Global Capitalist Circuits
Interspersed among the pages featuring predominantly Cantonese merchants, advertisements filled the other pages of The Chinese Colony in Peru, rendering visible the structures that facilitated the flows of industrial capitalism: the banks and finance institutions, the transportation infrastructures and the commercial firms circulating a proliferation of commodities and much needed raw materials throughout the Americas and across the Pacific and Atlantic worlds. The advertisements of transportation firms, like the National Central Railroad of Peru, and of countless import-export firms suggested that Cantonese merchant success and Peruvian national development depended upon the expansion of these flows across vast spaces of the globe, including the Peruvian interior. Praeli Brothers & Co., an import-export firm offering banking services for the major banks of Lima throughout the Peruvian interior, advertised its specialization in the distribution of coffee from Chanchamayo and other Amazonian and Andean commodities. By expanding commodity and capital flows to the internal frontier spaces of national development, firms like Praeli Brothers and Co. helped integrate those spaces into national and global markets, indicating the simultaneous advance of foreign capital and nation making in Peru. Chinese commercial ventures in Peru depended upon but also participated in the expansion of these flows and the integration of these spaces.
The Transatlantic German Bank, which offered wire and money transfer services to places throughout the Spanish-speaking world, informed a Chinese readership in the Chinese language portion of its advertisement that it also offered remittance services to Hong Kong and all of the major coastal ports of China. The Bank of London and Peru appealed to Chinese businessmen by highlighting that a Chinese national employed by the bank would attend to their special needs. Such banks linked Chinese businessmen and capital flows to the hubs of global finance, particularly London and New York, which played prominent roles not only in the global circulation of capital, but also in the incorporation of Peru into the global economy, as it was Britain beginning in the late 19th century and the U.S. after World War I that provided the Peruvian state with the loans needed to stabilize the economy and pursue its nation making agendas. The banks also linked Chinese merchants and Peru to Hong Kong, the British Empire’s eastern Asian colonial entrepôt and the central hub for the flow of Cantonese people, commodities and remittances between China and the Americas (Sinn 2013).
Cantonese merchants in Peru, while partially dependent on Peruvian and foreign-owned commercial, financial and transportation institutions, also established their own infrastructures. An advertisement for the Chungwha Navigation Co., the sole Chinese shipping line formed by a group of prominent Cantonese merchants in Peru, several of whom helped arrange the publication of the album, reveals how these merchants worked to expand capitalist flows to the Southern Pacific and Southeastern Asia. This shipping line linked Peru to Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong, places where Cantonese commercial networks had flourished since the mid-19th century and where other Chinese commercial networks had thrived since the 16th century. Through the Chungwha venture prominent Cantonese merchants in Lima attempted to forge a southern Pacific commercial circuit that linked South America directly to Asia within a Pacific commercial world dominated by Euro-American and Japanese shipping. This short-lived venture, which collapsed after the implementation of another temporary ban on Chinese migration in 1925, was part of the broader expansion of Chinese commercial circuits into South America and the Caribbean propelled, in part, by the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act in the U.S. (Romero 2010).
A closer look at the histories of these firms reveals that some had long-standing ties to the Chinese community. W. R. Grace & Co., which advertised it shipping, import-export, commercial and banking services in the album, was the most prominent U.S.-based shipping firm operating in Peru. The firm got its start by shipping Peruvian guano and sugar to the U.S. and Europe, but also by trafficking in Chinese coolies for the American railroad mogul Henry R. Meiggs, who relied on Chinese labor to build his railroads across Peru (Melillo 2015, 130). The darker side of these commercial histories demonstrate how the expansion of global capitalist circuits in Peru, which helped Cantonese commercial networks expand, were themselves built on the backs of the Chinese coolie laborers who mined the guano; grew, harvested, and processed the sugar cane; and built the railroads that made this commercial expansion possible.