Pearls from China | Progress post #2

Playing with ‘Variations on Mobility’, the four Creative Commissions teams in 2019-2020 have developed their projects along different trajectories traced by the unfolding movements of People, Objects, Texts and Ideas across times and spaces. As small groups composed of academics who have embraced art in their research practices, or artists working in collaboration with scholars across various disciplinary backgrounds, the Commissions engage different Theories and Methods of mobility, working with ethnographic, archival, historical, anthropological, geographical and creative methodologies. The following text and original images represent a short progress post realised by the team to help us follow the path of their creative work.

Pearls from China | Progress post #2 – video and synopsis

At the beginning of the century, China was at a turning point. In 1911 the Qing Empire was finally overthrown by a republican revolution, ushering in a complex transition to modernity. The situation was unstable: warlords fought for military and political power, throwing continental China into chaos. Coastal ports, tethered to a growing regional and international web of trade and exchanges since they were first opened to foreign contact after the Opium Wars, were conduits for old and new migration. Abroad opportunity beckoned for the precious few who had contacts overseas or knew how to access them.


After World War I, Japan consolidated its status as a modern power, already well integrated in a global economy. It was geographically and culturally closer to China than America and Europe were, and it was even less expensive. Its ties with the Zhejiang coast, thanks to its proximity to the southern reaches of its territory (Kyushu, but also Taiwan and the Ryukyu islands), intensified, and it became the destination of choice for many Chinese who decided to dedicate to business. Regular shuttle transit connected the Shanghai railway terminals with those of the port of Nagasaki, creating a corridor of commodity and passenger transit that spanned the whole of Eurasia.


Among the early Zhejiang migrants to Japan, there was a young Wu Lishan, anxious to try his luck abroad. According to his documents, he was just seventeen years old when he left his home village, Longxian, in the Fangshan valley of the Qingtian district. He was the secondborn of two brothers and he took to the sea in the hope of making a name for himself. Longxian was already a chaoxiang, a village of migrants, so for his clan it should not have been too difficult to provide for a ticket to Japan.


He finally made it to Tokyo in 1923, together with other young people like him, all coming from different villages along the Fangshan, Sidugang and Ou valleys in the district of Qingtian. Many belonged to the same clans, or their families had forged business or bridal alliances in the past, and they spoke the same language, a peculiar Wu dialect that was hard to understand for other Chinese. They were a very tightly knit group, with common habits and tastes, similar stories and dreams.


Hu Xizhen: This sure is another world!

Wu Xizhong: Yeah! Nothing to do with our little mountain villages…

Wu Lishan: This is not a mere sea-trip, we are travelling towards the future!


These young kids were ambitious: though they sailed off as migrants, their goal was not to become coolies laboring abroad for little money and a life of hardship and abuse. They thought of themselves as traders. Like many other migrants from Zhejiang, they sold cheap Chinese made articles on the streets of the Japanese capital and its environs, especially in Kanagawa and Ōshima, in the vicinities of the port cities of Yokohama and Kawasaki. Like most of his fellow Qingtian migrants, Wu Lishan sold umbrellas, a popular item especially during the hot summer months.


In Tokyo, the most upmarket shopping district was the Ginza. Designed by the Irish architect Thomas Waters as western-looking, brick-house precinct, it was meant to showcase Japan’s modernity. It had wider roads, paved sidewalks, modern lights, tramcars, and a variety of high-end stores, cafes, breweries, and wine shops. It counted about ten large department stores, with the Mitsukoshi being the most iconic.


Wu Lishan worked alone all day, and only in the evening, he retired to the small guesthouse he shared with his fellow countrymen. They passed their free time playing Mahjong, a habit that these Chinese would cherish throughout all their existence. Wu Lishan was a good player, his friends even called him “The Professor”! Life was good, everyone was making good money, and all seemed to be going according to plan.

It would not last.


On September first, 1923 at 11:58 am, an earthquake of magnitude 7,9 hit the Kantō plain, on the Honshū Island. Tokyo was destroyed in minutes; the port of Yokohama was swept away as a tsunami hit both the coasts and the islands to the south, while strong winds began to blow, turning into tornados. It was lunch time, and in most homes fires and cooking stoves were lit. Powered by the winds, the fires started to propagate all around the city, in veritable whirlwinds of fire. As the earthquake had broken the water tanks and it was quite impossible to quell the fire. The fury of the elements caused such mayhem, that it was to be matched only by the firebombing of Tokyo during WWII. More than 120.000 died in the disaster, two million were left homeless. But for the thousands of Koreans and Chinese living in the Kantō area, the worst was yet to come. Prompted by pre-existing tensions between the Japanese and the Korean minority living in their midst, vicious rumors started to spread in the aftermath of the disaster, and Korean domestic servants were blamed for not taking care of the stoves, or even of spreading the fires deliberately, poisoning wells, spreading disease… a murderous wave of xenophobia spread throughout the nation, as vigilante groups were quickly put together to seek out and kill non-Japanese Asians on the spot. Martial law was declared, but it was too late.


Crowd: It was the Koreans! They took advantage of the confusion to cause fire and stole in the houses!


Some soldiers and policemen even joined the vigilante groups, killing thousands of Koreans and hundreds of Chinese from the hinterland of Wenzhou, who were mostly mistaken for Koreans. Trying to protect those who survived, military and police were ordered to collect and transport the surviving Koreans and Chinese in government-run detention centers. Wu Lishan and his friends luckily escaped the wave of mass murder that obliterated many of their fellow Chinese. He was among those interned in the Narashino internment camp, where he remained until the Chinese diplomatic mission in Japan requested the compensation and repatriation of all Chinese people in Japan. After this diplomatic incident, the migration flow from Zhejiang to Japan ceased completely, and it started to be redirected to Europe.


According to some Chinese sources, in Shanghai and Wenzhou it was possible to refer to banking agencies that procured tickets, passports and visas for expatriation, providing also useful contacts in Europe. They played a key role in the sudden surge of Zhejiang migrants in Europe between 1925 and 1926. In 1925, in Germany, several hundred of Chinese from Qingtian settled in Berlin, near the Schlesischer Bahnhof (today Berlin Ostbahnhof), the historic terminus of the railroad from Asia. At the same time, Chinese migrants from Zhejiang appeared in Spain, France and Italy demonstrating real migration chains between the hinterland of Wenzhou and several European countries.


Wu Lishan was among them. His name appears both in the papers of the returnees to China from Japan and, since 1934, in the Italian documents. Family stories tell that between 1925 and 1934 he has been wandering through Germany, France and Holland and that he reached his old friends in Italy only in the early 1930s.



After the Kanto earthquake, Wu Lishan and his friends that were repatriated to Shanghai from Japan, came into contact with a broker of a French (possibly Sino-French, or even a Japanese/Sino-French joint venture) trading company that was recruiting sellers for a new kind of product: fake pearls made of coloured glass that were as luminous as the real ones but a great deal cheaper. It is still unclear whether the first batch of this merchandise was acquired in Europe (there is some evidence that its source may have been European from the onset) or from a Qingtian wholesale trader in Paris, but in 1925 and 1926, these fake pearls were all the rage across Europe. Czechoslovakia may well have been the true source of these articles de Japan all along, and there surely were Chinese who imported them from the city of Gablonz an der Neisse (today called Jablonec nad Nisou), in Bohemia, where glass trinkets and artificial jewellery were industrially mass produced since the nineteenth century.


Wu Lishan and his friends had no way to go back home, they had barely started on their migrant journey, and all the money they had was still not enough to repay for their tickets abroad. They needed to up their ante, and this fake pearl selling scheme seemed quite interesting. So, together with his friends, he took the chance to leave and discover what Europe had to offer. He decided to travel by train because the travel was shorter, while his friends chose to go across the globe by sea. At that time there were only 2 possible routes: the Tran-Siberian railway that snaked her way through Asia and Soviet Russia, reaching Berlin in a couple of weeks, and the sea route stretching across the South China Sea, the Malacca Strait and the Indian Ocean, going up the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, and finally entering the Mediterranean Sea in about 40 days. The final destination was Marseille if the shipping company was French or Trieste if it was Italian.


In Europe, these Zhejiang Chinese quickly dispersed in search of the best markets, where laws were lenient enough to allow them to work as street hawkers. France, among the European nations, was the one that appeared to have tougher regulations, restricting public selling of goods on the streets to French citizens. Things were better in Germany, Spain, and Italy, at first. Once the fake pearl boom was over, in most countries the Zhejiang migrants switched to different trades: in Germany they sold cheap crockery and in Holland they peddled peanut candy.


In Italy, the Zhejiang migrants quickly switched to different wares, sourcing their merchandise from Italian wholesale traders. Soon, they opted for silk neckties, woolen sweaters and leatherette belts and wallets. It was a germinal moment for Chinese immigration to Europe, one that eventually took full advantage of the transport revolution started during the late nineteenth century, as ever more sophisticated steam engines had drastically shortened the distances between countries and peoples, ushering in an increasingly global economy and a more cosmopolitan society.

Sites and intersections of labor im/mobility

Sites and intersections of labor im/mobility
24-25 June 2021
Research meeting at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice

Claudia Bernardi, Giulia Bonazza

Scientific Committee
Claudia Bernardi, Marco Bertilorenzi, Giulia Bonazza, Andrea Caracausi, Christian G. De Vito, Nicola Pizzolato, Amal Shahid, Biljana Stojic, Müge Telci Özbek, Vilhelm Vilhelmsson

Virtual meeting organized by SISLav research group “Free and unfree labor”; Worlds of related coercions-WORCK working groups “Im/mobilizations of workforce” and “Sites and fields of coercion”; MOHU-Mobility&Humanities Centre for Advanced Studies at University of Padua

Hosted by the Department of Linguistic and Comparative Cultural Studies – Ca’ Foscari University of Venice 

The research meeting Sites and intersections of labor im/mobility is jointly organized by members of SISLav – Italian Society of Labor History, the COST Action project WORCK – Worlds of related coercions in work and MOHU – Mobility&Humanities Centre for Advanced Studies at the University of Padua. It will bring together the researchers who animate WORCK working groups “(Im)mobilization of the workforce” and “Sites and fields of coercion” with SISLav working group “Free and unfree labor”. The meeting is also aimed at expanding the participation to our network, so that in addition to presenting research papers, time will be allocated to roundtables for discussing further common projects and future activities.

Social mobility goes on holiday

Social mobility goes on holiday

The crossing point of social and physical mobility in tourism enacts a variety of inequalities as well as redistributive and generative paradoxes that may be worsened or even challenged by disruptive events and that directly impact our collective ability to move or not across the globe. The ATLAS’ 3rd International Seminar of Space, Place and Mobilities in Tourism SIG will be held on May 27th-28 2021 with the aim to bring together interdisciplinary perspectives on how tourist spaces are (in the present) and were (in the past) entangled with both exclusionary and inclusionary dynamics, resulting in both social conflicts and empowerment.

The seminar will host 25 participants and is supported by the People Node within the Mobility&Humanities excellence project at DiSSGeA in cooperation with the Association for Tourism and Leisure Education and Research.

Keynote speakers:

Marco d’Eramo, Thursday May 27th, 2021, h. 15.15 (3 pm, CEST)
Perception of the world, freedom and tourism in the age of human mobility

Marco D’Eramo holds a degree in Physics, after which he studied Sociology with Pierre Bourdieu at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris. He is an Italian journalist and social theorist. He worked at the newspaper il manifesto for over thirty years. He writes for New Left Review, MicroMega and the Berlin daily Die Tageszeitung. He has written several books in Italian, some of which had an international diffusion, including “The Pig and the Skyscraper. Chicago: A History of Our Future” (Verso Books, 2003) and “the World in a Selfie. An Inquiry into the Tourist Age” (Verso Books in 2021). The latter is a spirited critique of the cultural politics of sightseeing or, why we are all tourists who hate tourists.

Stroma Cole, Friday, May 28th 2021, h.9.00 (9 am, CEST)
Tourism, Gender, Social (Im)mobility and Empowerment

Dr Stroma Cole combines her academic career with action research and consultancy.  Her research explores the interconnect between tourism, gender and water rights. In 2020 she received a British Academy Knowledge Frontier grant to explore the connections between Water Insecurity and Gender Based Violence. She is a director of Equality in Tourism, an international charity seeking to increase gender equality in tourism. She has over 30 publications, including the edited books Gender Equality and Tourism: Beyond Empowerment (2018) and Tourism and Inequality (with Nigel Morgan, 2010) and her monograph Tourism, Culture and Development: Hopes, Dreams and Realities in Eastern Indonesia (2007). Stroma is an Associate Editor for Annals of Tourism Research and on the editorial board at Journal of Sustainable Tourism.

Diane P. Koenker, Friday, May 28th 2021, h.15.00 (3 pm, CEST)
The Paradox of Soviet Tourism: Pleasure Travel in the Passport State

Prof. Diane P. Koenker (University College London, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, UK) is an historian of Russia and the Soviet Union, whose work has been shaped by a deep interest in and empathy for ordinary people. Her book Club Red. Vacation Travel and the Soviet Dream (2013) is a study of vacations and tourism in the Soviet Union, aiming to explain the “other side” of the relationship between the state and the Soviet people, other than violence, repression, and controlled mobility. Most originally, the book reveals the tension between leisure travel as a state tool for creating loyal subjects and individuals’ appropriation of that tool to cultivate their own autonomous well-being, not necessarily to escape but to live their lives as they chose.

International Scientific Committee: Patrizia Battilani (University of Bologna, Italy), Benedetta Castiglioni (University of Padova, Italy), Szilvia Gyimothy (Copenhagen Business School, Denmark), Dimitri Ioannides (Mid-Sweden University, Sweden), Paola Minoia (University of Turin, Italy).

Local organizing committe: Fiammetta Brandajs and Antonio P. Russo (Universitat Rovira i Virgili), Federica L. Cavallo and Giovanna Di Matteo

(Ca’ Foscari University of Venice), Sabrina Meneghello and Chiara Rabbiosi (University of Padua)

CfP and more info at:

Register in advance for the Keynote Lectures at:

The even will also be streamed live on Facebook @dissgea.unipd

Ciclo di seminari | Ius Commune at Borders: Borders of Ius Commune

Ius Commune at Borders: Borders of Ius Commune

The meeting scheduled for May  27th  will not take place.

It has been moved to next Thursday, June 3rd, always on 3.00 PM Italian Time. We apologize for the inconvenience

I seminari avranno luogo sulla piattaforma zoom dal 4 Marzo al 27 Maggio 2021.
Ogni seminario inizia alle 15.00 (ora italiana)
Ogni seminario richiede la registrazione per l’accesso.
Il sistema chiede di inserire i seguenti dati: nome, cognome, indirizzo mail.
Completata la registrazione, si riceverà una mail di conferma.

The seminars will take place on zoom platform from 4th March to 27th May 2021.
Each seminar starts at 15.00 Italian time.
Registration is mandatory for each seminar.
The system will ask the following data: name, surname and email address.
Once the registration is complete, the person will receive a confirmation via email.

Registration link:

Occupational structure and labour mobility in historical perspective (1500-1850): Italy and the Mediterranean

Occupational structure and labour mobility in historical perspective (1500-1850): Italy and the Mediterranean

Digital project coordinated by Andrea Caracausi

Project overview

This research project explores the evolution of occupational structures and labour mobility from a long-term perspective. It addresses both the way people worked and were on the move in the past and specifically how their occupational choices, migrations and labour relations were affected by global dynamic forces such as warfare mobilization or structural economic changes. By focusing on Italy and the Mediterranean area from the late medieval period to the beginning of the nineteenth century, the project aims to shed new light on the continuity and changes in work, labour mobility, and geographical diffusion of economic activities. It will also contribute to the reconstruction of a bigger picture on a European scale as part of a larger project on occupational structures coordinated by the University of Cambridge ( In collaboration with the Digital Laboratory for Mobility Research (MobiLab), the research will combine quantitative and qualitative analysis of empirical sources (such as census or lists of convicts and slaves) with the use of digital tools. In particular, GIS techniques will be used in order to map the mobility of people and their shifting occupations as well as to improve the understanding of mobility phenomena from an analytical point of view.



Occupational structure and labour mobility. A first aspect of the research project directed by Prof. Andrea Caracausi deals with the link between changing occupational structures and labour mobility in the Republic of Venice between the early sixteenth century and the beginning of the modern period (1500-1850). Discussing the consequences of political and economic changes that occurred in this period, this project aims ultimately to reconstruct the evolution of the occupational structure in the diverse territories of the Venetian Republic and to explain its determinants using an innovative statistical methodology. It also deals with social, economic and gender aspects using micro-historical approaches to reconstruct labour relations and labour mobility.  In particular, it uses a verb-oriented approach in order to reconsider occupations as well as concepts as work, care and domestic labour in a gendered perspective. Thanks to Gis methods, it focuses on the movement of urban and rural people as represented by judicial sources, correspondences and diaries.

Woman’s work in rural Italy (1500-1800). This project aims to provide a better understanding of the historical dynamics surrounding gender and work between the sixteenth and the eighteenth century in rural Italy. By incorporating diverse research methodologies and exploring various geographical contexts across the peninsula, we strive to shed light on the multifaceted nature of female participation in the pre-industrial labour force.


Past projects

Mobility and forced labour. A second aspect of the research project coordinated by the postdoctoral fellow Benoît Maréchaux explores the phenomena of forced mobility of convicts and slaves transported to the galleys of Genoese galley contractors who worked for the Spanish Empire in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. The research will reconstruct the transnational flows of prisoners, analyze the agency of forced mobility and measure mortality in order to discuss the impact of coerced labor and migrations in the past and the way prisoners worked, moved and died in the early modern Mediterranean. This research is part of the project “Forced mobility before the sovereign state. Convict flows, composite polities and the business of galley warfare in the Mediterranean (1528-1715)” carried out at the DiSSGeA within the framework of the Mobility and Humanities project.


Research team:

  • Prof. Andrea Caracausi (occupational structure and general coordinator)
  • Dr. Giulio Ongaro (occupational structure)
  • Dr. Marco Orlandi (Gis and data visualization)


Past members:

  • Dr. Benoît Maréchaux (forced mobility, convict labor and slaves)

Interns (Update 27 January 2022):

  • Anna Maria Albertini
  • Giacomo Addis
  • Claudio Cacciatori
  • Giovanna Cozzi
  • Enrico Comini
  • Gianluca Dalboni
  • Marco De Nardi
  • Samuele Fagherazzi
  • Alma Fanigliulo
  • Giovanni Favretto
  • Alex Franz
  • Simone Tommasi
  • Alberto Peloso
  • Giorgia Ragana
  • Dana Belen Zuna
  • Gianluca Dalboni
  • Francesca Scipilliti

Colonial and postcolonial citizenship

The seminar will be delivered online. 

Join us via Zoom at: