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Home > Activities > Committees >Historical Demography (1997-2001) > Seminar Report

Conference on Asian Population History

Taipei, Taiwan, 4-8 January 1996
Organised by the IUSSP Committee on Historical Demography and Academia Sinica


The conference was organised around seven themes in eight sessions with a total of 41 paper presentations, and a concluding session.

Session 1: Asian Population Growth in Global Context

The papers presented in this session set the stage upon which further discussions and presentations revolved. The first paper by Anthony Reid (Australian National university) examined the colonial impact on Southeast Asian population history. It sought to investigate whether it was the nature of the colonial impact or other factors which caused the rapid population increase of the 19th and 20th centuries. The paper attempted to establish some of the features of Southeast Asia's mode of interaction with the west which were important for its population growth. The six phases identified include the periods of low or even negative population growth characterised by economic expansion, military conflict and crisis, immigration and demographic growth to that of miraculous transformation

The second paper entitled 'understanding the nature and implication of low growth demographic regimes' was presented by Chris Wilson (Australian National university). The paper briefly reviewed the evidence for the assertion of the generality of low growth and assessed the combinations of mortality and fertility that produced it in various historical populations in Asia and Europe. It examined further the nature of some of the social, economic and cultural systems which interacted with the demographic factors to reproduce low-growth regimes. Methodological and substantive advances made in the historical demography non-Asian populations were used to illustrate the potential that exists for similar research in Asia. The conclusion called for further research into the nature and implications of low growth regimes in historical Asian societies. The third paper titled 'Health care systems in the British empire: the metropole, Asia and Africa' was presented by Bruce Fetter (university of Wisconsin-Milwaukee). The author asserted that human destiny was determined by a changing mix of biological and social forces, and that all cultures make some efforts to improve the human condition, but those which possessed the technology of writing were better equipped than non-literate ones to preserve accumulated knowledge based on the experience of previous generations. The paper was divided into four parts. The first part discussed the health care in Great Britain emphasizing its health transition after World War II; part 2 examined health care in the British Empire with specific reference to the two former colonies in Asia: Sri Lanka and Malaysia; part 3 treated health care in colonial Asia, while the last of the papers discussed health care in colonial Africa. Among a list of six possible requirements of mortality reduction were money, medical technology, PUBLIC hygiene, education, decentralization of delivery, and expansion of the corps of healers to include local practioners, and concluded that some or all may be present in any given situation, but that their relative weights differ sharply from one to another. Sumit Guha's (The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library) paper titled 'The population history of south Asia from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries: an exploration' attempted new estimations of India's population over the century ending with the first regularly organized and published censuses of 1868-72, as well as reviewed the reliability of the earlier estimates for the year 1600, as estimated by Irfan Habib and Shirin Moosvi. By using the area under cultivation in inland India about 1600, the author estimated the population of South Asia in 1600 to be 142 million, while indirectly estimating the population for Akber's empire and for the whole of the sub-continent using data on prices, wages and yields to be 108 and 144 million respectively. The fifth paper on the 'Evolution of colonial famine relief policy in south Asia, 1880-1940' was presented by Sheila Zurbrigg (Dalhousie university). The paper addressed the political contiguency side of the South Asian escape from famine, examined changes in the nature and administrative effectiveness of British colonial famine relief measures across the second half of the 19th century and early decades of the 20th, and attempted to assess the relative impact of these changes from famine decline vis-à-vis other changes within the colonial economy. It traced the transformation in character of official policy from reluctant and minimalist relief as formalized in the initial 1883 Indian Famine Code to activist famine relief prevention in the decades following the last 'great' Indian famine in 1900. It also explored the massive shifts in attitudes toward destitution and economic theory which underlay these policy changes. The data were based on a larger project involving the study of malaria mortality across colonial Punjab and the factors underlying the dramatic drop in the epidemic mortality from disease in the three decades preceeding independence in 1947.

Session 2: Epidemiology Transition and PUBLIC Health

There were five paper presentations. The first paper by Timothy Dyson (London School of Economics) and Monica Das Gupta (Harvard university) examined 'Mortality Trends in Ludhiana District, Punjab, 1881-1981. The paper which was divided into sections started with vital registration data in Punjab: organization, collection and verification; described the methodology employed; examined the data quality in different time periods in the 1880s, 1891 to 1940, the 1940s, and 1951-81. The fourth section was essentially an overview of the registration results. The conclusion regretted the low priority given to vital registration in recent decades. The second paper by Cameron Campbell (university of Michigan) examined 'Mortality change and the epidemiology transition in Beijing, 1644-1990'. The paper which used a newly-constructed time series of death rates covered the city of Beijing from the 18th century to present outlined a more realistic and detailed course of China's mortality decline, and tested whether resource allocations alone could have driven reductions in death rates in China after 1949, or whether other contributing factors were responsible. The first part described the received wisdom on the causes of China's mortality decline, and suggested some social and cultural factors that may have contributed to the success of government policies. The second part presented a brief introduction to the data used to construct the mortality time series and identified their limitations. The third described the evolution of mortality patterns in Beijing from the 18th century to present focussing on age specific death rates and causes of death, and attempted to identify reasons for the changes in each period but particularly after 1949, while the paper concluded by discussing the implications of these findings for our understanding of China's mortality decline and epidemiological transition. The third paper by John Robert Sheperd (university of Virginia) examined 'Disease and Mortality in Nineteenth-Century Taiwan'. It treated in detail smallpox as a major cause of death, and then went on to investigate patterns of contiguity and change in disease and mortality patterns in the period leading up to the census of 1905, and the creation of high quality vital statistics reporting including reporting on cause of death by the Japanese colonial government of Taiwan. An aspect of the paper discussed the data reporting the impact of Taiwan's disease environment on outsiders, soldiers and officials, and the effect on troop movements and war on the population in the 19th century.

The fourth paper on 'PUBLIC Health and the Diffusion of Vaccination in Japan' presented by Ann Jannetta (university of Pittsburgh) examined the first PUBLIC health initiative - an extraordinary effort to use Jennerian vaccination to prevent smallpox. It argued that although it was quite clear that mortality decline in Japan began after the introduction of vaccination in the mid 19th century, the Jennerian vaccination contributed to a sustained decline in child mortality. While acknowledging the unusual success of Japan's experience in vaccination in comparison with England and Wales during the years of 1902 and 1905 respectively, the paper attributed it to Japan's commitment to PUBLIC health, a vaccination initiative developed from the bottom up and from the periphery to the centre, well educated physicians, a widespread network that linked them together, the community clinics they created to dispense vaccination, and the medical schools they established to train students in the theories and practices of Western medicine. The fifth paper by Chai-Bin Park (university of Hawaii and East-West Center), Eise Yokoyama and Sadahiko Nozaki (Nihon university) entitled 'A generation life table for the pre-modern Japan' devised a method of converting the age at death reckoned by the traditional system to that reckoned by the completed years of life. By deriving the annual number of births from death records, they presented a life table for a mountainous region of the central Japan for the birth cohort of 1775 to 1849, and explored the mortality and life expectancy for the pre-modern Japan. A generation life table for that birth cohort of a village was presented using age specific mortality data which conformed to the age reckoning by the last birthday completed, converting from the traditionally-counted age that adds one year on every new-year day. In addition, the paper estimated the exact age group by following the death records subsequent to the year of birth in order to establish the base population for mortality calculation and the results were far more reliable than many others because of the sample size of over 7000 deaths.

Session 3: Mortality Trends in Pre-transitional Populations

A total of five papers were presented. The first paper by Peter Boomgaard (Koninklijk Institute, Leiden) was entitled 'Fluctuations in Mortality in 17th-Century Indonesia' and it investigated a number of qualitative data for the Indonesian Archipelago which could be used as demographic indicators to arrive at a broad grouping of factors to which high mortality could be attributed and at a periodization of peaks and troughs in the death rate: With data from Daghregister and the Generale Missiven as his main sources of enquiry, the author concluded by attributing fluctuations in mortality to droughts in Java, in combination with other forms of bad weather resulting in harvest failures and high food prices, epidemics and famines. The second presentation by Jose Antonio Ortega Osona (universidad Autonoma de Madrid) was entitled 'The Attenuation of Mortality Fluctuations in British Punjab and Bengal, 1870-1947'. The paper analysed mortality fluctuations and their contributing role to the decline of mortality in five districts of Bengal and four districts of Punjab for the period 1870-1947. By applying the concept of mortality fluctuations that allows for a meaningful examination of the relationship between mortality fluctuations and overall mortality, the paper attempted a computerization of normal mortality levels and fluctuations for each of the districts. The last part of the paper analysed mortality by cause of death to establish the determinants. The third paper by Osamu Saito (Hitosubashi university) discussed 'Famine and Mortality in the Japanese Past: with special reference to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries'. The paper was concerned with the reassessment of the relationship between famines and population stagnation in the 18th and 19th centuries using registration systems and population registers. For these periods, the paper examined in considerable details the relationship between rates of change in population and the frequency and magnitude of famines and epidemics. In the concluding section, the paper remarked that while mortality for children and for middle age and old people declined steadily, that of infant mortality remained steady. The rise in young adult mortality was attributed largely to the spread of TB. The fourth presentation by Ts'ui-jung Liu (Academia Sinica) and Shi-yung Liu (university of Pittsburgh) entitled 'Disease and Mortality in the History of Taiwan' provided a survey of historical records related to disease and mortality in Taiwan up to the 1920s, in addition to identifying the problem of statistics associated with disease and mortality prior to the twentieth century. The paper tried to piece together the available data to discuss the endemic and epidemic diseases of the period using Chinese history to identify traditional terms with modern terminologies. The health conditions of the Taiwanese were portrayed during this period and the major causes of death before the transition were traced. The fifth paper and final paper in this session entitled 'Trends in Life Expectancy and Cause-Specific Death in Colonial Taiwan: 1906-1935' was presented by Wen Shang Yang (Academia Sinica). The paper noted that Taiwan's mortality declined rapidly at about 1920, after almost 25 years of Japanese colonial rule. The paper discussed certain drastic measures adopted by the Japanese authorities to improve sanitary as well as health conditions in the island. With the aid of data from Taiwan Population Dynamics Statistics for 1906, 1915, 1925 and 1935, the paper constructed multiple decrement life tables using the life table program SuRVIVAL to examine differences in life expectancies of males and females. In addition by using life expectancy as a health indicator, the paper revealed that between 1906 and 1935 were periods of substantial gains in life expectancy for males and females.

Session 4: Marriage Patterns and Demographic Systems

The first paper by Dallas Fernando (Independent Consultant, Colombo) was basically on 'An Overview of Changing Marriage Pattern in Sri Lanka'. It examined matrilocal and patrilocal marriages, polygamous marriages, divorce, marriage and epidemics, among others, in Sri Lanka. While highlighting changes in marriage patterns over time, the paper observed that change in the marriage patterns of males appear to be less dynamic than that of the females. The second paper by Bruce Caldwell (Population Council Office) on 'Marriage Patterns and Demographic Change in Sri Lanka: a long term perspective' was very much in line with that of Dallas Fernando. It examined changes over time in marriage patterns and the demographic correlates with particular emphasis on the more recent period of the twentieth century. Of particular interest was the investigation of the factors historically influencing age at marriage and the role of marriage squeeze and the economic feasibility of marriage. While the paper acknowledged the complex nature of the factors underlying marriage patterns in Sri Lanka, it concluded that marriage patterns have changed because of societal change and the dynamic role of marriage within the society. The third paper by A. Francis Gealogo (university of the Philippines) examined 'Marriage Patterns in the Philippines During the 19th Century: data from parish records'. With the aid of parish data from San Jose, Batangas in Luzon as a major source of information, the paper identified the Philippine marriage pattern as a factor affecting the demographic processes during the 19th century. The paper noted further a steady increase in the number of recorded marriages from less than 10 during the late 18th century to the peak of more than 300 towards the end of the 19th century. The marriage patterns exhibited some seasonality when careful consideration was given to environmental, religious and social practices. The fourth paper presented by S. Irudaya Rajan (Centre for Development Studies) dealt with 'Marriage and Remarriage Patterns among Roman Catholics in India' since 1891. Specifically, the paper investigated marriage patterns using such indicators as age at marriage by sex, age differentials, proportion married by ages 10-14 and 15-19, age at marriage by major states and differentials by religion. An aspect of the paper provided an analysis of marriage and marriage patterns including age at first marriage among males and females, age differences and marriage patterns based on data collected from the four parishes of the archdiocese of Bombay, Maharashton for the period 1868 to 1984. Kiyoshi Hamano's (Keio Girls' High School) paper examined 'Marriage Patterns and Demographic System in Tokugawa Japan'. It probed the nature of the Japanese pre-modern marriage pattern using a series of population registers and an economic demographic model, and discussed further fertility, mortality and nuptiality within Shibuki village and inheritance system and marriage in Shinmachi village. The conclusion showed that age at first marriage in Tokugawa Japan was higher than the level in traditional China, lower than the pre-modern Western Europe; and that nuptiality did not play a key role in determining fertility levels in Japan. The paper presented by Guo Songyi (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) investigated 'A Special Form of Chinese Marriage: the taking of concubines in the Qing dynasty'. The paper examined the procedures for taking concubines during the Qing dynasty and how nobility and economic status were assessed based on the number of wives and concubines one had. While the nobles above the rank of Duke had an average of 3.98 concubines, nobles of middling status had 2.15 compared to the lower nobility with 1.59. The paper attributed the breakdown in the practice to an increase in the population of the aristocrats over time, and the worsening fiscal condition of the Qing state. Further to the investigation of the Qing dynasty was the paper on 'Nuptiality among the Qing nobility, 1640-1900' presented by Wang Feng (university of Hawaii and East-West Center) and James Lee (California Institute of Technology). With the aid of genealogical archives of the Qing imperial lineage, the paper examined the patterns of male and female nuptiality among the late imperial Chinese nobility. In addition, the paper provided a description of the population and boundary that defined their marriage market, summarized lineage marriage rates and age at marriage from 1600 to 1900, and concluded that the Qing imperial marriage practices in many ways resembled rather than deviated from marriage practices among the 'Chinese' population at large, and consequently provided insights into the historical, social and demographic processes of Chinese society at large.

Session 5: Fertility Levels and Trends in Pre-transitional Asian Populations

The first paper by Christopher Langford (London School of Economics) explored the 'Trends and Fluctuations in Fertility in Sri Lanka During the First Half of the Twentieth Century'. It identified substantial short term fluctuations in the crude birth rate, intermittently, in the pre-World War II period, associated with epidemics. While highlighting fluctuations in crude birth rates, levels of fertility and marriage beginning with the twentieth century to about 1948-1952, an aspect of the conclusion was that the rise in the age at female first marriage was completely offset by increased proportions married in some age groups associated with reduced widowhood and by increased marital fertility associated with a reduction in marital instability. The next paper presentation by Terence H. Hull (university of Indonesia and Australian National university) focussed on 'Indonesian Fertility Behaviour before the Transition: searching for hints in the historical record'. It explored the case of 'reinvented history' in the development of an orthodox story of the institutions of the family and family planning in Indonesia. The crux of the argument using the available documentation was that educated Indonesians over the course of the early 20th century knew much more about birth control than is implied by the orthodox history, and that the traditional moralities described in political debate were imported moralities associated with Islam and Dutch colonialism. The paper entitled 'A Comparative Study on Fertility Transition in China and Taiwan in Historical Perspective' by Paul K.C. Liu (Academia Sinica) identified sharp contrasts between the trends and speed of decline in the two populations. While identifying common cultural and traditional similarities, the paper attributed the trend and pace of population growth, economic growth and social development to different political and economic systems. In analysing population dynamics in the past 500 years, the paper attributed the prevalence of fertility control in Taiwan largely to the rational response of the population to changes in economic and social conditions that favoured fewer children while in the case of China the size of families is largely prescribed by the government. It provided varying policy implications for China and Taiwan. The paper by Xizhe Peng and Yangfang Hou (Fudan university) on 'Demographic Patterns in Southern Jiangsu, China, 1370-1904: a case study of Fan's geneology' used what they regarded as a reliable data set involving 1,357 men and their wives from Fan's geneology to examine demographic patterns during that period. In examining the relationship between patterns of mortality, nuptiality, socio-economic and demographic changes, the paper concluded that the growth of Fan's family was mainly checked by the entire Chinese population but for southern Jiangsu region, the slaughter around 1645 and the Taiping rebellion in the 1860 had direct impact on her population fluctuations. The fifth paper by Ken'ichi Tomobe (Tokuyama university) on 'The Level of Fertility in Tokugawa and Meiji Japan, ca. 1801-1930: a preliminary analysis of Hutterite indices' attributed the differences between the Tokugawa villages after the early 19th century to the improvement in agricultural technology. However, they observed a rise in the level of fertility from 1801 to the 1920s after which there was a decline. The last paper entitled 'Patterns of Nuptiality and Fertility in Southwestern Tokugawa Japan: the case of the village of Nomo' was presented by Nokiro O. Tsuya (Nihon university). It addressed patterns of fertility and nuptiality among women in the early 19th century in the fishing village of Nomo taking into consideration the age at marriage and proportion marrying, marital dissolution and remarriage, among other fertility patterns. The conclusion indicated that women born in the village during 1802-1921 married very late for a Tokugawa Japanese village, and that the level of marital fertility in Nomo was one of the highest estimated fertility among the Tokugawa villages.

Session 6: Migration and Population Distribution

The paper by Peter Xenos (East-West Center) dealt with 'Population Pressure and Multiphasic Response: the Ilocos coast since 1800'. The paper reviewed, during a period of about 150 years beginning around 1800, ways in which population and population pressure can have impact on social institutions in an agrarian setting. It emphasized the Spanish colonial impact on population pressure in the 20th century and the multiphasic demographic response. The second paper entitled 'Gender Representation in Migration to Metropolitan Manila in the Late 19th Century' by Daniel Doeppers (university of Wisconsin-Madison) attempted a reconstruction of the patterns of male and female migrations to metropolitan Manila towards the end of the 19th century when its population was about 200,000-250,000. It challenged the simplistic view of the 20th century transition from traditional male dominant low migration regime to that of a contemporary young female dominant high migration regime. The concluding remarks of the paper invalidated the Todaro model of the 1960s which predicted that migrants move to the cities at rates proportionate to the economic lag of the home areas. The third paper by Chaonan Chen and Su-fen Liu (Academia Sinica) on 'Migration into and out of Taiwan, 1895-1944' examined Japanese and Chinese migration to Taiwan in the pre-war period based on the push-pull hypothesis. By analysing household registration data, the paper revealed striking difference in migration volume for Chinese and Japanese migrants based on state restriction policy. The remarkable difference in population growth in the two populations was attributed to selectivity of migration. The last paper by Jiang Tao (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) on 'Population Distribution and Migration in Qing China, 1644-1911' discussed the distinguishing features of population distribution and migration in Qing times. It particularly examined the restriction of population distribution by geographical factors, the distribution of population during Qing times and the migration types existent at that time; and the explanation for the present distributional pattern.

Session 7: Family Systems

The first presentation by Akira Hayami and Emiko Ochiai (International Research Center for Japanese Studies) examined 'Family Patterns and Demographic Factors in Pre-industrial Japan'. It addressed the issue of diversity of traditional families by using demographic indices to reconsider the family system as a demo-family system which cannot be removed from the demographic process. An analysis of the Northeast region and the central region showed large household size, low age at marriage and low fertility in the former, and small household size, higher age at marriage and higher fertility in the latter. The two areas shared the identical household formation rules of the stem family system. The second paper on 'Fraternal Fission, Parental Power, and the Life Cycle of the Chinese Family' by Arthur P. Wolf and Chuang Ying-chang (Academia Sinica) addressed three main issues: the probability that a family would be divided by a given age, the important causes of variation in the timing of division and how families were divided. Based on subjects drawn from four villages in the Southwest corner of Taipei basin between 1906-45, part of the explanation dealt with how and when a family fragmented was partly a function of the way in which tensions generated by sibling rivalry were exhibited in fraternal politics. Myron L. Cohen's (Columbia university) paper titled 'Changing Patterns of Family Division in Mainland China as Seen in a Hebei village, 1950-87' examined the patterns of family division in Yangmansa village based on his field research. It distinguished between Danquo and Fenjia, and used four contracts to illustrate how under these contemporary circumstances traditional perceptions regarding the allocation and use of family assets continue to play an important role in the working out of family division agreements. The conclusion revealed that the dominant pattern of family development in Yangmansa seem to contrast markedly with the characteristics of families maintaining solidarity. The fourth paper 'Pastoralists and Farmers: Han on Inner Mongolia' presented by Burton Pasternak (Hunter College of the City of New York) was concerned with Han grassland adjustments, the response to a government's determined efforts to reshape their lives, and the interaction of tradition, politics and economy on the Inner Mongolian frontier. In essence, the paper demonstrated how ecology and technology promoted diversity, and how labour use influenced family formation and reproduction, as well as relation within families of the population studied. The last paper on 'Demographic Conditions and Household Formation in Chinese History: a simulation study' presented by Zhongwei Zhao (university of New South Wales) addressed how the formation of large multigenerational households and people's residential experiences were affected by demographic conditions in the past using computer micro-simulation. The simulation results showed that under the joint family formation rules and under the high mortality demographic regime, the proportion of males living in multiple family households ranges from under 50% to about 70% for most age groups.

The paper entitled 'Social Change from an Historical and Life-Course Perspective: comparisons of family changes in Taiwan and the united States' by Li-shou Yang, Arland Thornton (university of Michigan) and Tamara Hareven (university of Delaware) examined and compared family adaptations to demographic, economic and social changes in the two societies. The paper traced the historical contexts of Taiwan and the united States, and finally reached the conclusion that data from the two societies indicated great differences in family structures and relationships both in the past and the present. The second presentation by Chi-chun Yi and Yu-hsia Lu (Academia Sinica) on 'The Composition of Family: subjective and objective analysis' investigated the relationship between social change and family structure and how to identify the factors for the variation in the different patterns observed. With the aid of data taken from the Economic Development and Female's Family Status: family structure, female's employment and family power structure in Taiwan, the paper explored the objective and subjective composition of family in order to establish patterns of Chinese family composition in various contingencies. The paper on 'Family Structure in Gaizhou from 1762 to 1860' by Lai Huimin (Academia Sinica) discussed family structure in Gaizhou, a magistrate near Laitong Bay in China's Northeastern region during the Ch'ing Dynasty. With the assistance of data from registers, the paper observed some deficiences in the record of outward population changes and the emancipation of slaves. It also showed that the largest number of families were indeed complex families. The concluding remark cautioned the use of registers of the imperial estates for the determination of population growth. The last and final paper entitled 'A Tentative Approach to Directed Marriage (shi-hun) and the Eight Banner Household Registration System Among the Manchus' presented by Ding Yizhuang (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) was basically a preliminary investigation of the origin and nature of Manchu directed marriage and its role in the development of the Manchu population. It explained directed marriage the eight banner system, and cited some advantages and disadvantages of directed marriage until it came to an end with the overthrow of the Qing government in 1911.

Concluding session

John Caldwell, IUSSP President and chair of the session commended the impressive presentation and participation at the conference on Asian population history, but remarked that in spite of the wide documentation of Asia's historical past there was still much to be known and understood. In highlighting some of the successes of the conference, he observed that India with its rich historical demographic data is yet to be intensively studied. He observed that the mortality transition in Asia seemed to have commenced after the 1st and 2nd World Wars. He said, the confirmation of this assertion would need more data and more knowledge of marriage patterns in the different Asian populations. Moreover, there is also the need to investigate the practice of natural methods of family planning in the different populations prior to the transition. The Chairman, IUSSP Committee on Historical Demography, David Reher thanked the sponsors and organizers of the conference and also called for more scientific studies to address the plurality of Asian population matters, particularly their patterns of fertility, mortality, migration, etc. He suggested a multidisciplinary approach to the investigation of these problems, and the need to explore new data sources, and more sophisticated models and application in the testing of results. Two persons, Hayami and Ts'ui-jung Liu, were specially honoured at the conference by the IUSSP, through its Committee on Historical Demography, for their outstanding contributions in the field of Asian Population History.

The conference which covered the extensive geographical area of Asia had four papers on comparative analyses, eight papers on Southeast Asia, six papers on Indonesia, six papers on the Philippines, six papers on Japan, and eleven papers on Taiwan, Mainland China, and other areas.

Discussion: a total of 16 persons served as discussants in all the sessions. Owing to the large number of paper presentations, the discussions centred around three main areas: nature and quality of data, appropriateness of the methodology, quality of analysis, relevance to the conference, and the contribution to the furtherance of knowledge about Asian Population History.

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