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

By Seung-Joon Lee | Go to book overview
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7 Inventing “National Rice”

THE NATIONAL GOODS MOVEMENT
AND THE ISSUE OF RICE QUALITY

The National Goods Movement provided the foreign-rice tax scheme with a favorable social environment. Had the Guomindang authorities not initiated the movement in a timely manner, it might have been much more difficult to convince the public that imposing a foreign-rice tax would protect and improve China’s domestic agriculture. The origins of the movement can be traced back to the late nineteenth century, when it developed gradually and spread throughout the treaty ports. Although there was no single leading organization, its message was simple and clear: to improve the Chinese economy by promoting the purchase of Chinese goods and discouraging the use of foreign goods. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, as China confronted a hostile international environment, the movement experienced a turning point. As early as the inaugural year of the regime, having foreseen the potency of such a patriotic consumer movement, the Guomindang authorities promised to give it their full-fledged sponsorship. The minister of Industry and Commerce, Kong Xiangxi, sponsored a National Products Exhibition in 1928. Thereafter, a number of government institutions continuously boosted the movement throughout the country.1 Mass urban rallies, whether sponsored by the party or not, were common in 1930s China. In Canton, for example, the Municipal Trade Restoration Committee took charge of what they called the “Buy Chinese” Movement and successfully mobilized a large crowd for the movement. One newspaper reported that in Canton a mass rally with more than 10,000 participants throughout the city had ended climactically. The event “lasted from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm in spite of rain.”2

The National Goods Movement was not simply a movement for promoting certain goods. As a strong motif for this movement deeply rooted in nationalism, the movement treated one’s consumption habits as an

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