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TitleThe post office and state formation in modern China, 1869-1949
AuthorHarris, Lana Jeremy
UniversityUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Thesis typePh.D
Number of pages537
AbstractThis dissertation explores the myriad ways the Imperial/Chinese Post Office contributed to the formation of the modern Chinese state in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In particular, this is a study of how the nineteenth and twentieth century internal and external crises in China began a process in which the Post Office played an instrumental role in transforming the presiding state of an agrarian empire into a centralizing nation-state. In the midst of that transformation, the Post Office contributed to the shift of the locus of sovereignty from the person of the Emperor to the impersonal state.
Originating in 1896, the Chinese Post Office became universal within the country by the Communist victory in 1949. The Post Office survived as an administrative entity throughout this entire period because its foreign and Chinese administrators pursued strategies to insulate, protect, and strengthen this “non-political” institution from external disruption and territorial division. In the midst of protecting its territorial integrity, the Post Office also challenged and out-competed six other pre-existing postal services on Chinese soil. In attaining its monopoly, the Post Office occupied the entire geographically-defined territory of China as the postal monopolist and attained international recognition as sovereign in postal affairs. As a new-style interventionist central government institution, the Post Office not only carried mail, but also heavily subsidized the modern press and offered a wide variety of “public services” such as money orders, parcel post, postal savings, and simple life insurance to transform society and the economy as an “extramarket” force mitigating some of the negative effects of capitalist development. Coupled the Post Office’s role as an extramarket agent was its creation and control over a new “information infrastructure” for the modern Chinese nation-state. Within this infrastructure, the Post Office coordinated all modern and traditional forms of transportation, filling in the gaps with its own couriers, to revolutionize the sense of space, time, and speed in Chinese society and create a new informational environment for the modern nation-state. Controlling that infrastructure allowed the Post Office to become the most important censoring institution of the Republican state through its ability to place institutional controls on the circulation of information. If the Post Office intervened negatively in the public sphere through censorship, it also positively advocated for itself by creating its corporate identity through the use of sophisticated public relations techniques that blurred the lines between public information and advertising. Finally, the Post Office was one of the most important state institutions maintaining contact with overseas Chinese networks through its long-term relationship with Qiaopiju remittance firms. In the midst of that relationship, the Post Office facilitated the transnationalization of the state by creating its own overseas remittance network.
In sum, this dissertation argues that sandwiched between the establishment of a modern Postal Service in 1896 and the Communist takeover in 1949, the late Qing, warlord, and Nationalist governments created the structures of an internationally-recognized, and internally-coherent, independent and territorially-sovereign state. One of the most important state institutions in this process was the Chinese Post Office.
Keywords (en)China;state;post office;administration;mail;postal service;territory;business;advertising;censorship;contract;information;infrastructure;qiaopiju;remittance;network;money
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