Mark Frank, " Chinese Physiocracy: Kham as Laboratory for the Agrarian Theory of China "

Réalisation : 18 février 2016 Mise en ligne : 18 février 2016
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When a nation-state looks to intensive agriculture for its national essence, what are the implications at the local level? This paper looks at agricultural colonization efforts (tunken屯垦) of the Chinese state in Kham during the Republican era (1912-1949) and places these efforts in the context of a national discourse on agrarianism. Chinese nationalists circulated theories about agrarianism (or nongben zhuyi) as a necessary feature of Chinese civilization since ancient times. Elements of imperial Chinese agrarianism, distilled through early modern movements in Japan, France and elsewhere, were reinserted into Chinese nationalist politics under Chiang Kai-shek, resulting in what I call “the agrarian theory of China”—or the theory that China is by definition a nation founded on agriculture. Agrarianism was a major component of Republican China’s strategy in the borderlands, where administrators implemented tunken projects. However, “China” as an imagined community based on agriculture was subject to the environmental limitations of particular locations in the borderlands such as the Kham region. This paper examines tunken as a conduit for exchanges of ideas between national and Kham regional administrators during the early twentieth century. Drawing on a large body of Chinese documents, I show that the Kham region functioned as a policy laboratory when the administration of Liu Wenhui took creative steps to reconcile the agrarian theory of China with environmental conditions that were often inhospitable to agriculture. The challenge of establishing a new province in Kham titled Xikang prompted Han modernizers to pioneer visions of agricultural expansion that satisfied the twin imperatives of economic development and cultural assimilation. Unlike imperial incarnations of tunken, Xikang modernizers appealed to nationalist impulses in attracting planters and sought solutions to environmental problems in scientific experimentation.

International conference “Territories, Communities, and Exchanges in the Sino-Tibetan Kham Borderlands,” Februray 18-20, 2016. This conference is an outcome of a collaborative ERC-funded research project (Starting grant no. 283870). For more information, please visit the project's Website:


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