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The League of Nations had been active in an advisory capacity in China in matters of public health since the early 1920s. The director of the Health Section of the League's Secretariat, Dr. Ludwig Rajchman, was the moving spirit behind the League's involvement with China after the formation of the National Government. After 1927 he assisted in the formation of China's National Quarantine Service, which recaptured one area of Chinese administrative control from the Maritime Customs. He suggested a larger program of cooperation by which the League, as a multilateral agency, could supply technical aid without political risk to the National Government.[42] Politics would in fact never be absent from the League mission, which could not be separated from the League's condemnation of the Japanese seizure of Manchuria in 1931. (Rajchman would be cashiered in 1934 as Technical Agent for China for his pro-Chinese sentiments.) It is accurate to say, however, that the League program in China that developed after 1931 was "one of the most purely disinterested aid programs of the twentieth century."[43]

The League's work through the NEC was multifaceted but also limited to certain domains, reflecting the international organization's own definition of development assistance. It was not a World Bank capable of financing industrial infrastructure. Its work in China was defined by the three main League organizations represented in the founding of the NEC: those for health, economics and finance, and communications and transit. They provided advice, technical training, and, to a small degree, loans for experimental projects. In addition the League's Committee on Intellectual Cooperation supported educational and scholarly exchanges. As a group, however, these were categories broad enough to involve League advisers in matters ranging from silkworms to highways to higher education.[44]

The League's economic and finance section was employed by the NEC to promote fundamental reform of sericulture in order to revive one of China's most

important export industries. In Japan, a centralized system of "scientific breeding control," government subsidy, and export promotion had overcome China's former dominance in the world market and produced Japanese silk of a standard quality that was both cheaper and better "than the best Zhejiangese."[45] As the Great Depression took hold in the West between 1928 and 1933, exports of the inferior Chinese product fell by two-thirds. The National Government had promoted reform in the industry since 1927 and had worked with provincial officials to establish a "Commission for the Standardization of Sericulture in Jiangsu and Zhejiang" the following year. In 1932 the national and provincial governments worked with private industrialists to set national quality standards for silk manufacture, with government funding for research, agricultural extension, and inspection. To control a blight affecting Chinese silk larvae and to standardize quality, only silk certified by an official silk control bureau could be sold.[46] That same year, the League's expert, Benito Mari, former chairman of the Italian Association of Sericulture, conducted a survey of the silk industry in five provinces. He gave his international expert's imprimatur to "compulsory Government regulation" of the industry, including "a State monopoly for the control of everything pertaining to the cultivation of mulberry trees, to the preparation of silkworm eggs, to the rearing of silkworm and cocoons and to the price and sale of cocoons."[47] Although the government did not go quite that far, it followed Mari's advice by intruding into the industry in three new ways: the spraying with disinfectant of buildings (mostly private homes) used in silk production; the collectivization of silkworm maturation in temperature-controlled sheds; and, as in Japan, the banning of privately grown silkworm eggs (eggs grown on government-licensed sericultural farms were to be used instead).[48] These regulations were highly unpopular with farmers, who made their feelings known in the Zhejiang Silk Riots of 1933, and were highly effective in improving yield and quality in the counties where they were carried out with determination. Terry M. Weidner, who has studied the effort to regulate the silk industry, concludes that it "went a long way toward righting a troubled industry desperately in need of reform," even if at political cost to the regime.[49]

The most publicized aspect of the League/NEC cooperation was the work of the League of Nations Engineering Mission to China (through the League's Communications and Transit Office) in flood control and water conservancy.[50] Cooperation had begun in principle but not yet in fact when, in the summer of 1931, Yangzi River floods resulted in the deaths of six hundred thousand Chinese. As in the case of the silk industry, the League urged greater centralization and government control of all aspects of water conservancy. (This had been urged, too, by the professional Society of Chinese Water Control Engineers [Zhongguo shuili gongcheng xuehui].) Initial work in flood relief and epidemic prevention (70 percent of the deaths were due to disease and starvation)[51] evolved into an integrated approach to national hydraulic engineering under a centralized Water Conservancy Administration. Apart from this administrative coordination, League expertise was

focused on specific regional projects, notably dike restoration on the Yangzi and its tributaries and on engineering plans for the management of the Huai River. Here, short-term successes were most obvious in what did not happen: League-assisted flood control projects were "so effective that renewed high water in 1935 did little damage."[52] The long-term impact—for example, on interregional coordination of water management projects, experience in dam construction, and the training of Chinese hydraulic engineers—has yet to be researched.[53]

Perhaps the most impressive, and certainly the most extensive, result of the League's Engineering Mission was in the building of highways. Sun Yatsen's vision of "one million miles of road built in a very short time as if by a magic wand"[54] had not yet come to pass, but the fast pace of road building in the 1920s by provincial governments and bus companies provided a foundation for the Nationalists' planned national road network. Whereas in 1920 perhaps as little as 100 miles of improved road (theoretically passable by motor vehicle) existed in the entire country outside the foreign concessions, over 20,000 miles had been built by 1928; that number would reach nearly 40,000 in the first two years of the National Government, with a further 35,000 projected. (Beyond this, in more than thirty large cities, city walls were in the process of being torn down for replacement by motor roads.)[55] The majority of this road building took place under provincial Reconstruction Bureaux: in Zhejiang, for example, the Nanjing era saw the construction of a system of all-weather roads "linking every major political and economic center in the province."[56] For provincial and national officials alike, motor roads were the affordable alternative to a major expansion of the rail system, for which capital and investors were lacking in the early 1930s.[57]

Here again NEC and League engineers urged centralization and standardization. Road engineering standards and traffic laws varied enormously from province to province, often from locality to locality. So did road signs and traffic signals, which were mostly "incomprehensible" anyway.[58] Until 1932 cars licensed in one province could not be driven in another. (After extended negotiations, the provinces of Zhejiang, Anhui, and Jiangsu, as well as the cities of Nanjing and Shanghai, agreed to recognize each other's plates; still, thereafter, cars licensed in one province could travel in another only after paying an additional fee.)[59] Integrated planning began under a new Bureau of Roads, while League and Chinese engineers built experimental roads at different locations with local materials.[60]

It was with great fanfare, therefore, that the Shanghai-Hangzhou Motor Road opened on October 10, 1932, as the first section of the Shanghai-Guangxi Trunk Line, itself part of a planned seven-province, eleven-trunk-line project of approximately 14,000 miles. This was a typical "modern" road of this region, with alignment and grades meeting international standards, built on a foundation of broken brick and surfaced with crushed shells and cinders. Some two hundred automobiles motored that day the seven hours from Shanghai to Hangzhou, some completing the return trip the same day. The road was in fact not quite finished (ready or not, it had to open on National Day), and there were some problems: farmer resistance

to the road was expressed by the building of a stone wall across it; T. V. Soong's party knocked down several confused pedestrians; and in traffic the road proved much dustier than predicted—it would later get a cheap oil coating. But on the whole the venture was declared a great success.[61]

Educating Engineers. All of the League/NEC endeavors had implications for another sector, that of scientific and technical education. Efforts in water conservancy and road construction competed with each other, and with railroads and private industry, for the services of a prize group of Chinese civil engineers from Shanghai's Jiaotong, or Communications, University and a small number of other institutions. In the Nanjing decade the number of Chinese specialists, educated at home or abroad, in the employment of the rail lines had finally sufficed to meet the (political) demand for Chinese leadership in the technical positions formerly held by foreigners;[62] but for new endeavors such as the road network the shortage was such that the League Engineering Mission proposed that the Bureau of Roads train its own engineers in a new Technical Civil Engineering Station.

The centralizing, rationalizing thrust of the League mission was perhaps best expressed in its proposal for a nationwide Employment Bureau for Intellectual and Technical Workers. It aimed to place university graduates in positions where they could "best serve the nation…[while supplying] the Chinese central and provincial administrations, as well as public and private undertakings in the country, with the qualified technical persons required." The bureau would have branch offices in Geneva and the United States coordinating the technical studies of Chinese abroad with their future careers in China.[63] Such a comprehensive bureau never materialized, but the "nationalization" of job placement in specific disciplines would begin in the early years of the war.

More immediately influential were League proposals for a fundamental reform of Chinese higher education to meet the needs of economic development. This was the work of the League program on International Intellectual Cooperation, which had been founded with the noble goal of promoting peace by creating a "universal conscience" through the international exchange of scholars.[64] It was a hard-boiled group, however, that the League dispatched to China in 1931, at the outset of its technical assistance program, to propose (as its two-hundred-page report was titled) The Reorganization of Education in China.[65]

This "Becker Commission," named for its leader, the former Prussian minister of education C. H. Becker, decried the "alarming consequences of the excessive influence of the American model on Chinese education,"[66] by which was meant, above all, the then-prevalent curriculum of electives and "credits," which enhanced general education at the expense of specialized knowledge, and the organization of faculty in departments and colleges, which worked against centralization and oversight. Although arguing against vulgar utilitarianism in education, the report was harshly critical of the lack of central planning for China's hybrid system of public and private, Chinese and foreign, colleges and universities.

Its recommendations aimed to strengthen the state's hand in setting educational agendas. It proposed (not surprisingly, perhaps) a continental-style restructuring—for example, academic chairs in place of departments—to centralize administration, including national-level oversight over chaired appointments; to rationalize geographically and fiscally the system of national (guoli) universities; and to establish a nationwide system of entrance examinations that would permit authorities to channel admissions to specific disciplines.[67] Although Chinese officials resented the public criticism, what Ruth Hayhoe calls the Becker Commission's "authoritarian view of knowledge"[68] found a sympathetic hearing in Nanjing.

Many of the commission's recommendations were adopted over the next three years. Chen Guofu, one of the formulators of Guomindang cultural policy, went even further in proposing in 1932 that in order to "train talent to meet society's needs," China's universities should stop admitting students of the humanities and law for a decade.[69] Serious (if not quite so drastic) reform began that same year under Chen's political protégé, Dr. Zhu Jiahua, who was named minister of education. A German-trained geologist long active in Nationalist developmental policy, Zhu brought to his office both strong scientific and political credentials; he began a restructuring of higher education away from the humanities and social sciences—in which enrollment began to be limited—in favor of science, engineering, and, at the secondary level, vocational training.[70] The 1929 organizational law for Chinese higher education had already required that each university have a school of science, engineering, medicine, or agriculture. Government financial support for these areas now increased markedly. Engineering programs at Jiaotong, National Central, and Qinghua Universities, to name the most prominent, were bolstered in areas of existing strength—civil and mechanical engineering—and supported in the expansion of programs in chemical and electrical engineering. From 1931 to 1936, the percentage of students in fields of science and engineering doubled in government-funded institutions. For the decade as a whole (including the early war years) engineering enrollment trebled. In the same period, the numbers of students enrolled in the arts fell by one-third, and those in law and political science by one-half. These curricular priorities were extended beyond the state sector to private and missionary colleges through a process of regulation and registration that had begun in 1929 but was more consistently enforced after 1932.[71] As Wang Shijie, the former chancellor of Wuhan University who succeeded Zhu as minister of education, would argue, knowledge was to be "harnessed to produce results in connection with the economic development of the country."[72]

The League's influence, like its work in China, was spread over the many different areas in which its Technical Advisory Mission was active. League engineers and funds were focused on specific projects of manageable scale. Their efforts had none of the pretense and grandeur of Sun Yatsen's plan. Never was there articulated a developmental philosophy behind all their activities. There was, however,

a consistent pattern of advice regarding economic, technical, and educational development in favor of a state-managed, centralized approach to economic development emphasizing the promise of scientific and engineering expertise. The League's work could only reinforce the more statist tendencies in the Nanjing regime.

In the end all the League could offer was advice, which the Chinese government could give material form in projects of dam and road construction. The road-building enterprise, ultimately one of the signal material achievements of the Nationalist regime, was predicated on further assumptions regarding China's industrial development, among them—as Sun Yatsen had urged—the creation of a domestic automobile industry. This would be the role of the state-owned China Automobile Manufacturing Company (Zhongguo qiche zhizao gongsi), which began as an assembly operation of diesel trucks on a Daimler-Benz model.[73] To knit China together where roads and railroads could not go would be the task of civil aviation, which by the end of the Nanjing decade, through official joint ventures with Pan American and Lufthansa, would connect China's major cities on regular schedules.[74] Airplanes for these routes were ultimately to have been made in China, by another Sino-foreign joint venture, the China Air Materials Construction Company (Zhongguo hangkong qicai zhizao gongsi).[75] To give China the capacity to produce its own industries, machines, and tools on a world-class scale was the aim of still more ambitious joint ventures: to build a Central Steel Works, a Central Machine Works, and indeed an entire "new industrial center" of state-owned firms in central China.[76] These were to be the driving forces of what by the mid-1930s was increasingly called a "controlled" (tongzhi) economy. All this ambition was in the true spirit of Sun Yatsen. To manage it, however, required a rather different kind of government official than he could have imagined.

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