Revisiting the Nineteenth-century Market Place, and the Chinese Community in Moulmein

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This article examines the Chinese community in Moulmein, a cosmopolitan center of a newly established British colony after the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824–26), in the nineteenth century, and investigates interchanges and influences facilitated by the first port city in colonial Burma. As Chinese merchants and workers established commercial, social and religious networks during the formative years of British Burma, they interacted with their multi-ethnic neighbors within and beyond colonial market places. However, if the early experience of these Chinese migrants suggests a porous ethnic boundary, the impression of China and the Chinese dominating the European public sphere in Moulmein indicates a gap between the real-life Moulmein Chinese, which was encountered every day, and the imaginary China as a potential market to an eastern-looking British Empire, especially during the Opium War (1839–42). Taking the Moulmein Chinese as a case study, this paper investigates the limitation of J.S. Furnivall’s “marketplace” where people “mix but do not combine.” Instead of a reflection of the colonial markets operating rigidly along ethnic lines, this paper argues, Furnivall’s mid-twentieth-century observation is a direct result of colonial discourse and policies emphasizing ethnic segregation and stereotypes, when the discrepancies between real-life and imaginary China and the Chinese were further enhanced and eventually dominated the later years of British rule in Burma.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63–103
Number of pages41
Journal Journal of Burma Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes


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