The History of Tunken
How the term became a ubiquitous part of the Chinese discourse of empire
Shellen X. Wu
By the 1930s, the Japanese colonial empire had expanded from Hokkaidō to Taiwan, Korea, and Northeast China. Japan’s continental ambitions entered a new phase with Manchuria, where the colonial administration established collective farms at the same time that the Japanese home government promoted the region as an industrial and modern Eden (Young 1998). Through translations beginning in the late nineteenth century, China adopted a number of neologisms coined in Japan. However, Chinese writers rarely ever referred to Han colonization efforts as zhimin 殖民. Instead, Chinese writers almost exclusively used an update amalgam of the classical Chinese terms for military settlement and land reclamation, tunken 屯墾. Borrowing from the far older terms tuntian and kaiken, tunken did not come into use until the 18th century, and then only sparingly, appearing all of two times in the 18th century Qing compilation of the Ming histories. The term tunken started to appear again in the Qing documents from the late nineteenth century, used in the context of the Northeast, but came widely into vogue only from the 1920s. The etymology of the term strongly suggests that tunken was popularized as a response to China’s perceived besiegement from imperialist powers.
For more on the officers, like Zou Zuohua, who headed the tunken effort in Xing An, continue on to the discussion of the colonizers.