One of the challenges of global history is to bridge the particularities of individual lives and trajectories with the macro-historical patterns that develop over space and time. Italian micro-history, particularly popular in the 1980s–1990s, has excavated the lives of small communities or individuals to test the findings of serial history and macro-historical approaches. Micro-history in the Anglophone world has instead focused more on narrative itself, and has shown, with some exceptions, less interest for ampler historiographical conclusions.
Sino-Western interactions in the early modern period offer a particularly fruitful field of investigation, ripe for a synthesis of the global and the micro-historical. Cultural, social, and economic phenomena can be traced in economic and statistical series, unpublished correspondence, and other non-institutional sources, in part thanks to the survival of detailed records of the activities of East India companies and missionary agencies in China. Recent scholarship has started to offer new conclusions, based on such Western records and matching records in the Chinese historical archive.
In this article, I offer a methodological reflection on ‘global micro-history’, followed by four micro-historical ‘vignettes’ that focus on the economic and socio-religious activities of the Roman Catholic mission in Beijing in the long eighteenth century. These fragments uncover unexplored facets of Chinese life in global contexts from the point of view of European missionaries and Chinese Christians in the Qing capital—‘end users’ of the local and global networks of commerce and religion bridging Europe, Asia, Africa, and South and Central America.