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From the Canton Trade to Comprador: Tea, Finance Capital, and the History of Capitalism in China


Event Summary

Photo by Max Herman

Early modern merchants in Canton who traded with Euro-America are seen as dynamic pioneers of globalization. In the twentieth century, however, the same figures were castigated as “compradors,” “parasites,” and “props of imperialism.” In this lecture, sponsored by the Economy and Its Boundaries research project, Andrew B. Liu (Villanova University) analyzed how the early modern merchant became the modern “comprador” by examining twentieth-century anti-commercial criticisms within the context of the tea trade. Liu argued that the cultural and political meanings assigned to the comprador were rooted in new conceptions of political economy and economic life. Connecting modern China with global political-economic thought, this talk rethought the conventional history of Chinese capitalism and suggested how contemporary interpretations of “the economy” as national production emerged out of the currents of international competition.