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The Qiaopi Trade and Its Role in Modern China and the Chinese Diaspora: Toward an Alternative Explanation of “Transnational Capitalism”

  • Hong Liu and Gregor Benton

Abstract

This essay takes issue with the idea that the trade in remittance letters (qiaopi 侨批) was a modern form of “transnational capitalism” that relied on trust in a system of impersonal rules rather than “a distinctive form of ‘Chinese capitalism’” dependent on cultural or familial affinities, and that qiaopi traders used instrumental economic practices to transnationalize their businesses. The essay aims to identify alternatives to modern capitalism that are, at the same time, robustly cosmopolitan, and for which modernity is multiple rather than modular. Ethnicity and identity matter greatly in diasporic Chinese business culture, as sources of entrepreneurial resilience and creativity, especially in the early stages of diaspora formation. Far from forming an obstacle to economic growth and technological innovation, business familism, social networks, and their associated cultural values can be shown, at least in some periods and contexts, to have assisted economic development in Chinese societies at home and abroad, by enabling social mobility, furthering family interests, building partnerships, facilitating contracts, and promoting other practices proper to a modern market economy.

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The Qiaopi Trade and Its Role in Modern China and the Chinese Diaspora: Toward an Alternative Explanation of “Transnational Capitalism”

  • Hong Liu and Gregor Benton

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