Barbarians on the Shore: Global Trade, Everyday Life, and Conflict Resolution between China and the West, 1780-1860

Carl Kubler, History

Kubler’s dissertation, titled “Barbarians on the Shore: Negotiating Global Trade and Daily Life on the South China Coast, 1780-1860,” examines the dynamics of socioeconomic opportunity seeking and conflict resolution between merchants, sailors, prostitutes, interpreters, coolies, cooks, pirates, and other liminal actors whose global circulations helped shape the course of Sino-Western relations in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Combining a granular focus on the microeconomies of the Pearl River Delta with a broad scope that spans six continents and draws on sources across eight languages, Kubler pushes back against conflict-centered narratives of Chinese-foreigner interaction and argues that mutually incentivized problem solving, rather than conflict, characterized transnational relations on the ground level. By highlighting these processes of negotiation and relationship building, his dissertation aims not only to substantially revise how we understand the trajectory of Sino-Western relations in China’s late imperial period but also to arrive at a more sensitive understanding of how people from different places, holding dramatically different worldviews, could make sense of and engage with one another in their daily lives.

Chinese Matrozen in het Gasthuis (Jacob de Vos Willemsz, 1774-1844)


Carl Kubler is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History who specializes in the social, economic, and transnational history of late imperial and modern China. His research centers on how the forces of global trade, migration, and cross-cultural encounter shape everyday life, with particular emphasis on the history of contact between China and the West.