Historical study of capitalism in China during the second half of the nineteenth century commonly uses the categories “Chinese” and “foreign” to analyze commercial activity. Assessing the relative fortunes of “Chinese trade” and “foreign trade” as well as competition and collaboration between Chinese and foreign communities have oriented interpretative agendas geared towards national histories as well as anti-imperialist and anti-Eurocentric narratives. These agendas, however, have drawn a false binary that obscures a clearer understanding of the history of capitalism in China. Alternatively, the concept of “capital accumulation”, which references a geographically dispersed and temporally extended process, creates an opportunity to attend to permutations in how Chinese and non-Chinese resources and territories combined in the production of capital. Reframed as such, the study of capitalism in the “treaty port era” entails thinking again about the elements that constitute capital as well as about geographies of circulation and their effects. This rethinking moves the study of capitalism out of the narrow confines of national business and economic histories, and proposes contributions to understanding socio-political change. This paper outlines interpretative difficulties created by existing approaches to commercial activity in China, sketches a few of the distinct geographies of circulation that emerged after 1860, and discuss how processes of capital accumulation could be problematic for Qing governance precisely because they eroded distinctions between “Chinese” and “foreign.” I argue that after 1860, capitalism was not merely a commercial activity but increasingly, a force producing spatial configurations and governance.