Research Projects

Religion, Trade and Locality in a Chinese Diaspora: Wenzhou Christian Merchants in Paris

(Funded under General Research Fund Scheme 2009 – 10 Exercise, Research Grants Council, Hong Kong)

Principal Investigator

Cao Nanlai, Honorary Assistant Professor, Research Assistant Professor, Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences
(Remarks: Dr. Nanlai Cao left the University’s service from September 10, 2013.)

Total Fund Awarded

HKD 408,800

Project Duration

September 2009 – September 2012

Project Description

This study examines the business and religious lives of diasporic Wenzhou merchants at a time when China’s likely role in the global market economy is compelling. China’s political economy today is characterized by the continued significance of the state, moral contingencies, and aggressive business outreach. In the last three decades Wenzhou merchants have prospered through skillfully negotiating with the state and through production and trade. Their businesses have spread in China and across the globe. However, the cultural resources they have used to accumulate initial capital and sustained their business networks remain understudied. I propose to focus on a group of Wenzhou merchants who have formed large Christian communities at home, along with migrant enclaves in Paris. I shall explore their transnational business practices as well as how they (re)construct moral and native-place identities through the idiom of global Christianity. To collect data for this research, I shall rely mainly on life history interviews, participant observation, archival research, and analysis of secondary data. The experiences of these economically successful, spatially mobile, yet morally ambivalent Wenzhou merchants may hopefully capture the character of a new generation of Chinese family entrepreneurs at this historical juncture.