A comprador is an intermediary or go-between. It is derived from the Latin comparare meaning "to procure," and in Portuguese means "buyer." Today, the word is used in international business, primarily in East Asia, to describe a native individual managing European interests in China.
The term "comprador" was first used to describe a native servant in a European household in southern China. The comprador's primary duty was going to market to barter his employer's wares for needed goods. As Europeans began to develop industry and open financial institutions, the title evolved to mean a native Chinese person working for a European trading company. This employee was responsible for overseeing the native Chinese staff of guards, currency-experts, interpreters, and other needed services. The comprador position was highly coveted and open only to individuals with a great amount of education.
Due to the managerial nature of the position, compradors often became wealthy entrepreneurs and started their own firms and businesses. One of these men was Tong King-sing, who worked for the Jardine Matheson Company in the mid-1800s as a salesman. Drawing upon his knowledge and experiences, he published a six-volume manual titled "The Chinese Instructor" in 1862. Another notable comprador was Zhang Jiaao, who assisted in revolutionizing the Chinese banking industry in the 1920s. He later published books on railroad development and became a research fellow at Stanford University.
With the rise of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and nationalist socialism in the mid-1900s, the term "comprador bourgeoisie" was used to define merchant-class individuals who were compliant with and sympathetic to foreign economic interests. This was a contrast to the "national bourgeoisie," who were also members of the merchant class but worked towards building and strengthening the national economy. Many of the people who were working as compradors during this time fled China, worked in secret, or were imprisoned by the Red Guard.
When international business and trade regained strength in China in the 1980s and 1990s, compradors returned as well. Today, they are native managers of the East Asian offices of foreign companies and oversee all aspects of the Chinese staff. The term is now used worldwide as firms expand their business interests. Bilingualism, an understanding of culture, and managerial skills are key components to the position in this global environment. Placements are found in a wide variety of industries, including banking, mining, and manufacturing, and in countries such as Brazil, India, and Mexico.