This talk examines how sex affected the larger politics of the Sino-US alliance during the Second World War. By early 1945, Chinese from across the social spectrum resented the US military presence. Chinese soldiers and interpreters seethed at the way American personnel treated them like second-class citizens in their own country. The civilians who had welcomed American soldiers as allied friends in 1942 now associated their presence with inflation, black marketeering, reckless driving, and alcohol-fueled violence. But just one issue sparked violent backlash: sexual relations between American soldiers (GIs) and Chinese women.
Starting in March, government-backed newspapers began criticizing "Jeep girls," an epithet coined to describe the Chinese women who consorted with American servicemen. Rumors also circulated that GIs were using Jeeps to kidnap "respectable" women and rape them. Each narrative portrayed women's bodies as territory to be recovered and inextricable from national sovereignty. These narratives resonated widely, turning Jeep girls into the catalyst through which all variables causing resentment against the US military presence intersected and converged. With Japan on the ropes, China's allied friends now stood in the way of irreversibly consigning foreign imperialism to the past. Sexual relations were not the Sino-US alliance's seedy underside, but the core site of its tensions.
Zach Fredman is an assistant professor of history at Duke Kunshan University (DKU), where he teaches classes on U.S. foreign relations and modern Chinese history. Prior to arriving at DKU, he held postdoctoral fellowships at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and Dartmouth College in the United States. His forthcoming book, From Allied Friend to Mortal Enemy: The U.S. Military in Wartime China (UNC Press, 2021), won the Edward M. Coffman First Manuscript Prize from the Society for Military History (USA). His research has appeared or will be appearing in Diplomatic History, Diplomacy and Statecraft, Frontiers of History in China, and The Journal of Modern Chinese History.
Before the seminar
All attendees are invited to join us in the CIW Tea House from 3.30pm for an informal discussion with the guest speaker before the seminar.
The ANU China Seminar Series is supported by the China Institute and the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University's College of Asia & the Pacific.