Gourmets in the Land of Famine: The Culture and Politics of Rice in Modern Canton

By Seung-Joon Lee | Go to book overview

3 Strengthening the Canton-Hong Kong Ties

RICE RELIEF AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF
THE TRANSNATIONAL RICE BUSINESS

On March 12, 1907, an urgent telegram was wired from Dongguan County, southeast of Canton. Four days earlier, a bloody rice riot had occurred in the county seat of Dongguan. Dongguan was one of the most rice-deficient districts in the Pearl River Delta, where the rumors about merchants’ rice hoarding and profiteering were omnipresent.1 On the afternoon of March 8, more than a thousand local people took to the streets of the county seat and raided the building belonging to the rice merchant guild. Before long, all the main streets became crowded, and the situation was out of control. In an attempt to break up the unruly mob, local authorities fired blanks and arrested a few suspected instigators. Yet this only further ignited public anger. A short time later, angry crowds gathered in front of the police station and demanded the immediate release of those arrested. The local authorities took a firm attitude against this and gave the order to fire, but this time not with blanks. Two people were killed on the spot, and about ten more were severely wounded. The mob now became rioters. The county seat fell to the crowds in the end, and they blockaded all the gates of the city walls that evening. The next morning, Dongguan had become completely anarchic; thousands of residents stormed the two biggest rice shops in town, Maolong and Yuanlong (whose owners had long been suspected of rice hoarding and profiteering) and plundered the rice. Social order was not restored until Guangzhou Prefect Shen Zhiqian ordered the purchase of 200 sacks of rice from Canton and sent them, along with troops and sailors, to Dongguan. This was the bloodiest rice riot in the Pearl River Delta since the 1850s, during which Canton had been stormed repeatedly by rebellions and devastated by military conflicts with British forces.2

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