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Caravan Modernity: The Strategic Revitalisation of China’s Dynastic Transportation System during the Second Sino–Japanese War

ABSTRACT This article analyses how and why, during the War of Resistance (1937–1945), Nationalist China revitalised the dynastic system of transportation and communication (yiyun zhidu). Due to the blockade by the Japanese Imperial Army, it shows, everything essential to the war effort was in short supply. If essential items were available, the difficulties in securing transportation were overwhelming. This was exacerbated by the transfer of the capital to Chongqing. The relocation moved the Nationalists further away from China’s emerging modern transport infrastructure. This article examines the yiyun campaign by referring to primary sources and recent Chinese scholarship. The campaign entailed mobilising the population to partake in the transportation of goods using the age-old systems of caravans, boats, and human porters. The Nationalists, however, did not see this as resurrecting an old system. In line with their revolutionary agenda and modernising ethos they held that revitalisation would be informed by ‘scientific management’ (kexue guanli). The article illustrates the complexity of the campaign through the controversy surrounding the ‘management fee’ (guanlifei). As time progressed it became clear that recruiting people to participate in the yiyun campaign would be challenging.