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Partition and the Reorganization of Commercial Networks  

Rinchan Ali Mirza

The Partition of British India represents one of the largest episodes of involuntary mass migration in recorded history—an estimated 17 million people were displaced because of the event. Among the many changes that resulted from the Partition was the substantive untangling of the business architecture that had developed under the colonial regime. A central feature of the untangling was the separation of the extensive commodity trade network that had developed in areas that went to Pakistan from its agro-processing base that was inherited by areas that became part of post-independence India. The implications of such a restructuring of the business architecture were particularly relevant for Pakistan, which started off with a severe imbalance between its commodity trade and industrial sectors, the former of which was at a much more advanced stage than the latter. The rudimentary industrial base from which Pakistan started off in turn fostered a greater reliance of the state on the private capital of a small business elite when it came to promoting industrial growth. It is the changing dynamics of just such a relationship between the state and a small close knit business elite that has characterized the post-Partition business history of the country.

Article

Capitalism, Growth, and Social Relations in the Middle East: 1869–1945  

Kaleb Herman Adney and Michael O'Sullivan

This contribution has three goals: one empirical, another historiographical, and still another methodological. The first is to provide a brief empirical survey of commercial developments across the modern Middle East in the period in question, with passing reference to their temporal and spatial parameters. The second is to reflect on historiographical trends and suggest avenues for further research related to these themes. The third is to stress the potential synchronicity between social history and macroeconomic frameworks in the study of commerce, time, and space in the Middle East. Both approaches tend to talk past each other, yet when integrated, they have the potential to breathe new life into scholarship on the political economy of the Middle East and, more broadly, the global South as a whole. More specifically, the present approach advocated here serves the purpose of revising dependency-theory narratives that present the 19th- and early 20th-century Middle East as irreversibly subordinated to a single world economy as a supplier of raw materials. Yet a more variegated picture emerges when the region is broken up into smaller geographic units, the temporal scale is compressed, and endogenous institutions are analyzed in tandem with global trends. Above all, when social relations are foregrounded as the touchstone of analysis, then a textured, context-specific narrative begins to emerge that both complements and unsettles the accepted wisdom of economic powerlessness. Furthermore, a diachronic account of economic transformation relates that commercial institutions, fiscal policies and capacity, and political reforms in the region frequently modulated and frustrated the logics of economic dependency. A diachronic account likewise draws attention to the demonstrable continuities in Ottoman and Qajar finance, trade, and labor practices from earlier centuries. Some of these continuities persisted into the interwar period. If market dynamics and the social relations inherent within a capitalist global economy are often framed as an imposition by Europe on the Middle East, when local and regional instantiations of capitalist processes are taken seriously, then the caricatures of an earlier historiography begin to give way. This article strikes a middle ground between narratives of subordination and dynamism, contending that the constraints upon economic growth in the Middle East need to be carefully considered, without losing sight of the social realities on the ground that shaped the Middle East’s integration into the global economy and the international state system.

Article

The Umbrella Movement of Hong Kong  

Edmund W. Cheng

The Umbrella Movement, emerging from the planned Occupy Central, was a spontaneous mass movement that erupted in Hong Kong between September 26 and December 15, 2014. While the planned occupation campaign derived from frustrations over a protracted democratization process and the rise of a radical political force since the late 2000s, the movement’s spontaneous outbreak was a backfire against protest policing in September 2014. People from all walks of life, often with no organizational affiliations, rallied to occupy three business districts for seventy-nine days. Throughout the occupation sites, the prevalence of formal and informal leaders facilitated a wide range of innovative repertoire and plebian experiences but also hampered decision-making. Meanwhile, the state responded with an attrition strategy that tolerated protests ostensibly but adopted proactive means to increase the cost of participation. The purpose was to wear out protest strength and appeal to the public’s desire for law and order without making political concessions. When the movement reached a deadlock, the leadership of the veteran democrats and student activists was challenged by a radical political force known as the localists. The complex interactions within civil society and between state and society nonetheless marked Hong Kong’s departure from its moderate political culture and deprived the democratic opposition of its legitimacy and authority to broker the prodemocracy movement. The Umbrella Movement’s profound impacts in deepening political cleavages, fostering movement networks, and triggering state control were not fully manifested until another peak of street mobilization in the summer of 2019.

Article

The Emergence of Marketing in 20th-Century India  

Douglas E. Haynes and Tirthankar Roy

Business historians of colonial and postcolonial South Asia have not sufficiently studied internal trade and commercial institutions, a glaring omission considering that trade was one of the fastest-growing economic activities during the 20th century. While the historiography of the merchant has grown steadily, it remains focused on international trade or on non-economic issues like the relationship between ethnicity and commerce. One area that clearly requires more research is marketing. The involvement of producing firms in marketing activities, like sales and advertising, became much more extensive during the late 19th and the 20th centuries. Significant changes in the costs of transportation and communications made these tasks easier. Producers of goods, however, possessed imperfect information and needed to rely on intermediate figures—either various kinds of local actors or marketing “experts” who claimed local knowledge—to reach consumers. Sales and advertising in postcolonial India built on the legacy of this transformation in colonial India, rather than breaking sharply from it, even as technological change enabled more direct communication between the producer and the consumer.

Article

Commercialization in Late Ming China: Seeds of Capitalism?  

Pengsheng Chiu

As early as the 1950s, a number of scholars in mainland China started to refer to the commercialization in late Ming China that appeared from the 16th century on as “the sprouts of capitalism.” Since 1990, ever fewer scholars use this term, but this does not that late Ming commercialization is not worth discussion; indeed, relevant research continues to accumulate. Considering the growth of agriculture, the expansion of long-distance trade, changes in the organization of the handicraft industry, material culture, and state economic policies, generally speaking, late Ming commercialization not only influenced the economy, society, and culture of the time but also the order in which the state prioritized interests in economic matters; its related policies also showed significant adjustments. Overall, these changes benefited merchants in that their property received greater protection. Furthermore, the phenomenon of late Ming commercialization provides another thought-provoking historical experience that contributes to a deeper understanding of the evolution of the market in the modern world.

Article

Power, Capital, and Classes in the Middle East since 1945  

Ahmad Shokr

The history of postwar development in the Middle East began with a commitment by states to achieving national economic growth, industrialization, and the provision of social welfare. After some early experiments, state-led development began to gather pace across the region in the mid-1950s. Although conservative and revolutionary states stood on opposing sides of the Cold War, many of them pursued remarkably similar paths of agrarian reform, industrial development, and state bureaucratization. By the 1970s, republics facing political and economic pressures began to abandon their “socialist experiments,” while the oil revolution empowered Gulf states on the regional stage, hastened the adoption of neoliberal policies, and helped transform the global financial system. Since the late 1980s, war, debt and austerity, and the expansion of Gulf capital and influence again transformed the Middle East by exacerbating regional conflicts, reshaping local economies, and fostering new forms of social, economic, and geographic inequality.

Article

Southeast Asian Trade in a Global Perspective, from Antiquity to the Modern Era  

Derek Heng

Southeast Asia has been a critical nexus of the economic interactions between the Indian Ocean, China Seas, and the Pacific Ocean littoral. Trade and commerce developed from the early first to late second millennia involving shipping and commercial networks both within Southeast Asia and from further afield. Accompanying these networks were the region’s port cities, which held these networks together, pulling the subregional networks of trade and commerce into one regional economic sphere. The nature of trade and commerce was affected by the different ecological and economic zones of Southeast Asia. This in turn affected the types of products that were traded and the communications links that connected the different subregions to the outside world. In addition, economic interactions with regions further afield and the geopolitical changes that these regions underwent also determined the types of products that flowed into and through Southeast Asia, as well as the way in which commerce was conducted.

Article

Jewish Merchants in the Indian Ocean Trade  

Elizabeth Lambourn

The history of Jewish merchants in the Indian Ocean trade is a story in two parts. Before the modern period the scarcity of surviving material and textual sources causes this community’s history to wax and wane depending on the place and the period. Historians are left to grapple with the question of whether such microhistories can be read as paradigmatic. After 1500 a plethora of documents and material remains allow a far more detailed history and analysis, as well as across an expanded area. Especially after 1700, Jews from Europe and the Middle East entered colonial flows, joining long-standing Jewish communities along India’s western seaboard and in the Yemen, and in time establishing new businesses across the Horn of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Far East. Academic research into these networks is sparse and quite dated until the colonial period, when a new wave of work integrating Jewish merchants into larger narratives occurred.

Article

The Shifting Commercial Economy of Post-Soviet Central Asia  

Regine Spector and Aisalkyn Botoeva

Since 1991, commerce and trade in Central Asia have changed significantly. Prior to 1991, Soviet Central Asia had been incorporated into centralized production, distribution, and retail networks, and regional borders were formally closed to many outside products and exchanges. Upon independence in 1991, these integrated production, distribution, and supply chains collapsed, and the new Central Asian countries—to varying degrees—liberalized their economies and opened their borders to flows of goods and people. Domestic manufacturing and production slowed dramatically. Citizens of these countries initially turned to barter and trade of basic consumer goods as a survival strategy to feed themselves and their families in the midst of evaporating wages and disappearing jobs. While traders forged regional and global trading networks connecting local villages and cities in Central Asia with manufacturing and re-export hubs in China, India, United Arab Emirates, and Turkey, among other places, over time, the new post-Soviet elite gained ownership and control over lucrative bazaar land, cargo companies, airline agencies, and other logistics nodes. Soviet-era roads and railways initially dominated trade networks; later, airline routes and new land-based infrastructure built through intergovernment agreements and international development projects afforded new commercial possibilities. China became one of the central nodes in trade networks for consumer goods and has invested significantly into building regional infrastructure, while Russia has remained an important supplier of hydrocarbon and other commodities. Amid these changes, self-understandings of trade have shifted; for example, as Soviet-era stigmas against trade have receded, religious-based and other moralities condoning trade have ascended. While commercial activity was a significant survival strategy and served as a launch pad for other businesses in the region, trade and commerce patterns have been subject to financial crises, political upheavals, and border closures in the 1990s and 2000s, and in 2020, to a global pandemic, illuminating the precarity of reliance on trade and commerce in contexts that do not otherwise have robust state-based social support mechanisms.

Article

Commodities and Consumption in Modern China  

Karl Gerth

How did the introduction and spread of countless new commodities and their consumption shape modern Chinese history? The intersection of commodities and consumption provides the flipside to the better-studied history of production and underlies countless topics at the center of Chinese and world history since the 19th century, such as imperialism, trade, industrialization, revolution, social hierarchies, and the ascendance of China as a global manufacturing and export superpower. Consumption includes the introduction and spread of mass-manufactured consumer commodities, the proliferation of discourse about these goods in new forms of mass media, and an ongoing shift toward creating and communicating hierarchical social identities through the consumption of mass-produced commodities. While consumption is often viewed as an individual matter, one related to creating personal identities, a key theme that emerges throughout modern Chinese history is that the Chinese states and elites have long sought to link commodity consumption with ideas of patriotism and national strength, helping shape what it means to consume commodities right down to the present.