State and Smuggling in Modern China: The Case of Guangzhouwan/Zhanjiang

Steven Pieragastini, Boston College
"Kouang-Tchéou-Wan." Created by the geographic service of Indo-China, January 1908. Source: Gallica.
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The Leizhou Peninsula in western Guangdong (concurrent with the present-day municipality of Zhanjiang) has at several points in history been an important site of exchange, both licit and illicit in the eyes of central authorities. The French gained control of the area from the weakened Qing government in 1898–1899 and established their “leased territory” of Guangzhouwan. Administered as part of French Indochina, Guangzhouwan became a fiefdom of smugglers, pimps, and pirates, never developing into the rival to Hong Kong that the French hoped it would become. After a brief Japanese occupation, the French returned the leased territory to the government of Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) after World War II, but their colonial presence left a legacy of trafficking, violence, and anti-imperialism that emboldened Communist guerrillas in the area. Once the Communists came into power in 1949, they subjected Zhanjiang and other liminal spaces along the Chinese coast to vigorous anti-smuggling and anti-drug campaigns. But a return to smuggling in the Reform Era (1978–present) suggests that the successful repression of smuggling in the Mao era may have been a temporary exception to the historical rule in this region.

Keywords: French imperialism, French Indochina, opium, smuggling, China, People’s Republic, Guangzhouwan, Zhanjiang, Reform Era, anti-corruption