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  • The History of Iron and Steel Technology in Modern China and Japan, 1868–1933: A Comparative Study by Yi-bing Fang
  • Wei Qian (bio)
Yi-bing Fang 方一兵, Zhongri jindai gangtie jishushi bijiao yanjiu: 1868–1933 中日近代鋼鐵技術史比較研究: 1868–1933 [The History of Iron and Steel Technology in Modern China and Japan, 1868–1933: A Comparative Study] China: Shandong Education Press, 2013. 283 pp. RMB ¥50.

During the 1860s, industrialization movements arose independently in China and Japan, while new iron- and steelmaking processes began to be transferred from the West to East Asia. Despite their similar beginnings, the fates of those two countries’ industries were very different after decades of development: China’s iron industry was almost destroyed with the closure of the Hanyehping Company (漢冶萍公司) in the 1930s, while at the same time Japan’s played an important role during the successful industrialization process from the Meiji Period on, becoming the economic foundation for the invasion of Japan’s neighbors. What then had happened in these two countries? Yi-bing Fang’s 2013 book, The History of Iron and Steel Technology in Modern China and Japan, 1868–1933: A Comparative Study (in Prof. Baichun Zhang’s 張柏春 History of Technology Transfer and Innovation series), has given us excellent insight into the transfer of modern technology in East Asia almost a century ago. Fang, pointing out how useful this particular example will prove in studying technological modernization in the region, states in the preface that it “will supply us with a good case for further discussion of the different characters of technical and industrial modernization in China and Japan, through detailed research and a comparison of the history of technology transfer and development in the two countries” (2).

This book is not a simple material expansion of Fang’s 2011 book, The Hanyehping Company and Iron and Steel Technology Transfer in Modern China, published after her doctoral dissertation at the University of Science and Technology Beijing, but is instead a higher-level comparative study in an international context and provides further thoughts on the development of technology in different countries. It is quite a difficult job for a Chinese scholar to collect and understand so many Japanese historical materials in such a short time. Fang spent more than two months at Tokyo Institute of Technology, hosted by Professor Hideto Nakajima [End Page 215] 中島秀人, poring over archives, documents, and publications on the history of iron and steel technology in Japan. The resulting book provides a great amount of detail on the technology there and in China, taking a serious approach to the history of technology. What is also welcome is that Fang has made progress in explaining not only those technical details but also new aspects of technology transfer: “Iron and steel technology was understood as a technological system, which could be separated into two parts: one the technology applied by the ironworks, the other the supporting system, including technical education, research institutions, and academic societies” (6–7). And the contents of this book can also be taken in two broad parts: case studies of several comparable, typical ironworks, and a contextual analysis of technology transfer in both countries.

Chapter 1 elaborates on the earliest examples of Western iron and steel technology transfer to East Asia: the Kamaishi (釜石) Ironworks in Japan and the Qingxi (清豀) Ironworks in China. It is interesting that both of these earliest works failed soon after being founded, in the 1870s and 1880s, and that the transfer had originally been from Britain, the birthplace of the industrial revolution and of the Bessemer steelmaking process. Yet the reasons for their shutdowns were quite different: the Qingxi Iron-works had used coke as the main fuel in its blast furnace, which was so far ahead of the traditional iron industry in China that the technological system could not keep up with the new changes; the Kamaishi Ironworks meanwhile was from day one financially supported by Japan’s central government and employed foreign specialists as chief engineers, while local technicians were trained in its operation. It could produce much more iron, as long as nothing untoward happened.

Chapters 2 and 3 compare the first large-scale transfer and different fates of technological development to...


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pp. 215-218
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2021
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