China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
This panel seizes on a moment when scholars and general readers are showing new interest in the history of global capitalism. While historians of the United States and Europe have taken the lead in proselytizing for the “new” history of capitalism, it is equally pressing for historians of Asia to reengage with capitalism both conceptually and empirically. The goal is not simply to catch up, but to broaden the geographic range of capitalism as a system and to incorporate a wider set of experiences that will enrich and complicate the picture coming out of the United States and Europe. Within the China field, R. Bin Wong (1997) and Kenneth Pomeranz (2000) have long dominated conversations about the history of Chinese capitalism, providing evidence on the long history of market-driven productivity. Both Wong and Pomeranz highlight a continuity that challenges Philip Huang’s thesis (1985), which views late imperial China as a case of “involution” and developmental failure. This panel moves beyond this conversation to explore the vicissitudes of China’s engagement with global capitalism on a multiplicity of levels. The “return” to capitalism undertaken by the young scholars on this panel represents a new set of research paradigms informed by the pressing visibility of capitalism’s global networks, peculiar psychology, and oftentimes complete disregard for legal regimes. Through their engagements with commercial regulation, drug trafficking, and ways of thinking that promote capital accumulation, all four papers provide histories of China that prompt theoretical contributions to a broadened and reinvigorated study of global capitalism.