China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Scholarship on the origins of China’s economic reforms usually focuses on the post-Mao years between 1978 and 1984, when Deng Xiaoping and his allies reoriented Chinese socialism from class struggle to economic development. Representing the latest research on the Chinese economy and consumer culture in the 1970s, this panel complicates and challenges this grand narrative. Relying on multilingual archives, grassroots sources, and interviews from China, Hong Kong, and the United States, the papers in this panel trace China’s great economic transformations to the overlapping global, regional, and local contexts of the pre-reform era. By exploring shifts in the aesthetic and economic conceptualization of touristic landscapes in two key periods, the early 1950s and the 1970s, Gavin Healy’s study of China’s foreign tourism industry discusses how Chinese officials came to conceive of China’s natural and cultural landscape as “scenery exports” and national assets in a global marketplace. Peter Hamilton examines how crisscrossing Chinese and American networks centered on Hong Kong revived Sino-US trade after 1971, provided business intelligence for US multinational corporations, and cultivated personal connections between PRC officials and the American business community. Guangji Hu’s paper provides a local history of trade-driven economies in three counties along the China-Hong Kong border and shows that cross-border trade had already created an export-oriented local economy before 1978. Finally, Yanjie Huang’s paper on the distribution and consumption of imported and domestically-made wrist watches in urban China in the 1970s discusses shifts in economic and political culture before economic reform.