China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
As China has been enmeshed in globe-spanning networks of oil production and consumption since the 1870s, and as the PRC’s Belt and Road Initiative locks in petroleum infrastructures for the foreseeable future, a growing number of scholars are attending to the shifting cultural resonances of oil over the course of the modern period. This panel will address ways in which petroleum has seeped into everyday life in China from the late Qing onward. We seek to understand the specific resonances of this non-solid hydrocarbon and the extent to which its meanings can be distinguished from those of other energy sources, especially coal. China’s entry into the hydrocarbon age has been marked by revolutionary, anti-imperialist, and nationalist struggles that have engendered differing engagements with oil resources; the political aspirations of successive regimes have shaped the meanings of petroleum production and consumption in varying ways. Lin-chun Wu will address the efforts of the U.S. conglomerate Standard Oil to establish a market for the petroleum product kerosene during the late Qing and Republican periods; Covell Meyskens will consider photographic representations of oil consumption and production from the 1950s through the 1980s; Li Hou will analyze debates about production and livelihood as China moved from an oil importer to exporter amid the 1970s global oil crisis. Discussant Shellen Wu, with expertise in the history of coal in modern China, will illuminate the challenges of understanding oil’s role in daily life during different historical periods.