Chinese Railroad Workers

For those interested in 19th Century Chinese labor migrations to the West, Stanford University has launched a project on Chinese railroad Workers with plenty of online materials and upcoming events in 2015.

Presentation :

“Between 1865 and 1869, thousands of Chinese migrants toiled at a grueling pace and in perilous working conditions to help construct America’s First Transcontinental Railroad. The Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project seeks to give a voice to the Chinese migrants whose labor on the Transcontinental Railroad helped to shape the physical and social landscape of the American West. The Project coordinates research in the United States and Asia in order to create an on-line digital archive available to all. The Project is also organizing major conferences and public events at Stanford and in China in 2015 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of large numbers of Chinese to work on the railroad.
2015 will be the 150th anniversary of the introduction of large numbers of Chinese workers on the construction of the first transcontinental railway across North America, a project that culminated with Leland Stanford driving the famous “golden spike” completing the line. The labor of these Chinese workers (who eventually numbered between 10-15,000 at any one moment) was central to creating the wealth that Leland Stanford used to found Stanford University. But these workers have never received the attention they deserve. We know relatively little about their lives. What led them to come to the United States? What experiences did they have in their arduous work? How did they live their daily lives? What kinds of communities did they create? How did their work on the railroad change the lives of their families in China and how did it change the lives of the workers themselves, both those who returned to China or went elsewhere after the railroad’s completion and those who stayed in the U.S.?”

More on the project website

Readings on the Chinese “Divergence” and labour in China

Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy

  • “The Great Divergence brings new insight to one of the classic questions of history: Why did sustained industrial growth begin in Northwest Europe, despite surprising similarities between advanced areas of Europe and East Asia? As Ken Pomeranz shows, as recently as 1750, parallels between these two parts of the world were very high in life expectancy, consumption, product and factor markets, and the strategies of households. Perhaps most surprisingly, Pomeranz demonstrates that the Chinese and Japanese cores were no worse off ecologically than Western Europe. Core areas throughout the eighteenth-century Old World faced comparable local shortages of land-intensive products, shortages that were only partly resolved by trade. Pomeranz argues that Europe’s nineteenth-century divergence from the Old World owes much to the fortunate location of coal, which substituted for timber. This made Europe’s failure to use its land intensively much less of a problem, while allowing growth in energy-intensive industries. Another crucial difference that he notes has to do with trade. Fortuitous global conjunctures made the Americas a greater source of needed primary products for Europe than any Asian periphery. This allowed Northwest Europe to grow dramatically in population, specialize further in manufactures, and remove labor from the land, using increased imports rather than maximizing yields. Together, coal and the New World allowed Europe to grow along resource-intensive, labor-saving paths. Meanwhile, Asia hit a cul-de-sac. Although the East Asian hinterlands boomed after 1750, both in population and in manufacturing, this growth prevented these peripheral regions from exporting vital resources to the cloth-producing Yangzi Delta. As a result, growth in the core of East Asia’s economy essentially stopped, and what growth did exist was forced along labor-intensive, resource-saving paths–paths Europe could have been forced down, too, had it not been for favorable resource stocks from underground and overseas.”

Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000

Jean-Laurent Rosenthal & Bin R. Wong : Before and Beyond Divergence. The Politics of Economic Change in China and Europe

  • “China has reemerged as a powerhouse in the global economy, reviving a classic question in economic history: why did sustained economic growth arise in Europe rather than in China? Many favor cultural and environmental explanations of the nineteenth-century economic divergence between Europe and the rest of the world. This book, the product of over twenty years of research, takes a sharply different tack. It argues that political differences which crystallized well before 1800 were responsible both for China’s early and more recent prosperity and for Europe’s difficulties after the fall of the Roman Empire and during early industrialization. Rosenthal and Wong show that relative prices matter to how economies evolve; institutions can have a large effect on relative prices; and the spatial scale of polities can affect the choices of institutions in the long run. Their historical perspective on institutional change has surprising implications for understanding modern transformations in China and Europe and for future expectations. It also yields insights in comparative economic history, essential to any larger social science account of modern world history.”

Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2011, 290 p.

Philip T. Hoffman : “Why was it Europeans that conquered the World?”

  • “By the 1700s Europeans dominated the gunpowder technology, which was surprising, because it had originated in China and been used with expertise throughout Eurasia. To account for their dominance, historians have invoked competition, but it cannot explain why they pushed this technology further than anyone else. The answer lies with a simple tournament model of military competition that allows for learning by doing. Political incentives and military conditions then explain why the rest of Eurasia fell behind Europeans in developing the gunpowder technology. The consequences were huge, from colonialism to the slave trade and even the Industrial Revolution.”

The Journal of Economic History / Volume 72 / Issue 03 / September 2012, pp 601-633

Draft (?) can be downloaded from here.

Complementary readings:

  • Allen, Robert, “The Great Divergence in European Wages and Prices from the Middle Ages to the First World War”, Explorations in Economic History, 2001, 38: 411–447
  • Allen, Robert, “Agricultural productivity and rural incomes in England and the Yangtze Delta, c.1620–c.1820”, The Economic History Review, 2009, 62 (3): p. 525–550
  • Brenner, Robert & Isett, Christopher, “England’s Divergence from China’s Yangzi Delta: Property Relations, Microeconomics, and Patterns of Development”, The Journal of Asian Studies, 2002, 61 (2): p. 609–662
  • Broadberry, Stephen & Gupta, Bishnupriya, “Cotton textiles and the great divergence: Lancashire, India and shifting competitive advantage, 1600–1850”, International Macroeconomics and Economic History Initiative, 2005
  • Deng, Kent, “A Critical Survey of Recent Research in Economic History”, Economic History Review, 2000, 53. 1, p. 1-28 [downloadable]
  • Elvin, Mark, The Pattern of the Chinese Past, Stanford University Press, 1973
  • Feuerwerker, Albert, “Chinese Economic History in Comparative Perspective”, in Paul Ropp, Heritage of China, University of California Press, 1990, p. 224–241
  • He Zhaohui, “Ming China in the Global Context: New Trends in Ming Studies in Mainland China”, Ming Studies, Number 54, Fall , pp. 8-15(8) [Link]
  • Landes, David, “Why Europe and the West? Why Not China?”, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 2006, 20 (2), p. 3–22
  • Ma Debin and Jan Luiten van Zanden, Law and Long-Term Economic Change. A Eurasian Perspective, Stanford University Press, 2011, 376 p.
  • Paul S. Ropp, China in World History, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010, 208 p.

Further readings on China Labour history:

Bibliographies on Ming-Qing China (1368-1911) history online:

  • “Ming Qing shehui jingji shi” 明清社會經濟史專題. Professor Victor (Pengsheng) Chiu 邱澎生 from the Chinese University of Hong-Kong has published a detailed bibliography of major studies on late imperial China society and economy. It constitutes an essentiel access point to studies published in Chinese language. Access here.
  • Marilyn Shea, University of Maine at Farmington, proposes a complete bibliography for Chinese studies that notably includes a section on Economics in Chinese History.
  • The Internet Guide for Chinese Studies (Sinological Institute, Leiden University, Netherlands) has been for long now one of the best access point to resources to Chinese History. It can be accessed here. Subcategories include links to resources on China’s Economy, Society and bibliographies.
  • Also have a look at Professor Leif Littrup’s (University of Copenhagen) Reference Works for Chinese Studies.
  • Chinese readers will also want to follow the reference journal presenting Trends in Chinese History Studies (Zhongguo shi yanjiu dongtai 中國史研究動態) published by the Center for Historical Research of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Humanties and Social Sciences [H-Net]

“H-Net is an international interdisciplinary organization of scholars and teachers dedicated to developing the enormous educational potential of the Internet and the World Wide Web. Our edited lists and web sites publish peer reviewed essays, multimedia materials, and discussion for colleagues and the interested public. The computing heart of H-Net resides at MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences Online, Michigan State University, but H-Net officers, editors and subscribers come from all over the globe.”

Access here.

H-Net proposes a series of lists that range from discussion networks to annouces of events and conferences, book reviews, bibliographies, teaching materials and a lot more. Lists interesting more specifically our AIOW project are the following :

  • H-Human rights : “H-Human-Rights is a discussion network for scholars, policymakers, authors, historians, and other interested people devoted to the history, analysis, theory, and practice of human rights.”
  • H-Russia : “H-Russia is a member of H-Net Humanities & Social Sciences OnLine. H-RUSSIA encourages scholarly discussion of Russian and Soviet history and makes available diverse bibliographical, research and teaching aids.”
  • H-Law : “Welcome to the home page of H-LAW, a Humanities Social Sciences Online discussion network sponsored by the American Society for Legal History. H-LAW solicits discussion of issues relating to teaching and research in the history of all legal traditions: common-law, civil-law, and all other legal systems. ASLH publishes Law & History Review through the Cambridge University Press. The journal is available online via the History Cooperative and JSTOR.”
  • H-Slavery : “H-Slavery seeks to promote interaction and exchange among scholars engaged in research on slavery, the slave trade, abolition, and emancipation. It is dedicated to the dissemination of information about the history of slavery and antislavery in all time periods and parts of the world.”
  • H-UCLEA : Archives of the University& College Labor Education Association discussion network

Economic History Association [EH.NET]

“The Economic History Association owns and operates the EH.net website and mailing lists to provide resources and promote communication among scholars in economic history and related fields. The Economic History Society (U.K.), the Business History Conference, and the Cliometric Society also support the site.”

You’ll find on the EH.NET website lost of announces for conferences, events and book reviews. Access here.

[Journal] Labour History

“Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

The interdisciplinary nature of labour history, and its acceptance of less traditional sources, including folklore and oral testimony, make it a fascinating field, alive to past and present social justice issues.
The journal, which has been appearing twice yearly since 1962, is the premier outlet for refereed, scholarly articles in its field in Australasia.
Because ASSLH aims to raise historical awareness in the community, Labour History also publishes essays, reviews, and memoirs that reflect the involvement of labour historians in the making of history.”

For more information, follow this link.

[Journal] International Review of Social History

“The International Review of Social History (IRSH) is one of the leading journals in the field of social history, more in particular the history of work, workers, and labour relations, defined in the broadest possible sense, including workers’ struggles, organizations, and associated social, cultural, and political movements, both in the modern and the early modern periods, and across periods.

The IRSH aims to be truly global in scope and stresses the need for a comparative perspective that acknowledges the interrelationship of historical change and the phenomena and factors underlying that change. We welcome submissions from all over the world that deal with the social history of work, workers, and labour relations, explored on a local, regional, national, or transnational level, but always with an eye to how they contribute to a better understanding of what constitutes global labour history.

Areas covered include the life and work of slaves, wage labourers, artisans, peasants, and the self-employed; related issues of class, gender, age, and race and ethnicity; social, cultural, and political movements, including the intellectual ideas that played a part in those movements; citizenship; theoretical and methodological issues; and the environment and ecology in relation to the social.

Submissions that fall within this range of themes and topics in the field of social history of work and workers are welcomed, particularly those providing a comparative, transnational, or transcontinental perspective.”

See : http://socialhistory.org/en/irsh

And : http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayIssue?jid=ISH&tab=currentissue

[Journal] International Labor and Working-Class History

“Published for International Labor and Working-Class History, Inc.

ILWCH has an international reputation for scholarly innovation and quality. It explores diverse topics from globalisation and workers’ rights to class and consumption, labour movements, class identity, unions, and working-class politics. ILWCH publishes original essays, book reviews, and an acclaimed scholarly controversy section. Comparative and cross-disciplinary, the journal is of interest to historians, sociologists, political scientists, and students.”

[Journal] Labour / Le travail

“Labour/Le Travail is the official, semi-annual publication of the Canadian Committee on Labour History. Since it began publishing in 1976, it has carried many important articles in the field of working-class history, industrial sociology, labour economics, and labour relations. Although primarily interested in a historical perspective on Canadian workers, the journal is interdisciplinary in scope. In addition to articles, the journal features documents, conference reports, an annual bibliography of materials in Canadian labour studies, review essays, and reviews. While the main focus of the journal’s articles is Canadian, the review essays and reviews consider international work of interest to Canadian labour studies. Many of Labour‘s articles are illustrated and each issue is book length, averaging 350 pages an issue.”

Please follow this link : http://journals.hil.unb.ca/index.php/LLT/index

Some past articles can be freely accessed online, such as Shiling McQuaide’s review essay on Chinese labour history that can be accessed here : “Writing Chinese Labour History: Changes and Continuities in Labour Historiography