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Ricardo Rudas Meo

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Phd project: "(Mis)communication across the Early People’s Republic of China. Language Barriers in Early Chinese Communist State- and Nation-Building at China’s Peripheries"

My project centres around how the young Chinese Communist Party-state attempted to communicate with the linguistically diverse population of its envisioned nation-state during the 1950s. Establishing national statehood in Communist-led China depended on spreading new information—technological, legal, ideological—to a large, scattered, multi-ethnic, and mostly illiterate population. I aim to examine the challenges language barriers posed in this state- and nation-building context.

To this end, I investigate the obstacle language barriers posed to the establishment of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule across the early People’s Republic of China (PRC). I will explore how the CCP overcame language barriers when spreading propaganda, implementing policies, collecting taxes etc. and how experiences of (mis)communication between the centre and the peripheries unfolded. This project adresses first encounters between a state bureaucracy and local communities; issues around language barriers in an empire-to-nation-state transformation; and language-based challenges in the construction of a national technological and postal communication system. The CCP’s efforts to penetrate remote localities were reflected in many cadres’ struggles to communicate with locals, manifesting the troubles of implementing national statehood across the former Qing-imperial geo-body. Investigating how communication worked on the spot, we need to ask which language state representatives spoke, and whether new regulations were communicated via reliable (or unreliable) locals speaking the local language. This is, thus, a study about interpreters, intermediaries, and ‘culture brokers’, as well as about language courses and cadre training. My hypothesis is that the CCP’s strategies for dealing with language barriers when establishing communication with the peoples across the PRC and integration them into the national administration were fundamental to China’s empire-to-nation-state transition.

My analysis will use the following sources: newspapers, Party leaders’ public statements, internal Party literature, and directives relevant to the administration of remote localities as well as “local gazetteers” (difangzhi), “cultural and historical materials” (wenshi ziliao), and memoirs and biographies of cadres stationed in peripheral localities—and hopefully archival research and oral history interviews.