The Capital Travel of Overseas Chinese Businessmen: A Story of Asian Trade & Economic Circle Formation

With the development of the Asian economy in the 1980s, there has been an increasing number of studies on overseas Chinese and Chinese – from the history of immigration to cultural and social studies, the fields involved in related research have continued to expand. After entering the 21st century, under the trend of globalization, research on overseas Chinese and Chinese self-identification has also begun to flourish.

In this context, Takeshi Hamashita, a Japanese historian, sinologist, and current director of the Asia-Pacific Research Institute of Sun Yat-sen University, began his research on overseas Chinese and Chinese history.During his early years at the University of Tokyo, Takeshi Hamashita was guided by Professor Masahiro Tanaka and studied modern Chinese history and Asian economic history. In 1960, the United States and Japan signed the “Japan-U.S. New Security Treaty”, which prompted him, who was particularly concerned about Japanese social issues at the time, to rethink Japan’s position in the post-war world and in the Asian landscape.

In order to better understand the history of modern Japan, Hamashita tried to understand the history of different regions in Asia, and in his graduation thesis, he discussed the history of cotton cloth through a case study of the layout of machine weaving in Shanghai to cotton yarn mills. In his opinion, case studies are not enough to support a comprehensive understanding of Chinese history and even East Asian history, but this research experience made him realize that the discussion of China’s modernization should break away from the dualistic framework of “backward/developed”.

In his later book, “The International Opportunity of Modern China: Tributary Trade System and the Modern Asian Economic Circle”, Hamashita raised objections to the “Western Impact Theory”, which was the mainstream of Western scholars in the study of China’s modernization in the past. Hamashita believes that, “Even in modern times, the Asian regional trade circle based on tributary relations has defined the content of Western ‘entry’ and ‘impact’. The various treaties concluded due to the Western entry are essentially the same according to the tributary. In the postgraduate period, Takeshi Hamashita joined the research program of Toyo Bunko (then Morrison Bunko), read a lot of customs history, understood how the West viewed Asia, and gradually grew into a pro-Asian faction. scholar.Breaking the previous tradition of considering regional economic history by country, taking the internal historical context of Asia as a clue, and combining empirical and theoretical responses to “the reason why Asia became Asia” is the characteristic of Takeshi Hamashita’s research.

From the late 1970s to the 1980s, Hamashita came into contact with the archives of HSBC when he participated in a study by Frank HH King, a professor at the Asian Institute of the University of Hong Kong, on HSBC’s 125th anniversary banking history. In sorting out the cheques from Malacca branch in Malaysia to the bank, Hamashita found that although a large number of cheque exchanges at that time were not explicitly designated as overseas remittances, they were actually a form of overseas remittances. From 1990 to 2000, more overseas Chinese batches (referring to the remittances and home letters sent by overseas Chinese to China through non-governmental organizations at home and abroad, which is a special postal carrier that combines letters and collections) began to emerge and were edited and published. Guangdong & Fujian Province have established relevant archives. Here, Binxia has traveled to and from the Overseas Chinese Approval Bureau in Southeast Asia and South China many times to conduct research and investigation on the local overseas Chinese and Indian immigrants.


In 2012, “Qiao Cui Archives” were included in UNESCO’s “Memory of the World Register”. Before and after this point, Hamashita further combined the customs data and the balance of payments report compiled by HB Morse, the customs tax administrator at the end of the Qing Dynasty, to improve his historical investigation of overseas remittances and overseas Chinese approval history.In 2013, Hamashita published the book “Capital’s Travel”, which centers on papers published during his fieldwork and data surveys on China’s southeastern coastal areas and Southeast Asia from the late 1970s to the early 2000s. On the basis of the revision, new papers were published as well. The book takes East Asia and Southeast Asia as a whole, discusses the relationship between overseas remittances and the Asian financial and trade system from the perspective of the Asian economic circle, traces the historical relationship between overseas Chinese remittances, the tributary system and imperial colonization, and discusses the period from the second half of the 19th century to the 21st century.

The situation of overseas Chinese and Chinese financial networks.Is the flow of remittances a point-to-point, single-line process from the place of immigration to the place of departure? Is the network of overseas Chinese investment rooted in the inherent “ethnicity” of overseas Chinese or is it “cross-regional” brought about by international migration? Recently, at the launch of the Chinese version of the new book “Travel of Capital”, Feng Lijun, Deputy Dean of the Nanyang Research Institute of Xiamen University, Yan Hongzhong, Chair Professor of the School of Economics of Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, and other guests discussed the above issues with Takeshi Hamashita.What is the ” network of relationships ” in the Asian economic circle ?In Feng Lijun’s view, the interdisciplinary perspective of Takeshi Hamashita’s research into the economic history of overseas Chinese is a prominent feature of his research. Although economic history is the subject of investigation in this book, Hamashita cites anthropological and sociological concepts such as “lineage” and “identity” in the opening chapters of the book to pave the way for the cultural background of his research.

For example, as mentioned in the book, as far as the three generations of overseas Chinese, Inland Chinese, and ethnic Chinese are concerned, “overseas Chinese”, especially the first-generation immigrants with Chinese nationality, were used to collectively refer to the above three identities before the 1960s. Chinese actually refer to second-generation immigrants. Compared with overseas Chinese, they have a deeper degree of localization and have a stronger sense of belonging to the place of immigration. Chinese-Americans are the second-generation Chinese who have further immigrated and migrated, and their identity is less affected by ethnicity and nationality. Due to the differences in identities, the economic activities of the three generations in the immigrant places also show different characteristics of “maintenance”, “adaptation” and “innovation”.The term “relationship network” that appears many times in the book is borrowed from sociology, which is intended to discuss the “family” that transcends the internal connection of the family and is positioned in the social network. This kind of relationship network is formed between regions on the premise of the movement of people. It is not as integrated as the relationship within the family, and the state is relatively loose.

Regarding the “relationship network”, Hamashita himself made the following explanations in his self-preface: First, the relationship network of the concept of transportation, which refers to roads, railways, shipping, etc., as well as various means of transportation; second, the relationship network related to information exchange—— The information exchange relationship network formed by means of telecommunication, telephone, mail, etc. plays a more important role in the information society; the third is the relationship network between things and people, that is, the movement and flow of things and the movement of people. The fourth is the network of social connections and their transformation.

The flow of people, goods, money and information constitutes the immigrant network of overseas Chinese and Mainland Chinese, which can also be regarded as the scope of their economic activities in Asia. The Asian economic circle discussed by Hamashita is not necessarily the scope between countries; this circle can be understood as the scope of maritime trade in a macroscopic sense, or it can be specific to the business network of a Chinese businessman in a city.

In the past, the research on Asian economic history was mostly classified by country, and each country in the geographical space of Asia was discussed separately, and the sum of it was the Asian economic history. Hamashita’s use of the concept of “relationship network” broke through the barriers of regional economic research as a Chinese boundary, and also provided academic theoretical support for overseas remittance research.How does the circulation of overseas remittances promote the development of the financial and foreign trade markets in China and even in Asia? The circulation of overseas remittances is either through water passengers or customers, or through letter bureaus, grain companies and banks.

These links are connected to each other, forming a financial market network that spans the foreign exchange market and the commodity market. Yan Hongzhong emphasized that in this process, the credit bureau does not send money immediately after receiving it, but concentrates the money and waits until the interest rate is more favorable before remittance. In the financial market, credit bureaus use exchange rate fluctuations in various places to buy and sell currencies, or use the price difference between the two markets (such as Singapore and Hong Kong) to speculate, realize the flow of remittances while making profits, or make profits through currency futures investment.

Such means are a very typical operation to enter the market, and very modern.At the same time, Qiaohui.com connects the international gold standard market with the Asian silver standard market and becomes an important transit point. In Yan Hongzhong’s view, Qiaohui.com has made maximum use of Hong Kong’s international financial market and various investment and speculative activities in the market, which has greatly increased the circulation of funds and expanded the coverage of financial markets in East Asia. Not only that, remittances are also an important means to supplement the foreign trade surplus in modern China.

At that time, South China imported gold, silver and goods at the same time, and the inflow of funds greatly offset the external debts incurred by Shanghai and Hong Kong in modern times, forming a balance relationship of mutual offset. From a national perspective, since the 1920s, millions dollars of silver have been remitted to China every year, exceeding 100 million silver dollars in the 1920s and more than 200 million silver dollars in the 1930s. Many data mentioned in the book reflect the role that overseas Chinese remittances played in promoting the formation of China’s financial market at that time.Finally, remittances directly participate in trade and investment activities in the process of circulation. Overseas Chinese merchants did not simply remit money, but imported food such as rice, sugar and other raw materials for handicrafts from overseas to South China, and at the same time exported groceries, handmade products and tea from China. Between South China and Southeast Asia, a huge network of immigrant trade and overseas remittances was formed around Shantou, Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore: Hong Kong and Singapore acted as a transit point between Southeast Asia and the origin of overseas Chinese, and extended this trade relationship to the north. Extend, connect to Shanghai, Tianjin, Yingkou and Dalian to realize the docking of trade and financial network in Asia. Whether within or between regions, the circulation of overseas remittances has established a corresponding financial network for the trade network, providing a unique source of funds for the market in the trade and investment environment.

Were Asian financial markets in the early 20th century conservative or flexible?In the traditional Chinese financial system, the maintenance of credit is mostly based on the familiar relationship between businessmen and tradesmen or on the relationship between the same country and the same family. The settlement methods of various regular and non-cash transactions have Chinese cultural characteristics. For example, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Chaozhou generally use regular settlement methods instead of cash settlement methods. Most trades take 30 days, 60 days or 90 days as the settlement period, and some also accumulate product prices for mortgage settlement, some are settled annually, or conduct regular transactions according to the time when the goods arrive at the port. Under this credit system, Chinese businessmen’s transactions are generally limited to their own business names, semicolons, or businesses that are familiar with each other’s capital and credit status – this kind of non-institutional, non-system based connection between people, the combination of the two, can only be maintained on the basis of mutual understanding. For this reason, European businessmen, entrepreneurs or government officials have long had no will to develop Asian financial markets. In their view, the Asian market has the drawbacks of being highly closed, following internal trade habits, and focusing on savings in capital operations.

Such impressions make the outside world generally think that the circulation of remittances has a fixed and traditional character between overseas Chinese and their hometowns. However, when Hamashita and his team investigated Southeast Asia, they found that there used to be a financial institution, the Overseas Chinese Approval Bureau. The Overseas Chinese Approval Bureau was founded at the end of the 19th century and prevailed in Southeast Asia. It was an institution created to replace the exchange and money department of the Civil Credit Bureau, and functionally replaced the unorganized water customers. In 1934, the Chinese government promulgated a decree banning the Civil Credit Bureau, and the Overseas Chinese Approval Bureau continued to exist, but it had to register with the post office and obtain a license. So far, the Overseas Chinese Approval Bureau has been more actively developing overseas, and its business scope has expanded from the original remittance business to deposits, loans, trusts, etc., very similar to small banks.Through these institutions, once money leaves the hands of overseas Chinese, its flow becomes very free, and foreign banks are also involved. In the interview with the relevant person who used to manage the Overseas Chinese Approval Bureau, Hamashita learned that the money of overseas Chinese and Chinese is not necessarily sent directly from overseas to his hometown, and many financial institutions are involved in the intermediate link. The money approved by overseas Chinese is used to invest in commodities in the Asian economic and trade circle, involving resources including tin, rubber, rice, etc. For example, a lot of rice from Thailand is transported to Guangzhou and Hong Kong through this trading channel. Therefore, although the financial network formed by remittances is relatively fixed and traditional at the bottom, there are very active and international financial activities and commercial relations on top of it, providing rich and flexible capital flows for the upper layers.