Struggling with Famine in Warlord China: Social Networks, Achievements, and Limitations, 1920-21
This 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 Western-influenced south China and the treaty ports, arguing that the prominence of southern elites in late 19 th 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 century.
0342: Asian Studies
0582: Modern history
0617: Public administration
0630: Public policy