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Bu and Xu: Merchant Associations and Local Society in Southwestern Guangdong during the Qing Dynasty

Guanmian XU (Academia Sinica)
Ziqi WU (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)

How did local societies participate in long-distance trade in early modern China? The traditional study approach follows William Skinner's "macro-region" model, which assumes that local society did not participate in long-distance trade directly, but via hierarchical market structure. In that model, commodities were first concentrated step-by-step into the central city of each "macro-region", only from where they could enter cross-regional, long-distance trade. Drawing from empirical research in southwestern Guangdong, this article argues that an alternative model existed on the China coast latest since the eighteenth century. In this alternative model, local society was able to circumvent the "macro-region" structure via maritime trading networks. The fulcrums of these networks were the connected communities of sojourning merchants, such as the associations of Chaozhou merchants. In the Guangzhou Wan ( Kouang -Tehéou-Wan) bay area of southwestern Guangdong. the Chaozhou Merchant Association on the one hand transformed market space by connecting local rural markets (xu 墟) with a far-flung maritime trading network, and on the other hand, they also created new social space by constructing association halls and investing in landholding and cultural activities in the ports (bu 埠) where they sojourned.

Journal of History and Anthropology