Title: Entrepreneurs, Cadets, and Compradors: The Making of Beijing’s Regional Trading Network in Southeast Asia, 1950-1959
Stream: Comparative Studies of Asian and East Asian Studies
Presentation Type: Symposium Presentation (Live-Stream)
Bohao Wu, Harvard University, United States
This paper explores China’s trade with Southeast Asia during the 1950s and demonstrates how this process shaped the trade practices in the region. The rapid expansion of China’s industrial capacity in the 1950s enabled its leadership to seek markets beyond Chinese borders. During this period, China’s commercial connection with Southeast Asia shaped China’s trade practices in two ways. On the one hand, Chinese traders learned from their capitalist counterparts and actively solicited overseas Chinese, foreign shipping companies, and local entrepreneurs to help their cause. On the other hand, the recognition that foreign trade should serve “revolutionary ends,” as well as the trade embargo led by the United States, also forced Chinese representatives to invent unconventional ways to protect Beijing’s commercial interests overseas. PRC’s efforts at expanding trade with Southeast Asia, I argue, had informed the economic landscape in the region. From the competition for local compradors’ support to a struggle for resources, overseas Chinese merchants enjoyed, to a price war with Japanese exporters in Southeast Asian markets in the late 1950s, Beijing and her competitors in Tokyo and Washington had developed respective mechanisms to mobilize the regional trading network to their advantage, and shaped the network in the due process. By breaking down the often-intricate processes of bargaining and negotiating between governmental and non-governmental agencies during this period, the paper attests to the multilateral, transnational nature of economic life in Asia under the shadow of the Cold War.
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