Divided City, Divided State: Conscription in Chongqing, 1938-1945

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Association for Asian Studies

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Our understanding of the Nationalist (KMT) government during WW2 has been deeply shaped by descriptions of rural press-ganging and colorful contemporary accounts of Chongqing, the wartime capital. In contrast, this paper uses conscription cases from the city archives to explore dimensions of the urban experience of the war and Chiang’s regime; the mosaic that emerges distills the contours of the draft normally obscured by the frequent changes in procedure and institutions. Socially and politically transformed by the war, the city’s honeycombed socio-administrative structure hampered conscription. “Downriver” people and institutions, refugees from coastal China, dominated the city. Sichuan locals retained prominence only in the police and Citizen Militia, and perhaps neighborhood administration (baojia) too, the bodies most concerned with the draft. These local men were hamstrung in dealing with the dense and fractured institutional landscape; in order to protect their human resources, outsider agencies and war-related enterprises stymied attempts to extract manpower from them. Such recalcitrance was justified by the imperatives of national survival. Modern “total” war collapsed the distinctions between front and rear and imparted to workers a feeling that they contributed vitally to the war effort and were fully the equal of front-line soldiers. Such feelings and the protection that their bosses extended to them were behind the sometimes violent clashes between workers and draft officials that rocked Chongqing streets. Conflict around urban conscription, thus, shows the fractures and divisions within the war effort, the city, and the Nationalist state itself.


Asian Studies


Copyright Kevin Landdeck

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