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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Typhoons, meteorological intelligence, and the inter-port mercantile community in nineteenth-century China
by Zhu, Marlon, Ph.D., State University of New York at Binghamton, 2012, 332; 3522841
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation is a social history of meteorology in nineteenth-century China. It examines the intertwining relationship among commerce, natural disaster, and science and technology by focusing on how merchants in China's treaty ports and Hong Kong exerted their influence upon the incipient public weather service. Frequent and powerful typhoons, which threatened the primary business in steam shipping and marine insurance of these merchants, constituted their major concern for establishing a network of meteorological observation and typhoon warnings at the China coast. They mobilized public opinions through the English-language daily newspapers circulated among ports to incorporate various observers, including an observatory established by French Jesuits at Shanghai, shipmasters of mercantile marine, the foreign staff of the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs, and a British governmental observatory in Hong Kong. Their purpose was to secure among coastal ports the transmission and distribution of telegraphic typhoon messages, especially those from another Jesuit observatory in Manila; for typhoons usually came from the seas close to the Philippines. Typhoon warnings thus became the major task of the early China-coast meteorology.

With such main lines, this dissertation highlights three closely related aspects of the development of meteorology in nineteenth-century China. First, it exemplifies the active participation of the inter-port mercantile community in the scientific enterprise. Second, it identifies multilateral scientific, imperial, and commercial agencies from a wide spectrum that were involved in the coordination and competition of the meteorological work. Third, the dissertation nuances the development of "telegraphic meteorology," a combined practice of technology and science in nineteenth-century China. It is a synthesis of meteorological narratives which went beyond the usual national, imperial and colonial perspectives; not only of Shanghai and Hong Kong, but also of Manila; not only of the British Empire in China, but also of the French in Shanghai and the American in the Philippines. It is a story about how an inter-port mercantile society under such heterogeneous settings responded to the natural disaster. The focus on the role of a mercantile community in closely linked ports or around the globe might improve our understanding of science and technology in the modern world.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Fan, Fa-ti
Commitee: Chaffee, John, Kim, Sonja M., Kutcher, Gerald J.
School: State University of New York at Binghamton
Department: History
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 73/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: History, Meteorology, Modern history, Science history
Keywords: China, Intelligence, Inter-port, Mercantile community, Nineteenth century, Telegraphic meteorology, Typhoon, Weather service
Publication Number: 3522841
ISBN: 978-1-267-55280-8
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