Engineering Trouble: U.S.–Chinese Experiences of Professional Discontent

Engineering Trouble: U.S.–Chinese Experiences of Professional Discontent
The thesis explores the meaning which civil engineers carried as professional individuals during the Republican era (1912–1949) in China, and inquires the origins, challenges, and developments this meaning faced. At a time when the concept, territory, and political entity of ‘China’ was under reconstruction and uncertainty, the engineering profession was under construction as well. On the one hand, domestically, a reimagined engineering occupation had only recently initialized the process of professionalization under the impression of import and utilization of modern technologies. On the other hand, internationally, conflicts and reorientations of the engineering profession unfolded inside a dynamic, global(ized) environment. As a group particularly under influence of the global dimension, the actors of the thesis are civil engineers who graduated from the USA. The study finds that civil engineering in China was, at the same time, a domestic development that promised national salvation through technology, and a transcultural practice inextricably linked with international finance and politics. The Sino-American engineers moved through these worlds. However, what they found not always met their expectations and ideals. The dissertation concludes that it was their experiences of contradictions, disillusionments, and discontent that kept the profession in a constant flux of searching for its meaning and its place in society.


Thorben Pelzer

Defended in

1 Jan 2022 – 30 Nov 2022

PhD defended at

Leipzig University; Faculty of History, Art and Area Studies; East Asia Institute




Global Asia (Asia and other parts of the World)
East Asia