Sino-American Relations at the Grassroots:
Reexamining Sino-American Engagement during the 1940s
The largest sustained engagement between Americans and Chinese that ever occurred in China took place during the 1940s. During this period, individual American and Chinese soldiers, scientists, nurses, and truck drivers, among many others, came together to collaborate in the fight against Japan. These interactions had a resonating impact: shaping popular perceptions of China and the United States, impacting the development of new and powerful institutions, and creating new markets and demands that would transform both countries and indeed much of East Asia. Yet, we know surprisingly little about these important grassroots interactions between Americans and Chinese. This conference, Sino-American Relations at the Grassroots, is an attempt to shine a direct light on the interactions between Americans and Chinese at all levels of the socio-economic spectrum in the 1940s.
For three days, at a conference hosted at Duke Kunshan University, around twenty scholars from around the world will come together to explore these 1940s foundations through the lens of the complex, multi-faceted interaction between American and Chinese. This conference intends to develop a new, grassroots perspective on Sino-American relations that offers new insights into the wobbly foundation of this relationship, the development of modern China, and the formation of the Cold War world. Focusing on grassroots perspectives rather than elite politics enables us to explore a wide range of Sino-American encounters during this period, from interaction between ordinary American servicemen and Chinese civilians to the trans-Pacific material exchange of American industrial goods for Chinese raw materials. Other themes include transnational disease control, intelligence and scientific collaboration, educational exchange, and the subjective experience of war. In addition to discussing current research, we plan to outline a framework for further study on the 1940s.
The central premise of this conference is that if we want to understand modern China, contemporary East Asia, and 21st-century US-China relations, we must take a closer look at the foundations of this relationship and reveal the powerful grassroots interactions, legacies, and ideas that continue to shape it. By providing a forum for new research on US-China relations during the 1940s, this conference will offer new perspectives on issue that continue to confound journalists, politicians, and China hands. These issues include the legacies that lie beneath Chinese suspicions about US intentions in Asia; the resilience of regional US-centered trade, military, and foreign aid networks; the continued influence of American organizational models on higher education, resource extraction, public health, and infrastructure networks in China; and the complicated connections between American efforts to influence China’s modernization and China’s own longstanding efforts to achieve national rejuvenation.