John Bray, "French Catholic Missions and Sino-Tibetan Trade: Local Networks and International Enterprise"

Réalisation : 18 février 2016 Mise en ligne : 18 février 2016
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The Missions Étrangères de Paris (MEP) sent their first missionary on an exploratory mission to the Sino-Tibetan borderlands in 1847, and they retained a presence in the region until 1952. Together with their Protestant counterparts, the missionaries spent longer periods in the region, and arguably were more intensely involved in its local affairs, than any other category of Westerner. This paper considers the MEP's interactions with local, regional and international trading networks from three points of view: First, many of them were astute observers, playing a role as “incidental ethnographers” alongside their other activities (cf. Michaud 2007). So what do missionary sources tell us about trade in the region? Secondly though, the missionaries were far from being detached observers. Rather, they may themselves be considered as local ‘actors' who were closely involved with trade, both directly and indirectly. In the paper, I shall discuss the nature of the MEP’s economic activities, and show how it changed in different periods between 1847 and 1952. The MEP were persistent advocates for Tibet's opening to Western commerce, hoping that this would in due course facilitate their evangelistic agenda. The paper will review the arguments that they presented, and assess their influence on wider international engagement with the region. While focusing on the MEP, I propose to take a comparative view, noting the differences and similarities with Protestant experiences in the same period. The paper is primarily based on original sources in the MEP archives in Paris, as well as contemporary missionary publications, and informed by more recent scholarship.

International conference “Territories, Communities, and Exchanges in the Sino-Tibetan Kham Borderlands,” Februray 18-20, 2016. This conference is an outcome of a collaborative ERC-funded research project (Starting grant no. 283870).

For more information, please visit the project's Website: 




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