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Corrupted Infrastructure: Imperialism and Environmental Sovereignty in Shanghai, 1873–1911

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The introduction of Western science in order to change physical and operational aspects of Shanghai’s Huangpu River had been debated by Qing and Western officials since almost the beginning of its history as a Treaty Port. At stake in those debates was the perception of the river’s proper use: as a natural barrier for military defense, or as a conduit for global trade. After the Western powers unified to militarily suppress the Boxer Uprising in 1900, they attained their long-awaited goal of the right to transform the river for global trade as part of Article 11 of the Boxer Protocol: the Junpuju (or Huangpu Conservancy Board) was created and authorized by the central government to make the Huangpu River navigable for shipping vessels. Although the Junpuju continued the ethos of earlier extra-bureaucratic organizations established during the Self-Strengthening Movement, after 1901 the organization bore the authority of the central government. During the era of the New Policies, Qing officials were intent on revising the original terms of river conservancy so that they would be more favorable to Chinese sovereignty. At the same time, imperialist rivalries among the Western powers ruptured the apparent unity of the earlier alliance during the suppression of the Boxer Uprising. Before long, Western corruption in the Huangpu River dredging was brought to the attention of Qing officials, who deftly used it to recover Qing control over certain parts of the body of the river.

Affiliations: 1: Department of History, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, B15 2TT,


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