AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 178

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Session 178: Economic History of China & Vietnam

An Analysis of Historical Economic Information in Dream of the Red Chamber
Li Zhang, Beihang University, China

Historical economic data, especially on foreign trade, has been scattered and scant for pre-modern China. One source that researchers tend to ignore is the literature of pre-modern China, which sometimes offers valuable information. Authored by Cao Xueqin, the great grandson and grandson of the two successive appointed ministers of the Jiangning Silk Bureau, Dream of the Red Chamber tells the story of the fall of a powerful and prestigious family and the tragic fate of some of the family's young women. The novel has been regarded as the most popular in China since it began circulating in the mid-18th century. Since the author himself was the descendant of a declining family and the story was often viewed as coming from his own family and the life he experienced when he was young, much political and cultural analysis has been devoted to the novel. But no analysis from the perspective of economic history has been made. Interesting trade information regarding early Qing China is scattered among the lines of the book, from which one can gain some insight into China's foreign trade and items imported to China from the West. This paper will identify the historical economic information presented in Dream of the Red Chamber and provide an analysis of that information from the perspective of economic history.

A Different Perspective on the Cotton Sector in China: The Dyeing Industry
Carles Braso Broggi, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain

The production of cotton fabrics is central to both the “sprouts of capitalism” debate and the controversy about Chinese industrialization. However, most of the research that exists on China’s cotton sector has focused on spinning and weaving and scarce attention has been paid to the last part of textile production, the finishing process. This paper attempts to analyse the dyeing industry in China by considering its development in the Shanghai area, where an important dyeing industry was launched by Ningbo immigrants. It also provides original research on the first Chinese dyeing workshop that evolved into a dyeing mill during Republican China, the China Dyeing Works (or Dafeng Gufen Youxian Gongsi), and considers the hitherto unrecognized relevance of Dafeng’s founder, Wang Qiyu, in the overall process of the Chinese adoption of Western technology.

“The Landscape of Enterprise in Colonial Vietnam”
Gerard H. Sasges, National University of Singapore, Singapore

To date, accounts of the Vietnamese economy during the period of French rule have focused on how the economy was restructured and integrated within a global colonial economy, and on the legacy of underdevelopment that is supposed to have resulted. However, this sort of analysis obscures both the degree to which economic change in the colonial period was local, specific, and contingent, and the very real sorts of economic development that did in fact occur. This paper examines Vietnam’s “Colonial Conglomerates”: French-owned enterprises with capital over 1 million francs whose operations were largely but not exclusively based in Vietnam. The shift in perspective reveals surprising things. First are striking patterns of similarity in the pre-colonial and colonial economies. Second is the way a supposedly laissez-faire colonial state used state-created or state-enforced monopolies as a means to reshape the local political economy. Third is the remarkable size and profitability of the diversified enterprises that grew from these monopoly bases, and the way an economy conventionally described as chronically and purposively underdeveloped could simultaneously feature highly “developed” enterprises. While the paper remains focused on the Vietnamese political economy, the patterns of similarity between the pre-colonial and the colonial economy that emerge, as well as the local and contingent nature of economic development under French rule ultimately raise important questions about the nature and historical specificity of colonialism itself.

Zinc in China, c. 1400 – c. 1835: Demand, Production, Logistics and Markets
Hailian Chen, University of Tuebingen, Germany

The metallic zinc was utilized and favored by the late Ming and Qing governors in China no later than the sixteenth century for minting brass coins (30-50% of zinc), as well as for manufacturing metal wares in Imperial House and in everyday life. Previous research on Chinese zinc has been done by philologists, archaeologists, and historians and has concentrated more narrowly on the origin of metallic zinc and the role of metallic zinc in numismatics, metallurgy, and commerce. While specific issues on the emergence of the use of zinc, zinc mining (the locations of mines, mining methods, relations among its agents, i.e. miners, merchants and the state), logistics and internal markets so far has not yet been addressed. This is due mainly to the scarcity of sources on the topic. With a further examination of Palace Memorials and Ming-Qing Archives, it becomes possible to broadly deal with the above issues. This article will examine Chinese zinc chronologically from the Ming to and into the mid-Qing, thematically, via an examination of its commodity chain from demand, production, logistics/transport, to its commercialization in internal markets. The aim is to provide an overview of the history of zinc in Ming-Qing China that visualizes and establishes a greater importance of the role of this commodity in general in the overall political and economic development of China and in particular in the primary region (Guizhou province) in which it was mined over the long eighteenth century.

How Did China Become the World’s Largest Exporter? 150 Years of China’ Foreign Trade from the Chinese Maritime Customs Statistics
Carol H. Shiue, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA

Following China’s defeat in the Opium Wars in the middle of the 19th century, she was forced to open ports of trade to foreign powers and to accept British institutions of trade management in those ports. Over the decades after the Treaty of Nanjing, the number of ports open to foreign trade expanded from just one at the beginning of the 19th century, to five in 1842 (Shanghai, Ningbo, Fuzhou, Xiamen, and Guangdong) to 28 in 1893, and to 34 in 1907. The Chinese Maritime Customs Service, the official data collection agency that was managed by British and foreign powers, recorded at the port-level the values and quantities of imports and exports, and thus allows us to observe in detail the pattern of trade between China and the West. Understanding these flows provides the key to understanding the impact of foreign trade in China. Did the opening up of China help to increase the penetration of British and foreign imports into China? How much of the Chinese economy was affected by foreign trade? This paper examines the data recorded by the Chinese Maritime Customs Service to investigate the degree to which the opening of China by the Western powers and Japan increased the volume and the diversity of goods traded to China.