This talk is co-sponsored by Rutgers Global-China Office. It is open to the public, but registration is required. Click here to register.
This presentation is centered on two neighboring townships – Jiujiang and Gulao – on opposite banks of the West River in Guangdong. As important emigrant communities for both upriver and overseas migration in the nineteenth century, their shared and divergent histories raise questions about fundamental categories in the study of Chinese migration. Drawing on examples featured in my new book, Opportunity in Crisis: Cantonese Migrants and the State in Late Qing China, I argue that these two townships shared a culture of migration well before the age of mass migration, complicating the analytical divide between internal and external migration. From the warfare and reconstruction of the mid-nineteenth century, however, Jiujiang emerged as an emblem of social order and political loyalty, whereas Gulao was tainted by piracy and rebellion. In the context of rapidly expanding overseas migration, the two sides of the river represented by Jiujiang and Gulao fit into a new and increasingly rigid regional divide between the Three Counties and Four (or Five) Counties, while migrants from these two communities fit into the seemingly fixed distinction between merchant and laborer.
A sociocultural historian of late imperial China, Steven B. Miles is head of the Division of Humanities at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and editor-in-chief of the journal, Late Imperial China. His most recent books are Chinese Diasporas: A Social History of Global Migration (2020) and Opportunity in Crisis: Cantonese Migrants and the State in Late Qing China (2021).