Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences
Chinese Business History Webinar
Industrial Craft: A Global History of Chinese Cotton Mills, 1877 – 1937
Dr. Yuan Yi
Date and Time: March 26, 2021 (Friday), 9:00-10:00 am (HKT)
Register now: https://hku.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_rt8t_glzRkiB2yzXElRSJg
Yuan Yi’s talk examines the mechanization of cotton spinning in turn-of-the-twentieth-century China with emphasis on the Sino-American exchange of spinning technologies, cotton varieties, and technical experts. Drawing upon a variety of technical writings such as machine manuals, engineering journals, factory regulations, and correspondence between American machine firms and Chinese cotton mills, it discusses how the Chinese strove to solve technological problems through continued modification and maintenance of foreign machines that failed to process short-staple Chinese cotton. By reconstructing the specific jobs performed by engineers, machinists, and female machine operators on the Chinese shop floor, she argues that what enabled mechanization was their multiple layers of knowledge, rather than the machines per se, obtained through hands-on experience of machines as well as formal engineering education. New sets of knowledge were generated in this process, and some of them traveled back to the headquarters of machine builders, culminating in customized machines and updated manuals. In an era of imperialism, she contends, the Chinese workers were not passive recipients of Western machinery and knowledge but active participants in global technology transfer.
About the Speaker
Yuan Yi is Postdoctoral Research Scholar in Modern China Studies at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University. She earned her PhD in Chinese history from Columbia University in October 2020.