Student Spotlight

2nd Annual Connie Chin Memorial Prize for Writing in East Asian Studies Awarded

Hong Song (MA '22, East Asian Studies) was awarded the 2nd annual Connie Chin Memorial Writing in East Asian Studies, for his paper "In the World of Disorder: Trafficking, Vagabonds, and State in Late Qing Jianghuai."

"Mr. Song’s MA thesis considers the traffic in women, and the imperial state’s efforts to suppress it, in late nineteenth-century China from several angles,” Matthew Sommer, Bowman Family Professor of History summarizes. “First, he focuses on large-scale trafficking that involved organized crime and documents its connections to a range of other crimes (kidnapping, robbery, extortion, etc.). Second, he considers how “trafficking” (i.e. the buying and selling of women) was related to and an outgrowth of more intimate, quotidian transactions in marriage and adoption that also involved exchange of cash payment – in this sense, trafficking was rooted in less ambitious, customarily acceptable practices. Third, he traces how riverine routes of transportation and communications in the Jianghuai region were exploited for long-distance trafficking, in a way that anticipated the use of railroads for this purpose in the twentieth century.  Fourth, he uses human trafficking to assess the devastation of the Jianghuai region by the Taiping and Nian rebels – and by the Qing armies who suppressed their rebellions – by showing how the breakdown of law and order fueled a dramatic increase in frequency and scale of such activities. Fifth, he evaluates the efforts of provincial authorities in the wake of the rebellions to reestablish local control and to suppress organized crime and other symptoms of social disorder.”

Professor Sommer concludes: “Together, Mr. Song’s findings constitute an important contribution to our understanding of multiple dimensions of state-society relations and the condition of women in particular in the late Qing."

In Song's own words: “The idea of this study originates from my undergraduate research on Chinese women immigrants in colonial Singapore. While reading stories of women being trafficked to the distant land, I wondered how the illegal networks of transacting women had developed in China. My research in last summer directed my attention towards late Qing Jianghuai, where the local environment and deep social crises acted as the hotbed of crimes of trafficking. As my research continued, I was increasingly surprised by how crimes of trafficking revealed the interactions between markets, illegal activities, and migration of the poor that went well beyond the geography of Jianghuai. Since these interactions could also be found in other regions, like Sichuan and Hubei, this case study of late Qing Jianghuai also explores the general patterns of the development of trafficking in late Qing China.”

Song concludes: “In a conference this year, I was asked how trafficking women has become a continuing phenomenon in China. I found it a complex question to answer. If we compare the Qing cases with the recent incident of trafficking women in Feng County, many problems, including the structural shortage of women in rural China, the floating population of baresticks (poor single men), and the loopholes of judicial governance in the poor area, persist in contemporary China. These continuities reveal the historical roots of a contemporary problem and remind us of what problems have remained unresolved despite the tremendous development of economy, culture, and society. While we live in an era in which everything is so quickly ‘produced’ and ‘consumed,’ we shall also pay attention to its underside, to shadows under the sun.”

Sponsored by the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures and the Center for East Asian Studies, the Connie Chin Memorial Writing Prize in East Asian Studies recognizes and rewards outstanding examples of writing in an essay, term paper, or thesis produced during the current academic year, in any area of East Asian Studies, broadly defined. It is dedicated to beloved colleague Connie Chin (1946-2020), who enjoyed a 44-year career at Stanford beginning in 1976, moving several times between the Center of East Asian Studies and Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, where she spent her last 13 years as Department Manager.