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-50NINETEENTH CENTURY CHINESE MERCHANT ASSOCIATIONS: CONSPIRACY OR COMBINATION? The Case of the Swatow Opium Guild* Gary G. Hamilton Department of Sociology University of California, Davis One of the most significant efforts now engaging scholars working on nineteenth century China is the attempt to produce what Feuerwerker has called "a useful anatomy and physiology" of China's traditional economy. Although considerable progress has been made in this attempt, research on merchants and merchant organizations has not kept pace with research on such topics as marketing structure and premodern production Part of the difficulty in examining merchant activity is that we possess only little and scattered bits of primary source material that are amenable to interpretive reconstruction. Nonetheless, despite the paucity of data, recent assessments of merchant activity has placed this topic in the forefront of our understanding of China's nineteenth century modernization. According to Murphey, Feuerwerker and others, one of the primary reasons China did not modernize sooner was that Chinese merchants contained and re2 stricted Western economic influences. Feuerwerker summarizes this position as follow; It is perhaps only a small exaggeration, with respect to the importation and distribution of the major staples of commerce, to describe the foreign trading firms in China as having been gradually transformed into Shanghai and Hong Kong commission agents serving the established Chinese commercial network.' Although the explanations offered for the success of Chinese merchants stress different aspects of merchant activity, most converge, at some point, on what I call here the conspiratorial theory of Chinese merchant associations. •An earlier draft of this essay was presented at the East Asian Studies Colloquium, University of California, Davis, 18 November 1976. I would like to thank Kwang-Ching Liu and Edgar Wickberg for their comments and encouragement. Deficiencies are, of course, my own. -51In composite form and with some oversimplification, this theory may be rendered as follows: Chinese merchants, when organized into guilds (kung-so and hang) and fellow-regional associations (hui-kuan) , actively restrained trade within their respective spheres of business. Each guild and hui-kuan "kept to itself, and there was 4 little or no cooperation among guilds, even for economic purposes." This compartmentalization of merchant associations in urban areas was, according to Skinner, a direct function of the compartmentalization of the marketing structure in rural areas; local marketing areas would cultivate an occupation or an expertise that would then be marketed at higher level centers beyond the local community. Such "mobility strategies," as SkirmeT calls them, enforced the parochial orientations of merchants, producing in turn restrictive and particularistic merchant associations in the city. These mobility strategies served to integrate China economically, to make traditional merchants expansionist , and to maintain intact the traditionalistic nature of the Chinese economy. Thus when Western commerce became a factor in China's domestic economy, traditional merchant associations gradually began to encompass foreign trade, pushing Western merchants out of the very enterprises they had once controlled. Chinese merchants, says Murphey, soon gained a "stranglehold" on Western commerce. And because they were uninterested in building a modern "economic infrastructure" and did not "make 'modern' use of capital" Chinese merchants continued to remain encapsulated in their associations, associations whose hallmarks were "secrecy and discretion"--two features that allowed them to take over Western trade and to keep Western influences out. This essay, based on what is probably the best single primary source account of merchant activity in nineteenth century China, the proceedings of the Swatow Opium Guild trial, questions the accuracy of the conspiratorial theory of Chinese merchant organization. The Swatow Opium Guild Case is an ideal source for this purpose, for at issue in the trial is exactly this controversy: How does one explain the exclusion of Western merchants from Chinese commerce? The case, tried before the Mixed Court in Shanghai during September and October 1879, was a civil suit brought by two Western merchants, T. W. Duff and D.M. David, against all members of the Swatow Opium Guild, including seven named individuals who allegedly composed its governing committee. -52The suit contended that the guild had violated treaty regulations by excluding Western merchants from distributing opium in the treaty port city of Chinkiang (Chen-chiang) . Although concerned mainly with...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3257
Print ISSN
0884-3236
Pages
pp. 50-71
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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