This article examines the politics of time and space in Nationalist China in connection with the regime's compromised anti-imperialism. It demonstrates that the Guomindang's nation-building project, which failed to confront capitalist social relations and the imperialist powers that underpinned them, overdetermined the party-state's ambivalent attitude toward modernity. The school campuses on which the Guomindang projected its social vision were, on the one hand, constructed as efficient, mechanical-clock-timed training grounds of wage laborers and, on the other hand, spaces of authenticity and beauty free from social alienation. This search for aestheticized spaces outside capitalism, in combination with a rejection of fundamental social changes, put the Guomindang in ideological league with radical right-wing movements active around the world between the two world wars.
My exposition of the Guomindang's ideological import serves as a critique of recent scholarship that tends to subsume the Guomindang and its peculiar approach to capitalism under a blanket denunciation of modern political movements. Adopting a poststructuralist suspicion of post-Enlightenment rationality, some scholars of China view twentieth-century history as a unilinear succession of nation-states that, regardless of ideological affiliation, destroyed pluralistic local particularities and everyday idiosyncrasies in favor of national unity and industrial productivity. The communist movement is, according to this view, equally guilty as the Guomindang in perpetuating this process. I argue that this one-dimensional reading of political modernity not only trivializes the politics of competing revolutions but abstracts everyday experiences as basic as those of space and time from their embeddedness in larger social relations.