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Chinese Resource Modernity: Environmental Government and the Resource Conflicts in Northeast China’s Forests, 1860-1932


This dissertation explores the formation and the implication of what I call “resource modernity” in Northeast China. It examines how the perception and government of forests have changed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and the relationship between changing knowledge, property, and the production of Chinese territoriality. I focus on the competing knowledges (weji vs. sanrin), policies (state-sponsored logging vs. timber-oriented manufacturing industry), and institutions (civil forestry bureau vs. scientific and colonial expansion) over the forest resources between the Japanese and Chinese forest government from 1860 to 1932, and argue for the emergence of Chinese resource modernity in terms of the state’s capacity to classify, register, and defend the frontier timber resources under the new conceptual framework. The goal of my research is to illuminate how forests in this region that embedded in varied political economies and characterized by diversified categories of weji (ancient woodland), shan (mountain), di (land), and lin (forest) were transformed into a single domain for modern government, and how ringyo (Ja: 林業 forestry industry), a forest policy that underpinned Japan’s extractive and violent expansion into Hokkaido, Taiwan and Korea was borrowed, internalized, and modified by the Qing Chinese elites and the Beiyang government as a self-strengthening discourse and border-securing strategy in Northeast China’s semi-colonial context as linye (Ch: 林業 literally wood manufacturing), that naturalized the violence into science. I argue that although the Chinese characters of the term ringyo and linye stayed the same in both the Japanese forestry surveys and the Chinese official reports, however, the meanings and practices bifurcated. Moreover, I show how the category lin/rin (林 wood) was established as the fixed standard term for the forest under the notion of modern resource government. Specifically, I examine the historical development of state-owned forests (guoyoulin) as a bureaucratic and land-tenure category during the early twentieth century and the resource conflicts caused by changes in management priorities. This research points out that the term lin/rin was more than the natural landscape of trees. Rather, it was the result of the knowledge construction for the formation of the modern resource regime.

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