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The Salt Merchants Of Yang-Chou: A Study Of Commercial Capitalism In Eighteenth-Century China

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Chapter Summary

During the eighteenth century, the salt merchants who maintained their head-quarters in Yang-chou and whose sphere of business extended to the greater part of east-central China were undoubtedly China's capitalists par excellence. The salt merchants offer us an interesting case study of commercial capitalism in its most indigenous form. This chapter discusses briefly the organization of the salt trade, with a view to ascertaining the number of the salt merchants; to estimate their profits and sizes of fortunes; to study their mode of life, cultural expressions and social mobility; and to explain the reasons why despite the existence of commercial capital on a significant scale they failed to develop a full-fledged capitalistic system. It is hoped that this study, although confined to one particular group of merchants, may incidentally throw some light on commercial capitalism in general in the China of the pre-treaty port days.

Keywords: China; commercial capitalism; pre-treaty port days; salt merchants; Yang-chou



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