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Crafting a nation, fishing for power: the Universal Exposition of 1906 and fisheries governance in Late Qing China

Po, Ronald C. ORCID: 0000-0002-9678-0536 (2023) Crafting a nation, fishing for power: the Universal Exposition of 1906 and fisheries governance in Late Qing China. Modern Asian Studies, 57 (4). 1219 - 1245. ISSN 0026-749X

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Identification Number: 10.1017/S0026749X22000440


The 1906 Universal Exposition hosted in Milan was a defining moment for the late Qing in terms of its fisheries development. The exhibition not only allowed China to portray its strategic focus on its fisheries but also its determination to be seen as a modernized and progressive sea power in Asia. China’s involvement in this world’s fair also paralleled the process of political and economic consolidation of some of the country’s intellectuals at the turn of the nineteenth century. These intellectuals’ accumulated experience, common goals, and international consciousness made it possible to assemble a group of professional experts I refer to as the ‘new fisheries elites’, who were able to construct the image of China as a modern fisheries power, if not a sea power, at various levels. The first part of this article will situate this exposition within the final two decades of the Qing Empire in the context of the political, social, and cultural transformation that was taking place around the world at the time. China’s presence at the world’s fair during this period displayed the adjustments of a changing and dynamic national image in terms of both its national circumstances and its international situation. The second part will then move on to discuss in what ways the Milan exposition was conceived by elites such as Zhang Jian, Luo Cheng, and Guo Fengming as a paradigmatic setting in which to showcase China’s drive toward modernity and becoming a sea power. Although China had participated in several other universal expositions, the Qing court had clearer and more pragmatic objectives in its participation in Milan in 1906. This was to demonstrate its recent progress and to change the common impression of China as an insecure, inexperienced, and incompetent country in terms of its fisheries governance and maritime vision. To produce this image, Zhang Jian and his team undertook a sensible and impressive approach towards presenting to the world China’s maritime awareness and the long historical continuity between this country and the sea. This was a conscious effort to produce an ideal of what a modern, progressive maritime China should look like.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2023 The Author(s)
Divisions: International History
Subjects: J Political Science
D History General and Old World > DS Asia
Date Deposited: 09 Aug 2023 10:00
Last Modified: 16 Jun 2024 21:30

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