Controlling the Dragon
Publication Year: 2001
Published by: University of Hawai'i Press
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This work has benefited from the suggestions and insights of many people, none of whom bears any responsibility for its shortcomings. Jonathan Spence, Conrad Totman, and Beatrice Bartlett all devoted a great deal of time and energy to directing the research and writing of the early versions of this work. ...
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Since earliest times, the Yellow River has twisted and woven its perilous unpredictability into the fabric of China’s cultural and political development. The river’s countless floods enriched and renewed the soil of the great alluvial fan that is the North China Plain, but they also threatened political stability ...
1. The Evolution of the Yellow River Control System in Late Imperial China, 1495–1835
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The Yellow River is a restless, unpredictable, and dangerous stream. It has changed course many times since records were first kept, and its countless floods have wrought terrible destruction on the North China region. Yet for all its destructive power, it is not a large river. Its average discharge of 1,365 cubic meters per second ...
2. Rising Waters
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Two ineluctable realities underlay the engineering crisis of the Yellow River control system in the early nineteenth century: the river’s rising bed and the imperial state’s fiscal difficulties. The conflict between the geologic and the fiscal was mediated, however, by administration and technology. ...
3. Confucian Engineers
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When the Daoguang emperor took the throne in 1821, he was determined that the incessant flooding of the Yellow River during Jianqing’s reign would not be repeated while he was on the throne. Daoguang set out to restore the system, first allowing hydraulic officials of proven ability to take charge ...
4. The Xiangfu Flood and the Siege of Kaifeng, 1841–1842
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The fall of 1841 marked a calamitous turn in Daoguang’s reign. Both the emperor and the British home government rejected the treaty agreement reached in January to end what turned out to be only the first phase of the Opium War (1839–1842). In August Sir Henry Pottinger arrived in China ...
5. The Taoyuan Flood and the Zhongmou Debacle, 1842–1845
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The Qing river officials understood that Yellow River floods often came in series.1 In the wake of a flood, sedimentation raised the bed of the river and reduced the holding capacity of the area between the dikes. Although river officials carried out extensive dredging in the dry downstream bed, ...
6. A Change of Course, 1844–1855
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In spite of the costs—both fiscal and administrative—of the Zhongmou debacle, it was still seen only as a setback. Questions of delay and issues of construction and funding aside, there was no real alternative to completing the repairs. In August of 1844, preparation began again for closing the breach. ...
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The construction of the Grand Canal in the Yuan dynasty and the Ming decision to confine the Yellow River to its southern channel for the sake of inland grain transport together created the conditions for a complex interaction between the river, the state, and the bureaucracy—an interaction that changed all three. ...
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About the Author
Randall A. Dodgen holds a doctorate in Chinese history from Yale University. He has published on various aspects of the history of the Yellow River, ...
Publication Year: 2001