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Title:The rooted state: Plants and power in the making of modern China’s Xikang Province
Author(s):Frank, Mark E.
Director of Research:Shao, Dan
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Shao, Dan
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Morrissey, Robert; Wilson, Roderick; Hostetler, Laura
Department / Program:E. Asian Languages & Cultures
Discipline:E Asian Languages & Cultures
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Environmental history
borderlands history
modern Chinese history
modern Tibetan history
Sino-Tibetan relations, Kham
agricultural history
friction of terrain
Abstract:This dissertation takes the relationship between agricultural plants and power as its primary lens on the history of Chinese state-building in the Kham region of eastern Tibet during the early twentieth century. Farming was central to the way nationalist discourse constructed the imagined community of the Chinese nation, and it was simultaneously a material practice by which settlers reconfigured the biotic community of soils, plants, animals, and human beings along the frontier. This dissertation shows that Kham’s turbulent absorption into the Chinese nation-state was shaped by a perpetual feedback loop between the Han political imagination and the grounded experiences of soldiers and settlers with the ecology of eastern Tibet. Neither expressions of state power nor of indigenous resistance to the state operated neatly within the human landscape. Instead, the rongku—or “flourishing and withering”—of the state was the product of an ecosystem. This study chronicles Chinese state-building in Kham from Zhao Erfeng’s conquest of the region that began in 1905 until the arrival of the People’s Liberation Army in 1950. Qing officials hatched a plan to convert Kham into a new “Xikang Province” in the last years of the empire, and officials in the Republic of China finally realized that goal in 1939. The borders of Xikang Province enveloped a vast territory of 3.2 million square kilometers and some two million people. But as I show, Chinese authority there was also vertically bounded by a “grain line” at approximately 3,600 meters above sea level, beyond which agriculture gave way to relatively ungovernable yak and sheep pastoralism. As it became clear that mass migration of Han Chinese farmers into eastern Tibet was an unlikely outcome under present conditions, local Han officials adapted through innovations in three areas: tax policy, agricultural science, and the redrawing of provincial borders. Beginning with Qing Frontier Commissioner Zhao Erfeng, administrators implemented a land tax in kind that strategically accommodated the needs of farmers to maximize the grain supply of Chinese armies and reduce the “friction of terrain.” Breakthroughs in wheat, barley, and yak production at high altitude agricultural experiment stations helped to renew Han Chinese confidence in the project of agricultural colonization during the 1940s. And the provincial government absorbed fertile rice-growing counties from western Sichuan to supply life-giving grain to civil organs in Kham, such as the schools that aimed to educate the children of Han settlers and assimilate indigenous Khampas. These adaptations were crucial to the absorption of Kham into China’s provincial system, where it remains to this day.
Issue Date:2020-08-26
Rights Information:Copyright 2020 Mark E. Frank
Date Available in IDEALS:2021-03-05
Date Deposited:2020-12

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