Organized Panel Session
As one of the world’s most productive ecosystems, wetlands have long been drained, filled, flooded, and polluted by Asian societies intent on benefitting from their natural abundance. However, the pivotal role of wetlands in the making of pre-industrial Asia has yet to receive adequate attention. Our panel addresses this oversight by exploring how people lived with, exploited, and competed for wetlands across four Asian regions. We show how institutions and groups engineered wetlands into rice paddies, fish farms, reed fields, and transportation hubs; and how wetland transformations intersected with state building, geopolitical developments, commercialization, and urbanization. Our trans-regional conversation stresses that efforts to remake wetlands were subject to not only available technologies and power relations, but also environmental constraints. Brian Lander traces the role of dike building in the agricultural colonization of China’s Jianghan Plain from 200 BCE through the thirteenth century. Hieu Phung-Corsi examines the rise of the Red River estuaries as a strategic rice center in fifteenth-century Vietnam by highlighting the confluence of climatic conditions, technology, and development policies. Wenjiao Cai argues that multipurpose waterworks enabled agricultural expansion in eighteenth-century Korea’s northern frontier while also causing disputes over wetland resources. Finally, in his analysis of eighteenth-and nineteenth- century Japanese farmers, fishers, and riverboat pilots, Roderick Wilson demonstrates the embeddedness of quotidian lives in the riparian environment of the Kanto region. Together, our papers assert that wetlands provide a fruitful site for rethinking historiographical boundaries between terrestrial and aquatic zones, environmental and technological systems, and human and nonhuman entities.