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Workers of the World: A Global Microhistory of the Socioeconomic Lives in Canton

Funded by the Leverhulme Trust, this project undertakes a micro history of the lives of Cantonese Chinese labourers and British sailors, the two largest groups of workers involved in the Canton trade from 1637 to 1860. A significant amount of research has been carried out on the trading goods of Canton including tea, silk, porcelain, opium and other products. Studies have also examined participants in the trade from both East and West, including British and American traders and Hong merchants, as well as the international and cultural relations at the port. However, the considerable direct and indirect influence of the workers’ lives on a range of broader issues of international political significance and their vast economic contribution have been largely neglected. The project will connect their lives to the socioeconomic analysis of the transformation of global trade networks. The global microhistorical approach allows this project to capture the everyday and evolving world of Cantonese Chinese labourers and British sailors of the port, and to gauge their agency in the port’s global trade.

Principle Investigator: Dr Song-Chuan Chen

Workers in a tea warehouse in Canton (1790, Curtesy of British Library, c0670-08)