Anne Reinhardt. Navigating Semi-Colonialism: Shipping, Sovereignty, and Nation Building in China, 1860-1937. Harvard East Asian Monograph Series 410. Harvard University Asia Center, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2018. 381 pages. (Hardcover), ISBN 978-0-67498-983-847
Reviewed by Andrew M. McGreevy (Ohio University-Lancaster)
Anne Reinhardt is an Associate Professor at Williams College.
Navigating Semi–Colonialism is included in two prestigious collections — the Harvard East Asian Monograph Series and the Studies of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University. The purpose of Professor Reinhardt’s book was made clear in the following words, “This book’s project has been to use the multifaceted arena of steam navigation to reflect on China’s experience of Western and Japanese imperialism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries” (p. 295).
The first chapter explains the term “semi-colonialism,” discusses the coming of Western steamships to China and the development of a network of shipping on the coast and inland from 1860 to 1911. The author links Chinese problems with foreign-owned shipping, particularly British and eventually Japanese firms, to the rise of “shipping nationalism.” China as semi-colonial is compared with British India as colonial.
Chapter 2 carries the narrative forward from 1860 to 1882, tracing the growth of nationalism and explains the steam shipping business through a discussion of three companies. The China Navigation Company and The Indo-China Steam Navigation Company were connected to British capitalism. However, the China Merchants Steam Navigation Company, which flew the flag of the Qing Dynasty, became the largest shipping firm and related to the theme of nationalism. These companies would remain central to the history of Chinese shipping until World War II.
In the third chapter, Professor Reinhardt explored the story of how the three companies created a shipping conference, i.e., a cartel, to fix prices up to 1937. This agreement was criticized as a form of collaboration with foreigners. In 1913, the Japanese-owned Nisshin Kisen Kaisha shipping company joined the conference. provoking nationalist-inspired boycotts.
The fourth chapter turns to a fascinating social history and the story of how travel on steamships became an element of nationalism. The author termed this as a discussion of social space. Professor Reinhardt came to the following conclusion, “One of the most unmistakable features of the steamship space was its obvious hierarchies of racial and class privilege in work and travel” (p. 132). Chinese passengers and crew members were discriminated against in favour of Westerners and Japanese passengers and personnel. The exclusion of Chinese passengers from spaces for foreign travellers became the subject matter for writers, journalists and nationalist reformers.
The early era of the Republic of China from 1912 to 1927 is the topic of chapter 5 which stressed that shipping nationalism became stronger. Concepts such as international law, national sovereignty and shipping autonomy were leading to the idea that China could break away from foreign-flagged shipping. Certain Chinese companies, especially the Minsheng Industrial Company, were very important and are known as “national capitalist shipping enterprises” (p.204). The ideas and activities of Lu Zuofu, the founder of the Minsheng Industrial Company, were detailed as central to shipping nationalism.
Chapter 6 is based upon two concepts, the first is a detailed comparison of how shipping nationalism differed at the Nationalist capital city of Nanjing and further inland on the Yangzi River at Chongqing. The second concept is that a consensus that the national government must have a role in shipping was reached by 1937. This consensus went forward in history after World War II into the 1950s and the People’s Republic of China.
In chapter 7 the author returned to social history, centred upon the creation of a “New Steamship,” with a transformation of accommodations. Professor Reinhardt did a lot of research on the Teaboy Crisis of 1930 to 1937. Teaboys were stewards for passengers and known for intolerable and insolent behaviour towards Chinese travellers. Lu Zoufu and his Minsheng Company ended the teaboy crises and many other problems on the ships. The Minsheng Company was so successful that a veritable new type of steamship travel was created. Lu Zoufu was lionized as a nationalist entrepreneur who changed the steamship business so much that he influenced the policies of the People’s Republic after 1950.
The book was finished with a Conclusion which explains how shipping in China was decolonized between 1937 and 1956. China became independent, foreign shipping was excluded, shipping autonomy was achieved, and private shipping was connected to the government. Professor Reinhardt made her case: she showed how China was semi-colonial and how shipping, sovereignty and nation-building evolved from 1860 to 1937.
Navigating Semi-Colonialism: Shipping, Sovereignty, and Nation-Building in China, 1860-1937is highly recommended as an authoritative specialized study focused on shipping and connections with imperialism that produced the countervailing force of nationalism. The selected focus of the book makes it best for upper-level undergraduates and graduate students. At the present time, there is a lot of interest in the achievements and ambitions of China concerning shipping and maritime activities. Navigating Semi-Colonialismtells the story of how China began a process which is still growing and has global implications.