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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.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the historical origin of the term 'comprador'?
The term 'comprador' originates from the Portuguese word 'comprar,' meaning 'to buy.' It was first used in the context of trade during the colonial era, particularly in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Compradors were local middlemen in colonized countries, especially in China, who facilitated trade between local merchants and foreign businesses. They played a crucial role in the import-export industry, acting as agents for foreign enterprises and helping them navigate the local market and customs.
How did compradors impact local economies in colonial times?
Compradors had a significant impact on local economies during colonial times. They often accumulated considerable wealth and influence by controlling the flow of goods and information between foreign businesses and local markets. However, their role was controversial; while they contributed to the modernization and economic development of their regions, they also reinforced colonial power structures and could exacerbate economic disparities by aligning with foreign interests over local welfare.
What was the role of compradors in China's economy?
In China's economy, compradors were pivotal in the development of international trade during the late Qing Dynasty and the Republican period. They served as intermediaries between Western merchants and Chinese society, facilitating the import of foreign goods and the export of Chinese products such as tea, silk, and porcelain. Their knowledge of Western business practices and local networks enabled them to amass significant power and wealth, influencing both the economy and the social fabric of Chinese port cities.
Are there modern equivalents to compradors in today's global economy?
While the term 'comprador' is historically specific, some argue that modern equivalents exist in the form of local agents and intermediaries who facilitate international business in emerging markets. These individuals or entities often possess a deep understanding of the local business environment and culture, providing essential services to multinational companies seeking to establish or expand their presence in these markets. However, the dynamics and power structures have evolved, and the term 'comprador' is not commonly used in contemporary discourse.
Can the concept of compradors be applied to understand current international trade relations?
The concept of compradors can offer insights into current international trade relations by highlighting the role of intermediaries in bridging cultural and economic gaps between different markets. It underscores the importance of local knowledge and networks in global trade. However, today's international trade is more complex and regulated, with a broader range of actors and institutions involved. Thus, while the basic idea of intermediation remains relevant, the specific functions and implications of compradors as they existed historically are less applicable in the modern context.