P29. Technology, Agriculture, and Labor in Modern China

Session: Session 4, 8:30 – 10:00 am, Saturday 9/30

Category: Individual Papers

Location: Technology

Chair: Yating Li (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)

Paper Presenters: Chris Chung (University of Toronto), Shumeng Han (University of California San Diego), Sijian Wang (University of Hawaii at Manoa)

A Perfect Storm: Meteorology, Humanitarian Discourse, and the Development of Chinese Maritime Territoriality in the Paracel Islands during the mid-1920s

Speaker: Chris Chung
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Toronto
Abstract: In the spring of 1925, Xu Jixiang, Head of the nascent Hydrographic Department of the Beiyang Chinese Ministry of Navy, urged the Chief Admiral of the Ministry of Navy to construct a meteorological station in the Paracel Islands, a string of tiny and remote features located over two hundred miles off the southeast coast of China in the South China Sea. The report is striking for a number of reasons. It represents one of the earliest instances, if not the earliest, of comprehensive Chinese state attention to the Paracels in the Chinese archival record after Qing officials visited and formally claimed them 16 years prior. More fundamentally, Xu’s rationales for construction bespoke broader and changing Chinese understandings of maritime territorial sovereignty. These understandings were significantly fueled, rather unexpectedly, by global meteorological construction endeavors and various notions of international humanitarianism that accompanied them. Drawing from archival findings in my recently completed dissertation, this talk examines how Xu understood and repurposed humanitarian discourse from Jesuit meteorologists in the Xujiahui Observatory and from the British Hong Kong colonial government in order to consolidate Chinese sovereignty claims in the Paracel Islands. In so doing, it explores the deeper nexus between meteorology, empire, and national border-making — a convergence so potent, it persists today in the form of one of the most volatile territorial disputes in the world.

The Search for Technological Advancement: Wheat Variety Improvements in Shaanxi, 1940–1978

Speaker: Shumeng Han
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of California San Diego
Abstract: Drawing on historical publications on seed promotion work during the Mao era, this paper puts wheat at the center of analysis to investigates how biodiversity of wheat variety was shaped by the communist politics and state-society relations.  The paper argues that the “improvement” discourse in seed production become a site of negotiation among four influential ideologies in the Mao era, including collectivism, local protectionism, scientific productivity, and mass line and self-reliance. In different periods, certain ideologies held more power than others, influencing which genes or varieties were considered undesirable in the pursuit of “improvement” in cultivated plants. Eventually, the journey in China’s search for the “red” seed came to a point where the “improvement” discourse demonstrated a compromise as the result of a more balanced relation among the four ideologies. Besides its contributions to the modern China’s agricultural change, this research also provides a new theoretical framework beyond China studies that brings together social and economic history with Science and Technological Studies by critically examining the discourse of technological improvement.

Resistance From the Weak: Chinese indentured laborers in Samoa between 1903 and 1948

Speaker: Sijian Wang
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Hawaii at Manoa
Abstract: The social networks of indentured Chinese laborers in Samoa were more complex than previously recognized. While existing research has focused on the mistreatment of Chinese workers in Samoa and its impact on Samoan society and culture, little attention has been given to the internal networks developed by Chinese laborers. Chinese workers developed various methods of negative resistance, including opium and gambling, which caused significant problems for the Administration. They also formed secret societies to undertake collective actions to protect their interests. However, workers could also use their networks to petition the Chinese consul in Samoa and improve their working conditions. Despite the intermarriage ban, some Chinese laborers defied the ban and fused into Samoan society, eventually becoming permanent residents.