Building Infrastructure in the Time of Transition: Politics and Technology from the ROC to the Early PRC
2: "Experts from The Old Society": The Experience of Hydropower Engineers Across 1949
Saturday, March 26, 2022
4:00pm – 5:30pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
Rhode Island School of Design, United States
Since the 1930s, with the construction of concrete dams on the Tennessee River, the Tennessee Valley Authority had successfully made the river to do work for the people in the dixie’s land. In the words of David Lilienthal, Chairman of the TVA, “No major river in the world is so fully controlled as the Tennessee, no other river works so hard for the people.” Thanks to the wartime allyship between Nationalist China and the United States, China turned out to be the foreign country who sent the most trainees and visitors to the Tennessee Valley in the 1940s. Through examining archival documents and private memoirs, this paper aims to uncover the usually neglected trans-Pacific technology transfer in the field of river planning and hydropower development. Despite domestic regime change and geopolitical shift across 1949, most hydropower specialists, many of whom were former TVA trainees, stayed in mainland China in the hope of dedicating their expertise to rivers of the nation. In 1952, Li Rui, a Communist cadre, who had neither training nor experience in hydropower, started to lead the socialist hydropower institution. The cooperation between the revolutionary cadre and experts from the old society worked very well, if not seamlessly. However, in the late 1950s, the rise of radical Maoism turned hydropower into another battleground of Mao’s continuous revolution, those experts and the associated professionalism were under attack.