China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Projects to remake and institutionalize property relations were fundamental to nineteenth- and twentieth-century imperial strategy. Our panel offers fresh perspectives on how the Asian empires – the Qing, Tsarist Russia, and Imperial Japan – enlisted transnational understandings of property rights to domesticate their contested frontier in present-day Northeast China. Equally striking is how the borderland communities utilized indigenous legal notions of private rights in their everyday negotiations with the competing imperial institutions. The panel challenges the grand narratives of top-down colonial state making by showing how the indigenous/settler communities actively participated in the construction of the legal and territorial spaces of modern China and Northeast Asia.
To do so, the papers explore the conceptual evolution and uses of landed property rights as the rivaling empires dominated the Manchurian borderland in quick succession between the Qing reforms in the 1880s and the end of the WWII in 1945. Chen examines the profound implications of the Qing’s effort to privatize state-owned land in the early 20th century. Hua studies how Chinese legal activists deployed sentimental notions of property rights to dismantle the legacies of the Russian occupation in the 1900s. Dong reconstructs the interaction between the Japanese colonial urban administrators and the local Chinese in land acquisition and how it shaped the landscape of the railway towns. Yoon describes the ways the Manchu bannermen of a Sino-Korean border town used modern practices relating to property to defend their land rights against Han Chinese, Korean, and Japanese encroachment from the 1880s to 1945.