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

By Seung-Joon Lee | Go to book overview

8 Granary of the Empire,
Laboratory of the Nation

THE CANTON-HANKOW RAILWAY
AND THE HUNAN RICE SALES PROJECT IN CANTON

In April 1936, a celebratory mood was sweeping China. The ZhuzhouShaoguan section, the last section of the Canton-Hankow railway—the most grandiose engineering project of Republican China—was finally complete.1 In addition to news media coverage that drew worldwide attention, the Ministry of Railway shortly compiled and released a commemorative volume, titled Special Volume for the Celebration of the Completion of the Zhuzhou-Shaoguan Section of the Canton-Hankow Railway.2 While it was filled with high-ranking Guomindang members’ congratulatory remarks and leading technocrats’ triumphant accounts, the survey report by Chen Bozhuang it contained was outstanding for its in-depth research. It was titled “Expectations for Hunan Rice Sales in Canton after the Completion of the Canton-Hankow Railway.” Chen Bozhuang—a Columbia graduate and leading member of the Research Institute of the Communication University (Jiaotong daxue yanjiusuo)—was the master planner of the Hunan rice sales project.3 He remarked that the completion of the CantonHankow line would be remembered as the most significant milestone in China’s history of transportation, since the line would not only lead to new economic cooperation between Guangdong and Hunan provinces but also generate a greater economic integration that would stretch from Canton to Changsha, Hankow, and all the way down to Shanghai through the Yangzi waterways. More than anything else, Chen strongly asserted, trading Hunan rice to Canton represented the greatest potential business deal for the two provinces; furthermore, it would be the best solution to China’s food problem.4

Unlike conventional engineering writing, Chen’s account was not full of monotonous technological jargon. His main argument was firmly grounded in a rich understanding of Chinese history, though his tone

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