The historical circumstances of Guangzhou as a government-designated trading port since the Ming had also encouraged extensive sea-trading networks with Southeast Asia and beyond. The impact of foreign trade along the coast and in the delta was profound. Not only were local agricultural and handicraft production stimulated by tastes and demands outside of the empire, but foreign silver too
In sum, the political ecology of the sands and the coast allowed (and necessitated) the intertwining of dazzling commercial and landed wealth, the juxtaposition of territorial lineage groups, elaborate rituals, literati pretensions, outlaw imagery, and the blurring of boundaries with unorthodox and overseas interests. These had characterized mercantile life in Guangdong from the Ming through the early twentieth century. Water Margin (All men are brothers), a classic Ming novel about a group of outlaw heroes, was hardly fictional, nor was the idea of an exclusively town-based merchant elite conceivable. Questions remain. What caused the dramatic reversal of fortunes in the first few decades of the Republican era? Why were the merchants no longer able to perform their integrative functions of bridging state, literati, and rural community, which they had done well since the Ming? I would like to use historical materials centering on Huicheng to explore the questions.