2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 244

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In the Market for a State: Economy and State-Building on the Chinese Peripheries

Organizer: Philip Thai, Northeastern University, USA

Chair: Man Bun Kwan, University of Cincinnati, USA

Discussant: Man Bun Kwan, University of Cincinnati, USA

The four papers of this panel all focus on the relationship between markets and state-building in nineteenth and twentieth-century China. State efforts to better command local resources by taxing, regulating, and policing the economy were critical to meeting both foreign and domestic challenges to the authority of the central state. Furthermore, state-building and attempts to penetrate local society and economy were not simply linear processes: top-down or bottom-up, by coercion or by inducement, they were negotiated between central policies, local responses, and vicissitudes in the global economy. By focusing on the history of China’s economic development as a dynamic process driven by both state and non-state actors, the papers of this panel reconsider prior scholarship on the Chinese state and its deleterious impact on the economy. Moreover, the focus on peripheral regions adds a new dimension to China’s economic history by narrating the process of state-building in areas traditionally distant from central state institutions. We hope that these papers and the discussion they stimulate will encourage the further study of China’s economic history and industrial and commercial development as a dynamic process involving the central and local state, politicians and merchants, consumers and planners, and other actors often overlooked in the broad narrative of China’s economic history.

The Bureaucratization of Business: Bankruptcy in Wartime Chongqing
Maura D. Dykstra, California Institute of Technology, USA

This paper will review the process by which commercial bankruptcy in wartime Chongqing became subject to political and bureaucratic regulation. This history will be presented in contrast to a description of the largely informal process of bankruptcy overseen by merchant associations in the late Qing. The shift toward a bureaucratization of bankruptcy in the 1930s and 1940s will be explained as the product of the active development of both central and municipal state organs designed to protect and control commerce. This bureaucratic proliferation will be linked to two important motivations: the state’s demand for resources during its war against Japan, and concern about wildly fluctuating markets that threatened the people’s livelihood. This paper will argue that the post-1949 governance of commercial affairs is foreshadowed by developments in the Nationalist state’s attempt to control the wartime economy.

Minerals at War: Nationalist China and the markets for Tungsten, 1937-1946
Judd C Kinzley, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA

This paper critically examines the linkages between state power and mineral extraction by focusing on the production and distribution of tungsten ore, a mineral with many military applications, during the wartime (1937-1945) era. An explosion in the price of tungsten in the global market accompanied the outbreak of war in the late 1930s. The Nationalist government, in order to increase revenues and pay back sizable lend-lease agreements to the Soviet Union and the United States sought to exert control over production and distribution of the mineral in peripheral regions like Guizhou and Yunnan in the southwest and Xinjiang in the northwest. The process of exerting control over the production and marketing of tungsten ore paralleled and in many cases spearheaded a broader state building process being undertaken by the Nationalist government in these border regions during the wartime period. This paper, which relies on sources drawn from provincial and central level archives in China and in Taiwan, shines a new light on wartime in China, revealing it as a period not only of tremendous destruction, but in the case of China’s southwestern and northwestern peripheries, as one of unprecedented political and economic centralization.

Do You Have a Permit for That? Commercial Licensing in Mongolia in the Early Nineteenth Century
Jonathan Schlesinger, Indiana University-Bloomington, USA

Commercial exploitation of natural resources was illegal in Qing Mongolia without a proper license. Based on archival research in Ulaanbaatar and Beijing, this paper explores the expansion of commercial licensing during the years 1820-1850, a period when interregional and international trade boomed in Mongolia. Trade had been under strict state supervision, and certain jurisdictions banned exploitation of natural resources altogether. Yet as anxieties about poaching, the black market, and Chinese migrants reached a climax, the Qing state moved to legalize formerly prohibited trades, such as in gold, firewood, and high-value pharmaceuticals. Legalization entailed an expansion of bureaucratic power: authorities located and registered undocumented Chinese workers, established joint ventures with the big merchant houses, and doubled down on policing. At the same time, imperial authorities worked to clarify access rights, secure Mongol elites’ claims to their land, and assist in repatriating migrants. The paper argues that commercial licensing was in this way both a vigorous form of state-building and a reassertion of the multiethnic, Qing imperial project. It highlights the first half of the nineteenth century as a time of significant change and questions conventional periodizations of Qing frontier history.

Law, State-Building, and the War on Smuggling in Coastal China, 1927-1937
Philip Thai, Northeastern University, USA

This paper examines the relationship between state-building and the policing of trade in China during the Nanjing Decade (1927-1937) through the Nationalists’ war on smuggling. Recovery of tariff autonomy and the introduction of protective duties during the 1930s provided the Nationalists critical fiscal resources to fend off their political rivals and construct a modern state. It also, however, created a veritable smuggling epidemic that threatened both government revenue and public order. To combat smuggling, the Nationalists responded with an aggressive expansion of its administrative, technical, and legal infrastructure almost without precedence in Chinese history. Using legal cases and codes, customs archives, and popular press reports, this paper examines one important dimension of this war on smuggling and how it changed both in representation and practice over time: the legal context that defined the crime of “smuggling” and governed the treatment of merchants and other individuals. This paper shows that despite encountering significant resistance from mercantile communities and extraterritorialized foreigners, legal reforms combating smuggling contributed to the Nationalists' state-building project by reversing the Qing legacies of legal pluralism and extending the jurisdictional reach and authority of the central state.