In The Global in the Local: A Century of War, Commerce, and Technology in China (Harvard UP, 2023), Dr. Xin Zhang tells the story of globalization in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as experienced by ordinary people in the Chinese river town of Zhenjiang.
On July 21, 1842, numerous women in the southeastern Chinese city of Zhenjiang chose to end their lives rather than succumb to invading British soldiers. These events, occurring during the First Opium War (1839-42), exemplify the various ways in which global changes encroached upon local Chinese communities in the nineteenth century. Previous historical accounts have primarily depicted this encounter as a European challenge to a submissive China, while others sought to uncover the nation's "authentic" history through native sources. In contrast, this book presents a groundbreaking approach to modern Chinese history, focusing on the intricate negotiations between local societies and global transformations.
This unique "glocal" perspective is developed through three case studies that explore warfare, commerce, and technology in China during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By avoiding a narrow European or Chinese standpoint, these case studies meticulously illustrate how wider processes of modern imperialism, economic integration, and technological progress reconfigured the fabric of everyday life. The book vividly portrays the experiences of ordinary Chinese individuals as they grapple with forces that reshaped the entire world. Terrified residents of towns resort to self-destruction to evade British soldiers, unscrupulous brokers exploit prostitutes to facilitate their business dealings, and small-scale merchants embrace steam-powered ships for the first time to transport their goods to market.
Ultimately, this book reveals how the forces of globalization in the 1800s were filtered through local idiosyncrasies, with no single region of the world serving as an ultimate "core," including Europe. It challenges the notion of a centralized world and proves that not only is the world flat, but it lacks a defined center.
Huiying Chen is an Assistant Professor in History at Purdue University. She is interested in the circulation of people, goods, and ideas and how societies in history and today cope with the challenges wrought by increased travel in aspects of culture, politics, commerce, law, science, and technology.