Fabio Lanza

Behind the Gate

Inventing Students in Beijing

Columbia University Press 2010

New Books in East Asian StudiesNew Books in EducationNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network May 30, 2013 Carla Nappi

The history of modern China is bound up with that of student politics. In Behind the Gate: Inventing Students in Beijing (Columbia University Press,...

The history of modern China is bound up with that of student politics. In Behind the Gate: Inventing Students in Beijing (Columbia University Press, 2010), Fabio Lanza offers a masterfully researched, elegantly written, and thoughtful consideration of the emergence of “students” as a category in twentieth-century China. Urging us to move away from a kind of historical view that takes the trans-historical existence of categories (like “students”), places (like cities or universities), and communities for granted, Lanza argues that it was only after and as a result of the May Fourth Movement and the events of 1919 that “students” emerged as a coherent notion connected with the specific spaces of the city of Beijing, Beijing University, and Tiananmen Square. The parts of the book successively introduce different sorts of space that were both produced by and helped generate the history that unfolds here, including everyday lived spaces, intellectual spaces, and political and social spaces. Lanza argues that new forms of everyday, lived practice in these spaces allowed student activism to emerge in the gaps where politics was separated from the state, and that the category of “students” as a signifier of a politics outside the state ended only with the government intervention ending the Red Guards in the late 1960s. In the course of this wonderfully readable history, we are offered glimpses into the classrooms and dorms of Beijing University, the bodily practices of early Beida students, and the streets of early twentieth-century Beijing. Enjoy!

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