“Assets of a Bankrupt Country”: Fiscal Effects of the Boxer Indemnity, 1901-1911

Colloquium | January 31 | 4-6 p.m. | 180 Doe Library

 Dong Yan, Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Chinese Studies, UC Berkeley

 Wen-hsin Yeh, Professor of History, UC Berkeley

 Center for Chinese Studies (CCS)

The Boxer Indemnity has long marked the nadir in the history of nineteenth century Chinese relations with Western powers, but buried beneath nationalist narratives of humiliation was the indemnity’s origin as public debt, one that the Chinese repaid over three decades. Assessing the fiscal and financial impact of the indemnity in the first ten years of debt service (1901-1911), the talk looks at how the Boxer Indemnity enabled the gathering of new knowledge on Chinese fiscal systems, and the imposition of new and privileged forms of financial practices. It also dissects Chinese attitudes to these new fiscal and monetary arrangements caused by the Boxer Indemnity, and explains variations in official responses. The effects of capital outflow from the Indemnity and its impact on Shanghai’s financial market in 1910 are examined at the end, as the talk argues that capital concentration due to Indemnity payments led to heightened financial speculation, while the Indemnity as a debt obligation also forced the Qing government to conduct unprecedented bailouts. The talk reveals how power asymmetry in early twentieth century were constrained and channeled through economic knowledge and practices of public debt, and invites a rethink of the dynamics of Sino-foreign interactions during this era.