No Other Choice: The Sale of People in Late Qing and Republican China


Mellon/ACLS Recent Doctoral Recipients Fellowships


This project examines the persistent market for human beings in and around Beijing, as it existed before and after the formal abolition of slavery in 1910. Criminal cases from the Qing archives, the Beijing Municipal Archive, and the Republican archives reveal an array of menial domestic relationships, each conceived or transformed by a sale. Slave girls, child brides, servants, wet-nurses, nannies, concubines, and even street performers could all be acquired for a fee. Cases include appeals from traffickers and testimony from parents convicted of selling children. The conflicting practices of legal officers and police demonstrate significant tolerance, and even acceptance, of these arrangements. By uncovering trafficked people in the neighborhoods and alleyways of Qing and Republican Beijing, the study demonstrates what happens when a locally facilitated, socially tolerated practice becomes a crime.