The neo-Confucian orthodoxy that dominated China since the Song has often been described as hostile to merchants. However, as of the last decades of the fourteenth century, in Jiangnan in particular, the sphere of trade expanded unprecedentedly. The decline of agrarianism and the renewed interest in mercantile activities in the 16th century fostered the formation of regional merchants networks. These regional groups appeared in the Fujian, Zhejiang, Anhui, Shandong and Shanxi provinces, among others. What was the cause of the formation of these merchant networks in several regions of China? What were their commercial practices? What were the products they circulated nationwide? How did a merchant become a member of such a network? This chapter examines the impact of Ming financial reforms, and turns then to the question of the new perception of the role of merchants before focusing on three regional merchant networks (Fujian, Huizhou and Shanxi).
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