Chapter 4: The figure of the intermediary: brokers, merchant manufacturers and guilds
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As soon as markets expanded, the merchant was unable to do business on his own. Three institutions stand out, whose relations are often marked by both cooperation and rivalry: brokerage; custom work, carried out by the merchant manufacturer; and guilds or, more precisely, merchants' associations. This chapter is devoted to the figure of the intermediary in the complicated process linking production and trade. These intermediaries certainly facilitate the circulation of goods and connect producers and markets. They also engage in fraud and embezzlement. When did these institutions appear in China? What were their functions and the legal regime they belong to? What relations did they have with the administration and with peasants who became artisans in the off-season? Did they contribute to a proto-industrial "cul de sac" from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth century?

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