Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Philosophy (MPHIL)





First Advisor

Prof. ZHANG Lei


Thanks to the tariff imposition in the 1930s, Guangdong’s brown sugar trade, once shrinking due to the dumping of refined sugar, revived with soaring annual sales from hundreds of thousands to 1.3 million piculs. Meanwhile, Chen Jitang’s warlord regime in Guangdong established several provincial sugar factories and implemented a sugar monopoly policy from 1933 until its reign in 1936. Faced with the threats posed by refined sugar and the official disruption of the brown sugar system, Guangdong’s brown sugar maintained its prosperity with increasing output. Current sugar history studies mainly focused on how worldwide colonial regimes successfully built industrialized sugar systems and crushed down traditional sugar mills. Whereas my study focused on brown sugar, which showed advantages and competitiveness over modern sugar factories under the particular soil of Guangdong, helping promote the understanding of modem sugar history.

My research aims to examine how the stakeholders within traditional sugar production and marketing networks responded to the newly-established provincial industrial sugar system, thereby guaranteeing the vitality of brown sugar in local society. It turned out that the brown sugar-centered forces launched a smokeless war against the provincial sugar factories. To build a comprehensive understanding of the role of brown sugar in this war, various historical materials from local, official, and the “external” party’s perspectives were used.

The dissertation first reveals that Guangdong brown sugar enjoyed a solid and extensive market based on various economic, cultural, and social factors in the 1930s. The considerable consumer demand ensured the profitability of the brown sugar trade, which was the premise that the local society actively responded to the challenges of the industrial system. Then this paper points out that brown sugar-centered forces resisted the government’s monopolistic control and reconstructed this provincial system for private profit-making. As a result, brown sugar in modern times, long being criticized as backward and declining by Chinese sugar historians, took the leading role in its confrontation with the “advanced” sugar factories and eventually won the victory of this sugar war. Shaped by the 1930s’ local and national environments, the long-neglected case of Guangdong contributed to drawing a complete picture of modem global sugar history.



Recommended Citation

Mao, Y. (2023). The Sugar War: The response of Guangdong brown sugar to the provincial industrial sugar system, 1933-1936 (Master's thesis, Lingnan University, Hong Kong). Retrieved from