10     Challenges to Tradition in the Early Republic


Primary Resources 


Document 10.1


Excerpts from Tell the People: Talks with James Yen about the Mass Education Movement, by Pearl S. Buck, 1945

Document 10.2

Photograph of Five Character Plaque in Lijiang, April 2006


Document 10.3


Excerpts describing the founding of schools from Tell the People: Talks with James Yen About the Mass Education Movement by Pearl S. Buck, 1945


Document 10.4


Excerpts describing the Fellow Scholar Association from Tell the People: Talks with James Yen About the Mass Education Movement by Pearl S. Buck, 1945

Document 10.5

Photograph “Shanghai Street,” 1937

Document 10.6,a-e

Photographs taken on an Ohio man’s summer tour of China, 1913

Document 10.7

Excerpts from Family by Ba Jin, 1931


Document 10.8


Excerpts describing view of family from A Daughter of Han: The Autobiography of a Chinese Working Woman by Ida Pruitt, 1945

Document 10.9

Excerpts from a memoir by Li Xiuwen (1890–1992), describing growing up female


Document 10.10


Excerpts from the Peking United International Famine Relief Committee’s Report on the North China Famine, 1922


Document 10.11


Excerpts from a memoir by Li Xiuwen (1890–1992), describing life in the village where she grew up, early 20th century

Document 10.12

Excerpts from “Agrarian Problems in China,” in Peasant Life in China by Fei Xiaotong, 1946

Document 10.13

Excerpts from the novel Rickshaw by Lao She, 1936


Document 10.14


Excerpts describing her working life, from A Daughter of Han: The Autobiography of a Chinese Working Woman by Ida Pruitt, 1945

Document 10.15 Clips from Northeast Historic Film (Archives), 1934. Courtesy of Northeast Historic Film, Joan Branch Collection

Clip 1:  “Images from the Countryside”


Clip 2:  “Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing"



Supplementary Resources 


Item 10.A

Photograph analysis worksheet 

Item 10.B

Questions pertaining to Document 10.7

Item 10.C

Questions pertaining to Documents 10.8 and 10.9

Item 10.D

Questions pertaining to Documents 10.10–10.12

Item 10.E

Questions pertaining to Documents 10.13 and 10.14



Activity Websites


Activity 2

Photos of life in Shanghai


Activity 6

Women's lives


Lives of Urban Working Poor


Hauling soap up Chapoo Road, Shanghai, 1900

Road work, 1915



Suggested Resources




Buck, Pearl S. The Good Earth. New York: Washington Square Press, 1931.

A novel about a farmer and his family confronted by new practices that threaten to wash away old traditions. It includes themes of women’s rights, family, class conflict, spiritual and moral trials, and hardships of the modern world. Buck won the Pulitzer Prize for this work, and in 1938, won the Nobel Prize for Literature.


Buck, Pearl S. East Wind, West Wind. Wakefield, RI: Moyer Bell, 1930.

The story of a Chinese sister and brother who give up old traditions such as foot binding and arranged marriages.


Chang, Jung. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.

A tale of three generations of women in China that spans the twentieth century.


Gilmartin, Christina. Engendering the Chinese Revolution: Radical Women, Communist Politics, and Mass Movements in the 1920s. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.


Hsing, Chun. Baptized in the Fire of Revolution: The American Social Gospel and the YMCA in China, 1919–1937. Bethlehem, Pa.: Lehigh University Press, 1996.


Li, Leslie. Bittersweet. Boston: C.E. Tuttle, 1992.

This novel recounts the life of the author’s grandmother and provides insights into Chinese traditions and values.


See, Lisa. Shanghai Girls: A Novel. New York: Random House, 2009.

Two sisters living in Shanghai in the 1930s are sent by their parents to California to be married to Gold Mountain men. Detained at Angel Island for months, they face the harsh reality of their new life outside of Shanghai.


Shen Congwen. “Xiaoxiao.” Trans. Eugene Chen Eoyang. The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature. Ed. Joseph S.M. Lau and Howard Goldblatt. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995. 97–110.

The short story which the film Girl from Hunan is based upon.


Spence, Jonathan D. and Annping Chin. The Chinese Century: A Photographic History of the Last Hundred Years. New York: Random House, 1996.


Tsukiyama, Gail. Women of the Silk. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991.

Set in rural China in the 1920s and 1930s, this is a story of girls whose families “give them to silk work” in factories.


Wang Ping. Aching for Beauty: Footbinding in China. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.


Zarrow, Peter Gue. China in War and Revolution, 1895-1949. New York: Routledge, 2005.

Zarrow addresses social conditions in rural and urban environments as well as social reform movements of the early twentieth century.



Heavenly Feet Society (Anti-Footbinding League), British Museum

A badge from the Heavenly Feet Society, a group in opposition to the Chinese custom of foot binding.


Reaching for Gold: The YMCA and the Olympic Movement in China from 1895–1920, University of Minnesota Libraries

An online exhibition about the history of the YMCA in China.


Sidney D. Gamble Photographs, Duke University

Approximately 5,000 photographs, primarily of China, taken between 1917 and 1932. Search by Place to view photographs from different Chinese cities.


Virtual Shanghai

A website about the history of Shanghai from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. It includes documents, maps, images, and essays.




Girl from Hunan (110 mins; 1986)

An adaptation of the short story “Xiaoxiao” by Shen Congwen. A teenage girl is sent to marry a toddler in a remote Chinese village. As she matures, she enters into an illicit love affair and has to face the consequences.


Rickshaw Boy (120 mins; 1982)

An adaptation of Lao She’s novel Rickshaw. The film captures the grim realities of life for the urban working poor in 1920s China.



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