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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam

Merchants and Missionaries. Norwegian encounters with China in a transnational perspective, 1890-1937

Awarded: NOK 7.7 mill.

This project set out to explore a period of China and Norway´s shared past that has become largely forgotten by scholars and the public alike. Towards the turn of the 19th century, China and Norway were both part of what is believed to be the first global economy. However, the distance between the two countries was still substantial. This leaves the question of how come a small country like Norway - situated in the outskirts of Europe - came in touch with the powerful dynastic empire on the other side of the globe? Even the name of this empire signalled self-awareness of its place in the world; Zhongguó - The Middle Kingdom. Why did the contact between these two cultures accelerate and intensify in the 1890s - and why did it come to an abrupt halt in 1937? We decided approach these questions from bottom-up through focusing on the two, main group of actors that connected China and Norway: merchants and missionaries. This is the first time these two group of actors have been studied together within this context. This approach has implied that we as scholars have had to learn new languages in more ways than one. Cross-fertilizing perspectives and methods from various fields has provided insights that we otherwise would not have got. One such insight is the importance of migration perspectives, which we will return to. Initially we thought that the simultaneous expansion of merchants and missionaries towards China would reveal close networks and connections between these two groups. This has not been the case. This is partly explained by lack of sources as it turned out that much of the personal source material for merchants have been lost or destroyed over time. We have, however, located and used a wide range of other sources in various countries and languages - including Chinese and Russian. These new sources imply that we know now more than what we did before the project started. The way these sources have been utilised and analysed also implies that we know differently from before. One way that this knowledge has been conveyed differently is by using migration as a common denominator for these different groups. This might seem like kicking in open doors, but actually it has not been common to see missionaries, sailors or diplomats for that matter as migrants. We have found this approach not only to be innovative and invigorating, but the very tie that bind a highly heterogeneous research universe together. Moreover, we also argue that studies on Norwegians who lived in China represent an important corrective to existing narratives on Norwegian emigration in this period as it offers new layers of complexity to the migration experience. Hence, we argue that Norwegians in China and Asia are not merely side narratives, but deserves to be an integral part of the grand narratives on Norwegian migration as well as foreign presence in China. We have also stressed the importance of recognising the fact that Norwegian (as well as other foreign) presence in China is portrayed and understood very differently in Chinese and Norwegian historical narratives. There was not a similar migration of Chinese moving to Norway. The first Chinese citizen to settle in Norway was probably Chen Te Hu (1911-2001). He arrived in Oslo in 1937, the very same year as the war between China and Japan entered the stage of total war as the Japanese army started its onslaught of Chinese civilians, which had an apocalyptic effect on the Chinese society. Less importantly, it also started a new phase of Norwegian presence in China - and this is why 1937 is the end point here. It has been an overriding ambition that the project would be communicating both with colleagues as well as the broader public. This has also been an integral part of the publication strategy of the project. Whilst the book The Great Diversity. Asian Trajectories of Development and publications in journals first and foremost address peers, the forthcoming book Møter med Kina. Norsk Handel, Misjon og Diplomati, 1890-1937 aims at reaching out to a broader audience. Møter med Kina consists of 17 chapters - all authored by project members - and offers the first systematic, research-based study of Norwegians interaction with China during this period. The editors have been invited to present and discuss the book at the non-fiction literature festival called "Verden i Bergen", i.e. the world in Bergen in February 2018. Through the duration of this project, much emphasis has been placed on instigating academic activities and creating broad scholarly networks. Feedback from colleagues have made us even more convinced as to the harvest this project offers. Hence, we are hope to capitalise on this by developing another research project with international scholars. This combined with three separate monographs being prepared by project members points towards the project also serving as a generator of research well beyond its own life-span.

China's recent transformation and draconic economic growth has been intimately linked with the ongoing processes of globalisation. Social scientists, politicians and business figures alike stress the newness to China's recently discovered place in the glo bal economy. Such an understanding is at best rudimentary. Not only does it ignore an essential backdrop to present-day development, it is also academically flawed. The globalisation debate has so far been conducted on the basis of the hegemony of only a handful of social sciences. Only through historical knowledge is it possible to understand the contemporary processes of globalisation. Norway is, and has been, a part of such processes. Merchants and missionaries will be such a contribution. We argue that this project will enable us to to make a small, but important contribution to the international academic debate within global and transnational history. Norwegian merchants and missionaries in China 1890-1937 offer highly valuable insight into globa lisation and Chinese-Norwegian relations. International literature tends to underline the fact that China's key contact with the outside world in this period was through merchants and missionaries. Still no systematic or synthesising effort has yet been m ade to investigate these two groups of agents together. Driven by different motives, both missionaries and merchants were mobile, global in their outlook and had a cumulative effect in linking an increasingly self-conscious and nationalistic Norway with t he wider world. The following two research questions will be the focus of the inquiry: How and why did commercial and humanitarian interactions between Norway and China transform into institutionalised networks ca. 1890-1937? How did these transnation al ties influence the shaping of identities and broader understanding of culture and society in Norway and China?

Publications from Cristin

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