraduate education at Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well as her graduate studies at Harvard University, where she completed her dissertation in 2011, writing about the history of the True Jesus Church and the history of charismatic Christian modes in China in the twentieth century. You might not be familiar with the True Jesus Church, but as one of the largest Christian denominations in the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan today (1.5 million members), it merits attention both as a matter of current affairs and intellectual history. Inspired by Pentecostalism, the True Jesus Church is also of interest for scholars of Christianity insofar as it forms the largest branch of Oneness Pentecostalism in the world. (In contrast to mainstream Christian doctrine, which stresses the trinitarian nature of Jesus Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit, churches like the True Jesus Church stress the indivisible nature of God and the idea that Jesus Christ is the sole manifestation of God’s personhood.) Lest we move too far away from history to theology, however, let us jump into the conversation between Inouye and Li to learn how this movement fits into an emerging wave of scholarship on China in the world and transnational religious movements.

Graduate Student Global History Conference – Tufts University, March 5, 2016

Are you a graduate student based in or around New England and interested in getting feedback on your global history project – a dissertation chapter, an article-in-draft, or a new project? The Tufts History Department has announced a Graduate Student Global History Conference to take place on March 5, 2016 at Tufts University, in Medford, MA.…

Global Humanitarian Research Academy (Exeter – Geneva, July 10-22, 2016)

Over at the Imperial and Global Forum, run by the University of Exeter, our colleagues have announced for the second time a most interesting summer program for historians working on international history and the history of humanitarianism, namely a Global Humanitarian Research Academy to take place between Exeter (UK) and Geneva from July 10-22, 2016. Run jointly…

International Research Award in Global History 2016

Active readers of the Toynbee Prize Foundation’s blog may recall one very interesting call for applications from around this time last year, when the Universities of Heidelberg, Basel, and Sydney teamed up to sponsor an International Research Award in Global History for €10,000, to be used to sponsor a conference devoted to a global history…

Exploring the League of Nations’ Official Documentation – A Call for Ideas

Did you enjoy our recent interview with Susan Pedersen on her recent book The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire? If so, or if you are interested in digital history projects and international collaborations, here’s the opportunity for you. The Institutional Memory Section at the United Nations Office in Geneva  has announced a…

“What’s New in Global History Approaches?” – A Discussion with Indra Sengupta and Andreas Eckert

Over at the blog of TRAFO, the Blog for Transnational Research, there’s a new fascinating hour-long conversation between Professor Andreas Eckert of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and Indra Sengupta, an Academic Coordinator of the Transnational Research Group of the German Historical Institute in London. The video discussion (in the German language) touches on a number of fascinating…

CFP: Communicating International Organizations in the 20th Century (European University Institute)

Here’s an upcoming conference that should appeal to readers of the Toynbee Prize Foundation’s Global History blog. From March 10-12, 2016, the European University Institute (EUI) near Florence, Italy will be hosting a conference devoted to the media history of international organizations, broadly conceived. A description of the conference (fuller version here), which is organized by…

From Swadeshi to GDP: Discussing India’s Paths to Development With Corinna Unger

India, or so the geopolitical soothsayers tell us these days, is on the rise. Soon to be the world’s most populous country, since liberalization in the early 1990s, the South Asian giant has seen rates of economic growth that approach China’s. And while regional frozen conflicts like Kashmir, internal guerilla movements, and the decades-long rivalry with nuclear Pakistan do not leave New Delhi with a no-problems neighborhood, India has mostly managed to avoid troubling its neighbors too much. With an aggressively re-assured nationalist Prime Minister in Narendra Modi and with aspirations of, someday, becoming a upper-income country, seeming less far fetched than in a long time, India appears to have escaped the centuries-long reputation of being a place of hunger and famine.

For those days are not far removed. As scholars have shown, not only was the late British period marked by deadly combinations of market forces and climatic event that devastated Indian farmers; as late as 1943, the Bengal Famine wiped out three million people in eastern India. After independence from the British in 1947, independent India’s leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru made it a point to turn the agrarian nation into an industrial country, turning to outside powers like the United States, the Soviet Union, West Germany, and others, to build turnkey steel plants. At the same time, as we have seen in early Toynbee Prize Foundation interviews, agriculture and the transformation of Indian communities formed a crucial arena of developmental politicking, too. India had global significance, too, for not only was it seen as a crucial “swing player” in a Cold War world seen as threatened by a massive Communist Bloc; more than that, the sheer size and scale of the place made it a gigantic laboratory for various models of economic development often first pioneered in the Global North.

Corinna Unger’s “Entwicklungspfade in Indien. Eine internationale Geschichte, 1947-1980”, the focus of this installment of the Global History Forum.  Pictured on the cover of the book is a road-building project in the Punjab in 1958.

Still, as Cold War diplomatic archives have opened their doors only recently–and as historians have also only relatively recently recognized the quest for socioeconomic development as a legitimate object of study–our knowledge of how undeveloped nations became “developed,” or “developed” themselves remains clouded. Until, that is, a book like Corinna Unger’s Entwicklungspfade in Indien. Eine internationale Geschichte (Developmental Paths in India: An International History) appears. In her book, published this year with the Wallstein Verlag, Unger, a Professor of History at the Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, explores India’s engagement of foreign expertise (especially that of the United States and West Germany) from 1947 to 1980.

More than diving further chronologically into the history of development than many works, Unger’s work sets itself apart from much of the historiography by showing how many macro-narratives of development, like the Green Revolution or the perception of urban slums as spaces of rural-to-urban economic transition, emerged during the years after the romance of steel plants and hydroelectric dams lost its luster. Based on exhaustive research across multiple continents, Unger’s work sheds a light into the international history of development–and into the biography of an Indian state and economy that now looks, less nervously in the past but still not without anxiety, towards “growth,” “modernization,” and “development” as key markers of the nation’s progress. We had the chance recently to sit down with Professor Unger to discuss some of the themes in her recent work–and how she came to it in the first place.…

Weatherhead Initiative on Global History Fellowship (Harvard University)

If you’ve been following our blog at the Toynbee Prize Foundation, you will have noticed that several of our longer Global History Forum pieces, like the interviews with Steven Serels and Julio Robert Decker, or our review of Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton, have touched on scholars involved with the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History at…

Assistant Professor, International Relations and Global Security (University of Toronto–St. George)

Here’s an attractive recent job posting in the Department of History at the University of Toronto’s St. George campus (in downtown Toronto)–in international relations, but broadly conceived in a way that should be of interest to international and global historians: The Department of History at the University of Toronto invites applications for a tenure-stream appointment in…