Final Public Oral Exam: John Alekna

Final Public Oral Examination
Event date: 
May 15, 2020 - 1:00pm
Seminar Series: 
Final Public Oral Exam

Reunified Through Radio: Media, Technology, and Politics in Modern China 1923-1958


Janet Chen, adviser
Sheldon Garon
Emily Thompson
Jacob Eyferth, University of Chicago


Reunified through Radio: Media, Technology, and Politics in Modern China, 1923-1958 reinterprets the rise of mass media and mass politics in China through the lens of communication technology. Radio first arrived in China in the winter of 1922-23, bursting into a world where communication was slow and disjointed, where less than ten percent of the population ever read newspapers—and these often took days or weeks to reach even relatively proximate locations. Just thirty-five years later, at the beginning of the Great Leap Forward, radio broadcasts reached hundreds of millions of people instantaneously, every day. Tracing the history of radio in China from its introduction in the 1920s through to the peak of Maoist totalitarianism in the Great Leap Forward, the project shows how radio transformed news, information, and governance. Trained radio monitors, posted in rural districts from the early 1930s onward, transcribed, reproduced, and redistributed news, information, and educational content broadcast from government stations. By the mid-1950s every county in China had such a monitoring post—most more than one. Thus, the project rebalances the story of the growth of mass media by integrating wireless and rural areas into a previously urban and print-centered narrative. While altering the flow of news and information, radio also coordinated mass mobilization campaigns, distributed government policies and implementation guidelines, and enforced compliance through shaming and public awareness of the ‘correct line’. By bringing central government movements and directives to rural areas where ninety percent of the population lived, radio technology reordered the political geography of China, creating the space for a reorganized and powerful Chinese state in the latter half of the twentieth century. In this way, the project reinterprets the history of the rise of mass politics in China; it should not be understood as arising from war, the introduction of party organization, or ideology alone. It must also be understood through the lens of technological development.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam. Contact Lee Horinko for a copy of the dissertation and the Zoom meeting link and password.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

Area of Interest: 
Colonialism & Post Colonialism
Foreign Relations
Political History
19th Century
20th Century