This week, we feature a pair of picture cards depicting New Life Movement lessons for children donated by Charlotte Brooks. The images depict scenes where children are participating in various activities, with the flag of the Republic of China on display. One card shows children sitting neatly in rows of seats listening to an individual speaking in front at a podium, on the reverse side, there is a message that hats should be taken off at gatherings. The other card depicts children standing at attention while one is raising the flag on a flagpole. The message on the reverse reads that the flag should be respected as it represents the country, and everyone should gather for the flag raising and stand at attention and salute. Both cards are numbered, perhaps to indicate that they are part of a series or a set of “rules” cards or perhaps they were numbered similar to trading cards to encourage children to collect and read them. In any case, these cards provide a snippet of what is known as the New Life Movement that occurred in China in the 1930s.
In brief, the New Life Movement was a social movement led by Chiang Kai-Shek and the Republic of China that encouraged Chinese cultural reform and followed the virtues of Confucianism, Christianity, and nationalism. In addition to the two depicted on the donated cards, other rules include polite public behavior, such as no spitting, urinating, or sneezing. Perhaps due to the movement’s nature and core tenants, Western-style influences such as movies and nightclubs were seen as decadent and unpatriotic and women would be pushed into taking on a more traditional role that limited their freedoms.
The New Life Movement would eventually make its way overseas with Madame Chiang Kai-Shek making efforts to promote the movement in the United States Chinese community. In New York, the movement would transform the former Chinese Women’s New Life Association into the Women’s New Life Association in 1940. Unlike the New Life Movement in China, the Women’s New Life Movement in the United States transformed itself and directed its focus on contributing to the war effort against Japanese aggression in WW2. It in fact would promote women’s participation in the public sphere through social and cultural activism. Activities such as wartime fundraisers, blood drives, and participating in Chinese language courses to promote literacy were some of how the Women’s New Life Movement mobilized Chinese women in the United States. Ultimately, this movement pulled Chinese-American women from their traditional domestic roles into becoming social and political activists.