From Imperial Barrier to National Symbol: Sciences, Environment, and the Making of the Yangzi River, 1839-1948


Luce/ACLS Travel Grants in China Studies




Almost every Chinese person knows the Yangzi River as the Long River—Changjiang—today. Yet before the mid-nineteenth century, Chinese texts in most cases referred to the Yangzi as the Great River—Dajiang—a term charactering its width rather than length. With the change of name, the cultural meaning of the Yangzi transformed from an imperial barrier guarding against potential threats to a commercial thoroughfare connecting the Chinese hinterland with global industrial capitalism. This project documents how a series of scientific projects in surveying, representing, and reconfiguring the Yangzi triggered this historical process. More than a waterway connecting Tibet with the Pacific, the Yangzi is an assemblage of technologies and discourses that defines the modern Chinese nation-state.