Pat Giersch - Associate Professor of History, Wellesley College
When investigating China’s encounters with modern commerce and cultural change, many look to the great eastern port cities, perhaps Shanghai or Guangzhou. But rapid economic and cultural transformations were features of late imperial China’s continental frontiers as well. This talk focuses on key agents of those transformations: the merchants who orchestrated the extraordinary rise of Southwest China’s transnational trading firms, which flourished from the 1880s until well into the twentieth century. These firms were at the heart of seismic disruptions in Southwestern communities, where crucial business innovations not only resulted in increased male mobility and access to wealth but also sparked far-reaching transformations of kinship, gender, and educational institutions. The talk reveals how Chinese modernity was a diverse, multi-local experience, led by borderlanders who engaged the world across the empire’s continental and oceanic boundaries.