For nearly four hundred years the Changlu salt merchants played a leading role in the urbanization, commercial development, and social change of the city of Tianjin. As early as the fifteenth century, this small yet important group of citizens negotiated with the state as revenue-farmers, developing and defending their businesses and customs while evolving their own urban culture. In this the first detailed study in English of the mercantile activities and social role of Tianjin's salt merchants, Kwan Man Bun reveals how they helped stabilize the city and assumed many civic responsibilities, providing relief, charities, and other services to their fellow citizenry.
Although these developments resemble the emergence of an idealized "public sphere" as in Europe, Kwan makes clear that Tianjin's social changes were not grounded on "rational discourse" but rather drew their strength and continuity from merchant networks based on exclusivity, wealth, education, and kinship.
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