Port Cities and Trading Networks in China, Japan and Southeast Asia, 13th–21st Century
Chapter 11: The Cosmopolitanism of Asian Trade Networks
Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai: three cities, three trade cultures.1 The one thing the three cities had in common was that they were Chinese, but from behind this obvious statement emerges an initial paradox. In Singapore, the Chinese were foreigners. The Chinese community, which made up the majority of the city’s population, was not from the hinterland, but from much further afield: Fujian or Guangdong. Most of them spoke the Teochew or Hokkien dialect, and found themselves cut off from the Malay world for linguistic reasons. Hong Kong was a complex, tangled network of Chinese, but also English (or rather, Scots), Indians – that is to say, Parsi (Zoroastrians), Sindhis (Muslims), Bohra (Hindus) – Armenians or Baghdadi Jews, all engaged in fierce competition with each other. And in Shanghai, at the time the city was opened up in 1843 by the Treaty of Nanking, the British traders were considered to be one guild amongst others, seen as foreigners in the city to the same extent as the merchants from Canton or from Fujian, but not more so. How did the interaction between these very different commercial traditions operate? Are we looking at the beginnings of what today would be called an inter-cultural dialogue, or on the contrary, were these different networks unconnected, even antagonistic? In order to answer these questions, it is no doubt necessary to combine anthropological resources – by studying families, clans and extended lineages – and strictly economic ones – by examining the hierarchy of trade and financial circuits. Is it possible to...
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