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Reviewed by:
  • Chinese Circulations: Capital, Commodities, and Networks in Southeast Asia
  • Kenneth R. Hall (bio)
Eric Tagliacozzo and Wen-Chin Chang, editors. Chinese Circulations: Capital, Commodities, and Networks in Southeast Asia Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011. 552 pp. Hardcover $99.00, ISBN 978-0-8223-4881-8. Paperback $27.99, ISBN 978-0-8223-4903-7.

This collection of primary source–based studies is an excellent window focal on the history of traveling transnational diaspora sojourner and settler activities, [End Page 106] organizations, commercial ventures, commodity production, and the trading thereof. It is, above all, a book about the variety of post-1000 human networks among Chinese and non-Chinese: laborers, miners, seamen, traders, merchants, financiers, Chinese and European company and colonial government elite, and post–World War II political authorities in the Southeast Asia region. The book is a solid exercise in historical research, organized into five sections: “Longue Duree,” “Precolonial,” “Early Colonial,” “High Colonial,” and “Postcolonial.” Many case studies demonstrate cutting-edge revisionist historical research methodologies that embrace a variety of innovative multidisciplinary approaches that allow historians to reread the historical sources.

In contrast to past research that has too often been exclusively focused on the issue of Chinese and European agencies in the Southeast Asian region, these studies are sensitive to local voices and initiatives and see Chinese and European successes as the end product of effectively negotiated interactions with locals. Thus, there was a reason why the Chinese concentrated their interests and activities on certain items (whether in trade or the production thereof) and why they dominated certain regional markets but not others. Where and why the Chinese were not a local factor is equally important relative to this book’s reconstruction of the historical past. Consistently regional marketplaces are demonstrated to have been neither of an exclusive Chinese nor another external agency (e.g., European companies or colonial regimes), but are better characterized as centers where there was lively competition with Southeast Asians. Chinese commercial success was not only the by-product of a greater Chinese efficiency and/or organization, but was also due to the ability of the Chinese to offer an outsider’s opportunity to local rulers that allowed circumvention of existing local networks. The book’s concluding chapters suggest that these inclusive studies are most important because they document similarities of human interactions and processes over time, as this book provides evidence of past successes and failures among Southeast Asia regional multiethnic agencies that can potentially influence evolving twenty-first-century interactions in the wider Asia regions.

These studies document how Chinese were regionally prominent in commodity production and sales and in certain types of trading and financial management, all based in multilayers of Chinese and non-Chinese community agencies. Individual chapters provide historical analysis of the Southeast Asia–based opium industry; fisheries; rice, jade, copper, and gemstone mining; cotton and textiles production, marketing, and consumption; coinage minting; metalwork; and the collection and market distributions of tortoiseshells and other marine goods, edible birds’ nests, printed books, and timber. While most of the chapters are studies of Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, one chapter by Man-houng Lin explores Taiwan-based Chinese community initiatives in China and Korea and their foundational networking in Southeast Asia during the twentieth-century era of Japanese imperial sovereignty. Another chapter by Takeshi Hamshita presents [End Page 107] Ryukyu historical texts that document Ryukyu-based Chinese traders’ overseas ventures in China and Southeast Asia during the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries.

Anthony Reid’s initial article presents a revisionist review of early Southeast Asian ironworking. Reid discredits the previous belief that there was an early Southeast Asian bronze age centered in Ban Chiang in northeast Thailand, but instead reports that archeologists now generally agree that Southeast Asian bronze casting began in the middle of the second century b.c.e., as this was distinct from older Chinese bronze traditions and predated the rise of early Southeast Asian states. In that same era, Southeast Asians were mining, smelting, and working gold, iron, copper, and tin into a variety of ritual and everyday items that were locally consumed or shipped from mainland to island Southeast Asia, where iron and copper...