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
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