Trying in Many Ways to Persuade Agency and Local Politics in a Nineteenth-Century Iron Mining Scheme

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Jeff Hornibrook


Relying on Chinese county gazetteers and contemporary publications by Western engineers working in China, this article examines the methods used by county officials to secure property needed for the Daye iron mine in Hubei Province. It focuses on a young scholar-turned magistrate, Lin Zuo, who grew up around the market city of Shanghai and the political center in Beijing under the dual clouds
of imperialism and the Taiping Rebellion. Upon taking office in a remote but mineral-rich county along the Yangzi river, Lin Zuo was deputed to deterritorialize significant parts of the county’s rice fields and mountain farms to facilitate a modern iron ore mine and adjoining railroad that became part of the powerful Hanyeping Coal and Iron Company. To this end, he hired local gentry to coerce or
force various landowners to give up lands that were deemed rich in minerals or suited for a proposed train track that skirted the southern face of Tieshan (Iron Mountain). Conversely, commoners utilized ingenious negotiating methods to fight back against the power of the imperial government, which led the county leaders to look elsewhere for properties and in some cases forced the government to pay much higher prices for the tracts they needed most. This article suggests that this significant modernization scheme was brought about in part utilizing the trappings of patronage-led county government policies but that even as it was
designed to strengthen the empire, in fact it actually weakened the local community, leaving many landless if not impoverished. It therefore questions recent scholarship that looks more positively at late nineteenth-century industrialization attempts or
critically at policies that undermined them.

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