February 2, 2012

Diaspora and Empire: Cantonese in the West River Basin, 1570-1870

Steven B. Miles, Book manuscript
My work examines the history of one Chinese regional cohort that in the early modern era formed a diaspora of trade and migration along the largest river system in southern China and, in modern times, spread throughout the world.  In my current project, I trace the construction of a Cantonese diaspora along the West River basin between the late-sixteenth century and the late-nineteenth century.  I analyze a set of diasporic practices that Cantonese lowlanders from the Pearl River delta pursued upstream along the West River basin into the highlands of southwestern China and northern Vietnam.  These practices included serving as officials in upstream jurisdictions, registering as students in upstream schools in order to sit for less competitive civil service examinations there, conducting trade, and even touring and mapping.  Although these practices served the interests of both diaspora and empire, my analytical perspective emphasizes the ways in which a diasporic elite turned the imperial project of expansion to its own ends.