Water-Lords: Water Carriers in Beijing, 1644-1937

Date of Award

June 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Norman A. Kutcher


Beijing, Drinking water, Environmental History, Urban History

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


This dissertation is about the story of water carriers in Beijing, who had distributed drinking water from wells to city residents according to a complicated and delicate system since the Qing period. The power of water carriers was rooted in their territories and native-place ties. Within their territories, water carriers emerged as a crucial force in shaping the social fabric and domestic rhythm of the neighborhood as the power in the back alleys. The power of water carriers remained potent and resilient with the arrival of Japanese well-drilling technology in the first decade of the twentieth century, the challenge of running water in 1910, and the introduction of state hygiene mandates in 1927. The rise of the modern water enterprise, the state building and the changing nature of neighborhoods prompted the transformation of water carriers into water lords, while the individual ordinary residents ended up shouldering the unexpected burden of modernization. The state building in the Republican period was never to dismantle the power of water carriers since their campaigns barely addressed the issue of water distribution territories, the bedrock of the water carriers’ power. Instead, the state strove to mediate between water carriers and the running water company.

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