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Prof. Dr. Yin Cao

Fellow in the project "Conceptions of World Order and Their Social Carrier Groups" (September–December 2021)

Short Biography

Cao Yin is associate professor and Cyrus Tang Scholar in the Department of History, Tsinghua University. He studies global history, modern Indian history, and India-China connections. His first book, entitled From Policemen to Revolutionaries: A Sikh Diaspora in Global Shanghai, 1885-1945 has been published by Brill in 2018. He also publishes articles in Journal of World History, Frontiers of History in China, and Indian Historical Review.


The Yunnan-Burma Railway Revisited: Interpreting and Reinterpreting Colonial Infrastructure in Modern China

In the late nineteenth century, the British commercial communities came to imagine a railway that could connect British Burma with inland China, which they thought had a huge but unexplored market. British engineers and adventurers were then employed by the commercial bodies to investigate the economic and geographic information in Yunnan and Upper Burma for the project. The colonial knowledge created by these missions (in the forms of travelogues, survey reports, interviews, and research articles) had later been interpreted by the Chinese nationalists as evidence of the British ambitions of colonizing southwest China in 1905 (the Russo-Japanese War) and 1927 (the Northern Expedition) when the Chinese nation was in deep crisis. Since the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Chinese Nationalist government had viewed the Yunnan-Burma railway as the necessary infrastructure to obtain foreign supplies so as to save the nation. The colonial knowledge produced by the British explorers and merchants half a century ago was reinterpreted by the Nationalist government to persuade the British authorities to construct the Burma section of the project. In telling the circulation of the colonial knowledge with regard to the Yunnan-Burma railway in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this article tends to argue that the Chinese nationalist understandings of colonial infrastructure had been by no means fixed and consistent. Instead, different Chinese nationalist agents kept interpreting and reinterpreting colonial infrastructure in different times of national crisis.