Above: Klaus Mühlhahn of the Free University of Berlin


By Hsiao-ting Lin

The fourth annual Hoover Institution workshop on China, entitled Transition and Transformation: China in the Twentieth Century, was held from August 1 to August 10. This year, the workshop was cosponsored with the Seminar of East Asian Studies, Free University of Berlin and featured eight speakers from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and China, all of whom analyzed political, economic, social, and institutional factors leading to the transformation of China in the past century. Workshop participants presented their research to the Hoover/Stanford community as well as scholars and researchers in the San Francisco Bay Area; below are the topics and descriptions of their presentations.

Poshek Fu (University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign) called attention to his new scholarship on the Cold War that has explored the cultural dynamic of global conflicts. By focusing on the state-private network of postwar Mandarin-language cinema, he described the role of the cinematic battle in colonial Hong Kong among China, Taiwan, and the United States to win the hearts and minds of the ethnic Chinese communities in the region. Fu also discussed the ambiguous ways in which this bipolar conflict in the twentieth century influenced the ongoing debate about modernity and cultural tradition.

Klaus Mühlhahn (Free University of Berlin) explored the correlation between the rise of modern China and the intricate historical background and legacies of the country. Tracing China’s prosperity during it history, Mühlhahn argued that the origins and consequences of China’s contemporary development could be understood by placing it within the context of China's history and profound social, political, and economic transformations in the modern era. He also explored China’s economic and sociopolitical transformation from the early modern period to the present by focusing on the function of social institutions, for they frequently indicated the failures and successes of China’s historical transformation in the past century.

Xiaonian Xu (China Europe International Business School) introduced the challenges the Chinese economy now faces and then analyzed what might have caused the problems. He argued that a lack of reforms since the 1990s, increasing reliance on Keynesian policies, market distortion, excess capacity, and diminishing return on investment are possible reasons. His remedies for fixing the problems included an end to manipulating the balance sheets, cleaning up the excesses, deregulating state monopolies and protecting private property rights.

Felix Boecking (University of Edinburgh) presented an in-depth study of land reform, often seen as the key by which the Chinese Communist Party gained power in China's countryside. Land reform did end the unequal distribution of land but also dramatically changed the socioeconomic structure of rural China. As Boecking pointed out, however, the communist land reform did not create equal landownership in rural China. Although the People’s Republic of China strived to provide equal distribution of the land, regional differences in ownership structure, geographic diversity, and different cultural patterns all contributed to the varying outcomes of land reform in different areas. Using Hoover’s archival treasures, Boecking demonstrated that the outcome of reform differed not just between regions but also between villages in the same county, suggesting that the most important variable in explaining land reform outcomes were the politics of China's socialist revolution.


Debin Ma of the London School of Economics

Debin Ma (London School of Economics) focused on the establishment of a centralized bureaucratic political system in imperial China, as well as its significance in the long run. The presentation examined the long-term impact of this political structure on the economic trajectory in traditional China. Ma specifically discussed the property rights regime, legal system, market structure, and fiscal and financial institutions; he closed by explaining the influence of this system on shaping contemporary Chinese economic development.

Shirley Ye (University of Birmingham) displayed visuals of the Grand Canal and Yellow River during the 1920s to show China’s progress of modernization and globalization led by the early Republican (Beiyang) government. As China underwent the Yellow River floods in 1917, the government was eager to rejuvenate the plains of north China back to their earlier prosperity by restoring the Grand Canal, which had represented Chinese imperial power since the sixth century. As the Chinese government sought global expertise, the plan to improve the Grand Canal turned out to be a developmental view shared by both the Chinese government and American businessmen and engineers. That vision, as Ye discovered in Hoover’s photo holdings, was one part humanitarian, one part corporate, with both parts driven by a vision of modernity that did not compromise China’s sovereignty. 

Greg Lewis (Weber State University) shared his findings of the relationship between Song Ziwen (T.V. Soong) and Kong Xiangxi (H.H. Kung), two prominent and influential politicians in modern China whose personal papers are housed at Hoover. Previous studies have emphasized tensions between the two men and argued that their differences stemmed from their vastly different personalities, philosophies, or the relationship they had with other Nationalist leaders such as Chiang Kai-shek. Based on Hoover’s historical holdings, Lewis untangled the intricate relationship between the two men and presented new findings.


Felix Wemheuer of Cologne University

Felix Wemheuer (Cologne University) closed this year’s summer workshop with a discussion of a complex system of official labeling that defined a person’s social and political hierarchies in Maoist China (194976). This system created overlapping and intersectional hierarchies that influenced the distribution of material goods, as well as access to or exclusion from economic and political organizations and social capital. Building on feminist critics of mainstream economic theories, Wemheuer not only took production and distribution into account but also the reproduction of human life and the division of labor. He also questioned whether the Chinese Communist Party successfully reduced the intersectional hierarchies in the Mao era or whether the system of labeling created a premodern society of estates.

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