Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California


Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review is a peer-reviewed, quarterly online journal that offers its readers up-to-date research findings, emerging trends, and cutting-edge perspectives concerning East Asian history and culture from scholars in both English-speaking and Asian language-speaking academic communities.

Articles | Binding Maritime China: Control, Evasion, and Interloping

Introduction to "Binding Maritime China: Control, Evasion, and Interloping"

Maritime Asia is a confusing morass of contested sovereignties and geopolitical rivalries. Yet the seaways of Asia have, in their history, also fostered cultural exchange and economic integration. The liminal maritime zone surrounding China remains a paradox between seas and ports teeming with legal and illegal exchange and governmental policies attempting to monopolize and restrict that exchange. Vast and fluid, maritime China has long hindered state control and fostered connections determined as much by bottom-up economic and cultural logic as by top-down official impositions. This issue of Cross-Currents proposes to reexamine the rich history of maritime China and adjacent areas by tracing the interactions of the three initiatives of control, evasion, and interloping. This special issue stems from a conference the guest editors organized in Boston in 2015, with support from Boston University, Brandeis University, Northeastern University, and the Taiwan Ministry of Education. We invited a distinguished group of scholars to explore the many facets of maritime China’s history. Our key postulation was that state control, evasion from that control, and interloping within the interstices of China’s maritime world literally bound an array of actors and locales for distinct but interrelated goals, from the early modern era to the modern era. This concept is encapsulated in the title of the current issue, “Binding Maritime China.” What “creates” and gives coherence to the concept of maritime China as a social, economic, political, and geographic space is, to a large extent, how human actors (Chinese and Western merchants and businessmen, navy officers, bureaucrats, fishermen, pirates, missionaries, and so on) productively interacted or experienced conflicts and resisted one another’s control. They did so across oceanic and coastal spaces, administrative boundaries, class lines, bureaucratic institutions, commercial organizations, and competing imperial formations...

"Oceanus Resartus"; or, Is Chinese Maritime History Coming of Age?

Perhaps the most salient feature of the transformation of China’s economic policy is its tack into the oceanic sphere. This is a break with the country’s traditional past as an inland-looking, continental power: the landscape is now complemented by the seascape. This article suggests that China’s new relationship with the sea asks for a master plan for reclaiming a neglected maritime past—the invention of a national maritime tradition, a newly tailored past to explain China’s former relationship with the sea. Keywords: Chinese maritime history, One Belt One Road policy, maritime anthropology, nautical traditions, mariculture

Interlopers at the Fringes of Empire: The Procurators of the Propaganda Fide Papal Congregation in Canton and Macao, 1700-1823

The office of the procurator of the papal Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide) offers a unique case study of noncommercial interloping in the long eighteenth century in the Pearl River Delta, and reveals the complexity and fluidity of life at the intersection of Asian and European maritime environments in that special human ecosystem. The oceanic infrastructure of the Age of Sail and the Sino-Western trade system in Canton sustained the Catholic missionary enterprise in Asia, and the professional figure of the procurator represented its economic and political linchpin. Procurators were agents connected with both European and Qing imperial formations, yet not directly at their service. They utilized existing maritime trade networks to their own advantage without being integral parts of those networks’ economic mechanisms. All the while, they subverted Qing prohibitions against Christianity. Using sources preserved in Rome, this article offers new insights into the global mechanisms of trade, communication, and religious exchange embodied by the procurators-interlopers and their networks, with significant implications for the history of the Sino-Western trade system, Qing policies toward the West and Christianity, and the history of Asian Catholic missions. Keywords: Guangzhou, Macao, Canton System, Propaganda Fide, papacy, Jesuits, Portugal, Kangxi Emperor, Clement XI, Yongzheng Emperor, Qianlong Emperor, Qing dynasty

Interlopers, Rogues, or Cosmopolitans? Wu Jianzhang and Early Modern Commercial Networks on the China Coast

After the First Opium War (1839–1842), British and American merchants negotiated with Chinese officials in Shanghai to work out the framework of the new treaty port regime. One key player in these negotiations was Wu Jianzhang, a Cantonese merchant who became circuit intendant of the Shanghai region. Wu, however, also had links to Cantonese sailors and anti-Qing secret societies. When the Small Swords Society took Shanghai in 1853, he found himself entangled in conflicting responsibilities and networks. Foreign traders and Chinese officials regarded Wu, like other middlemen on the Chinese coast, with a mixture of respect and distrust. Wu’s situation, however, was not unique to the mid-nineteenth century. This article compares Wu to other intermediaries who played similar roles in the sixteenth and late nineteenth centuries, in order to show the ways in which Wu, his predecessors, and those who followed in his footsteps connected China to the wider world by navigating the treacherous waters of diplomacy, war, and commerce. The work of John K. Fairbank, who in the 1950s pioneered the study of such people as Wu Jianzhang, can find new meaning in the twenty-first century, enabling us to understand the transnational implications of China’s local social history. Keywords: Shanghai, Opium War, treaty ports, hong merchants, Canton, Fujian, Taiping rebellion, Small Swords Society, Qing dynasty, China coast, Wu Jianzhang

The Fujitsuru Mystery: Translocal Xiamen, Japanese Expansionism, and the Asian Cocaine Trade, 1900-1937

This article examines the Asian cocaine trade of the early twentieth century. It argues that the distribution of cocaine into Asian colonial ports was controlled by people from southeastern China who took advantage of a convergence of factors: consumer markets in India and Southeast Asia, shifting political winds surrounding drug use, the rise of Japan, and the translocal nature of southern Fujianese society. Xiamen was not only a port but also the hub of a society that was omnipresent in the maritime world of early twentieth-century Asia: natives of southern Fujian resided in Calcutta, Singapore, Rangoon, Manila, and Kobe, constituting a huge percentage of the crew and passengers of the steamships that connected those places. The implications of this story are relevant to two important themes of this special issue: the history of control and evasion in maritime Asia, and, relatedly, the ways in which states sought to extend their jurisdiction over the seas. Fujianese cocaine smugglers saw an opportunity when colonial governments banned cocaine imports, and took advantage of their place within the Japanese imperial sphere to acquire drugs and penetrate colonial markets. The evidence presented here thus highlights the place of opportunism and entrepreneurialism within the wider history of state efforts to control trade. Keywords: cocaine, drugs, smuggling, China, Fujian, Xiamen, Singapore, India, Japan, maritime history, East Asia, Southeast Asia

State and Smuggling in Modern China: The Case of Guangzhouwan/Zhanjiang

The Leizhou Peninsula in western Guangdong (concurrent with the present-day municipality of Zhanjiang) has at several points in history been an important site of exchange, both licit and illicit in the eyes of central authorities. The French gained control of the area from the weakened Qing government in 1898–1899 and established their “leased territory” of Guangzhouwan. Administered as part of French Indochina, Guangzhouwan became a fiefdom of smugglers, pimps, and pirates, never developing into the rival to Hong Kong that the French hoped it would become. After a brief Japanese occupation, the French returned the leased territory to the government of Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) after World War II, but their colonial presence left a legacy of trafficking, violence, and anti-imperialism that emboldened Communist guerrillas in the area. Once the Communists came into power in 1949, they subjected Zhanjiang and other liminal spaces along the Chinese coast to vigorous anti-smuggling and anti-drug campaigns. But a return to smuggling in the Reform Era (1978–present) suggests that the successful repression of smuggling in the Mao era may have been a temporary exception to the historical rule in this region. Keywords: French imperialism, French Indochina, opium, smuggling, China, People’s Republic, Guangzhouwan, Zhanjiang, Reform Era, anti-corruption