Datasets - Guilds - China - Craft guilds

Report on the data collection


The database for Chinese guilds and huiguan was compiled by Christine Moll-Murata, Reader at the Section of Chinese History and Philosophy of Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany, and participant in the Global Collaboratory on the History of Labour Relations of the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, with the assistance of Masato Murata, Duisburg, and Maike Düsterhaus, M.A., Hilden. The set is based on several published lists; on research of published archival materials and historiographical texts, especially local gazetteers; and on a database that was set up for the Beijing huiguan by Richard Belsky, City University of New York, who generously agreed to share it with our collaboratory.

More so than for the other databases assembled in this project, coverage of China was extensive. This is due to the fact that both the territorial expansion and population of China are much larger than those of the other regions under focus in the individual parts of this programme. Moreover, guild studies are a relatively recent field in Chinese socioeconomic history. Therefore, rather than offering a fine-grained homogenous investigation, we assembled information on the better covered parts of China, together with some detailed studies of individual places.

The strict division between guilds, associations that served exclusively economic functions and those that were more relevant for social and religious purposes — applied in the case of the Low Countries — did not seem feasible for China under the Ming (1368 — 1644) and Qing (1644 — 1911) dynasties. Associations with predominantly economic functions, such as artisan and merchant associations, existed especially in the capital Beijing, and in the metropolises of the Lower Yangzi (Suzhou and Shanghai). However, in China a more important criterion for membership in guilds or guild-like associations was the place of origin of its members. They were established in centres of in-migration, where these so-called huiguan (meeting houses) offered boarding and food, as well as information on the unknown surroundings, for new-comers from a particular home province or smaller geographic unit; for the long-term sojourners, they provided entertainment and company in the home language or dialect. In many respects, they operated like associations of immigrants elsewhere in the world, as in United States — especially New York, or in European cities like Vienna, where hundreds of clubs catered to the needs for Bohemians and people from the Balkans.

At the present state of the field, information on these associations is more numerous than that on exclusively economic guilds. Chinese researchers have been well aware of this distinction. Some of them have tried to isolate the craft and merchant guilds. PengZeyi, who worked as an economic historian at the Academy of Social Science in Beijing, has edited famous compilations on historical materials on the Chinese crafts, including guild materials. The data included at the beginning of our dataset were compiled by Peng and his assistant, Wang Fuming, 王福明, from epigraphic, archival, and published sources. They include 711 entries, dating from the late seventeenth century onwards. The material indicates that most guilds were established in the nineteenth century, particularly after the Western powers pressed China to open treaty ports for international trade. Regionally, it covers the three big metropolises Beijing, Suzhou, and Shanghai, as well as the Middle and Upper Yangzi cities Hankou and Chongqing, and some other provincial capitals and centres of interregional commerce.

Other researchers have taken a more integrative look at both craft and merchant guilds and — in the broadest sense — migrant organizations. The largest single source for this database is the list of huiguan set up by the eminent social historian He Bingdi. It consists of almost 1300 entries from all over China, mainly on the basis of regional gazetteers. In addition to these China-wide compilations, we consulted – in the sense of case studies – published archival, epigraphic, and historiographic materials for Chongqing, an entrepôt city on the Upper Yangzi, which has a fine collection of archival materials from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (the so-called Bashan archives); for the workers’ and merchant guilds in the Zigong salines (Ziliujing), arguably one of the largest industrial centers in pre-modern China; for Foshan, an industrial city near Guangzhou (Canton), famous for ironworks, printing, and ceramics; and Hohhot (Suiyuan), the present-day provincial capital of Inner Mongolia, which in the Qing dynasty was an important border city for trade with Mongolia and Russia. For both Foshan and Hohhot, the database contains about 100 entries each, and between 30 and 50 entries each for Chongqing and Zigong. Since extensive coverage was the main objective of this investigation, and due to the sources that were available to the present compilers, the database as yet is not strongly focused on regulatory rules. Where materials were available, such as for Beijing, Suzhou, Shanghai and some of the Chongqing guilds, these were included.

Richard Belsky’s data on the Beijing huiguan offer much of the fine-grained quality that the compilers for the Low Country databases have achieved. In his magisterial study Localities at the Center, Belsky has discussed the reasons why huiguan were established in the capital in such high density. The over six hundred known historical huiguan served not only as economic and social, but also political representations of the Chinese provinces in Beijing, which boasted a population of about one million from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. It constitutes a spectacular case far exceeding the roughly hundred guild houses and huiguan in the other Chinese metropolises of Suzhou, Shanghai and Hankou.

Eventually, this part of the collaborator effort is certain to be amended and enlarged over the years, as source materials of all types become more readily available and Chinese local historiography advances. He Bingdi’s as well as PengZeyi’s data should be understood as foundations that are at this point being extended substantially. Economic and social historians such as Fan Jinmin and Lan Yong have given much larger figures for the Lower Yangzi and Southwest China (Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan) respectively. While Fan Jinmin’s data for Lower Yangzi huiguan (combining the centres Shanghai and Suzhou) range at about 500, Lan Yong, drawing on textual evidence and field research, has isolated a staggering 1,400 huiguan for the largest centre of migration, Sichuan province, alone, as well as 214 and 151 for Guizhou and Yunnan respectively (Lan Yong, s.d.) — as compared to a mere 608, 9, and 18 found by HeBingdi. Both Fan Jinmin and Lan Yong have so far published tabulatory presentations of their evidence, without naming single huiguan and guilds, which is why we have not yet incorporated them into this dataset. When consulting the China part of the database, it should be remembered that the majority of the iceberg is still below surface.



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