Even more than any of their Atlantic connections, residence in China contoured both the business practice and life cycles for this broader network of families, so that “going to China” became akin to the way we talk about “going to college.” Young men were sent to Canton less to learn the trade of commerce, than to come of age: to serve as on-the-spot agents abroad, but also to acquire the capital necessary to stake their own claim in business. They were expected to come back merchants and men.
This paper shows that socialization into political economic systems did not just happen at home, but melded complex and here global influences. The relationship between the Wus and the Perkinses was mutually advantageous, but it was never really symmetrical. Younger Americans served as clerks within the Wu’s hong in addition to their responsibilities for their own firm. These ties were formed on the basis of mentor-mentee relationships that persisted well after the young Americans returned to the United States, and could not help but shape these merchants’ outlooks on the nature of commerce.
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