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Like Cattle and Horses: Nationalism and Labor in Shanghai, 1895-1927 / Edition 1

Like Cattle and Horses: Nationalism and Labor in Shanghai, 1895-1927 / Edition 1

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In Like Cattle and Horses Steve Smith connects the rise of Chinese nationalism to the growth of a Chinese working class. Moving from the late nineteenth century, when foreign companies first set up factories on Chinese soil, to 1927, when the labor movement created by the Chinese Communist Party was crushed by Chiang Kai-shek, Smith uses a host of documents—journalistic accounts of strikes, memoirs by former activists, police records—to argue that a nationalist movement fueled by the effects of foreign imperialism had a far greater hold on working-class identity than did class consciousness.
While the massive wave of labor protest in the 1920s was principally an expression of militant nationalism rather than of class consciousness, Smith argues, elements of a precarious class identity were in turn forged by the very discourse of nationalism. By linking work-related demands to the defense of the nation, anti-imperialist nationalism legitimized participation in strikes and sensitized workers to the fact that they were worthy of better treatment as Chinese citizens. Smith shows how the workers’ refusal to be treated “like cattle and horses” (a phrase frequently used by workers to describe their condition) came from a new but powerfully felt sense of dignity. In short, nationalism enabled workers to interpret the anger they felt at their unjust treatment in the workplace in political terms and to create a link between their position as workers and their position as members of an oppressed nation. By focusing on the role of the working class, Like Cattle and Horses is one of very few studies that examines nationalism “from below,” acknowledging the powerful agency of nonelite forces in promoting national identity.
Like Cattle and Horses will interest historians of labor, modern China, and nationalism, as well as those engaged in the study of revolutions and revolt.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822327936
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 04/09/2002
Series: Comparative and International Working-Class History Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Steve Smith is Professor of History at the University of Essex, England. He is the author of A Road Is Made: Communism in Shanghai, 1920–1922; Red Petrograd: Revolution in the Factories, 1917–18; and coeditor of Notes of a Red Guard.

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Nationalism and Labor in Shanghai, 1895-1927


Copyright © 2002 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-2783-7

Chapter One

Traditional Social Networks and Identities

In 1895 Shanghai had a population of between 800,000 and 900,000. By 1910 the population had grown to 1,289,353, comprising 671,866 in the Chinese-controlled areas of the city, 501,541 in the International Settlement, and 115,946 in the French Concession. Thereafter the tempo of growth intensified, with the population exceeding 2,000,000 by 1915 and reaching 3,114,805 by 1930. Migration from the countryside was the major cause of the city's rapid growth. Up to the late nineteenth century, the majority of immigrants consisted of the more mobile and marginal elements of rural society, such as boatmen, salt smugglers, pole carriers, and day laborers. Thereafter migrants came increasingly from farming families. Young men made up the bulk of immigrants-in 1925 there were 172 men for every 100 women in the International Settlement-but the disparity between the sexes tended to diminish over time, so that by 1930 women made up 41 percent of the population. In-migration on such a vast scale meant that Shanghai was a city largely made up of recent in-comers: in 1930 only 22 percent of its inhabitants had been born in the city. The majority of migrants came from Jiangsuprovince, in which Shanghai was situated, and from Zhejiang, the next closest province. In 1925, 42.7 percent of the Chinese population of the International Settlement was born in Jiangsu (including natives of Shanghai), with 31.7 percent born in Zhejiang, followed by 7.1 percent in Guangdong, 3.7 percent in Anhui, and 2.2 percent in Zhili. Immigrants from Jiangsu may be divided between those who came from the north and those who came from the south of the province. The part of Jiangsu north of the Yangtze River on either side of the bed of the old Huai River was known as Subei (but more commonly at the time as Jiangbei, or Kompo in Shanghai dialect). It was an impoverished and declining rice-producing region that was prone to flooding, and its northern reaches, around Yancheng and Funing, were particularly wretched. By contrast, the southern part of Jiangsu was a prosperous silk-weaving area and, together with the prefectures of Jiaxing, Huzhou, and Hangzhou in the north of Zhejiang province, was designated Jiangnan by the Qing government.

The difference between Subei and Jiangnan testifies to the fact that there was no single set of causes of migration to Shanghai. Chinese social scientists working in the 1920s and 1930s believed that all migration was a flight from poverty and destitution, assuming that Chinese peasants would leave their farms and families only if driven by desperation. Today many economic historians are skeptical that there was a systemic crisis in the Chinese countryside before the 1930s. They argue that the intensification of farming through involution, the expansion of handicrafts, and the growth in commerce were sufficient to sustain the huge increase in population that took place from the eighteenth century, even in the absence of a technical transformation of agriculture to increase output per capita. The fact remains, however, that many peasants lived perilously close to subsistence. In 1906 the newspaper Shibao reported that over fifteen million people in Subei were going hungry. Droughts and floods were a major factor precipitating migration to Shanghai; major floods in Subei in 1911 and 1921, for example, sent huge numbers flocking to the city. Gu Zhenghong, the worker whose death at the hands of a Japanese mill guard indirectly triggered the May Thirtieth Movement of 1925, was born in 1905 in Funing county in Subei. His father struggled to support Gu and his eight younger brothers and sisters on the five mu (one mu is about 0.8 acre) of land that he owned and the twenty mu of saline land that he rented close to the mouth of a river. In 1916 Gu came to Shanghai to work as a coolie in a nut oil mill. After the great flood of 1921 the rest of the family joined him. A study of migrant families in Yangshupu district in 1929 showed that fifty-six out of eighty-eight families had been forced to leave their villages, with fourteen mentioning frequent flooding as the key reason. Nevertheless eighteen families said that they had chosen to come to Shanghai because of the better prospects it offered, showing that not all families moved because they were "pushed."

The Growth of Wage Labor

From the sixteenth century China's workforce underwent a process of proletarianization, increasingly becoming legally free, geographically mobile, and dependent for its livelihood on the sale of its labor power. Up to the late nineteenth century, Shanghai's wage labor force consisted, on the one hand, of hired hands doing semiskilled and unskilled jobs in the handicraft sector, and, on the other, of porters, dockers, boatmen, and passenger bearers in the transportation sector. Handicraft workers were considered to form part of the category of gong (labor)-one of the "four vocations" (simin) of the Confucian social order-a term that designated anyone employed in handicrafts, regardless of whether they were employers or employees. By the nineteenth century, however, permanent wage workers in artisanal and retail enterprises were commonly described as gongren or gugong, in contradistinction to jiang, who were the masters and journeymen. Workers in transportation, by contrast, were mainly casual, and were generally seen as belonging to the youmin, or "floating population," which comprised vagrants without regular employment or fixed abode, and which did not comprise one of the "four vocations." Casual workers were also associated with a more particular group of youmin known as liumang, or vagabonds and rogues, who specialized in mugging, pickpocketing, extortion, kidnapping, and protection rackets. The nascent industrial labor force did not fit easily into either of these two broad categories. Those migrants who were casual or transient tended to be classed as youmin, whereas those who were in relatively settled jobs and fixed abodes were generally classed as gong.

In 1894 it was estimated that 36,220 workers were employed in Shanghai's mechanized enterprises, of whom around 20,000 were cotton workers. This estimate represented more than one-third of China's modern labor force. By the time of the 1911 Revolution, there were reckoned to be close to 100,000 workers in Shanghai's modern sector. By 1919 the entire labor force of the city was estimated to comprise 181,485 factory workers (in 2,291 factories, which thus included many very small workshops, presumably distinguished from handicraft enterprises by their use of power-driven machinery); 116,250 workers in the transportation sector; 3,200 in the service sector; and 212,833 handicraft workers in 6,804 enterprises. These numbers made a grand total of 513,768. There are many problems with the figures: the number of handicraft workers, for instance, appears to include many who were employed in commerce, as well as some who were self-employed; whereas the number employed in the service sector is an underestimate (which does not include telephone and telegraph employees, or department store employees). Nevertheless the total is of the right order of magnitude.

During the 1920s the labor force in all sectors continued to grow. In 1928 the first systematic survey of the factory workforce was undertaken by the Bureau of Social Affairs of the new GMD city administration, which calculated the number of workers at 223,680, of whom three-quarters (170,552) were employed in various branches of the textile industry. In 1927 the Shanghai General Labor Union (GLU) estimated the number of workers in the handicraft sector at 226,960, which is close to a Bureau of Social Affairs estimate for 1930 of 278,000 workers, and which would be compatible with the 1919 figure. Unfortunately, the number of wage workers in the retail sector cannot be disaggregated from the composite figure for handicrafts, but the retail sector was certainly expanding. In 1927 the GLU claimed that the membership of the shop-employees' federation was 81,070. Even more difficult to quantify is the number of workers in transportation, many of whom were casual. By 1927 there were probably about 120,000 coolies employed more or less permanently (changgong) in various forms of transportation, with over 30,000 working on the fourteen miles of docks and warehouses. If one adds up the available figures, using only the most conservative estimates and making allowance for the fact that many estimates include the partially self-employed and irregularly employed, the total number of wage workers in factory, handicrafts (including construction), services, transportation, and public utilities comes to over 600,000 by about 1928. This broadly coincides with the detailed calculations made by Alain Roux, who estimated that in 1928 the factory workforce stood at 280,000 to 300,000 and the regular waged workforce at around 600,000, of whom about a half were in the "modern" sector. What emerges from these data is that well into the twentieth century the archetypal proletarian remained the coolie rather than the cotton worker, even though Shanghai was China's principal center of modern manufacturing.

Women and children formed a majority of the factory workforce. In 1899 out of 34,500 factory workers it was reckoned that 20,000 were women and 7,000 children. By 1928, out of a total factory workforce of 223,680, 56.7 percent were adult women, 34.1 percent were adult men, and 9.2 percent were children (of whom two-thirds were girls). The pre-eminence of women was a result of their dominance in the cotton and silk industries, where they formed the bulk of the labor force in spinning, although not in weaving. In the handicraft sector men predominated, especially in construction and manufacturing, but the number of women was probably increasing because sweated trades, such as box making, ready-made clothing, and lace making, boomed with capitalist development on the basis of labor-intensive methods. In the service trades women were employed as domestics, but groups such as waiters, bath-house attendants, and department store employees were mainly men. Finally, in the extremely large transportation sector men were in the overwhelming majority, although there are no data to quantify this. In the wage labor force as a whole, therefore, adult men were in the majority.

The low level of literacy discussed in the introduction to this volume correlates with the low levels of skill. In 1927 it was estimated that among the 103,669 workers in fifty-seven cotton mills, only 2 percent to 3 percent were skilled, 40 percent were semiskilled (their work taking about two to three weeks to learn), and the rest were unskilled. Skilled workers were drawn disproportionately from the socioeconomically developed areas of Jiangnan, whereas the unskilled came from Subei. The skill profile of silk reelers was similar. Of 55,363 workers in 1928, 5 percent were skilled, 60 percent were semiskilled, and the rest were unskilled workers-mainly children-engaged in steeping and stripping cocoons. In the tobacco industry it was reckoned that about 12 percent of the workers were skilled, and these were almost entirely men. In handicrafts and in some sectors of factory industry there was a more substantial presence of skilled workers. Alain Roux, using wage data from the Bureau of Social Affairs for 1929, reckons that one can distinguish a highly paid, exclusively male elite of workers in industries such as ship building, silk weaving, and printing. He reckons that they comprised about 6.5 percent of the industrial work-force, and numbered between 10,000 and 15,000. During the nineteenth century craftsmen had come from Guangdong and later from Ningbo to work in the repair and construction of steamships, and their aptitude and versatility were admired by foreign engineers. By the twentieth century, one of the biggest contingents of skilled workers were the so-called mechanics (jiqi gongren), who included engineers, pattern makers, iron and steel founders, casters, and electricians. These workers usually had no formal technical training but were knowledgeable about the machines they operated and maintained. By the 1920s, as stated by the China Year Book: "With the westernization of Shanghai larger numbers of Chinese have become familiar with foreign machines, and such special knowledge can no longer command special wages." Nevertheless the skills of these men, the job control they exercised, their relatively good earnings, and the fact that they were more likely to stay with one employer placed them far above the unskilled, poorly paid women who dominated factory industry. The men tended, moreover, to be drawn from the south and from Jiangnan, whereas unskilled workers hailed mainly from Subei. Such skilled workers were to play an important role in the nationalist movement after 1919.

Native-Place Networks

For migrants to Shanghai the most profound source of social identity was native place. One's jiaxiang, the place where one's family had its roots and where one was notionally born and buried, was central to the Chinese sense of self. Yet the significance of native place only became fully apparent once migrants moved to the city, because there they met workers from other provinces who ate different food, enjoyed their leisure in different ways, practiced different marriage and funerary customs, and spoke incomprehensible dialects. In living and working side by side the regional groups contrasted themselves with one another, often reinforcing centuries-old stereotypes. Cantonese workers had a reputation for being unwilling to compromise; Ningbo workers were reckoned to be doughty and difficult to restrain. Shanghai natives saw themselves as sophisticated, a world away from the rude, ignorant, and filthy migrants from Subei. Even after years in the city, migrants would still refer to themselves as sojourners as, for example, "Ningbo travelers to Shanghai" (lü Hu Ningboren), and people who ultimately belonged in the place where their ancestors were buried, where the "wine is better and the moon rounder." Perhaps the most telling index of the pertinence of regional identities in the city is the fact that among 230 cotton-worker families in 1927-1928, 94.8 percent of men were married to women from the same province. Yet native-place identity was not simply a "traditional" identity transferred to the city; in the urban-industrial environment it took on new functions and meanings.

Native place could be defined at a number of levels by reference to a village, town, county, or province of origin, and this allowed individuals to expand their levels of affiliation as they moved farther afield. Native place generated "connections" (guanxi; known as jiaolu; pronounced kau-loo in Shanghai dialect) that served to extend contacts, create mutual obligations and protection, and establish social distance and hierarchy. Guanxi were particularistic ties that normally had an affective component (ganqing) and that knit groups together. Native-place connections were vital in helping migrants to find jobs and accommodation or to access the resources at the disposal of the regional guilds and native-place associations. A Chinese proverb states that "one common ancestral village is worth three official seals" (yige laoxiang dengyu sange tuzhang), and native-place ties were particularly crucial in gaining entry to the job market.


Excerpted from LIKE CATTLE AND HORSES by S.A. SMITH Copyright © 2002 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

1Traditional Social Networks and Identities15
2Nationalist and Labor Protest at the End of the Qing Dynasty38
3The 1911 Revolution in Shanghai60
4Nationalist and Labor Protest, 1913-191976
5The May Fourth Movement of 191992
6The Discourse of Class116
7The Communist Attempt to Organize Labor, 1920-1923133
8Workers and the Nation: Left versus Right, 1923-1925148
9The May Thirtieth Movement, 1925168
10National and Class Identities, 1925-1927190
11The Surge in Labor Organization, 1927214
12The Climax of the National Revolution, March-April 1927236

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