How did the introduction and spread of countless new commodities and their consumption shape modern Chinese history? The intersection of commodities and consumption provides the flipside to the better-studied history of production and underlies countless topics at the center of Chinese and world history since the 19th century, such as imperialism, trade, industrialization, revolution, social hierarchies, and the ascendance of China as a global manufacturing and export superpower. Consumption includes the introduction and spread of mass-manufactured consumer commodities, the proliferation of discourse about these goods in new forms of mass media, and an ongoing shift toward creating and communicating hierarchical social identities through the consumption of mass-produced commodities. While consumption is often viewed as an individual matter, one related to creating personal identities, a key theme that emerges throughout modern Chinese history is that the Chinese states and elites have long sought to link commodity consumption with ideas of patriotism and national strength, helping shape what it means to consume commodities right down to the present.
The Qing dynasty (1644–1912) experienced one of the fastest population growth rates of the premodern world. The total population grew from well over 100 million in the late 17th century to 430 million in the mid-19th century. This rapid population growth was produced by the proactive response of Chinese families to new and improved economic opportunities after an initial period of war and chaos, especially the recovery and development of agriculture and increased food productivity and living standards from the end of the 17th to the mid-19th century. The social and cultural systems of Qing China were characterized by distinctive patterns of mortality, marriage, and fertility. In terms of mortality, improved living standards and health intervention in the Qing enabled some populations to enjoy a life expectancy comparable to their European counterparts. At the same time, in a largely patriarchal society, families practiced sex-selective infanticide, especially targeting girls, to control family size. Sex-selective infanticide resulted in a skewed sex ratio, which in turn led to a shortage of marriageable women. Therefore, while women married early and universally, a significant proportion of men remained unmarried. Moreover, since marriage in late imperial China was characterized by female hypergamy and male hypogamy, eventually, men with lower socioeconomic status fared poorly on the marriage market. In terms of fertility, historical data show that marital fertility among some Qing populations was low, and families practiced deliberate birth control to achieve a desired number and sex combination of children. Other than regulating their demographic behaviors, families also proactively used strategies such as adoption and migration to keep a balance between family size and resources. Low marital fertility, high infant and child mortality, and the practice of infanticide left some people without a male heir. Childless and especially sonless couples responded by male adoption to continue their family lines. Adoption, especially the adoption of sons, was a prevalent and integral part of the Chinese demographic system during the Qing and functioned to counteract the negative effects of low marital fertility and infanticide. In addition, migration was increasingly common in the Qing dynasty and helped ease regional population pressure on economic resources, thereby making sustained population growth possible. Finally, in the Qing demographic system, gender, socioeconomic status, and family hierarchy significantly affected individuals’ demographic outcomes: the likelihood of dying, being married, and having more children. Gender often had opposite effects on men and women. While household socioeconomic status had significant effects, an individual’s position in the hierarchy within each household was also important in influencing her or his demographic outcomes. This is because the household constituted the basic unit of production and consumption. Often, the household head did not equally allocate resources among all members but instead favored the priority group within the household.
David Faure and Xi He
Like all peoples, Chinese people value their families. Unlike many other peoples, they see them in the wider context of their lineages, that is to say, in terms of descent lines traced from their ancestors. Although it is sometimes said that such ideas about the family and lineage had early origins, in early times only the families of the ruling elite (the “great clans”) traced their descent lines. For the majority of Chinese people, the tracing of descent beyond the family began no earlier than the Song dynasty, from about the 10th century. The practice spread together with ritual changes that governed sacrifice to ancestors. Again, while beliefs in the efficacy of ancestors to bring about good or bad fortune had been present from ancient times, it was in the Song that standard practices were established on how and what commoner families could sacrifice to their ancestors. Those practices were proposed by scholars and officials in opposition to Daoist and, especially, Buddhist practices that had been prevalent. It took several centuries for the alternative, neo-Confucian rituals to take hold, and even then, they supplemented rather than replaced the practices that the neo-Confucians opposed. In this process, the fundamental principles that underpinned both family and lineage, the ideals of filial piety and of cohabitation and property-sharing, the subordination of women to men, even the manner by which ancestors themselves may be tracked and the properties held for sacrificing to them, took many turns that combined secular, utilitarian purposes and a deeply religious view of the connections between ancestors and their descendants.
Indrani Gupta and Kanksha Barman
The first HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) case in India was detected in 1986 among female sex workers. The rapid spread in HIV infections subsequently due mainly to high-risk behavior among vulnerable population groups required a sensitive, multisectoral, multipronged response that had to influence risk behavior and alleviate the socioeconomic impact of the epidemic. The journey has been a unique one in many ways in the history of public health in India. The challenges emanated from the economic, social, legal, and cultural contexts in which risk-taking behavior took place, and to be effective, the response required a framework that had to be vastly different from the usual public health approaches adopted in the country. The fairly successful national response was made possible due to the presence and subsequent co-option of a vibrant civil society, which shaped discussions and discourses around sex, sexuality, and gender and could reach out to marginalized and stigmatized groups with messages and interventions. During the course of the thirty years of response to the epidemic, shifts in positions of individuals in the three organs of the government—executive, legislative, and judiciary—on key sensitive issues around sexual behavior and preferences could be discerned to some extent, which was unprecedented and helped strengthen the response. New infections have come down significantly over the years and treatment has scaled up massively. However, the momentum in national HIV programs has slowed down globally and in India, with lower finances and a shift to other national priorities. The sociocultural and economic contexts have yet to change for most of the groups vulnerable to HIV, and they will continue to determine risk behavior, requiring interventions to continue at a fairly high level of intensity.
Over the past millennium, Shanghai transformed from a relatively insignificant market town and county capital into a major global metropolis. A combination of technical advances in agriculture, waterway management, and the natural changes in the course of some rivers and the silting of others led, in 1292, to the founding of the county capital Shanghai. The town went through alternate periods of growth and stagnation, but by the mid-19th century, it was an international trading hub with a population of a quarter of a million people. One of the turning points in its history came in 1842, the year that the Treaty of Nanking was signed by the Qing Empire and the United Kingdom and the Treaty Port of Shanghai opened up. Over the following century, Shanghai was divided into three main sections, each operating under its own laws and regulations: the International Settlement, the French Concession, and the Chinese city. In the 1930s, the fate of the city fell into the hands of yet another foreign power: Japan. After Japan’s surrender on 15 August 1945, Chinese nationalists and communists continued their struggle for control of the city for another four years until the People’s Liberation Army “liberated” Shanghai on 25 May 1949.
The category “middle class” can refer to quite different social entities. In the United States, it is often used as a synonym for “ordinary folk.” In the United Kingdom it references an elite with economic and social privileges. In India, “the middle class” acquired its own valence through a history that encompasses colonialism, nationalism, and desire for upward social mobility. At one level the Indian middle class was evidently derivative. Indians who wished to emulate the achievements and standing of the British middle class adopted the category, “middle class” as a self-descriptor. Yet the Indian middle class was hardly a modular replica of a metropolitan “original.” The context of colonialism, indigenous hierarchies, and various local histories shaped the nature of the Indian middle class as much as any colonial model. Composed of people—often salaried professionals—who were reasonably well off but not among India’s richest, being middle class in colonial India was less a direct product of social and economic standing and more the result of endeavors of cultural and political entrepreneurship. These efforts gave the middle class its shape and its aspirations to cultural and political hegemony. The same history, in turn, shaped a variety of discourses about the nature of society, politics, culture, and morality in both colonial and post-independent India. Contradictions were inherent in the constitution of the middle class in colonial India, and continue to be apparent today. These contradictions become even more evident as newer, formerly subaltern social groups, seek to participate in a world created through middle class imaginations of society, culture, politics and economics.
After the military conquest of the Kazakh Steppe in 1920, Russian and Kazakh Bolsheviks implemented policies of hard decolonization (1921–1922): tens of thousands of Slavic settlers were expropriated and land was distributed to nomads. During the period of 1923–1927, soft decolonization prevailed: Kazakhstan was created as an ethnonational administrative region and agricultural immigration was prohibited. Kazakhs were given priority in access to land and water and they were included in the state and party administrations. No sedentarization plans were drafted. With the Soviet economic policy turn of 1928, Kazakhstan became the object of plans for expansion of grain cultivation (to this end, peasant colonization from Russia was made legal again) and of industrialization. Moscow lunched an offensive in order both to subjugate and to incorporate Kazakh society: Kazakh pastoral elites and former Tsarist administrators were expropriated and deported; and young Kazakh men were drafted into the Red Army for the first time. In 1929, plans for the total sedentarization of Kazakh nomadic pastoralists were suddenly proclaimed, then rapidly became of secondary concern as they were merged with the total collectivization drive. Policies toward nomadic pastoralists were dependent and auxiliary to grain production policies from 1928 to early 1930. Then, from late 1930 to 1932, Kazakh livestock was requisitioned in order to feed Moscow, Leningrad, and the army, as the Soviet peasants had slaughtered their animals during collectivization. Procurements turned an ongoing starvation crisis into a calamitous famine that killed one-third of the Kazakhs. When no livestock were left, procurements were discontinued in Kazakhstan. Private ownership of animals and pastoral nomadic ways were explicitly allowed again. Kazakh mobile pastoralism had been transformed: pastoral routes were shortened; pastoralists were a smaller share of the population; and their work was organized within state and collective farms. The famine turned the Kazakhs into a minority in Kazakhstan and forced them into Soviet state institutions.
Since the seminal publication of Kenneth Pomeranz’s The Great Divergence (2000), there has been a continuing upsurge of writings on the possible reasons behind the rise of the West from a “global perspective.” Most of these studies focus on comparisons between Western Europe and China. Yet, in recent years works on India and the great divergence have followed suit, taking up research questions that have not been as prominent since the proliferation of debates on the subcontinent’s pre-colonial potentialities for capitalist development in the 1960s and 1970s. As of now, the paucity of quantitative data complicates endeavors to compare pre-colonial India with Europe and explore the underlying reasons behind the great divergence. Case studies examining the socio-economic history of a number of South Asian regions are still needed in order to conduct systematic comparisons between both advanced and underdeveloped regions of the subcontinent and those of Europe. The existing evidence, however, suggests that some of the "core areas" of 16th- to 18th-century India had more or less comparable levels of agricultural productivity, transport facilities (during the dry season), military capabilities in terms of ground forces (e.g., Mysore and the Marathas), commercial and manufacturing capacities (especially in textile, ship, and metal production), and social mobility of merchants (e.g., in Gujarat). Moreover, Indian rulers and artisans did not shy away from adopting European know-how (e.g., in weapon and ship production) when it redounded to their advantage. On the other hand, South Asia possessed some geo-climatic disadvantages vis-à-vis Western Europe that also impeded investments in infrastructure. India seems to have had a lower degree of consumer demand and lagged behind Western Europe in a number of fields such as mechanical engineering, the level of productive forces, higher education, circulation of useful knowledge, institutional efficiency, upper-class property rights, the nascent bourgeois class consciousness, and inter-communal and proto-national identity formations.
To trace the Soviet legacy in Central Asia is to trace the contours of a complex, multifaceted, and in many ways unfinished process. Between the advent of Russian imperial rule in the late 19th century and the collapse of Soviet power in 1991, the dynastic monarchies and nomadic federations of Central Asia were subdued, and the region was refashioned first into a European settler colony and then into industrialized national republics. Everything from political geography and institutions, economic patterns, urban patterns, and normative identities were indelibly shaped by the Soviet experience. Despite the legacies of the Soviet period, however, each of the states of Central Asia has also followed its own distinct trajectory since 1991, complicating the search for a coherent regional narrative. All of the post-Soviet states of Central Asia share certain common political, economic, and cultural “inheritances,” but their divergent histories since 1991 highlight not only the enduring significance of this shared patrimony, but also their remarkably different responses and trajectories since 1991.
Despite important continuities in imperial practices and bureaucratic structures, the spatial organization of Chinese government and society evolved in significant ways over the course of the two millenniums of the imperial period (221 bce–1911 ce). Different dynasties were structured in very different ways, some controlling only the agricultural zone of “China Proper,” or portions thereof, and some establishing distinct administrations to exert authority over the jungles, mountains, deserts, and steppe lands on the peripheral exterior. Successive regimes turned to a range of strategies to maintain order in the interior, collect tax revenue, and supply both the enormous population inhabiting the capital and the armies defending the frontiers. In addition, by the beginning of the 2nd millennium ce, there was a noticeable trend toward greater economic and cultural integration across China’s vast territory. A range of factors explain this trend, including the intensification of marketing networks following a medieval commercial revolution, a “localist turn” that spurred a decentralization of the imperial elite, and changes in how policymakers envisioned the nature of their state.