Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Dr. David P. Barrett


This thesis examines the history of the North Manchuria frontier from 1900 to 1931, which was a crucial period in regional development. Within thirty-one years, about four million Chinese peasants immigrated into the region. The frontier society that took shape exhibited features different from China Proper. It lacked traditional Chinese social characteristics such as the clan system. The frontier exhibited a volatile social order. However, the new society was still Chinese and the coming of millions of immigrants impressed this character further on the region.

Land ownership changed dramatically. Once the state began to sell off land, private ownership quickly developed. By the end of the 1920s, over ninety-five percent of the land was privately owned. Large-scale ownership was balanced off by a small-scale farming economy. Seventy-five percent of land was occupied by small farmers. The region developed special ties with the international market, and the great demand after World War One for soybean spurred rapid economic growth.

Indigenous peoples embraced agricultural life, though the varying ethnic groups responded to it differently. The Solon abandoned hunting for sedentary life, the Manchus turned them from soldiers to farmers, while the Mongols moved from pastoral life to settlement. The tide of Chinese immigration was the primary factor in bringing about this change, but other factors such as the change of ecological system, government policies and the adoption of a new land system played important roles.

Banditry was a persistent phenomenon of the frontier, because of historical, social and geographical factors. Banditry was an inescapable part of frontier life through the 1900-31 period. Settlers organized themselves for defense and the government launched punitive campaigns. However, banditry remained a central problem. Banditry created its own subculture in frontier life.

Russian influence was important in the early history of the frontier. The Russians occupied the region from 1900 to 1906. They built a railway, controlled navigation on major rivers, dominated international trade and held timber and mining concessions. The Russians turned the railway zone into a sub-colony where they held mastery for more than two decades. However, the dissertation points out that the Russian role should not be exaggerated. Chinese authorities never surrendered sovereignty and endeavored to reassert their authority. Within the railway zone the Chinese had to acquiesce to the status quo, but they sought to limit Russian actions in the region beyond the zone. After the Bloshevik Revolution, Russian influence in North Manchuria quickly waned.

This thesis is intended to probe and analyze the development of the North Manchuria frontier. Since few scholars have studied the region from the perspective of frontier history, the thesis represents a pioneering effort. It postulates that the quick evolution of the region from a wilderness to a granary was a special case in the history of modern China. However, the distinctiveness of the region does not separate it from the rest of China. Rather, to understand the development of the frontier is to understand more fully the history of modern China.

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