Like Cattle and Horses

Nationalism and Labor in Shanghai, 1895–1927

Like Cattle and Horses

Comparative and International Working-Class History

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Book Pages: 384 Illustrations: 2 tables Published: April 2002

Author: S. A. Smith

Asian Studies > East Asia, History > Asian History

In Like Cattle and Horses Steve Smith connects the rise of Chinese nationalism to the growth of a Chinese working class. Moving from the late nineteenth century, when foreign companies first set up factories on Chinese soil, to 1927, when the labor movement created by the Chinese Communist Party was crushed by Chiang Kai-shek, Smith uses a host of documents—journalistic accounts of strikes, memoirs by former activists, police records—to argue that a nationalist movement fueled by the effects of foreign imperialism had a far greater hold on working-class identity than did class consciousness.
While the massive wave of labor protest in the 1920s was principally an expression of militant nationalism rather than of class consciousness, Smith argues, elements of a precarious class identity were in turn forged by the very discourse of nationalism. By linking work-related demands to the defense of the nation, anti-imperialist nationalism legitimized participation in strikes and sensitized workers to the fact that they were worthy of better treatment as Chinese citizens. Smith shows how the workers’ refusal to be treated “like cattle and horses” (a phrase frequently used by workers to describe their condition) came from a new but powerfully felt sense of dignity. In short, nationalism enabled workers to interpret the anger they felt at their unjust treatment in the workplace in political terms and to create a link between their position as workers and their position as members of an oppressed nation. By focusing on the role of the working class, Like Cattle and Horses is one of very few studies that examines nationalism “from below,” acknowledging the powerful agency of nonelite forces in promoting national identity.
Like Cattle and Horses will interest historians of labor, modern China, and nationalism, as well as those engaged in the study of revolutions and revolt.


"[A] delightful reinforcement to academic appreciation of the Chinese labor movement. . . . Supported by an extensive array of archival items, contemporary periodicals and secondary sources in Chinese and English, the author is able to present a finely woven, well-documented, and carefully crafted analytical delineation of the modern Chinese labor movement as both a class and a nationalistic undertaking in the dramatic setting of Shanghai." — Ming K. Chan , Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"[A] worthy addition to the . . . new monographs on modern Shanghai." — Edward Rhoads , American Historical Review

"Even for readers familiar with Shanghai’s history as well as Chinese labour history, there is interesting new information here, much of it from Chinese sources. . . . Smith’s book is an auspicious addition to the woefully small group of English-language historians of urban labour in China."

— Lynda Norene Shaffer , The China Journal

"From a massive array of archives, newspapers, periodicals, police records, and secondary sources in Chinese, Japanese, and western languages, Smith weaves an exciting, intersecting narrative of nationalist sentiment and labour activism that shaped Shanghai." — Jennifer W. Jay , Social History

"Smith’s many and well-narrated stories of labour activities, collective resistances and strikes, victories and defeats, Green Gang manipulations and so forth are all quite interesting in their own right, and . . . they all contribute to depicting the very complex environment that was Shanghai at this time. . . [A]lert[s] us to the possibilities inherent in a powerful analysis of nationalism, class and labour under conditions of a differentiating and unifying global capitalism." — Rebecca E. Karl , Social History

"This book is a major contribution to the study of the Chinese labor movement. . . . This book will certainly be required reading for scholars of early-twentieth-century Chinese social and political history. It is based on thorough scholarship, with a bibliography ranging from British archival sources, through a broad range of Chinese primary and secondary sources, to an impressive selection of theoretical and comparative works on identity. . . . [T]his important book successfully demonstrates the close connection between Chinese nationalism and the Chinese labor movement, and it puts forward interesting ideas on the formation of class identities in China, many of which will have broader comparative relevance." — Tim Wright , Journal of Asian Studies

"This fine book offers a new perspective on workers, unions, and strikes in Shanghai in the 1920s." — R. David Arkush , China Review

"What makes this book innovative and recommends it to a scholarly audience are Smith’s efforts to look beyond elites. . . .Like Cattle and Horses will revive discussion of the role of nationalism in Chinese history." — Christopher A. Reed , History: Reviews of New Books

Like Cattle and Horses stands out as an important and original contribution to debates within Chinese studies about labor and nationalism and a significant addition to the comparative literature on class identities and their political implications.” — Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Indiana University

“Specialists and general readers alike will delight in the stories that Smith tells. This perceptive and original book abounds in good ideas and gems of scholarship and draws on a formidable range of theories. Few historians of China could match this range of expertise.” — Gregor Benton, University of Wales, Cardiff


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Steve Smith is Professor of History at the University of Essex, England. He is the author of A Road Is Made: Communism in Shanghai, 1920–1922; Red Petrograd: Revolution in the Factories, 1917–18; and coeditor of Notes of a Red Guard.

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2793-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2783-7
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