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River Control, Merchant Philanthropy, and Environmental Change in Nineteenth-Century China

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This article investigates a series of projects for the improvement of shipping conditions of the Upper Yangzi in 1805-'40. The enterprise was undertaken by two Hankou merchants, one of whom published his 'Brief Account of the Taming of the Rapids'. An analysis of the detailed data of this source provides insights into navigation conditions and rates of environmental change on a major river, and into a major infrastructure project undertaken as merchant philanthropy. This paper proposes a perspective on water transport in pre-industrial China against a wider temporal and cultural backdrop, with a particular reference to private philanthropy as a set item within the moral economy. Cet article examine une série de projets destinés à améliorer les conditions de la batellerie dans le Haut Yangzi entre 1805 et 1840. Cette entreprise fut menée à l'instigation de deux marchands originaires de Hankou, dont l'un publia un « Bref compte-rendu sur la domestication des rapides ». L'analyse des données détaillées que contient ce document offre un aperçu des conditions de navigation et des changements environnementaux affectant un grand fleuve, et permet de mieux comprendre ce vaste projet d'infrastructure conçu comme une forme de philanthropie marchande. Cet article propose de replacer le transport fluvial de la Chine préindustrielle dans un plus large contexte temporel et culturel, en insistant particulièrement sur le rôle de la philanthropie privée, considérée comme un pivot de l'économie morale.

Affiliations: 1: Institute of Chinese Studies, Heidelberg University, Germany


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