From Rapids to Stations: Contesting Navigation Infrastructures in the Upper Yangtze River, 1877-1937

    Research output: Unpublished conference presentation (presented paper, abstract, poster)Conference presentation (not published in journal/proceeding/book)Academic research


    The Upper Yangtze River had been framed as a threat to navigation because of its dense rapids. Knowledge of these rapids was once scattered in poetries, sailor songs, and hydrological treatises. Along with the introduction of steam navigation into the Upper Yangtze in the late nineteenth century, pilots and engineers, colonial authorities, and Chinese nationalists competed to investigate the rapids systematically and install infrastructures, aiming to more radically transform the Yangtze River into a channel for communication, military, and trade agendas.

    This paper traces three interrelated initiatives that were designed to “control” rapids between 1877 and 1937: The lifeboats installed by the Qing government, the signal stations established by the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, and the reef-bombing and tugboat projects commissioned by the Chinese Republican Government. Despite the contesting colonial and nationalistic agendas behind these projects, the lingering puzzles of rapids propelled the three institutions to assemble scattered infrastructural arrangements into more synthesized infrastructural complexes. Instead of simplifying such infrastructural efforts as imperial or state subjugation of the riverine environment, this paper highlights how the lingering gap of riverine knowledge pushed the contesting institutions to learn about and accommodate the interactions between the river, the land, the shipping crafts, and the laborers along the river. Focusing on how the Yangtze rapids complicated the contestation between the colonial and nationalist actors, this paper develops new ways of conceptualizing the relationships between environment, infrastructure, and state control.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 26 Mar 2022
    EventAssociation for Asian Studies Annual Conference - Honululu, United States
    Duration: 24 Mar 202227 Mar 2022


    ConferenceAssociation for Asian Studies Annual Conference
    Country/TerritoryUnited States


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