In the World of Disorder: Trafficking, Vagabonds, and State in Late Qing Jianghuai

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In recent years, historians of late imperial and modern China have paid increasing attention to the practices and logic of traffic in women in the contexts of wife-selling and transactional families. Trafficking in women as a large-scale and networked crime, however, has remained insufficiently researched. This paper examines crimes of trafficking in late Qing Jianghuai primarily based on materials including legal cases, governmental documents, periodicals, and literature. I argue that the development of crimes of trafficking in late Qing Jianghuai was a result of integrated factors, including the market for women, the growing group of vagabonds that emerged in social disorder, and the mobile local society characterized by the brokered labor market and transportation networks. The provincial state’s regulation of the crimes thus reveals the growing conflict between the unruly and mobile population who took advantage of the disorder and the local government that aimed to restore the order by controlling its people’s information and mobility. In Part I, I explore how crimes of trafficking developed by increasingly integrating with the flourishing crimes of smuggling and banditry that produced an enlarging population of vagabonds. In Part II, I discuss trafficking as a networked and professional crime from the perspective of family, community, and employment relations and the social groups of professional traffickers. Part III investigates the local state of Jianghuai’s efforts of eliminating the crimes by regulating the gender order and bureaucracy. By illustrating how regional dynamics created a distinctive image of crimes of trafficking in Jianghuai, this study serves as a building block for future studies that explore how the entanglements between trafficking as an organized crime, river travel, and local state-building reflected and influenced the socio-economic and political changes in late Qing China.


Type of resource text
Date created [ca. November 2021]
Date modified December 5, 2022
Publication date June 2, 2022


Author Song, Hong
Degree granting institution Stanford University, Stanford Global Studies, Center for East Asian Studies
Thesis advisor Sommer, Matthew


Subject Qing Dynasty (China)
Subject Human trafficking
Subject Organized crime
Subject East Asian Studies
Genre Text
Genre Thesis

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Song, H. (2022). In the World of Disorder: Trafficking, Vagabonds, and State in Late Qing Jianghuai. Stanford Digital Repository. Available at


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