JHCY, Best Article Prize 2020
Danni Cai, "Power, Politeness, and Print: Children's Letter Writing in Republican China."
The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth v. 13, no. 1 (2020): 38-62.
Danni Cai's article is a delightful, yet important, contribution to our understanding of children’s role in a world of adults. It contributes to the field of children's history by demonstrating how children's status in China changed as a result of the letter-writing ability that their Republican Era educational experiences provided. Focusing on the complexities of children writing letters on behalf of adults, Cai offers an important study of the interactions between adults and children through epistolary practice. Children’s literacy among illiterate adults shaped “dynamic interactions” in their families and local communities as well as in modernizing China more widely. Children's abilities, indeed their labor, challenged traditional hierarchies. Looking at the practices and social environments of the letters, Cai reveals how little letter writers served their families, while also developing specialized knowledge and cultivating their own modern sensibilities. Didactic letter writing manuals for children sought to shape children’s sensibilities, while they also responded to children’s particular learning needs. Cai’s work is sensitive to power dynamics expressed in the manuals as well as in the individual relationships they sought to influence. The article is an important addition to children’s role in the process of modernization as agents, not simply its passive subjects, which concurrently expands our historical knowledge of childhoods in different cultures.
Prize Committee. Rosaria Franco, Jane Nicholas, Jennifer Helgren