From petty runs to organized trafficking, the illicit activity of smuggling on the China coast was inherently dramatic, but now historian Philip Thai
has also identified China’s history of smuggling as a significant narrative about the expansion of state power. China’s War on Smuggling: Law, Economic Life, and the Making of the Modern State, 1842-1965
(Columbia University Press, 2018) spans multiple regimes from the late Qing dynasty to the early years of the People’s Republic of China. Thai notes that regimes tightened regulations, increased tariffs, and enforced laws more harshly as part of the project to consolidate authority and meet challenges posed by foreign powers. The smuggling epidemic put constraints on consumption that remade daily life for individuals, merchants, and communities. Their resistance threatened the state’s power while at the same time encouraging state intervention that increased the reach of the state and its authority. Drawing from a rich array of sources including customs records, legal cases, press reports, and popular literature, Thai provides a fresh, insightful take on the development of the modern state during a period of dramatic change and challenges. China’s War on Smuggling
will appeal to those interested in the history of commerce, law, and criminology in modern China.