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Tasteful consumption : Huizhou salt merchants and material culture in eighteenth-century China

Author: Yulian Wu
Publisher: Davis, Calif. : University of California, Davis, 2012.
Dissertation: Ph. D. University of California, Davis 2012
Edition/Format:   Thesis/dissertation : Document : Thesis/dissertation : eBook   Computer File : English
Summary:
This dissertation focuses on the Huizhou salt merchants, studying their emergence as a distinguished social group--that is, as merchants who mastered various sorts of practical knowledge and managerial skills, cultivated aesthetic taste, and promoted Confucian morality--in eighteenth-century China. In contrast to previous scholarship on the rise of merchants in late imperial China, this research approaches the topic  Read more...
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Details

Genre/Form: Dissertations, Academic
Material Type: Document, Thesis/dissertation, Internet resource
Document Type: Internet Resource, Computer File
All Authors / Contributors: Yulian Wu
ISBN: 9781267663382 1267663383
OCLC Number: 816364238
Notes: Advisor: Susan Mann.
Degree granted in History.
Description: 1 online resource
Other Titles: Huizhou salt merchants and material culture in eighteenth-century China
Responsibility: by Yulian Wu.

Abstract:

This dissertation focuses on the Huizhou salt merchants, studying their emergence as a distinguished social group--that is, as merchants who mastered various sorts of practical knowledge and managerial skills, cultivated aesthetic taste, and promoted Confucian morality--in eighteenth-century China. In contrast to previous scholarship on the rise of merchants in late imperial China, this research approaches the topic through the perspective of material culture, showing how the High-Qing Huizhou salt merchants used material objects -- including tributary goods, carved seals, expensive genealogies, ancestral halls, and chastity arches -- as media through which they strategically built up their vast social networks and sought upward social mobility. In their strategic engagement with objects--purchasing, making, collecting, exchanging--the salt merchants formed cross-regional social networks at every level of Qing society, from the imperial court in North China, to southern elites in the commercial centers of the Lower Yangzi, and finally to local communities in the merchants' native place, the mountainous backwater of Huizhou. By exploring the merchants' relationships with material objects, this dissertation offers unexpected new insight into ethnic relations, commerce, and consumption in early modern China. This study first provides a new perspective on critical ethnic relationships between the Manchu court and its Chinese subjects in the eighteenth century. My dissertation reveals a close emperor-merchant relationship that could only have been established under the Manchu rulers' unique salt monopoly policies. These policies allowed the merchants to serve as the emperor's informal bureaucracy and expanded the emperor's own empire-wide network of informal contacts and control. This dissertation also moves earlier analysis of the "commercial revolution" of the seventeenth century forward into the eighteenth century, addressing merchants' role in luxury consumption. By studying merchants' collecting enterprises, this research shows that the salt merchants performed a new role as trend setters in fashion and taste. Meanwhile, by examining merchants' patronage in their hometown, I show that as the merchants transformed their lineage patronage into extravagant cultural productions, rural Huizhou became an important part of the consumer society of the eighteenth century.

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