China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Students of Qing history are no strangers to the Gao Pu case, one of the best documented corruption scandals of the Qing era. In the 1770s, Gao Pu, a descendent of an illustrious baoyi family and the imperial superintendent of Yarkand (a Muslim cityin Western Xinjiang), colluded with a Shanxi merchant Zhang Luan to smuggle thousands of catties of jade from Yarkand to Suzhou, which incurred the wrath of the Qianlong Emperor. While previous scholars have studied this case to examine the commercial development of Xinjiang, the relationship between the imperial state and private merchants, and the evolution of the jade trade, this paper traces the career of Zhang Luan, the merchant protagonist of the story, from an apprentice in a Shanxi firm to a prominent jade smuggler who established business connections and manage transportation of huge jade stones across the empire. I specifically examine how Zhang Luan acquired information about the jade business in far-flung localities and established business partnerships to carry out the smuggling venture. I argue that the rise of Zhang Luan was not only the result of his business acumen but also the product of the flexible yet effective institutional arrangements among Shanxi merchants in their rapidly expanding business network. The career and smuggling operations of Zhang Luan demonstrates how Shanxi merchants were able to develop a fast-expanding network of information and trust that allowed them to quickly create new ventures and thus further spur the growth of their network.