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TitleStruggling with Famine in Warlord China: Social Networks, Achievements, and Limitations, 1920-21
AuthorFuller, Pierre Emery
UniversityU.C. Irvine
Thesis typePh.D
Number of pages414
AbstractThis dissertation makes the case that in China’s most severe food crisis of the first quarter
of the 20th century, the great north China famine of 1920-21, considerable life-saving relief was
generated by three segments of society largely neglected in the existing literature: Buddhist and
other native charity efforts working along parallel social channels to the better-publicized
missionary and international relief groups; the Republic’s maligned military establishment; and
officials and residents of the stricken communities themselves who were operating largely
“below the radar” of the distant, mostly city-based chroniclers of the famine whose
interpretations have been privileged in subsequent histories.
In the process, this study makes several historiographic interventions: first, it expands the
study of modern north China relief beyond the imperial and modern state apparatus. In doing so,
one can identify a paternalistic relief culture shared by state and extragovernmental actors in the
countryside that operated at multiple levels simultaneously and that persisted despite the Qing
collapse and increased marginalization of China’s interior. Second, this study offers a corrective
to the scholarly emphasis on the culture of “modernizing” elites in more affluent and Westerninfluenced
south China and the treaty ports, arguing that the prominence of southern elites in late
19th and early 20th century disaster relief elsewhere in the country was more a function of shifting
economic resources to the coasts and new forms of media than the emergence of a new “modern”
civic or humanitarian consciousness. This corrective allows us to trace continuities with
traditional Chinese society stretching well into the 20th century, to appreciate the social dynamic
of inland communities, and to recognize the possibility of multiple, alternative modernities
coinciding in China’s many regions. Finally, this study suggests that the dating of China’s
descent into a country of predatory state policies, widespread social dislocation, and incessant
civil war – all the hallmarks of “warlordism” – be pushed back to the mid-1920s, half a decade
after our famine. In short, this dissertation offers grounds for the reconsideration of the trajectory
of modern Chinese history through the prism of social responses to disaster in the early 20th
Keywords (en)China;warlord;famine;Beijing;state;relief;village;Zhili;exodus;migration; Mukden; Changchun;diplomacy;Nankai
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