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

By Seung-Joon Lee | Go to book overview

9 Provincial Politics and National Rice

THE CANTON FAMINE OF 1936–1937
AND THE SOUTH CHINA RICE TRADING CORPORATION

The completion of the Canton-Hankow Railway was not just a technological triumph for China. It also brought political victory to Chiang Kaishek and his Nanjing regime in the form of a sudden dissolution of the factional confrontation with Guangdong’s Chen Jitang. In summer 1936, Chen Jitang was brought down, and fled to Hong Kong (Liang Guang shibian, the “Two Guang Incident”). In 1934, Chiang’s army had flushed out the Communist guerrillas, who fled to the northwest, creating a political vacuum in Guangdong’s northern borders with Hunan and Jiangxi. Two years later, the completion of the Canton-Hankow Railway represented a political milestone for Chiang Kai-shek, who deployed a military force of half a million men along the rail line and in summer 1936 surrounded Guangdong’s northern borders.1 With troops flanking the railway and along the northern border of the province, Chiang’s military forces surrounded and overwhelmed Chen Jitang and forced him to step down. Shortly thereafter, Chiang Kai-shek’s men from Nanjing took over the key positions at the provincial and municipal levels in Canton. For example, a former mayor of Shanghai and loyal Chiang follower, Wu Tiecheng, was appointed head of the Provincial Council. Those who marched into Canton to occupy key government positions were either ignorant of the local situation or willing to disregard it in any event, because Canton had been such a nuisance to the Nanjing authorities. Likewise, personnel on the Canton Food Regulation Committee were all replaced by Chiang Kai-shek loyalists and “northerners” from Shanghai and Nanjing.2 Moreover, the Canton Food Regulation Committee’s cardinal purpose was changed; its job was no longer to facilitate the local food supplies but to fulfill Nanjing’s guidance, namely, promoting national rice. The first proclamation of the Food Committee was concise and assertive: “National

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