Organized Panel Session
The natives of southern Fujian are familiar protagonists in the modern history of maritime Asia: a highly mobile population, hustling on boats and in ports from Calcutta to Kobe. This paper offers a historical overview of the paperwork that helped make this mobility possible, and gestures to some questions raised by the Fujianese penchant for flexible citizenship, by focusing on what they did with their foreign status when they happened to be on Chinese soil. Extraterritoriality is a well-known example of China’s victimization at the hands of imperial powers. Evidence from Fujian, however, suggests that the history of extraterritoriality in China is not simply a story about the imperialistic exploitation of China (which it absolutely is). Examining its implementation also reveals other stories: histories of class, corruption, and capitalism. Where British administrators envisioned a more stable legal order to facilitate British profits, extraterritoriality in the hands of the right Fujianese entrepreneur could be used to both subvert the law and undermine the business advantages of British merchants. As the Treaty Port era progressed, the story became increasingly about Fujianese attempts to protect opium profits from state expropriation. By first few decades of the 20th century – as Japan joined the Great Game – Fujian transformed into a place with an estimated population of 30,000 “registered Chinese” – people whose families were local and spoke the local language, but who claimed foreign citizenship. They also dominated the drug trade by using their extraterritorial privilege to evade taxes and avoid prosecution.