Skip to content
Join fellow black alumni in Oaks Bluff for a fun-filled weekend of bonding and socializing your Northeastern classmates.
Connect
Stories

China’s War on Smuggling: Law, Economic Life, and the Making of the Modern State, 1842–1965 | Philip Thai

People in this story

Philip Thai, Associate Professor of History

Smuggling along the Chinese coast has been a thorn in the side of many regimes. From opium and weapons concealed aboard foreign steamships in the Qing dynasty to nylon stockings and wristwatches trafficked in the People’s Republic, contests between state and smuggler have exerted a surprising but crucial influence on the political economy of modern China. Seeking to consolidate domestic authority and confront foreign challenges, states introduced tighter regulations, higher taxes, and harsher enforcement. These interventions sparked widespread defiance, triggering further coercive measures. Smuggling simultaneously threatened the state’s power while inviting repression that strengthened its authority.

Philip Thai chronicles the vicissitudes of smuggling in modern China—its practice, suppression, and significance—to demonstrate the intimate link between illicit coastal trade and the amplification of state power. China’s War on Smuggling shows that the fight against smuggling was not a simple law enforcement problem but rather an impetus to centralize authority and expand economic controls. The smuggling epidemic gave Chinese states pretext to define legal and illegal behavior, and the resulting constraints on consumption and movement remade everyday life for individuals, merchants, and communities. Drawing from varied sources such as legal cases, customs records, and popular press reports and including diverse perspectives from political leaders, frontline enforcers, organized traffickers, and petty runners, Thai uncovers how different regimes policed maritime trade and the unintended consequences their campaigns unleashed. China’s War on Smuggling traces how defiance and repression redefined state power, offering new insights into modern Chinese social, legal, and economic history.

More Stories

Sarah Ransome, left, and Elizabeth Stein, who both have accused Jeffrey Epstein of sexual abuse, leave the federal courthouse in New York, Tuesday, June 28, 2022, following the sentencing of Epstein's associate, Ghislaine Maxwell. Maxwell was sentenced to 20 years in prison Tuesday for helping the Epstein sexually abuse underage girls.

Northeastern professors study mental and physical health of teen sex trafficking victims

Forget restaurants and retail — teens are seizing the jobs they want as ‘desperate’ employers try to fill seats

07.06.2022

Professor develops ‘emerald tutu’ of floating wetlands to protect Boston from floods

07.06.22
News@Northeastern