Peak Dam? Towards a History of Dam-building in Twentieth Century China

Arunabh Ghosh

Venue: Room 101, 1555 Century Avenue, NYU Shanghai
Date: Wednesday, November 13, 2019
Time: 17:30 - 19:00 CST

Sun Yat-sen was perhaps the first modern Chinese leader to wax rhapsodic about water. In a June 1894 letter to the official Li Hongzhang, he had celebrated its possibilities, observing that, unlike coal, it was an inexhaustible source of electricity. It would take another two decades for China’s first hydro-electric dam to appear. Built with German expertise and machinery, the Shilongba—Stone Dragon Dam—came online in the first year of the new Republic (1912), powering the street lights of nearby Kunming. In the one hundred years since, China has become the world’s leader in dam building: there are an estimated 90,000 dams in China today. This exploratory talk will offer a discussion of how we might quantify China’s dam building over the past one hundred years and situate it within a larger global history. It will operate on two levels: one of relative abstraction where the speaker will begin a preliminary assessment of macro trends and broader conceptual questions surrounding the history dam building (in China); and a second, which provides some snippets from the speaker’s ongoing archival work, focusing on two periods (the late Qing and the 1950s).

Arunabh Ghosh (BA Haverford, PhD Columbia) is an associate professor in the History Department at Harvard University. A historian of modern China, his interests include social and economic history, history of science and statecraft, and transnational history. Ghosh’s first book, Making it Count: Statistics and Statecraft in the Early PRC, is forthcoming from Princeton University Press (March 2020). Articles have appeared in the Journal of Asian StudiesOsirisBJHS-ThemesEASTS and the PRC History Review. His current projects include: a history of Chinese dam-building in the twentieth century; a history of China-India scientific networks, ca. 1900-1980; and a collaborative archival project on the China-related materials within the Nehru Papers.    

Introduction and moderation of the Q&A by Duane Corpis, Area Head of Humanities & Associate Professor of History, NYU Shanghai.

This event is cosponsored by the Center for Global Asia and the Global China Studies Program, NYU Shanghai.

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Location & Details

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