Trade and Society: The Amoy Network on the China Coast 1683-1735

Ng Chin-keong
2015. NUS Press.
Softcover, 23.1cm x 15.2cm, 309 pages
ISBN: 9789971697730


Trade and Society: The Amoy Network on the China Coast 1683-1735 examines the social and economic changes in south Fukien (Fujian) on the southeast coast of China during late imperial times. Faced with land shortages and overpopulation, the rural population of south Fukien turned to the sea in search of fresh opportunities to secure a livelihood. With the tacit support of local officials and the scholar gentry, the merchants played the pivotal role in long-distance trade, and the commercial networks they established spanned the entire China coast, making the port city of Amoy (Xiamen) a major centre for maritime trade. ln the work, the author discusses four interrelated spheres of activity, namely, the traditional rural sector, the port cities, the coastal trade and the overseas trade links. He argues that the creative use of clan organizations was key to the growth of the Amoy network along the coast as well as overseas.

According to Prof. Wang Gungwu, this study of the traders of Amoy provides an illuminating backdrop to the traders’ activities in Southeast Asia during the eighteenth century and after. Outside China, the provinces of Fukien and Kwangtung have been seen as the first points of overseas contact from the south and west. More recently, they were also the source of traders and coolies for the plantation and mining colonies of Southeast Asia and faraway continents such as the Americas, Australia and Africa. By the twentieth century, it would be true to say that almost every county in the two provinces (over 60 in Fukien and over 90 in Kwangtung) had provided emigrants to the outside world and that certainly, along the coast, every village and hamlet had a few members settled overseas.

This was an extraordinary development that occurred largely during the 100-year period from about the 1840s to the 1930s. It has been the subject of many studies, Prof. Wang continues, and various explanations have been offered for the phenomenon. The explanations range from broad interpretations of the southward migrations in Chinese history to the vivid stories of personal tragedies and entrepreneurial opportunism that led certain individuals to leave home. But the overall image is a seemingly contradictory one. On the one hand, there is the picture of “southern expansion”, of “China’s march to the tropics”, of the Chinese millions inexorably pushing beyond the edge of the southern coasts. On the other, there is the imperial ban on emigration and overseas travel introduced at the end of the fourteenth century and still nominally in force until 1893. This ban was also supported by the Chinese ideal of not leaving the ancestral village, of the self-sufficient rural community held together by strong kinship ties and especially by filial loyalty to parents. Both views, he says, are only partially true.

Note to the second edition: The present volume provides a basic introduction to this exciting area of research and represents no more than a very humble preliminary  step towards understanding the history of China’s maritime trade. Many  aspects of the subject remain sketchy, and there are significant gaps  waiting to be filled as researchers explore the riches of the archives.  Except for editorial refinement, no attempt was made in this volume  to update the data or take into consideration newer research done in the  past 30 years. To do that would have required a substantial rewriting of  the work

Weight 600 g
Dimensions 23.1 × 15.2 × 1.7 cm

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