- The Chinese Maritime Customs Service:A Chinese, Western, or Global Agency?
The publication of Felix Boecking's No Great Wall: Trade, Tariffs, and Nationalism in Republican China marks a milestone in the continuing legacy of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service (CMCS) project begun by Professor Hans van de Ven of Cambridge University and Professor Robert Bickers of Bristol University. Van de Ven's and Bickers' three doctoral students, Felix Boecking, Catherine Ladds, and Chihyun Chang, all worked on different aspects of the CMCS. Boecking explored the economic and institutional interrelations between the CMCS and the Chinese state, Ladds investigated the social and cultural activities of the CMCS foreign staff in China, and Chang studied the political and financial modernization driven by the CMCS. Their Ph.D. dissertations have now all appeared as monographs: Boecking's No Great Wall: Trade, Tariffs, and Nationalism in Republican China, 1927–1945 (2017), Ladds' Empire Careers: Working for the Chinese Customs Service, 1854–1949 (2013), and Chang's Government, Imperialism and Nationalism in China: The Chinese Maritime Customs Service and its Chinese Staff (2013).1
All three doctoral projects can be tracked back to van de Ven's visit to the Second Historical Archive of China (SHAC) in 1999. While van de Ven was investigating the materials relating to modern Chinese military history, Deputy Director of SHAC Ma Zhendu asked him to take a look at a set of primary materials in English. Van de Ven realized that this set of materials used to belong to the Inspectorate General of Customs. Before this discovery, historians thought most of the materials of the CMCS were stored at Harvard University and SOAS in London.
Van de Ven immediately realized the value of this new material. After he returned to the UK, he worked with Robert Bickers (at that time Bickers was a senior lecturer at Bristol) to explore it.
In 2002, the British Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Taiwanese Chiang Ching-kuo foundation decided to support van de Ven and Bickers' proposed CMCS project, allowing them to recruit three doctoral students: namely Felix Boecking, under van de Ven, and Catherine Ladds and Chihyun Chang, under Bickers. [End Page 223]
Compared to Chang's and Ladds' monographs, which take a more internal approach to examine the CMCS' institutional and personnel history, Boecking focuses more on external aspects, using the CMCS to examine the economic history of the Nationalist Government. In the literature review section he outlines his theoretical framework.
The theoretical contribution of this monograph is probably the most significant part. Unlike Chang's monograph, which proposes a new theory to interpret the CMCS, the model of "indirect control through delegation,"2 or Ladds' monograph, which applies the concept of networks of imperialism, colonialism, and informal empire to the foreign staff,3 Boecking has maximized his potential academic readership by discussing four aspects, namely (1) "taxation and the modern state," (2) "the Nationalist party-state," (3) "the CMCS in Chinese history," and (4) "the political economy of China."
Taxation and the Modern State
Situated within Boecking's discussion of a wide range of aspects of its history, the CMCS becomes a highly effective comparative case study for historians specializing in other countries' history. While he is discussing the interrelations between "taxation and the modern state," for instance, Boecking studies John Brewer's study on "fiscal state building in Stuart and Hanoverian Britain' and Olga Crisp's study on the 'premodern Russian state'" (p. 7). That it is not to say that this monograph is a work of comparative history like Wenkai He's Paths toward the Modern Fiscal State: England, Japan, and China (2013). This monograph mainly discusses the history of Nationalist China from 1927 to 1945, but Boecking has demonstrated how historians can learn from this monograph and apply its insights to other studies of the building of modern fiscal states.
Nationalist China's building of a modern fiscal state significantly benefitted from the CMCS' modern technologies in trade...