No Great Wall
The history of republican China has been dominated by the assumption that the key to the Communist takeover of power was the incompetence of the government of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party.
In recent years, revisionist scholars such as Strauss (1999) and van de Ven (2003) have challenged this view by arguing for the political achievements of the Nationalist party-state.
My PhD thesis, ‘Tariffs, Power, Nationalism and Modernity: Fiscal Policy in Guomindang-Controlled China 1927-1945’ (University of Cambridge, 2008) extended the revisionist case by demonstrating the strength of Nationalist state building in the crucial area of taxation and fiscal policy.
Over the last four years, supported most recently through the award of an An Wang Postdoctoral Fellowship by the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University during the academic year 2010-2011, I have developed my thesis research into the manuscript of my first monograph, which is currently under consideration for publication by a major academic publisher. While my PhD dissertation focused on tariff policy, the monograph is a more broadly conceived history of the interplay of international trade, consumption and political nationalism in republican China.
In the monograph, I demonstrate that the Chinese Nationalist Party’s management of international trade and China’s government finances was successful in guaranteeing the political survival of the Nationalist party-state until the Second Sino-Japanese War, 1937-1945. The political existence of the Nationalist Government of Chiang Kai-shek was dependent on tariff revenue derived from China’s international trade. Therefore, Chinese economic nationalism, both at the official and popular levels, had to be managed carefully so as not to jeopardize the Nationalist Government’s income.
During the Second Sino-Japanese War, China’s international trade, the Nationalist Government’s tariff revenues, and hence its fiscal policy and state-making project all collapsed. Like the thesis, the monograph fundamentally challenges the widely accepted idea that the key to the Communist seizure of power in China lay in the incompetence of the Nationalist Government.
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