International humanitarianism, nationalism, and development
: the United Nations relief and rehabilitation administration in China, 1943-1948

  • Jiayi Tao

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis focuses on the encounter of global enthusiasm for internationalism in the mid-1940s and Chinese Nationalists’ endeavours to continue their pre-war state-building project after the Sino-Japanese War ended. Through the lens of the UNRRA China Programme (1944-1947) which brought to China relief and rehabilitation supplies and a multi-national cadre of experts and bureaucrats, this thesis reveals how international humanitarianism was utilised by various state and non-state actors in a non-western fully sovereign state. With the three themes – pre-war connections, state-building efforts, and the rise of the United Nations – threading through, this thesis aims to provide new perspectives to, first, an expanding, but Euro-centric, scholarship of the history of international humanitarianism, and second, the scholarship of modern Chinese history that positions the Chinese Civil War at the centre of the history of post-war China.

Chapter one explores the planning of the UNRRA China Programme during the wartime. It highlights the role of Chinese nationalists in making the framework of UNRRA’s cooperation with the Nationalist government. Through the case study of the re-opening of Shanghai in the post-war moment, chapter two illustrates the increasing reliance of civil society on the Chinese state. Chapter three outlines the role of UNRRA engineers in shaping the Yellow River project into a developmental project, at a time when a civil war was ongoing in north China. Chapter four takes us to see the experiences of UNRRA’s foreign employees as humanitarian workers and development experts in Nationalist- and Communist-controlled areas. The final chapter analyses various endeavours to continue international cooperation in 1947 and 1948, during which the space for internationalism was narrowed by the unfolding Cold War. Overall, this thesis understands post-war China as a theatre in which a variety of social forces negotiated China’s future foreign relations and development as an approach to modernity.
Date of Award6 Oct 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorRobert Bickers (Supervisor) & Su Lin Lewis (Supervisor)

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