Global Positioning: Houqua and His China Trade Partners in the Nineteenth Century

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Global Positioning: Houqua and His China Trade Partners in the Nineteenth Century

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Title: Global Positioning: Houqua and His China Trade Partners in the Nineteenth Century
Author: Wong, John
Citation: Wong, John. 2012. Global Positioning: Houqua and His China Trade Partners in the Nineteenth Century. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This study unearths the lost world of early-nineteenth-century Canton. Known today as Guangzhou, this Chinese city witnessed the economic dynamism of global commerce until the demise of the Canton System in 1842. Records of its commercial vitality and global interactions faded only because we have allowed our image of old Canton to be clouded by China's weakness beginning in the mid-1800s. By reviving this story of economic vibrancy, I restore the historical contingency at the juncture at which global commercial equilibrium unraveled with the collapse of the Canton system, and reshape our understanding of China's subsequent economic experience. I explore this story of the China trade that helped shape the modern world through the lens of a single prominent merchant house and its leading figure, Wu Bingjian, known to the West by his trading name of Houqua. I demonstrate that a large measure of Houqua's success stemmed from his ability to maintain an intricate balance between his commercial interests and those of his Western counterparts, all in an era of transnationalism before the imposition of the Western world order. The story of Houqua is at once local, regional, and global. Houqua’s business success certainly amplified the economic vitality in Canton. However, this analysis of his business success is less an examination of the Canton system than a study of the impact of an exceptional operator within this system who, through his personal business endeavors, set in motion changes that had ramifications for China’s development and the global system at large. His success in global business illustrates the construction of networks of trust for the purpose of facilitating economic exchange in the advent of an enforceable, unified international system of arbitration. The experience of his successors tells the story of the diverging economic fortunes of global traders operating formerly on equal footing. This is a story not only of an exceptional individual but also of the dynamic setting of transnational business when regional networks negotiated their connections in the emerging modern world.
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Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:9282867
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