Chinese Empire after Empire: Agrarian Colonization on the Twentieth-Century Frontier

Chinese Empire after Empire: Agrarian Colonization on the Twentieth-Century Frontier

Mark Frank - Postdoctoral Associate and Lecturer in the Environmental Humanities of East Asia

Thursday, April 22, 2021 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
via Zoom See map

During the Second Sino-Japanese War, the leadership of the Republic of China attempted to mobilize Han citizens to the frontier for large-scale land reclamation projects that were supposed to assimilate indigenous ethnic groups and safeguard the borderlands against foreign encroachment. Proponents of this strategy drew inspiration from the imperial institution of tuntian (colonial fields) in formulating a modern vision of tunken, which I interpret as “agrarian colonization.” Tunken resonated with veins of Chinese nationalism that were agrarian and often anti-industrial in nature. This talk explores the evolution of tunken discourse and its implications for China’s Inner Asian borderlands. I contend that an examination of Chinese wartime agrarianism forces us to reconsider certain persistent ideas about nationalism in general and China in particular: namely, that industrialization is uniquely conducive to nationalism and that the Republican era (1912-1949) is relatively unimportant to the history of ethnic relations in modern China. 

Mark Frank is an environmental historian of China and the world. He recently finished his PhD in East Asian Languages and Cultures from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and has taught at the University of Illinois and Wesley College. At Yale he will work towards completing his manuscript, “Chinese Colonialism: The Ecology of Assimilation in Republican China and Beyond,” which chronicles the relationship between agrarianism and colonialism along China’s ethnically diverse frontiers between the fall of the Qing empire and the rise of the People’s Republic. This project draws on roughly two years of archival research in mainland China and Taiwan and has been supported by a Fulbright research fellowship and a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies. Mark has begun work on a second book project that examines China’s relationship with the atmosphere from the late imperial era through the early twenty-first century. To date, he is the author of three historical articles on Chinese yak improvement schemes, high-altitude crop experiments, and sedentary-nomadic relations in eastern Tibet during the early twentieth century. 


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