Skip to main content
Shopping cart: items Cart

Carbon Technocracy

Energy Regimes in Modern East Asia

A look at the deep links between energy extraction and technocratic governance through the history of what was once East Asia's biggest coal mine.

The coal-mining town of Fushun in China’s Northeast is home to a monstrous open pit, once the largest in Asia. Across the twentieth century, this pit grew like a widening maw, as various Chinese and Japanese states endeavored to unearth Fushun’s purportedly “inexhaustible” carbon resources. Today, the depleted pit remains a wondrous and terrifying monument to fantasies of a fossil-fueled future and to the technologies mobilized in attempts to turn those developmentalist dreams into reality.

In Carbon Technocracy, Victor Seow uses the remarkable story of the Fushun colliery to chart how the fossil fuel economy emerged in tandem with the rise of the modern technocratic state. Taking coal as an essential feedstock of national wealth and power, Chinese and Japanese bureaucrats, engineers, and industrialists pursued intensive energy extraction and deployed new technologies like open-pit mining and hydraulic stowage to maximize their hauls. At the same time, as much as these mine operators idealized the might of the machine and the fossil fuels that drove it, their extractive efforts nevertheless relied heavily on human labor. Under the carbon energy regime, countless workers here and elsewhere would be subjected to both the productivist demands of states and markets and the dangers of an increasingly exploited earth.

Although Fushun is no longer the coal capital it once was, the pattern of aggressive fossil-fueled development that enabled its ascent endures. As we confront a planetary crisis precipitated by the profligate consumption of carbon, it holds urgent lessons. This is a groundbreaking exploration of how the mutual production of energy and power came to define industrial modernity and the wider world that carbon made.


"Drawing on an impressive range of sources, Seow reveals the intertwined stories of the Fushun colliery and the succession of state regimes that have drawn on Fushun’s material (and even rhetorical) power from the short-lived Russian concessions of the turn of the last century through the consolidation of the People’s Republic of China. The clarity of Seow’s thinking, the felicity of his prose, and the significance of his topic will ensure a large audience among modern East Asian historians, energy historians, and the many scholars in environmental studies and environmental humanities who focus on carbon-driven climate change. Clearly written and very thoughtfully conceived."

Thomas G. Andrews, University of Colorado Boulder

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Note on Conventions
Introduction / Carbon Technocracy /
One / Vertical Natures /
Two / Technological Enterprise /
Three / Fueling Anxieties /
Four / Imperial Extraction /
Five / Nationalist Reconstruction /
Six / Socialist Industrialization /
Epilogue / Exhausted Limits /
Acknowledgments /
Bibliography /
Index /

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press