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Patricia Uberoi



(i)         Whenever I look at our educated youth, I see that they have not the strength to catch a chicken, nor mentally the courage of an ordinary man. With pale faces and slender waists, seductive as young ladies, timorous of cold and chary of heat, weak as invalids -if the people of our country are as feeble as this in body and mind how will they be able to shoulder burdens and go far? [From an essay by Chen Duxiu in New Youth (1915)]1

(ii)        Who does not know how poor is the health of our citizens? Our youth appear as apparitions with sunken cheeks, hollow eyes and dried up scaly skin. Yes, the very same youth on whose shoulders is placed the burden of protecting the nation, religion and society.... Are these youth, with their skeletons of dried, brittle bones, up to the task? (From a popular book on Indian wrestling)2


The two colophons to this paper belong to two different territorial spaces, to two different moments in historical time. They share the idea that the degeneracy of the nation is witnessed in, and inscribed upon, the unfit bodies of “youth” – of young men to be precise. And they share the hope that youth, by individually re-forming their unhealthy bodies, would be able to bring about national regeneration.

This mode of connecting fit individual bodies with the health and strength of the nation - what a recent writer has felicitously termed “somatic nationalism”3 - is a conspicuous feature of discourses of the body in modern times. As has often been observed, such discourses are also typically, if not invariably, endorsed by the authority of modem science.4

Somatic nationalist discourses and practices originated in the west, and were distinctly inflected, at the point of their origin, by the western (and Christian) cultural milieu. That, after all, is a matter of history. But as one looks back now from the vantage of the turn of the century, one can appreciate how speedily and successfully somatic nationalism became an unquestioned feature of a shared global grammar of modernity manifested through many local varieties.

Nonetheless, the historical priority of the Western experience of modernity, and of the West’s own social scientific reflection on this experience, have made it the measure against which all other varieties appear as deviations from an established norm, as evidence, perhaps, of the lingering residue of indigenous “tradition”. Even from the “South” we lend to regard each other only through the prism of Western modernity. We rarely look at each other in order to rethink theories of modernity. And we rarely look at each other in order to better reflect upon ourselves.

This essay analyses a particular text of modern Chinese somatic nationalism and its wider context of production in the light of familiarity with some comparable materials from South Asia. The aim is not a direct comparison of the two discourses, but a confirmation from two different culture areas of the possibility of alternative somatic modernisms. Albeit inexplicitly, the exercise questions some ‘received theories of the relations of body and society under modernity It also suggests that a global/ local rather than a west/non-west perspective on bodily practices could also enable the recovery of alternative somatic nationalist ideologies within the modernising history of the West as well.  

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In a rather chatty and unfinished essay on “body techniques”, now regarded as a foundational contribution to the two fields of the anthropology of the body and semiotics, the French sociologist Marcel Mauss had sought to show the extent to which society inscribes itself on human bodies, His examples were rather mundane and anecdotal: styles of swimming and running had been modified in his own lifetime; 8,000 spades had had to be changed every time a French division replaced an English one - and vice versa - in the trenches during the First World War because the French and English had different techniques of digging; and so on. While the human body belongs to the world of nature, it is also, Mauss insisted, a “technical objects” whose use is learned in everyday practice. That is why “the way in which... men know how to use their bodies” differs from society to society, and according to age, sex, status, means and fashion.5 To this proposition contemporary writers have added the reminder that the body is also man’s “first and most natural classifier and source of symbols”..., “an important means of metaphorical expression and symbolic communication”.6

For Mauss, apparently, body techniques, like the Saussurean “sign”, were more or less arbitrary, constrained only by human physiological limitations, and possibly also by an evolutionary trend towards greater efficiency of motion. However, more recent social science writing has sought to chronicle a ‘political anatomy” of the body in which bodily techniques and perceptions are linked more purposefully with history. In particular, Michel Foucault has argued that the rise of modernity has required the “disciplining” of “docile” bodies, even as it (paradoxically) democratised the polity: the former process was merely the “darkside” of the latter.7 Foucault was referring here not only to societies or historical periods which have been notoriously regimented politically or in their productive practices, or to domains of activity for which regimentation would appear self-evidently essential (like the army), but to a generalised condition of ‘domination” in post-Enlightenment society where ‘docility” is linked inextricably with ‘utility? This new mechanics of bodily discipline and surveillance contrasted significantly, qualitatively and quantitatively, with the earlier disciplinary methods of monasteries, armies and workshops, of regimes of slavery, servitude and vassalage. The important discontinuity in Foucault’s perception was with practices of monastic asceticism “whose function was to obtain renunciations rather than the increase of utility and which, although they involved obedience to others, had as their principal aim an increase in the mastery of each individual over his own body.”8 In other words, the disciplining of othersand regimens of self-discipline were posited as two qualitatively different forms of bodily discipline and, in Foucault’s scheme, assigned to different historical formations.

Foucault’s formulation has had a powerful impact on social science studies of the branches of knowledge (such as psychiatry, penology, public health and pedagogy) and typical institutions (hospitals, asylums, prisons, public schools, etc.) through which human bodies are (mostly non-coercively) disciplined in modem times. But it allows of only a single historical trajectory, itself arguably moderated by the mind/body dichotomy of post-Enlightenment Europe.9 It thereby forecloses the conceptual possibility that a different cosmology may enable the construction of alternate understandings of the relation of body and society in modern times.

My article attempts a new reading, interpretation and reflection upon Mao Zedong’s first published work, an essay on the theme of physical culture.10 It seeks, first, to shift the focus away from the spare facts of Mao’s psycho-biography, which have usually provided the terms of reference for analysis of this essay (see Section Ill), and to locate the text within the wider conceptual universe of revolutionary discourse of the May Fourth era.11 In this, following procedural and conceptual leads from semiotics and literary analysis, particular attention is paid to the metonymic linkages and metaphoric relations that are articulated in this text another writings of the period12 (Sections IV and V). Finally, in a somewhat more speculative manner, Mao’s advocacy of physical culture is considered in a wider, comparative framework as a type of somatic response to the challenge of western imperialism (Section VI). There has been a burgeoning literature in recent years on the phenomenon of “somatic nationalism”.13 However, in this paper I draw for comparative purposes mainly on materials from South Asia. This choice of a field of comparison has been partly occasioned by serendipitous acquaintance with writings by Joseph S. Alter on the north Indian wrestling tradition and on “yoga therapy”;14 and partly purposeful, in recognition of the interesting parallels, and also discontinuities, in the somatic responses of India and China to the modern world.15 I should concede at the outset, however, that my reading of Mao’s essay on physical culture in the light of the collective consciousness of the May Fourth period and of general somatic nationalist responses to imperialism rather discounts the original and creative rote of Mao as author: This is a problem inherent in the methodology adopted. But I hope, nonetheless, that this paper might also provoke fresh reflections on the theme of somatic nationalism.  

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Mao Zedong’s essay, “A Study of Physical Education” (Tiyu zhi yonjiu), appeared under the pseudonym Twenty-eight Stroke Student” (Ershibahua Sheng), referring to the number of brush strokes required to write the Chinese characters for his name, in the April 1917 issue of the revolutionary journal New Youth (Xin Qingnian).16 Until fairly recently, “A Study of Physical Education” was the only complete and authentic pre-1923 Mao text available to scholars in the west, though this deficiency has since been remedied.17 It is this, above all, that accounts for the special interest that has been shown in this text which is, in itself, a relatively undistinguished piece of writing. It was not prominently positioned in the particular issue of New Youth in which it appeared; it was written -for some reason - under a pseudonym, though Mao was already known as a student leader and political organiser in his native Hunan; and it was devoted to a theme which would surely have appeared rather stale and hackneyed against the heady backdrop of New Youth’s collective attack on Confucianism on the one hand, and the beginning of the famous “Literary Revolution” on the other.18 In fact, there is every reason to suspect that, had Mao not achieved the status he ultimately did, the text would have attracted little attention. As it is, however, it is seen to provide significant insights into the multifarious “influences” to which the young Mao had been exposed in the early May Fourth period, that is, prior to the effective introduction of Marxism into China; and into those aspects of Mao’s thinking, embedded in his personal biography, that were later to find reflection in the specifically “Maoist” recension of Marxism-Leninism.

Notwithstanding its subject matter, presented in a very down-to-earth manner with practical suggestions for beginners, “A Study of Physical Education” is not an easy text to read. Replete with allusions to Chinese history and the classics, it is written in a classical literary style much less transparent than that used by many of the better-known New youth writers, even before the vernacular movement had got properly under way. (New Youth “officially” switched to the vernacular language at the beginning of 1918.) Perhaps Mao, more than these others, needed to establish his credentials as a literary stylist, for this was his first published work and that, too, in a journal that had already achieved national standing. Besides, unlike most of the New Youth luminaries, Mao was not “to the manner born” in the literati-gentry class and was supposedly rather sensitive on the question of his relatively humble social origins.

“A Study of Physical Education” has been interrogated with two paramount questions in mind. In the first place, it has been considered important to identify the sources of Mao’s thought, and specifically to locate them in either the eastern or the western traditions. According to an influential paradigm in Sinological studies, Chinese intellectuals of this period were torn between their intellectual commitment to the necessity for change and their emotional commitment to Chinese values,19 a dilemma ultimately resolved only by the ‘anti-Western Westernisation” that Marxism-Leninism happily provided. in this light, the question that interests most of the interpreters of Mao’s essay is simply this: Where, at this point in time, just prior to the introduction of Marxism into China, did Mao personally stand on the continuum of opinion from radical iconoclasm through to conservative traditionalism?

The second question was provoked by the history of Mao’s emergence as the pre-eminent Chinese Communist leader through a series of intra-party ideological struggles: Was Mao truly a “materialist” in his outlook, as his hagiography and Cold War paranoia proclaimed? Or was his Marxism merely skin-deep, over-laid on an essentially “idealist” foundation? Both these questions were magnified from the time of the Sir-m-Soviet dispute and the Great Leap experiment. when Mao appeared lo be reaffirming the indigenous and unorthodox roots of his Marxist theory and practice, and then through the Cultural Revolution, his “second childhood” (or adolescence), recapturing the essential, idealist Mao of the May Fourth period.

New Youth (founded in September 1915) the journal in which Mao’s essay appeared, is widely identified with the high tide of “All-out Westernisation” in early twentieth century China. In the name of “science” and “democracy”, this journal had spearheaded an attack, first, on aspects of the Chinese national character; and then, more explicitly on Confucianism. The young Mao, according to his own account, was an enthusiastic reader of New Youth and an admirer of its two leading contributors, Hu Shi and Chen Duxiu. Under their influence, as he later explained, rather apologetically, to Edgar Snow, “my mind was a curious mixture of ideas of liberalism, democratic reformism and utopian socialism. I had somewhat vague passions ,about “nineteenth century democracy”, utopianism and old-fashioned liberalism, and I was definitely anti-militarist and anti-imperialist.“20

None of these self-confessed western influences is readily discernible in ‘A Study of Physical Education”. Jesus and Mohammed are mentioned in passing, along with Confucius and Buddha, while Germany and Japan are cited briefly as examples of nations which had successfully introduced programmes of physical education. For the rest, Mao’s sources and references were all Chinese, and scarcely “revolutionary” at that. Again there was little evidence in this essay of the strident anti-Confucianism that marked many of the other writings of this period. Mao was, it is true, unusually attracted to the heterodox traditions in preference to orthodox Ju Xi Neo-Confucianism, but his essay contained nonetheless a number of quotations from Confucian texts and a couple of not-unflattering references to Confucius himself. Mao’s catalogue of worthy exemplars also mentioned a number of Confucian scholars and statesmen, the criterion for their inclusion being, it appears, their positive attitude to the body and to the practice of the martial arts on the one hand; or, philosophically speaking, a preference for movement rather than quiescence as the supreme principle of heaven and earth.

But while Mao justified and sought to legitimate his programme of physical education and its underlying philosophy by reference, in particular, to the scholar-patriots of the seventeenth century who had fought against Manchu rule and to statesmen such as Zeng Guofan who had helped to crush the Taiping rebellion in the nineteenth century, the project for physical education was itself a westernising and anti-Confucian endeavour, associated with Treaty Port culture, with the “returned students” (especially those from Japan), and with the Chinese anarchists -with persons, as Schram has noted, politically and socially on the margins of mainstream Confucian society. Certainly, it would have been regarded as unbecoming to the dignified image of the Confucian scholar-gentleman to practise physical culture with the vigour that Mao and his friends displayed. Inspired by the example of his favourite teacher, Yang Charigji (later Mao’s father-in-law), whose discipline of taking cold water baths, even in the Peking winter, was believed to have led to his premature demise, 21 Mao and his friends took their commitment to physical culture very seriously indeed:

 “In the winter holidays, we tramped through the fields, up and down mountains, along city walls, and across the streams and rivers. If it rained we took off our shirts and called it a rain bath. When the sun was hot we also doffed shirts and called it a sun bath. In the spring winds we shouted that this was a new sport called ‘wind-bathing’. We slept in the open when frost was already falling and even in November swam in the cold rivers. All this went on under the title of ‘body training’.”22

While this measure of practical involvement in physical culture may well have been unusual, even among the more radical students and advocates of physical education and military training, it should be noted that the general programme for physical education was perfectly in accord with the orientation of New Youth at the time, in continuity with the earlier nationalist and radical discourse. The journal had already published a number of appraisals of German methods of military training, and had often pointed to the physical. weakness of Chinese youth as a chief contributing factor in the national decline. As Chen Duxiu put it in a famous article which is thought to have influenced Mao’s own effort (see the first of the two colophons to this paper), a weak, timorous and effeminate generation of Chinese youth could hardly be expected to “shoulder burdens and go far”.

In short, then, the attempt to evaluate “A Study of Physical Education” according to scales of “westernising” or “traditionalist”, “revolutionary” or “conservative”, appears to be quite inconclusive: it seems that it was all these at once. That is, while the theme of the essay places Mao in the company of the anti-traditionists, its language, presentation and thinking appear to be firmly grounded in a Chinese thought world.23 This was understandable, Schram has argued, because the May Fourth generation was essentially a transitional one, betwixt and between.24 Other writers would add that Mao (because of his relatively humble background or his particular personality type?) had his feet quite firmly placed on the Chinese soil and could in no sense be labelled an “alienated intellectual” like some of the leading iconoclasts of the New Youth coterie.

Similarly one should note here, lest the theme be lost sight of, that “A Study of Physical Education” also fails to disclose either a clearly ‘idealist” or a “materialist” orientation. This was not necessarily because Mao was confused or muddled or ideologically still unformed (awaiting his “conversion” to Marxism), but, as I hope to show here, because his was a different, and essentially non-antagonistic, understanding of the body-mind relationship. It was a cosmology and theory of embodiment in terms of which the idealist/ materialist dichotomy makes little sense.  

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The alternative reading of “A Study of Physical Education” that I propose through the following two sections of this paper assumes that at some level, or in some way, Mao and the other writers of New Youth were co-participants in a shared universe of discourse, whatever may have been the manifest differences in the style, presentation and content of their individual arguments.25 A brief resume of the text will be followed, first, by an examination of its metonymic or narrative structure - the logic of its argument - against the background of the revolutionary discourse of New Youth, and then by a consideration of the central metaphor that informs and structures the text. This metaphor Asserts that the human body, the state and the cosmos share a relationship of resemblance for the reason that they are all similarly constituted of a balanced opposition of analogous qualities. Actually, this metaphor is barely hinted at in the text itself: its f II significance is apparent only in the light of the wider universe of revolutionary discourse in which it pertained and was completed.

“A study of Physical Education” opens with the following, extremely forthright, statement of the problem:

“Our nation (guo) is wanting in strength (li). The military spirit has not been encouraged. The physical condition of [our people] (minzu) deteriorates daily. This is an extremely disturbing phenomenon. The promoters of physical education have not grasped the essence of the problem and therefore their efforts, though prolonged, have not been effective. If this state [of affairs] continues, our weakness will increase further.”26

Mao then goes on to explain that remedying this state of affairs is, in the first instance, a matter of self-consciousness or awakening (zijue), that is, of a subjective transformation, after which objective results should follow. In other words, programmes of physical education can succeed only if motivation comes from within. They cannot be imposed from without.

Traditions of physical education and the degree of emphasis on body-building and the martial arts differ from country to country, Mao continued, but their commonality is the idea of the compatibility and complementarity of physical education with moral and intellectual training. This compatibility is rooted in the obvious fact that the mind has no existence without the body:

“Physical education complements education in virtue and knowledge. Moreover, both virtue (de) and knowledge (zhi) reside in the body (ti). Without the body there would be neither virtue nor knowledge. Those who understand this are rare. People stress either knowledge or morality. Knowledge is certainly valuable, for it distinguishes man from animals. But wherein is knowledge contained? Morality, too, is valuable; it is the basis of the social order and of equality between ourselves and others. But where does virtue reside? If is the basis that contains know/edge and houses virtue (emphasis in original).27


Unfortunately, Mao said - and it was a theme that he would reiterate throughout his life - the Chinese education system pathologically overemphasises book learning, and undervalues physical training. Curricula are so heavy, even for primary school children, that they would appear to have been designed simply ‘in order to exhaust the students, to trample on their bodies and ruin their lives”.28


This is sheer nonsense, for the only calamity that can befall a man is not to have a body (shen). What else is there to worry about? If one seeks to improve one% body, other things will follow automatically For the improvement of the body, nothing is more effective than physical education, Physical education really occupies the first p/ace in our lives. When the body is strong, then one can advance speedily in knowledge and morality, and reap far-reaching advantages (emphasis in original).”29

Mao was insistent that it is quite wrong to believe, as many Chinese do, “that the mind and the body cannot be perfect at the same time, that those who use their minds are deficient in physical health and those with a robust body are generally deficient in mental capacities.”30 On the contrary, since knowledge is gained through the senses and the senses are located in the body, a good physique, brought about through physical culture, enhances knowledge and creates the stamina required for study. It also, importantly, ‘harmonises sentiments” (fiao ganging), in the sense of creating emotional equipoise,31 and strengthens the will (yizhj) and capacity for endurance:

“Those whose bodies are small and frail are flippant in their behaviour. Those whose skin is flabby are soft and dull in will (xinyi). Thus does the body (shenti) influence the mind (xinli). The purpose of physical education is to strengthen the muscles and the bones; as a result knowledge is enhanced, the sentiments are harmonized, and the will is strengthened. The muscles and the bones belong to our body (shen); knowledge, sentiments and will belong to our heart (xin). When both the body and the heart are at ease, one may speak of perfect harmony. Hence physical education is nothing else but the nourishing of our lives and the gladdening of our hearts.“32

There are a number of subjective (zhuguan) and objective (keguan) reasons, Mao goes on to say, why students dislike physical education. Subjectively, they are not really convinced of its value; but, even when they are convinced, there are many who feel embarrassed to exercise, in public or in private: ‘Flowing garments, a slow gait, a grave, calm gaze - these constitute a fine deportment, respected by society. Why should one suddenly extend an arm or expose a leg, stretch and bend down?”33 The objective reasons are (a) the long-standing Chinese cultural preference for literary over military accomplishments (or, as Mao puts it more philosophically earlier in the essay, for “tranquility” and “contemplation” over “movement” [dong]); and (b) the half-heartedness of official attempts to promote physical education. Changing the objective factors is a more difficult proposition because it means changing others, whereas changing the subjective factors means merely changing oneself. In Mao’s opinion, changing oneself is both more important and also, of course, more immediately practicable.

            Continuing in the characteristically pragmatic vein, Mao insisted that it does not really matter which of the many methods of exercise and health regimens one follows. Any one of them will do for, according to Mao, they all have the single function of improving the circulation of the blood (xuemai liutong). However, some important general points should always be borne in mind: (a) exercising, by whatever regimen, needs to be done regularly, this, in itself creates interest and pleasure and gives rise to a feeling of a well-being; (b) exercise must be done with full concentration, not absent-mindedly; and (c) exercise must be “savage” (man) and “rude” (zhou),34 in contrast to the genteel deportment expected of the Confucian literatus, and described so graphically in the passage cited earlier.

            With these general principles and rationlisations in mind, Mao then goes on to describe in practical detail, and to invite his readers’ reactions to, the regimen of exrcises that he himself had found beneficial. This appears to be an eclectic and idiosyncratic routine. No allegiance is claimed to any traditional training practices of the Chinese martial arts, but at the same time its solitary and individual nature distances it from the western drill and mass gymnastics programmes which, in Mao’s opinion, had so far been quite ineffective in the Chinese context. This is consistent with Mao’s assertion that it is better to rely on and seek to discipline oneself, rather than others, the self-awakening of the individual being the first step in any effective project of reform.

            The exercises Mao recommends are grouped into six sections: exercises for the arms; for the torso; for the head and neck; massage (literally, “slapping”, daji) for all parts of the body, to quicken the circulation of the blood and improve muscle tone; and all-round exercises such as jumping and deep breathing. Interstingly, there has been to my knowledge no secondary commentary on the specificities of these exercises in themselves, and no attempt to tease from this regimen a theory of the body or of the body-mind nexus. Schram”s English translation of “A study of Physical Education” leaves out the exercise regimen altogether – no doubt an understandable editorial decision in the context in which it was published. But his extensive French commentary also pays no attention to the exercises themselves, except to comment that the exercises are, with  some exceptions, inspired by “western gymnastics”,35 the clinching argument for this proportion being Mao’s very unConfucian recommendation for exercising in the nude! No significance has been attached, for instance, to Mao’s several statements that the basis aim of all exercise regimes is to improve the circulation of the blood-not, as in contemporary body-building ideology, to build sheer muscular strength or a beautiful body for display. That is, though the object of the regime of exercise is to create a strong body, its strength lies in inner balance and control, and in the moral firmness and mental fitness that accompany such bodily discipline.36 Nor is there any comment on the principle of lateral symmetry between left and right, conspicuous in the instruction, or on the implications of the numerical symbolism of sets of there, five and ten repeated actions. In fact, altogether a very instrumental understanding pervades the commentary on the text,37 quite contrary to Mao’s own theory of embodiment, and implicitly discounting the sincerity of his assertion that vigorous, regular and concentrated exercise produces in the subject a feeling of pleasure, a total sense of physical and mental well-being, and emotional equipoise above the reign of fickle passions.  

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The metonymic structure of “A Study of Physical Education” is encapsulated in Mao’s opening sentence which draws a clear metonymic connection between the physical condition of the Chinese people, individually and collectively, and the viability of the nation-state.

  • The logic of Mao’s argument goes as follows:
  • individual Chinese are physically weak
  • the whole Chinese people is physically weak
  • the nation-state is weak in the face of its enemies
  • If youth can be made self-conscious of this causal connection, and begin the practice of
  • physical culture with discipline and perseverance
  • they will individually become strong, and
  • the people as a whole will become strong, and
  • the nation will prosper.

This, it should be noted, was a thoroughly conventional mode of argumentation. It had been usual in Chinese reformist and revolutionary writings, ever since China’s defeat in the Sino-Japanese war of 1994-95 and with added momentum after Japan’s notorious ‘Twenty-one Demands” of 1915, to begin by drawing attention to China’s conspicuous weakness in the face of western and Japanese imperialism, to attribute this debility to one or another national failing or deficiency: and to suggest a remedy, endorsed by modern science,38 in the light of the experiences of those very same nations that were responsible for China’s loss of political sovereignty. Conventionally, the first step in remedying this situation was perceived to be the awakening of individual and collective self-consciousness (zijue). Mao’s opening gambit captured this “formula” to perfection!

Mao’s chief commentators have all accepted this metonymy at its literal face value. Indeed, their interpretation is given tome by the notable emphasis that Mao places on the martial spirit and the martial arts (al places he seems to identify physical culture with the martial arts), and by his admiration for the scholar-patriots of the seventeenth century who had fought against Manchu rule. The commentators have similarly accepted in a literal sense the other main cause1 arguments in the essay: (a) that the development of the body takes precedence over the development of the mind (xin, the root of knowledge and virtue) because it is the body that “houses” the mind and that makes possible its existence; and the seemingly converse and rather circular argument (b) that the development of the body strengthens the will, which is the root of all positive action (including the practice of physical culture!). As already noted, a great deal of scholarly energy has subsequently been devoted to determining whether or not Mao was at this time, as he later confessed to being,39 an “idealist”, or whether, as his communist biographers have sought to show on the basis of evidence external to this text, he had already manifested ‘a precocious penchant for dialectical materialism”.40

The burden of much contemporary writing on metaphor and metonymy, following early leads by Roman Jakobson,41 is that while the two figures may be usefully distinguished on several grounds and for various purposes, metonymy may also transmute into metaphor, and vice versa. Following this line of argument, I suggest here that the metonymic or causal connection that Mao states so clearly in this essay (that is, between the physical condition of the Chinese people, individually and collectively, and the viability of the nation-state) may be reread as a powerful and resonant metaphor in the light of the collective discourse of New Youth. This metaphor posits that the connection between the individual person and the state is the fact that they are –or certainly ought to be - similar/y constituted of a dialectical relation between spirit and form, congruent with the relation of spirit and matter that is believed to underlie a// existence.

In “A Study of Physical Education”, Mao is challenging his readers to concede the self-evidence of this proposition, and to accept its practical consequences.

This section briefly examines the underlying metaphor of “A Study of Physical Education” as revealed and completed through reflection against the political rhetoric of New Youth. The description is based on a study I had earlier made of the thought-world of the Chinese New Culture Movement.42

In the Neo-Confucian ontology to which, I believe, the New Youth writers were intellectual heirs, the central ontological question was to find a solution to the existential problems posed in Buddhist thought between Ii (principle) and shi (affairs), that is, between the metaphysical and the experiential realms of being. Though there was IX) single and uncontested answer to this “existential predicament” (as Thomas Metzger has called it),43 all schools of Neo-Confucianism were united in two fundamental ideas: (a) belief in the mutuality and reciprocity of both realms, whatever their relative emphases: and (b) faith in the potentiality of Man, through his own striving, to bring his mortal world into conformity with the organising principles of the cosmos.

In a parallel way, the New Youth ontology dichotomised. Being into two opposed realms or levels, that of immanent reality, which is permanent (chang) and absolute (juedui), and the impermanent (wuchang) and relative (xiangdui) level of manifest phenomena. These two levels were seen to be equally and reciprocally constitutive of reality in the sense that the Absolute exists only by its manifestation in phenomena, while manifest phenomena exist only in relation to the Absolute. As Chen Duxiu put it in the same essay from which we had occasion to quote earlier:

‘The philosophers of India all believed the phenomenological world to be an illusion and Brahma the only true reality.... It is true that according to modern science, the data of the senses are deceptive and phenomena impermanent. In this sense the [Buddhist] theories are correct. But one must understand that while the data of the senses are deceptive, the material world itself is real; phenomena are impermanent, but matter (shishi) endures. The multitude of phenomena change in an instant - this is impermanence; but atoms and species eternally perpetuate themselves-this is permanence. If atoms and species never perish, the world is without end. If the world is without end, living things have no end. If living things have no end, then history has no end.... The individual in the world is like a cell in the human body. The new and the old, the dead and the living, follow in an endless and inescapable cycle. Matter endows descendants (i.e. the atom is indestructible); spirit bequeaths history (i.e. the species are indestructible). Though the life of the individual cannot be prolonged, the life of the whole body cannot be destroyed.”44

A second type of linkage between the two levels of Being posited in the New Youth ontology was that of the homology or congruence of their respective structures, and it is to this aspect especially that I seek lo draw attention here. It was asserted that the whole of creation in time and space expresses an underlying unity of ‘spirit” (iingshen) and “matter” (wuzhi), while similarly, at the level of experience, all living phenomena, including man and his institutions, should ideally reflect a unity of “spirit” (jingshen) and “form” (xingshi): the alternative was a pathological state of alienation. This theory of the mutuality of “spirit” and “form” in all manifest existence paralleling the relations thought to be operative at the metaphysical level, provided the conceptual frame in terms of which the New Youth writers interpreted their present position and delineated their political and social goals. For whensoever “spirit” and “form” were perceived to be in a dissonant relation, therein was created man’s obligation to restore them to a condition of balanced unity in accordance with the archetypal principles of the Absolute. Obviously, at any one point in time, the achievement of balance might necessitate a corrective overemphasis on either one or the other aspect of existence, spirit or form, depending on the immediate circumstances.

Thus, for instance, when discussing the realm of politics, the New Youth writers insisted that the contemporary crisis stemmed from the fact that the revolution in the “state form” from monarchism to republicanism had not been matched by an appropriate change in the “spirit” or “psychology” of the people. That is why, at this point in time, a cultural revolution was deemed to be the most urgent and important of current political tasks. As the political scientist, Gao Yihan, wrote in New Youth a few months before Mao Zedong published his piece on physical education:

“The previous revolution was a revolution in form (xingshi). The present revolution is to be a revolution in spirit (jingshen). The revolution in the political system has already been understood and put into effect by our countrymen. But the revolution in political spirit and education has not yet come into being among our people. This will commence from [this year], 1917”45

Mao, of course, made a similar statement when discussing the problems involved in the implementation of programmes of physical education in China. He maintained that in these programmes, too, there had been a change only in form, without the correspondingly necessary change in subjective attitudes. In a way, this was the problem he had started out from.

Regarding the balance of mind and body, however, the situation was deemed to be quite the reverse, for it was felt that Chinese culture, under the influence of Confucianism, had consistently overemphasised the spiritual aspect (the cultivation of Man’s mental and moral faculties) at the expense of the physical.46 This, again, was a pathological situation, with predictably disastrous consequences. ‘In the strong races”, Chen Duxiu had written in “The Objectives of a Modern Education”,

“...animalism (shouxing) and humanism (renxing develop simultaneously. Other races preserve only animalism, or care only for humanism at the expense of animalism - these are the decadent and weak peoples. What is the special virtue of animals? Their will is tough; they struggle and do not admit defeat; they are strong in body and spirit and stand up to nature; they are self-reliant and not dependent on others; they are sincere and straightforward, not false and hypocritical. The white races have colonized and conducted business all over the earth - this is due to their animality The Japanese now have hegemony in Asia - this again is because of their animality”.47

It was not really the case, then, that Mao Zedong was at this time a budding materialist, while the other New Youth writers were still prisoners of “idealism”. In respect to human institutions, Mao and the New Youth writers were alike agreed that the “formal” aspect of existence had been overemphasised to the detriment of the “spiritual” (i.e., that cultural change had failed to accompany institutional change), while in the domain of man there was a general consensus that his physical development should now be correctively emphasised to restore imbalances perpetrated by the Confucian tradition. The total picture that emerges, however, is one that reasserts the principle of harmonious balance, with a preference for the spiritual aspect of being as the initially activating or transformative element of the dualism whenever a dynamic perspective was required. In other words, where the emphasis was on process more than on structure, the spiritual aspect of being would have special significance. Change in spirit might activate change in form, but the reverse determination - from outside in, from ‘objective’ (keguani) to “subjective” (zhuguan) (to use the neologisms favoured by Mao) - was not conceived possible!

There was thus no inconsistency whatsoever in Mao Zedong’s posing as a champion of physical education while simultaneously claiming to be an “idealist” and taking enormous pride in a mark of “one hundred plus five” out of 100 for an original essay on She Power of the Mind”.48 Emphasis on physical culture to counterbalance a pathological imbalance of mind and body was necessitated not just by the familiar causal argument of mens sana in corpore sane, which he manifestly put forward, but, more importantly, by the metaphor that linked the body, the polity and the cosmos in a dialectical visit of human and cosmic order.  

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Social Darwinism and Eugenics were two exceedingly influential turn-of-the-century sciences whose implicit function was the rationalisation of imperial domination.49 This rationalisation was achieved by the projection of western (and in China also Japanese) dominance as the outcome of a natural law whereby the fittest of persons, of peoples and of nattons were historically destined to prevail over those less fit.

The rise of such theories, as Foucault has sought to show, coincided with new modes of social and econcmic organization and new social institutions for ‘disciplining” human bodies. The creation of strong and healthy bodies through various forms of discipline and through the emerging practice of “sports”50 was believed to be directly linked to the enhancement of national power, as well as producing the moral fibre and character that destined some to rule over others. This line of thinking not only rationalised the imperialist project to itself, but was also internalised by the reforming and nationalist elites among the colonized peoples, who came to see their subjection as partly self-deserved - unless or until they could appropriately reform their bodies. In India, nationalist leaders of various hues - M.K. Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Moti Lal Nehru, etc. - were all advocates of physical culture and, as is well known, mass drill remains a prominent feature of the training of cadres of the right-wing Hindu organisation, the RSS.51

Similarly in China at the turn of the century, physical training in line with British, Japanese or Prussian models, was introduced in the schools and military academies, and was widely advocated by reformist and nationalist leaders. Justifying these programmes, a clear link was drawn between individual/personal physical fitness and national military prowess.

There was also a gendered aspect to the psychology of colonialism, as scholars like Ashis Nandy, following Edward Said, have pointed out.52 This took the form of an imputation of effeminacy to the subject races in general, Orientals in Particular.53 Again, this was a thesis both propagated by the colonial powers and internalised by colonial subjects. Mao’s sarcastic description of the deportment of the Chinese literati - though not quite as explicit as Chen Duxiu”s earlier mockery of China’s educated youth (with “pale faces and slender waists, seductive as young ladies, timorous of cold and chary of heat, weak as invalids”54) - nonetheless still evokes the Orientalist stereotype. National renovation through physical culture was in this sense conceived as a process of what one might call “re-enmasculinisation” - of individuals, and of the people as a whole.

Writing in 1917, Mao clearly accepted the Social Danvinist type of argument that China had lost its sovereignty and succumbed to imperialist pressures because individual Chinese were physically weak, effeminate, lacking in will power and ruled by fickle passions more than by reason. Physical education was posited as the initial step in rehabilitation, and it implied, in the first instance, an inversion of the Chinese value system and the principles of social structure that these values endorsed, which privileged those who worked with their minds over those who worked with their physical strength, In a similar way, the north Indian wrestling tradition, grappling with more elemental concerns, negates the principle of caste hierarcty that structures Hindu society, and even seeks to surmount the communal divide;55 or competitive sports in Europe and America allow some individuals from lower classes to win higher social status, even transcending the race barrier.

However, as a number of studies have shown, attempts to reform the nation and resist external pressure through bodily discipline may take various forms and find justification in several different understandings of embodiment, of sexuality of masculinity, and of the relation of the individual to the social body. Mao Zedong’s 1917 essay on physical education represents one type among the several varieties of somatic nationalist thinking, and is interesting for the light it throws on this general phenomenon. It also has wider comparative and anthropological relevance for its reflection on the way in which the Individual, healthy male body can serve as an icon, allegory or metaphor to represent the well-being and regeneration of the national society.

Mao’s early essay, “A Study of Physical Education”, provides a counter-view to interrogate a theoretical position of wide currency in contemporary social science. Derived from the work of Michel Foucault, in particular from his writings on penology (already referred to in Section II), this suggests that the essence of modernity ties in the institution of increasing controls over, and intervention in, the management and surveillance of docile and passive human bodies. This is a process which permeates society and social institutions, and which is also reflected in methods of physical training and health culture.

As in other countries, one type of modernist discourse in China, well represented also in the columns of New Youth, has taken this position, advocating state-sponsored and institutionalised mass programmes of physical education. Through he does not explicitly repudiate such programmes, Mao nevertheless maintained that they had been quite ineffective in improving the physical status of the Chinese people, whatever may have been their impact elsewhere; and’ it was important in his view to understand the reasons for this failure. This was his starting point in this essay which, while accepting the Proposition that healthy bodies constitute the basis of a strong nation, nonetheless sought to suggest a different mode of discipline and a different type of relationships between the disciplined body and the state.

As we have seen, Mao’s theory of physical education - and this is true of many theories Of physical Culture, the martial arts and the performing arts in other times and places - views discipline as first and foremost a question of self-discipline, and not of disciplining others. Creating a strong and healthy body is primarily a matter of ‘self-consciousness”, of the will to self-reform. The regimen of exercise (perhaps also of diet and of continence?56) is an individualistic one, self-imposed, Self-monitored self-directed; it is also not intended primarily for display. Rather, it seeks to put the individual, through the experience of his own body, in touch with wider cosmological principles.

Notwithstanding the references to China’s declining military power, with which Mao begins his essay, and the celebration of the “rude” and “savage” component in human nature, ‘A Study of Physical Education” does not evince the psychology of hyper- masculinity that Nandy, and subsequently Mrinalini Sinha, have regarded as typical of both metropolitan and colonial elites under the regime of imperialism. More than masculinist aggression against others, Mao seeks the realisation of an harmonious state of balance between the mental and the physical aspects of the person.

In such an understanding, the relationship of the individual body to the social body is that of an exemplar, not that of a “cog in a wheel”, the passive object of external discipline. Obviously, at a commonsensical level, disciplined individual bodies should aggregate to make a strong nation, but in fact the relationship Mao assets is akin to the principle of “sympathetic magic” (in Frazerian terms) such that an individual who has achieved balanced self-control and has realised within himself the principle of harmony and well-being is necessarily in tune with the sources of social and cosmic order as well.57 The relation, in structural terms, is both metonymic and metaphoric., both causal and analogical.

Foucault would presumably have assigned Mao’s theory of ascetic self-discipline, in terms of its bodily practice, to a pre-modern historical formation Others might do so on grounds of its cosmology.58 Indeed, as we have noted, commentaries on Mao’s intellectual development have identified it with the pre-Marxist “prologue” of his career as a twentieth century revolutionary leader, or with the pathology of his “second childhood” during the Cultural Revolution. There is imputed also a measure of contradiction, if not of schizophrenia, in Mao’s emphasis in this essay on individual self-consciousness, for this seems to be at odds with his proven ability as an organiser (of others, that is). For instance, remarking on the importance Mao accords in this essay to “conscious action as opposed to a mere mechanical execution of orders” (Foucault’s “docility”) Schram observed in 1967 that this “patently contradicts the emphasis on organization that Mao also exhibited even before he had thoroughly assimilated the Leninist principles of democratic centralism”. “For half a century”, Schram went on to say, ‘Mao has been torn by the conflict between an ideal of spontaneity and the will to impose the discipline necessary for effective action. This contradiction still [i.e. in 1969] persists in the China of the Red Guards”.59 Elsewhere, in a more generous mood, Schram characterized such contradictions as evidence of Mao’s natural bent for “dialectical” thinking.

But, whatever ifs roofs in indigenous somatic theories and cosmologies, comparative evidence suggests that the type of understanding of bodily discipline articulated in Mao’s essay should be considered as one of a range of different type of twentieth century somatic nationalism. These different formulations may be polarised as alternatives within a single universe of discourse, or they may simultaneously coexist in the somatic theories of a single individual.60 That is, somatic nationalism may be manifested in hypermasculine aggression and in organised physical training programmes - as, for instance, among Bengal reformist and terrorist groups, and fie RSS - but it may also take the form of self-discipline and controlled masculinity, where self-perfection has a definite (if ineffable) relation with national well-being. The exercise regimen of the north Indian wrestler is informed by this sort of “utopian somatics”,61 and it may surely be recognised also in Gandhi’s famous “experiments with truth”.62

A considerable literature has emerged in recent years on the identification of the nation with the female (the maternal) Body. Imperial power is likened to the rape of the mother, and indexes the impotence and emasculation of her sons, who are unable to protect her. Much less has been written on the inverse equation: the healthy male figure as icon, allegory or metaphor for the regenerate nantion.63

Whatever may have been Mao’s ideas on the “woman question”, an issue very much in the air through the May Fourth Movement,64 there was no evidence in his assay of a conceptualisation of the female body as signifier 01 the nation-whether as the victim of imperialist aggression or as the focus of patriotic resurgence and regained national honour. It was the unhealthy male body which signified China in its present condition of corruption and degeneration - at least in the revolutionary literature we have been examining - while the fit, healthy and harmoniously balanced male body was constructed as the icon of a rejuvenated nation.

How resonant this imagery has been was brought home to me recently, quite coincidentally, while reading the biography of a young Chinese woman from a professional intelligentsia family, who had been “sent down” to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. Thus stigmatised, she had sought to prove her worthiness for revolutionary citizenship –somatically- by transforming her female body into a fit, healthy, male one. She describes these efforts in language strongly reminiscent of Mao’s description of his youthful “body-training” (see Section Ill above):

“As I matured physically, I developed a craving to become more and more like a boy. I tried to read all the biographies of great men I could find and strove to strengthen my willpower.... When a roaring gust of wind rose, I would stay for hours on end where it Mew the strongest, I would swim in the river during the coldest spell in winter, Years later, when I was assigned to settle down in a rural area, I continued to torment myself so as to harden my willpower....

I was challenging my own fate and my ‘gender status’.65

This denial of her female body was made all the more poignant by the fact that her coming to womanhood occurred at the very moment when, hidden in the crowds, she watched her “counter-revolutionary” father being paraded down the street to jeers and abuses.

But that is an aside....

Viewed in the context of “somatic nationalism”, the question of whether Mao’s essay on physical education was Chinese or western in its inspiration appears somewhat misplaced. It was just a typically and globally twentieth century product. Somatic nationalist theories, along with the systems of knowledge that endorsed them and the related bodily disciplines, were part of the shared intellectual ambience of elite and reformist groups in the east and west alike, dialectically interrelated in a world system of nations.

As to the question of whether this text should be considered evidence of the author’s philosophical orientation as an idealist or as a materialist, Mao’s theory of embodiment and of the body-mind nexus renders this question unintelligible. On the other hard, the essay certainly contributes to the comparative understanding of alternative conceptualisations of bodily well-being (balance, not sheer strength), of masculinity (self-control, not aggression), of the purpose of body-building (to improve the circulation of the blood rather than to promote muscular over development) and of the relation of the individual healthy body to the state and the cosmos (analogy of structures, rather than direct causality).  

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1. Chen Duxiu, “Jinride Jiaoyo Fanghen” (The Objectives of a Modem Education), New Yoth (Xin Qingnian, Tokyo Daian edition, 1962), Vol. 1, No. 2, p. 118.

2. Quoted in Joseph S. Alter, “Hanuman and the Moral Physique of the Banarasi Wrestler”, in Bradley Hertel and Cynthia Ann Humes (Eds.), Living Banaras: Hindu Religion in Cultural Context (New York: State University of New York Press, 1993). p. 142.

3. See Joseph S. Alter, “Somatic Nationalism, Indian Wrestling and Militant Hinduism’ (ms).

4. See e.g. Frank Dikotter, Sex, Culture and Modernity in China: Medical Science and the Construction of Sexual identifies in the Early Republication Period (London: Hurst & Company, 1995).

5. Marcel Mauss, “Body Techniques”, in Sociology and Psychology; Essays by Marcel Mauss (trs. Ben Brewster) (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979), pp. 97-119.

6. Roy F. Ellen, “Anatomical Classification and the Semiotics of the Body”, in John Blacking (Ed.), The Anthropology of the Body (London: Academic Press, 1977) p. 356.

7. Michel Foucault, discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (trs. Alan Sheridan) (New York: Vintage Books, 1979), p.222.

8. Ibid., p. 137

9. For a similar comment, see Joseph S. Alter, “The Body of One Color: Indian Wrestling, the Indian State, and Utopian Somatics”. Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1993, p. 49. Cf. also McKim Marriott, “Constructing an Indian Ethnosociology”, Contributions to Indian Sociology, n.s., Vol. 23, No. 1, 1989, esp. pp. 1-3.

10. “Tiyu zhi Yanjiu” (A Study of Physical Education), Xin Qingnian (New Youth), Vol. 3, No. 2, April 1917. Though Mao’s term tiyu is usually rendered in English as “physical education”, and indeed encompasses organised physical training within the education system, his understanding of tiyu is certainly much broader than this. Huang I-shu (personal communication) has suggested that the term “body-building” would be a more apposite rendering in the present case.

11. My model for this enterprise is Lucien Goldmann’s classic study of the tragic vision of Pascal and Racine: The Hidden God: A Study of Tragic Vision in the Pensees of Pascal and the Tragedies of Racine (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964).

12. Here I have been influenced by some writings on the deployment of literary tropes in non-literary texts, especially in reference to the production of ethnographies. See, for instance, James Clifford and George Marcus (Eds.), Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986). See also Hayden White, Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978), esp. ch. 3; S.E. Hyman”s literary reading of Darwin, Marx, Frazer and Freud, The Tangled Bank: Darwin, Marx, Frazer and Freud as Imaginative Writers (New York: Atheneum, 1959); Darko Suvin’s analysis of the imagery of Marx’s Grundrisse, Transubstantiation of Production and Creation: Metamorphic Imagery in the Grundrisse”, The Minnesota Review, n.s., No. 18, 1982, pp. 102-15; and Marc Angenot and Darko Suvin, “Limplicite du Manifeste: Metaphores et Imagerie de la Demystification dans le “Manifeste Communiste” “, Eludes Francaises, Vol. 16, Nos. 3-4. 1980, pp. 43.67.

13. See, for instance, the literature cited by Joseph S. Alter in his paper, “Somatic Nationalism, Indian Wrestling and Militant Hinduism”, loc. cit.

14. In addition to the papers already cited (notes 3 and lo), see: Joseph S. Alter, The Wrestler’s Body: Identify and Ideology in North India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992); also “Celibacy, Sexuality and the Transformation of Gender into Nationalism in, North India”, Journal of Asian Studies 53, 1994, pp. 45-66; “The Celibate Wrestler: Sexual Chaos, Embodied Balance and Competitive Politics in North India”, in Patricia Uberoi (Ed.), Social Reform, Sexuality and the State (New Delhi: Sage, 1996), pp, 109-131; “Seminal Truth: A Modem Science of Male Celibacy in North India”, Medical Anthropology Ouarterly, Vol. 11, No, 3,1997, pp. 275-98; and “A Therapy to Live by: Public Health, The Self and Nationalism in the Practice of a North Indian Yoga Society”, Medical Anthropology, Vol. 17, pp. 309-35.

15. John Rosselli had earlier pointed to the similarity between late nineteenth and early twentieth century Bengali nationalist movements for physical education, and developments elsewhere (China, Japan and Europe), citing specifically Mao’s article on physical education. See John Rosselli, “The Self-image of Effeteness: Physical Education and Nationalism in Nineteenth Century Bengal”, Past and Present, No. 86, 1980, pp. 121, 132. The late Niharranjan Ray had drawn my attention to many commonalities between the writings of the New Youth group and those of early Bengali nationalists and social reformers.

16. Tokyo Daian edition, 1962, pp. 145.55. A complete French translation of Mao’s essay, along with explanatory notes and an excellent introduction, was published by Stuart Schram, Mao Zedong: Une Etude de I’Education Physique (Paris/The Hague: Mouton), and an abbreviated English translation in Schram’s anthology, The Political Thought of Mao Tse-tung (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, rev. ed., l969), pp. 152-60, where it stands as the “pre-Marxist” “prologue” to Mao”s career as a Marxist Revolutionary. Other sources for this period include Mao’s surviving school notebooks, textbook annotations and correspondence, selectively reported by Li Rui in Mao Zedong Tongzhi di Chuqi Geming Huodong (Beijing: Zhongguo Qingnian, 1957); Xiao San (Emi Siao). Mao Zadong Tongzhi de Ertong Shidai, Qingnian Shidai yu Chu Qi Geming Huodong (Mao Tse-tung: His Childhood and Youth) (Bombay: People’s Publishing House, 1953); and Siao-Yu (Xiao Shudong), Mao Tse-Tung and I were Beggars (London: Hutchinson, 1961).

17. See Robert A. Scalapino, “The Evolution of a Young Revolutionary - Mao Zedong in 1919-1921”, Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 42, No. 1,1982, pp. 2961. Of general interest also is Roxane Witke, “Mao Tse-tung, Women and Suicide in the May Fourth Era”, China Ouarterly, No. 31, 1967, pp. 128.47.

18. For details on the anti-Confucian and “new literary” movements, see especially Chow Tse-tsung, The May Fourth Movement: intellectual Revolution in Modern China (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1960), chs. 11 and 12; Maurice Meisner, Li Ta-chao and the Origins of Chinese Marxism (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1967). esp. ch. 2; and Jerome Grieder, Hu Shih and the Chinese Renaissance: Liberalism in the Chinese Revolution, 1917-1937 (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard. University Press, 1970), esp. Pt. 2. For a structural semantic analysis of the changing contents of New Youth through the May Fourth period, see Patricia Uberoi, “A Cognitive Study of Revolutionary Discourse: New Youth and the Chinese New Culture Movement”, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Delhi, 1980; and ’ ‘Science’, ‘Democracy’ and the Cosmology of the May Fourth Movement, China Report, Vol. 23, No. 4,1987, pp. 373-95. See also Lawrence Sullivan and Richard H. Solomon, “The Formation of Chinese Communist Ideology in the May Fourth Era: A Content Analysis of Hsin Ch’ing-nien”, in Chalmers Johnson (Ed.), Ideology and Politics in Contemporary China (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1975), pp. 117-60.

19. See particularly Joseph Levenson, Confucian China and ifs Modern Fate: A Trilogy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988).

20. Edgar Snow, Red Star Over China (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, rev. ed., 1972), p. 174. Mao’s claim here to have been “anti-militarist” during the May Fourth period perhaps needs some explaining, since it appears to contradict his obvious admiration of martial virtues and his concern for China’s military self-strengthening. It should be recalled that the context was the rise of warlord regimes after Yuan Shikai’s attempted monarchical restoration movement. Under the circumstances, many Chinese intellectuals, including possibly Mao, had come round to the view that China might be best suited to a federal system of government, and that attempts to achieve hegemonic control over the whole of China were bound to be unsuccessful.

21. Hsiao Yu (Siao-Yu), Mao Tse-tung and I were Beggars, p. 41. Yang Changji was a teacher of ethics, philosophy and education at the First Provincial Normal School in Changsha, where Mao studied from 1913 to 1918. With a sound background, in the classics, and sane tan years” study abroad in Japan, England and Germany, it was Yang who introduced Mao to the writings of the New Youth group, and who was probably instrumental as an intermediary in getting Mao’s essay on physical culture published in the journal. Sea Stuart Schram, The Political Thought, p. 28; Mao Tse-tung, pp. 38-40, 42; and Mao Zedong, pp. 28-29.

22. Snow, Red Star, pp. 172.73. As is well known after Mao’s much-publicised swim in the Yangtze river in July 1966, river-swimming continued to be Mao’s special test of his physical powers of endurance. See Li Zhisui, The Private Life of Chairman Mao (London: Chatto and Windus, 1994), p. 463.

23. Schram, Mao Zedong, pp. 32, 38. Rosselli, interestingly, asked the same question in reference to the late nineteenth century Bengali advocates of physical culture. He concluded that they should be described neither as “traditional” nor as Western”. A better summation of their intent, according to Rosselli, would be “purifying”, a reaction to British imputations of “licentiousness” against Hindu culture. See Rosselli, “The Self-image”, pp. 125, 131.

24. Schram, Mao Zedong, p. 37.

25. Sea note 12. From this perspective, the question of whether or not or to what degree Mao was influenced by the so-called “radical iconoclasts” is not negotiable: it is assumed that ha was one of them. Of course, whether these iconoclasts were really what they seemed may be another matter!

26. Mao Zedong, “Tiyu”, trs. Slightly modified from Schram, The Political Thought, pp. 152-53.

27. Mao, “Tiyu”, p. 146; trs. Schram, The Political Thought, pp. 153-54. Schram, quoting Benjamin Schwartz, notes that the “triptych of “virtue”, “knowledge” and “body” may have been borrowed from Herbert Spencer via Yan Fu’s translation (Mao Zedong, p. 37).

28. Mao, “Tiyu”, p. 146; trs. Schram, The Political Thought, p. 154. Over forty years later, Mao was still voicing the same grievance against the unhealthy bokishness of the Chinese educational system. For instance, in his remarks on the Spring Festival day in 1964, Mao is reported to have said, “There are too many classes, doing untold harm to the students. Primary and middle school children and university students live under tremendous tension every day. The equipment and lighting are bad, and as a result there are more and more near-sighted children.” In Jerome Ch’en, Mao Papers (Bombay: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 93. “Half the classes ought to be cut. Confucius taught only six subjects - propriety, music, archery, riding, poetry and history (shu); yet he trained such disciples as Yen [Hui], Tseng [Seng], and Meng [Mendus]. It will not do for children to have no cultural recreation, swimming and physical exercise” (Ch’en, op. cit,, p. 93). “The present system strangles talents, destroys young people. I do not favour it. Too much reading. The examination system fights [the students] like enemies. It is murderous and must be stopped”. Ch’en, op. cit., p. 94. Note that nineteenth century Bengali proponents of physical culture similarly castigated Bengali bookisheness, which they saw as leading to ‘indigestion and brain fever” and ‘feeble development of muscles”, that is, somatic imbalance. See Rosselli, ‘The Self-image of Effeteness”, esp. p. 124.

29. Mao Zedong, “Tiyu”, pp. 146-47; trs. Schram, The Political Thought p. 154.

30. Mao Zedong, ‘Tiyu", p. 148; trs. Schram, The Political Thought, p. 156.  

31. Mao Zedong, “Tiyu”, p. 149. Indian wrestlers feel similady about their discipline. See, e.g., Alter, The Wrestler’s Body, ch. 5; and other writings by Alter cited above.

32. Mao Zedong. “Tiyu”, p. 150; trs. Schram, The Political Thought, p. 158.

33. Mao Zedong, “Tiyu”, p. 151; trs. Schram, The Political Thought, p. 158.

34. Mao Zedong, “Tiyu”, p. 1.53; trs. Schram, The Political Thought, p. 160. Chupke Se Sunn             

35. Schram, Mao Zedong, pp. 31-32. It will be clear from my own exposition here that I do not agree with Schram on this point. Even a brief glance at writings on the principles and practices of tons of traditional Chinese medicine (e.g., qigong therapy) and martial arts (such as, faijiquan) suggests several common points of emphasis: for instance, on left-right symmetry; on the necessity for mental concentration and perseverance in the routine; on the dialectic of quiescence and motion; on the importance of the smooth circulation of the bled; on the desirability of emotional equipoise; and on the principle of balance. See Zhang Mingwu et al. (Comp.), Chinese Qigong Therapy (Jinan: Shandong Science and Technology Press, 1988); Yang Style Taijiquan (Beijing: Morning Glory Press, 1991). See also Li Zhisui, op. cit., p. 256. I do not have the technical competence in either field to pursue these comparisons further here in relation to Mao’s essay. For an interesting paper exploring the religious, cosmological, medical and humoral ideas undedyfng the practice of a South Indian (Kerala) martial art, see Philip B. Zanilli, Three Bodies of Practice in a Traditional South Indian Martial Art”, Social Science and Medicine, Vol. 28, No. 12, 1989, pp. 1289-1309.

36. See Alter’s several discussions of the Banarsi wrestlers’ contrast of the dicipline of the akhara and the modem style body-building gymnasium, in The Wrestler’s Body, pp. 50-57. Alter links this with the “body-mind synthesis’ that he sees as characteristic of “the regimens of health and exercise practised in India-yoga, vyayam, dietetics - [which] exert control over the body not only through a physical mechanics of muscular training and organic chemistry but also through a disciplined regimentation of we [westerners] would call the subjective mind” (ibid., p. 93). Commentators on Chinese martial arts similarly Contras the muscular/attacking styles and styles like taijiquan in which ‘strength” derives from “using the mind, not force”.

37. A similar instrumental approach has sought to detach Gandhi’s use of non-violent protest and hunger strike as political techniques from, for instance, his dietary concerns, vows of silence, and practice of brahmacharya.

38. See D.W.Y. Kwok, Scientism in Chinese Thought 1900-1950 (New Haven: Yale University Press. 1965) Benjamin Schwartz, In Search of Wealth and Power: Yen Fu and the West (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1964); also, Frank Dikotter, Sex, Culture and Modernity in China, op. cit.

39. Snow, Red Star, p. 174.

40. Li Jui, Mao Zedong; Schram, The Political Thought, pp. 38-39.

41. Roman Jakobson and Morris Halle, Fundamentals of Language (The Hague: Mouton, 1956); see also Claude Levi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1966). 150n.

42. See the items cited in note 19. See also “Suicide, Incest and Cannibalism: An Anthropological Exegesis of a Modem Chinese Short Story”, Social Analysis. Vol. 16, pp. 60-78.

43. Thomas A. Metzger, Escape from Predicament: Neo-Confucianism and China’s Evolving Political Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977) p. 77.

44. Chen Duxiu, ‘Jinride Jiaoyu Fangzheri, p. 115.

45. Gao Yihan, “) “Yijiuyiqi Nian Yuxiang zhi Geming” (The Revolution We Hope for in 1917) Xin Qingnian (Tokyo Daian edition, 1962) Vol. 2, No. 5, p. 401.

46. Recall the well-known Mencian aphorism: Those who labour with their minds [tin] govern others; those who labour with their physical strength [/I] are governed by others.” Mao himself admitted to the influence of this mind-set when, serving as a soldier in the provincial army, he had nonetheless thought it beneath his dignity as an intellectual to be seen carrying water (or anything else) for himself. See Schram, Mao Tse-tung, p. 34. The theme was later to dominate Mao s strategies for politically reforming class enemies, especially wayward cadres and intellectuals. See, e.g., Li Zhisui, op. cit., pp. 252.53, 390.

47. Chen Duxiu, “Jinride Jiaoyu Fanghen”, p. 116. See also notes 2 and 45.

48. See Hsiao Yu, op. cit.; Schram, The political Thought, pp. 25-26.

49. On Social Danvinism, see particularly Schwartz, In Search of Wealth and Power, Ch. 4; and Kwok, Scientism in Chinese Thought Flank Dikotter’s recent book on theories of sexuality in the Republican period has interesting material on the influence of evolutionist and eugenicist ideas in this period. (op. cit. especially Ch. 4) also The Discourse of Race in Modern China (London: Hurst and Company, 1992).

50. See Pierre Bourdieu, “How can One be a Sportsman?”, in Sociology in Question (London: Sage Publications, 1993) pp. 117-31.

51. See Alter, “Somatic Nationalism”; also The Wrestler’s Body, Appendix.

52. See Ashis Nandy, The Illegitimacy of Nationalism (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994) pp. 30-31. 42; and The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983) Pt. I; also M.S.S. Pandian, “Gendered Negotiations: Hunting and Colonialism in the Late Nineteenth Century Nilgins”, in Patricia Uberoi (Ed.), Social Reform, Sexuality and the State (New Delhi: Sage, 1996) pp. 239-63.

53. See Edward Said, Orientalism (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978); also Mrfnalini Sinha, Colonial Masculinity: The “Manly Englishman” and the “Effeminate Bengali” in the Late Nineteenth Century (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995).

54. Chen Duxiu, “Jinride Jiaoyu Fangzhen”, p. 118.

55. For instance, Alter, The Wrestler’s Body, pp. 22-23, 11619. 195-97, 217-18.

56. Mao had told Edgar Snow that he and his friends in Changsha had no time for trivialities like love and romance, or the “ordinary matters of daily life” - food, for instance - but preferred to talk only of large matters - the nature of men, of human society, of China, the world, and the universe!” (Red Star, p. 172). This observation was metonymically linked in Mao’s autobiography with his practice of physical culture at that time (pp. 172-73). Commenting on this                                                                                                                                         passage, Schram rather primly observes that, though Mao and his friends may have eschewed discussions of everyday trivialities, Mao’s attitude to women was somewhat more complex: “chaste he may have been, as the Chinese are in general, but his love for Yang Kai-hui [his second wife, daughter of Yang Changji] and his marriage - his fourth - in 1939 to a beautiful actress, suggests another of the numerous contradictions in his personality”, i.e., that of a “lover of women’ (amooraux) vs. “ascetic” or “spartan Puritan”. See Schram, Mao Zedong, pp. 34-35, 42. Schram’s conjecture finds support in the recent, not uncontested, revelations of Mao’s personal physician, Li Zhisui. Li recorded, in some detail, Mao’s proclivity in his later life for young women (and for rich cuisine), and his anxiety over sexual performance, along with his continued interest in the exemplary practice of feats of physical endurance, and his resistanceto taking medicines. See Li, op. cit., pp. 103-24, 463; also Tan Chung, “The Elusive Mao: Reading between the Lines of Memoirs of Doctors and Others”, China Reporf, Vol. 32, No. 2 (1996) pp. 159-89.

On the question of sexual continence it may be noted that the manual of qigong therapy referred to in note 36 specifically warns against “excessive sexual intercourse” which “consumes the essence of life”: ‘a person must not seek the temporary pleasure of sexual life at the expense of his life-long happiness!” (pp. 93, 221). One is reminded again of the north Indian wrestler’s ideal of brahmacharya (continence), which defies true strength as the control and containment, not the expenditure, of male seed. See in this regard Alter, “Seminal Truth”, op. tit, and Dikotter, Sex, Culture and Modernity in China, op. cit.

57. Cf. Tan Chung’s interpretation of Mao in the light of Chinese Buddhism’s “Bodhisattva tradition” (op. cit. pp. 178.79).

58. In Sex, Culture end Modernity in China, Frank Dikotter postulates an “epstemic rupture” in Republican understandings of bodily practice, expressed in terms of a contrast between “imperial cosmology” and the modem biological sciences as the grounding of somatic discourse. I would prefer to see the change not in terms of an opposition of imperial cosmology I modem science, but as an opposition of Confucian cosmology/ scientistic cosmology, the latter being, perhaps, more “new wine in old bottles” than a major epistemic break (see Uberoi, “A Cognitive Study of Revolutionary Discourse”, lot. cit.). But arguing this case would take us too far a field.

59. Schram, The Political Thought, p. 23.

60. Cf. Dikotter’s discussion (op. cit., p, 165) of the “polarity” in nationalist discourses on sexuality “between a relatively independent individual based on the idea of self-regulation, and the coercive intervention of civil society, justified in the name of the collective health of the nation.”

61. Alter, The Wrestler’s Body, Ch. 10; and “The Body of One Color”, op. cit.; also “A Therapy to Live By”, loc. cit.

62.See, for instance, Bhikhu Parekh, Colonialism, Tradition and Reform; an Analysis of Gandhi”s Political Discourse (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1989).

63. On the nation conceived as the maternal body, see, e.g., the references in Alter, “Celibacy, Sexuality and the Transformation of Gender into Nationalism in North India’, op. cit.; also Christiane Brosius, ‘Mapping the Nation”, in Pooje Scod (Ed.), Mappings (New Delhi: Either Gallery, 1997), pp. 15-19.

64. See Elizabeth Croll, feminism and Socialism in C/tins (London: Routledge, 1978); Roxane Witke, ‘Mao Tse-tung, Women and Suicide in the May Fourth Era”, lot. cit, Several commentators on the political iconography of India in the 1990s have, however, noted the muscular enmasculinisation of Ram as icon of regenerate Hinduism.

65. Li Xiaojiang, “My Path to Womanhocd”, in Committee on Women’s Studies in Asia (Ed.), Women’s studies, Woman’s Lives: Theory and Practice in Sooth and Southeast Asia (New Delhi: Kali for Women, i994), pp. 103-4.

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