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Grant A. Alger
University of Maryland, College Park (College Park, MD 20742-5141)

Fellowships for University Teachers
Research Programs

$24,000 (approved)
$24,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
1/1/2004 – 8/31/2004

Paper Boats and Iron Men: Work, Environment, and the State of China

This project involves conducting research in Chinese language materials held at the Library of Congress to complete a book manuscript in Chinese history titled Paper Boats and Iron Men: Work, Environment and the State in China, 1630-1930. This book will highlight the important place of river boat workers, one of the largest non-agrarian working groups in late imperial China, in the social, economic and cultural life of Chinese local society prior to industrialization. By focusing specifically upon the river transport trade in Fujian province, I tell a story rarely told in studies of China's history before the twentieth century: how the activities and social organization of a group of non-elite workers changed over the long term. Key elements of the history of river workers that I analyze include the complex work regimes of boat operators, state policies towards the riverine community, crime and conflict on the rivers, and the efforts of old-style boat operators to defend their livelihood against competition from steam boats during the early twentieth century. With NEH Fellowship support, I will deepen my understanding of the Qing government's policies towards river transport management in the eighteenth century, map out the network of river god temples once located along Fujian's waterway system, and obtain materials on the political and economic history of Fujian during the early Republican Period to inform the concluding chapter of the book.