State-Building through Political Disunity in Republican China

Le colloque aura lieu avec le soutien du Labex TEPSIS et en partenariat avec le CECMC/CCJ les 6 et 7 septembre 2018, en salle 13 au 105 boulevard Raspail. 

Présentation ci-dessous (en anglais)

Narratives of State-building in China throughout the twentieth-century follow the line of succession of the so-called “central governments” : Qing - Beiyang - Guomindang - CCP. Against such a backdrop, debates about State-building during the Republican period (1912-1949) have been almost exclusively concerned with the issue of ruptures and continuities between the Guomindang state and the PRC. This is quite paradoxical, as the Republican period was first and foremost characterized by political fragmentation. Indeed, neither the Beiyang nor the Guomindang governments were in a position to control the whole country, and they both had to deal with many formidable challengers : warlords, communist soviets, and later pro-Japanese governments. The traditional historiographical interpretation of such a political context by Chinese and Western scholars has been univocally negative: disunity has invariably been regarded as a blessing for imperialist forces, as a source of weakness for China as well as a serious hindrance to its modernization and to State-building.

Yet, some scholars have recently pointed to the fact that State-building ambitions were certainly not the exclusive preserve of the central governments: so-called “centrifugal political forces” harbored (and put into practice) similar ambitions too. Against such a backdrop and given the very strength of centrifugal forces during the Republic, it is exceedingly restrictive a vision to consider that the process of modernization and State-building was engineered only through central governments. Our main argument is that competing political realms should be considered less as a hindrance to the overall dynamics of Chinese State-building, than as an integral part of them.

Reconsidering the political division of China in such a new light bring forwards a new range of issues. Drawing on past researches, it now becomes necessary to explore the various achievements of the local power holders in realms such as infrastructures, taxation, police, education and welfare, while also paying attention to the array of tools (statistics, law, economic planning, etc. ) that usually come together with the development of a modern administrative apparatus. But it is equally important to compare rival State-building endeavors and the dynamics of emulation and competition between them. Moreover, the issue of actual cooperation, and sometimes even coordination, between competing power holders remains underexplored.

We will single out two distinct periods which cor relate with two different patterns of political disunity: the warlords period (1916 - 36) and the Sino-Japanese war (1937-45). 


Conference organizers :

- Xavier Paulès, associate professor, EHESS (

- David Serfass, post-doctoral fellow, EHESS (   


Programme :

6 septembre 2018

Morning session: Competition, Emulation and Cooperation

Chair: Pierre-Étienne Will (Collège de France)


- 9h30-9h45 : Welcome speech by Anne Kerlan (CNRS, Head of CECMC)

- 9h45-10h30: Emily Hill (Queen’s University) Fiscal Autonomy in Guangdong, 1928-1936

- 10h30-11h15: Pierre Fuller (University of Manchester) Famine Relief Coordination under the Beiyang Regime

- 11h45-12h30: Zhang Jing (EHESS) Regulating Popular Political Knowledge: the Presence of a Central Government in the late 1910s


Afternoon session: General Trends of State-building Disunity

Chair: Marianne Bastid-Bruguière (CNRS)


- 14h15-15h00: Kristin Stapleton (University of Buffalo, SUNY) Where Did Chinese City Governments Come From? Regional Politics, Administrative Scale, Institutional Staffing, and Municipal Agendas, 1916-1936

- 15h30-16h15: Xavier Paulès (EHESS) The Four Pillars and the Four Dynamics of State building in Republican China


7 septembre 2018

Morning session: Building Support for the State during Wartime

Chair: Marie-Paule Hille (EHESS)


- 9h45-10h30: Nicole Elizabeth Barnes (Duke University) Intimate Relationships at the Heart of the Nation: Wartime Healthcare and China’s National Community

- 10h30-11h15: Xiaoqun Xu (Christopher Newport University) A Critical Dimension of State-Building in Nationalist China: Business Tax in Sichuan, 1936-1945

- 11h45-12h30: Kelly Anne Hammond (University of Arkansas) Sitting on a Bamboo Fence: Sino-Muslims and State-building between the Chinese Nationalists and the Japanese Empire


Afternoon session: Building the Occupation State: Institutional Design and Political Rivalries

Chair: Marc Olivier Baruch (EHESS)


- 14h15-14h45: David Serfass (EHESS) The Occupation State as a Confederal Polity: Japan’s Visions of China’s Political Disunity during the War

- 15h15-16h00: Brian G. Martin (Australian National University) An Incomplete Party-State: Zhou Fohai and the Creation of the Collaborationist Wang Jingwei Government in 1940

- 16h00-16h45: Seiji Shirane (City College of New York) At the Interface of Colonial and Occupation State-Building: The Government-General of Taiwan in Wartime South China, 1937-1945

- 16h45-17h15: Concluding remarks 

Asie, Chine

Informations pratiques

  • Jeudi 6 septembre 2018 - 09:30 - Vendredi 7 septembre 2018 - 17:15
  • EHESS (salle 13) - 105 boulevard Raspail 75006 Paris
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