ARI Talks: Victor Seow, “‘Coal is the Grain of Industry’: Carbon Technocracy and Socialist Industrialization in the Early People’s Republic”, 25 March 2021

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ANN: “‘Coal is the Grain of Industry’: Carbon Technocracy and Socialist Industrialization in the Early People’s Republic”


ARI Talk by Dr Victor Seow (Harvard University)


The talk will take place through Zoom at the Asia Research Institute (ARI) of the National University of Singapore (NUS). For registration please see the following details:




25 Mar 2021



11:00 – 12:00 (SGT / Singapore)



Online via Zoom




Upon seizing power in 1949, China’s new Communist government found itself presiding over a country stricken by poverty, rocked by inflation, and ravaged by war. The recovery and strengthening of the economy seemed imperative to the reestablishment of sociopolitical order. At the same time, economic development was deemed by the leaders of the revolutionary state to be a necessary precondition for the actualization of socialism—something that in theory could only be realized in an advanced industrial economy. Thus motivated, Chinese policymakers oversaw a series of economic initiatives aimed at rapid industrialization. Towards the end of the first decade of Communist rule, China was transformed, industrial output in a wide array of products exceeding prewar peaks. In this talk, I explore the energetic basis of this industrial expansion. I do this by tracing the history of the Fushun colliery in southern Manchuria, which once boasted the largest coal mining operations in Asia and which was in this period still one of the biggest in the country. Here, we witness one of the main contradictions in Communist industrialization. In coal mining, as in other areas, the Communists had set out to mark a break with the Nationalist and Japanese pasts that they repeatedly disparaged. Ultimately, however, they wound up perpetuating some of the very worst of former excesses: the wasteful extraction of resources, the ruination of the landscape, and the exploitation of the workers whose labor sustained the centrally directed system of profligate fossil fuel use that I call carbon technocracy.