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Border Crossing: Hong Kong’s ‘Mailbag Rush’ and China’s Great Famine
October 7, 2019 @ 12:30 pm - 2:00 pm
During the Cold War, when the border between British Hong Kong and Communist China was known as the “bamboo curtain,” the boundary between Hong Kong’s New Territories and China’s Bao’an County—today’s Shenzhen—was seen as a closed frontier. Yet the everyday experience of the border demonstrates that it was not only a border: it also served as a gateway and a zone in which people, goods, and ideas continued to cross over. This presentation examines how goods from outside of China were sent over this border via two channels: items carried by travelers, including overseas Chinese and Hong Kong/Macao “compatriots,” and items shipped in “small packets,” the system that emerged to replace parcel post. A steady stream of goods from the outside went over the bamboo curtain, but during the famine that followed China’s Great Leap Forward, such individual packages became a flood. Using archives, newspapers, and oral history collections, this presentation explores the meaning and significance of cross-border ties.
Denise Y. Ho is assistant professor of twentieth-century Chinese history at Yale University. She is an historian of modern China, with a particular focus on the social and cultural history of the Mao period (1949-1976). She is also interested in urban history, the study of information and propaganda, and material culture. Ho teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on modern and contemporary China, the history of Shanghai, the uses of the past in modern China, and the historiography of the Republican era and the PRC.
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