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Sowing Seeds and Knowledge: Agrarian Development in the US, China, Taiwan, and the World, 1920-1980


In the 20th century, development became practiced on a global scale by states, missionaries, philanthropic organizations, scientists, and other groups hoping to achieve a better condition for human society. Many of these efforts focused on social improvement and modernization for the relatively poorer agrarian societies and economies of the world. This dissertation interrogates the rise and practices of agrarian development, particularly by the United States in China and Taiwan, and then by Taiwan in the rest of the world.

The first half of the dissertation explores the emergence of development from agricultural science, Protestant missions, and philanthropic famine relief in China, focusing on how Chinese practitioners localized globally circulating ideas. These ideas and practices eventually coalesced into a development “model” in China and Taiwan, which distilled a range of practices, from village-level social reform (i.e. organizing farmers associations) to high modernist science (i.e. plant breeding and chemical fertilizer production). The second half of the dissertation examines the subsequent iteration—how Taiwanese development experts then marketed practices of farmers organizations, land reform, and high yield crop varieties in their Cold War development missions to Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Through demonstrating their technical prowess and ability of providing humanitarian aid abroad, the Taiwanese were attempting to pursue their own political goals and find a postcolonial identity through international development.

As development practitioners repackaged ideas of agrarian development for local conditions, they imagined distinct visions of modernity and society that reflected their own expertise, historical experiences, and political goals. Development was a complicated process that Chinese and Taiwanese actors not only co-opted to realize their own visions of modernity at home, but also to demonstrate the superiority of those visions abroad to an international audience.

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