China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
From the mid-1800s through the Second World War, the successive central governments of China engaged in hitherto unforeseen infrastructural developments in the borderlands, expanding highways, building dams, digging canals, and standardizing currencies under the rubric of economic development and modernization. This panel observes the sociopolitical processes of infrastructure developments as they crystallized in local spaces. In its drive for facilitating the flow of goods, the Chinese state had to repeatedly contend with issues, ranging from geopolitical rivalries to indigenous dynamics. While infrastructure projects created material realities with long term economic impact, the projects were additionally coopted by state and local actors to dominate, coerce, bind, and root either new or preexisting socioeconomic relationships. How “economic,” this panel then asks, were economic infrastructures?
Kim’s analysis of a Manchurian gold mine cuts across geopolitics and local infrastructure projects at the end of 19th century. Chaney explains how late Qing’s innovative taxation infrastructure development on the Qinghai-Gansu borderlands were met with intense, yet futile, local state opposition. Reynolds examines infrastructural appropriation in Kham through ‘u lag, a Tibetan socioeconomic system that the Chinese state sought to control during borderland wars of the 1930s. And finally, Kinzley explores the multi-national efforts to link southwestern China into British India via a pack road during the Second World War. Altogether these papers draw on the recent infrastructural turn in the humanities, and investigate the social and political lives that shaped and were shaped by the material world of infrastructures.