New Perspectives on the Shanxi Merchants: Locating Histories of Capitalism along the Sino-Inner Asian Frontier
1: Shanxi Merchants across the Ming-Qing Transition
Sunday, March 27, 2022
9:00am – 10:30am EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
Amherst College, United States
This paper demonstrates a geographic reconfiguration of Shanxi merchant networks across the Ming-Qing transition. During the Ming, the most powerful Shanxi merchants hailed from the southern parts of the province. These merchants took advantage of the kaizhong system by delivering grain to defense zones along the Great Wall in exchange for privileged access to the salt trade. During the Qing, however, it was central Shanxi that became the cradle of merchant tycoons. These new entrepreneurs made their fortunes by penetrating the newly incorporated territories of Manchuria, Mongolia, and Xinjiang. This reconfiguration was a direct result of Manchu territorial expansion and the consequent rise of long-distance trade on the Inner Asian steppe. This paper thus portrays the emergence of frontier traders from central Shanxi against the backdrop of warfare and political violence in the seventeenth-century borderlands. I argue that the Manchu conquest of the Ming and the Mongols created a new political economy that central Shanxi merchants were uniquely well-positioned to exploit. This challenges a dominant narrative in the current scholarship on Shanxi merchants' history that posits a false continuity from the fifteenth to the end of the nineteenth century.