Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

1 - The Machine in the Wasteland: Environmental Change and Agricultural Mechanization in Late Nineteenth-Century China

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: Maryland Suite C, Lobby Level

The Taiping Rebellion wreaked havoc across China from 1851 to 1864. Chinese and European observers offered different descriptions of the ecological changes which resulted, but their observations tended to agree that widespread depopulation led to the growth of uncultivated wasteland. This essay takes these observations of post-Taiping environments as the starting point for exploring changing approaches to agriculture and natural resource production in late nineteenth-century China. While most provincial officials carried out customary policies to encourage land resettlement in depopulated areas, a few began to discuss a new possibility: using steam-powered farming machines to transform wasteland into productive soil. From the 1860s onward, officials' increasing exposure to foreign science and technology through periodicals and personal experiences in Europe laid the groundwork for their interest in machines of all sorts. In the following decades, they made moves to acquire steam plows, water pumps, and other tools for land reclamation, canal building, and other purposes from Great Britain, Germany, and other countries. This essay aims to show how local ecological and demographic changes in Qing China's eastern provinces opened up new frontiers for the global tide of mechanization in the late nineteenth century. Although Chinese proposals for agricultural mechanization were never widely implemented in this era, they are significant insofar as they demonstrate that environmental crises in China's hinterlands helped to engender new considerations of natural resource production which relied less on human labor and more on technologies which were revolutionizing scales of space, time, and energy consumption around the world.

Peter Lavelle

Temple University, Pennsylvania

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1 - The Machine in the Wasteland: Environmental Change and Agricultural Mechanization in Late Nineteenth-Century China



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Send Email for The Machine in the Wasteland: Environmental Change and Agricultural Mechanization in Late Nineteenth-Century China