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Breaking with the Past: The Maritime Customs Service and the Global Origins of Modernity in China

Breaking with the Past: The Maritime Customs Service and the Global Origins of Modernity in China

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  • Hans Van de Ven
  • Columbia University Press
  • Hardcover
  • 9780231137386
  • 9.1 X 6.2 X 1.3 inches
  • 1.5 pounds
  • History > Asia - China
  • English
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Book Description

Between its founding in 1854 and its collapse in 1952, the Chinese Maritime Customs Service delivered one-third to one-half of all revenue collected by China's central authorities. Much more than a tax collector, the institution managed China's harbors, erected lighthouses, and surveyed the Chinese coast. It funded and oversaw the Translator's College, which trained Chinese diplomats while its staff translated Chinese classics, novels, and poetry and wrote important studies on the Chinese economy, its financial system, its trade, its history, and its government. It organized contributions to international exhibitions, developed its own shadow diplomacy, pioneered China's modern postal system, and even maintained its own armed force. After the 1911 Revolution, the agency became deeply involved in the management of China's international loans and domestic bond issues.

In other words, the Customs Service was pivotal to China's post-Taiping integration into the world of modern nation-states and twentieth-century trade and finance. If the Customs Service introduced the modern governance of trade to China, it also made Chinese legible to foreign audiences. Following the activities of the Inspectors General, who were virtual autocrats within the service and communicated regularly with senior Chinese officials and foreign diplomats, this history tracks the Customs Service as it transformed China and its relationship to the world. The Customs Service often kept China together when little else did. This book reveals the role of the agency in influencing the outcomes of the Sino-French War, the Boxer Rebellion, and the 1911 Revolution, as well as the rise of the Nationalists in the 1920s, and concludes with the Customs Service purges of the early 1950s, when the relentless logic of revolution dismantled the agency for good.

Breaking with the Past: The Maritime Customs Service and the Global Origins of Modernity in China

Author Bio

I still don't have a very good answer as to why studying Chinese history has become my life passion. When I decided to learn Chinese in high school, I knew little about China, the Chinese language, or the country’s history. But somehow I have never been tempted to do something else. 

Part of the reason is because the path on which this one unconsidered decision put me opened up all kinds of great opportunities: long periods in China and Taiwan, study with some wonderful teachers, and some ten years in the US where I met my wife and made many good friends. 

But also, Chinese history has always proved fascinating. I am at my happiest sitting in an archive or library in China, travelling through the country trying to learn more about a place important in my research, or talking about Chinese history with colleagues and friends at a university in China. And there is something very special to see former students build up lives focused on China.

Following my undergraduate studies in Sinology at Leiden University, I went to Harvard University to study modern Chinese history. Seven years later I had a Ph.D. and went to UC Berkeley as a Postdoctoral Fellow. The rest of my career has been spent at Cambridge University. 

My first book From Friend to Comrade: the Founding of the Chinese Communist Party (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991) was awarded the Philip Lilienthal Prize of the University of California Press for best first book in Asian Studies.

Like all academics, I have enjoyed my sabbaticals. A British Academy Research Readership made it possible for me to spend three years away from teaching. One of these I spent as a Visiting Scholar at the Academia Sinica in Taiwan. 

More recently I have been a Fellow for a year at the Johns Hopkins – Nanjing University Center for US-China Cultural Exchange. I am also a Guest Professor at the Department of History of Nanjing University. I am a Fellow of the British Academy.

Research interests:
 

  • History of the Chinese Communist Party before 1949
  • The history of warfare in modern China from the Taiping Rebellion to the Civil War between the Communists and the Nationalists 
  • The history of Chinese globalization in the 1850-1950 period

 

 

Source: University of Cambridge Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies 

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