Pawnbrokers in the Qing dynasty (1636-1912) compiled handbooks to guide apprentices on how to appraise the myriad of goods that flowed into their shop every day, how to distinguish the fake from the real, and the beautiful from the ugly. But as we analyze the handbooks in more detail, we discover that pawnbrokers did not simply teach the secrets of their trade; they negotiated cultures. By taking furs as a case study, this paper explores how pawnbrokers classified and spoke of furs, and how, through this process, they integrated them into a Chinese system of taste and value.
Elif Akçetin received her Ph.D. from the University of Washington. She teaches and researches at the Department of History, University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research focuses on the social and cultural history of early modern China and combines history with anthropological approaches. Today’s talk on pawnshop handbooks is a part of her project on consumption and material culture in the Qing dynasty.
Elif Akçetin, Dept. of History, University of Illinois at Chicago