This article revisits reformatories set up under Nationalist China from 1928–37 to transform former Communists into loyal nationalist subjects. By examining confessions attributed to inmates and scandalous tales of Communists published by reformatories, it argues that these institutions were more than devices to suppress political dissent. Instead, reformatories played productive functions for the Guomindang state. First, reformatories’ in-house magazines conjured up an anticommunist figure of the Communist that combined the excesses of urban capitalism and the residues of China’s “superstitious” sect. Communist cadres, articles written by political converts suggested, were puerile, capricious, and alienated from traditional moral norms. At the same time, the Communist movement was attributed qualities of an evil cult preying on the ignorant and the irrational. Second, by publicizing the overcoming of the sins attributed to Communists, the reformatories created, with contributions by former Communists, a textual economy in which the Chinese populace as a whole turned away from left-wing politics and acquired a new subject position. More than converting individual Communists into “proper” nationalists, reformatories were supposed to bring about, if only in allegorical terms, mass conversion to the sobriety, obedience, hierarchical order, and organic unity that the nation was supposed to entail.

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