China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Political histories of the late Qing and early Republican periods have often featured the chaotic decline of the Manchu and Beijing governments while the country headed towards inevitable revolution and authoritarianism. This comparative transregional panel instead takes a bottom-up approach, highlighting communities that often created alternative, idiosyncratic forms of governance, based on local norms.
The first paper by Joohee Suh discusses charitable efforts of collecting and burying dead bodies in late-Qing Shanghai as a way to highlight how civic institutions such as charities and guilds contributed to the functioning of the city before the demise of the Qing. Sarah Yu’s paper demonstrates that the regional autonomy of Shanxi, away from influence from Beijing, facilitated the province’s ability not only to deal with epidemic disease crises, but also create a functioning and effective public health infrastructure. Focusing on private gun ownership in early Republican Guangdong, Lei Duan studies how the flow of modern firearms from the late nineteenth century transformed power structure in local society, accelerated local militarization, and eventually facilitated local autonomy. James Lin’s research examines how intellectuals and scientists approached the question of creating a modern, agrarian China in the Republican period, and the fundamental tension present in their debates over nationally-implemented policies versus village-led movements.
Collectively, this panel will reappraise the effectiveness and significance of local, community-focused autonomy and devotes much-needed attention to these initiatives.