Fulbright Model: Gina Russo

  • Personal Statement

    Gina Russo Gina Russo, China, History

    The bell struck; as a chorus of Amitbha Buddha resonated around the dining hall, I watched the rows of monks and nuns, all with solemn expression, slowly walk towards their chairs until all 4,000 seats were filled. I watched with newly found fascination as they each bowed to the Buddha statue and ritualistically put their bowls at exactly a forty-five-degree angle from their plates. While I had witnessed this three times a day for the past two weeks, that day I saw it in a completely different light; that day, I realized how relevant this ritual was to my own life.

    In 2006, I lived for a year in Hong Kong where I realized how important experience is to learning about a new culture. As I walked along the river with 10,000 other locals during the mid-autumn festival, I felt exhilarated to be involved rather than on the sidelines. Similarly, as I talked with a journalist from a provincial Chinese newspaper, I realized how much more I could absorb about the culture by speaking the local language. Through this involvement, I could see the true essence of local people shine, and I understood their culture on a deeper level. This realization was not always easy; it involved abandoning my fears and assumptions and thrusting myself into an environment that was completely outside of my suburban American comfort zone.

    I was soon to realize, however, that cultural experiences could be much deeper and more personal. In July of 2007, I spent a month living in Fo Guang Shan monastery in Taiwan, where I not only stretched the outermost limits of what I was comfortable, but completely broke free from them; here, I not only immersed myself in another culture, but then used its lessons and customs in my every day experience. This realization was not immediate, and was much more emotionally uncomfortable than anything I had experienced in Hong Kong.

    When I arrived at Fo Guang Shan, I expected a challenging intellectual experience. I expected to approach this program from an anthropological viewpoint, where I would be amongst monks and nuns learning how they practice Buddhism. I never expected to have my own religious experience, or that the practices I learned would be relevant to my daily life.

    My anticipations of non-stop classes and intellectual discussions quickly dissolved as I spent four hours a day meditating, doing Taiji, and chanting in temples at 5:00 a.m. For the first week, I giggled through line up, whispered through mealtime, and counted the seconds before I could stretch my legs in the meditation hall. I longed for classes, which exercised my intellectual side, but dreaded religious practice, as I found them useless as a non-Buddhist. But that day in the dining hall changed my perspective, as I realized that this ritualistic way of eating was not a performance; it was a routine activity for the monastics, and I longed to know the reasons behind it. By eagerly trying to understand, I came to grasp how mindfulness of the present moment could bring peace, calm, and insight about the world. After this realization, I craved my meals in silence where I could contemplate every moment as it happened and fully absorb my experience.

    I came out of this experience a better person, more aware of not only what other cultures have to offer, but even who I am as an individual and where I fit into my own culture. I used to think of myself as an open-minded person, a person who could learn from others with different opinions and beliefs than my own. After spending a year abroad, however, I understood that I used to view the world from my own personal, naïve middle class American perspective. Now, however, I have reformed my lifestyle to accept my new knowledge, and I am able to involve other cultures’ beliefs and customs into my own individual framework. While my friends have heard stories about physical discomforts and challenges I experienced, they have also witnessed my growth. I now embrace the quest to learn about myself through learning about other cultures, as the more I learn, the more apparent our commonalities become.

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    Statement of Proposed Study or Research

    Gina Russo, China, History

    The Process of Nation Building in Guomindang Educational Platforms

    I propose to attend Huadong Shifen Daxue (East China Normal University) in Shanghai to examine theories of nation building promoted by the Nationalist Party in the Nanjing decade (1927–1937). The end result of my year-long research project will lay the foundation for advanced graduate work at the master’s and Ph.D. levels.

    I would like to center my research on how the nationalist government uses secondary school history textbooks to develop and cultivate ideas of the Chinese nation in the minds of the people. Secondary education is both broad enough in scope, yet specific enough in content, that particular symbols will be the most defined. Moreover, a nation’s control of history can readily illuminate how it views itself contemporaneously, making history education a prime candidate for study. I plan to focus on how these textbooks portray the modern period, from the Qing dynasty through the 1911 revolution, and, more specifically, how the curriculum addresses the 1911 revolution and the role of Sun Yat Sen. In addition, the suggested standardized curriculum and government documents concerning textbooks revisions will also be useful. Finally, I plan to consider projects created by Chinese students to understand what they actually retained from textbooks. Historical essay contests were popular in public education, and winning publications could illuminate not only what the students absorbed from classes, but also the ideas that the government wanted to reward. The final result of this research will not only help elucidate the history of the Republican era and Chinese nationalism, but also contribute to research of nationalism worldwide.

    The study of nationalism is currently one of the most disputed and debated subjects in the historical field. Because nationalism as a force can illuminate peoples’ political, economic, social, and cultural attitudes, many political theorists such as Benedict Anderson and Ernest Gellner currently struggle with defining and explaining the process of nation-building in the twentieth century. The multifarious aspects of nationalism is of particular interest in China, as China at the turn of the twentieth century had the unique status of being exploited by Western powers, yet never fully colonized. This places China in an odd position relative to current theoretical paradigms, which argue a dichotomy between the development of nationalism in those nations once colonized by western powers and in the modern western world; as China does not fit into either of those categories, defining the formation of Chinese nationalism is particularly challenging.

    The formation of the Chinese nation was heavily debated at the turn of the century, but it was transformed by the rise of Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist party (Guomindang). Before the Nanjing decade in China (1927-1937), many intellectuals, including authors, politicians, and academics, ruminated over the various ways the Chinese nation should manifest, but it was Chiang Kai Shek’s nationalist party that began to articulate and propagate a standardized concept of the Chinese nation in order to unify the country. To spread their vision, the Guomindang dictated the use of symbols which ignited, yet controlled, national sentiment. In the last chapter of her book The Making of the Republican Citizen, Henrietta Harrison examines how Chiang Kai Shek regulated everything from flags to calendars, from dress to acceptable forms of greeting. Widespread use of these symbols moved the concept of the Chinese nation from an abstract concept into tangible reality, a reality better understood by the common sectors of society.

    The Guomindang used standardized mass education to spread these symbols and concepts. Thus, insight into how the nationalists viewed the nation and its citizenry can be found by examining select educational platforms that Chiang Kai Shek helped create and support. Several studies, such as Xiaoping Cong’s Teacher’s Schools and the Making of the Chinese Nation State, explore the changes in educational platform during the Nanjing decade. Cong analyzes the role teachers played in forming the new Chinese nation through a critical examination of the structure and curriculum in teacher’s schools. While this research illuminates how the Guomindang trained teachers to spread their propaganda, it focuses upon the teacher’s schools themselves rather than the curriculum these teachers taught, and there is no discussion of historical curriculum in primary or secondary schools. My study will build upon these previous works, adding a new dimension to the literature on Guomindang education policies and clarify specifically the importance of history education to Guomindang nation building.

    East China Normal University would be an ideal location to carry out this research. I will be able to utilize the Shanghai Municipal Archives and, more specifically, the Educational Bureau Archives in the Guomindang section. I plan to use Guomindang-issued historical textbooks as my documentary base; however, I also plan to consult the official national guidelines for central government-produced textbooks, meetings and drafts concerning textbook revisions, as well as provincial records of their use. These archives will also hold records of secondary school essay contests, as well as guidelines for these competitions. Furthermore, Shanghai is a geographically convenient location for accessing archives throughout the rest of China, such as the Number 2 archives in Nanjing; these will offer secondary archival resources.

    At East China Normal, I will also have the privilege of working with Professor Jin Jiang. Professor Jiang received her Ph.D. from Stanford University and is now a vice director of the Center for Chinese Studies Abroad. Having worked with Fulbright students in the past, she will be a valuable advisor, and she has agreed to serve as my mentor throughout my year of research.

    I am currently conducting extensive research on the development of nationalism in China, which has given me the preparation and basic familiarity to complete this advanced project in Shanghai. However, I am currently approaching nationalism from a slightly different vantage point. Instead of examining nationalism through governmental policy, my current research focuses on the development of the nation through literature and popular culture, specifically in Shanghai women’s magazines from the 1930s. This has not only familiarized me with current nationalist theories and the development of nationalism from a cultural perspective, but it has also been an excellent medium to develop my research and Chinese language abilities.

    This project could be the turning point in my educational career, as it can give me experience that could otherwise not be acquired. Chinese archival work is drastically different from America in terms of conduct, organization, and use, and familiarization with this system would be beneficial to conducting future research; being able to conduct a research project independently would allow me to perfect these skills crucial to my future career. More importantly, however, this opportunity will allow me to immerse myself in Chinese culture. After my abroad experience in Hong Kong, it has become obvious that living in a society can illuminate subjects of study on a level that written material cannot achieve. Nationalism is still thriving and evolving in Chinese life, thus shaping the current society; an opportunity to be a part of that society could allow me to understand nationalism more thoroughly. The prospect of living and studying abroad offers two distinct learning opportunities that complement and enhance one another. Given the opportunity, I could end this year not only with an important contribution to historical research, but also with a new familiarity of a local, national, and even global community.

    Harrison, Henrietta. Making of the Republican Citizen: Political Ceremonies and Symbols in China 1911-1929. New York: Oxford UP, 2000.

    Cong, Xiaoping. Teachers' Schools and the Making of the Modern Chinese Nation-State, 1897-1937. Canada: University of British Columbia Press, 2007.

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