Assistant Professor of History
Office Hours: Tuesday 12:30-2pm in-person or by appointment via Zoom
Ph.D. Northwestern University
Teaching and Research Interests
Legal Culture and Capitalism, Modern Asia
Peter Thilly is a historian of Modern China, with research and teaching interests Qing and Republican Chinese history, Japanese and British imperialism, migration, citizenship, global capitalism, and comparative legal cultures.
His first book, entitled The Opium Business: A History of Crime and Capitalism in Maritime China (Stanford University Press, 2022), is a social history of business-state relations during the rise of global capitalism. It traces the rise and transformation of the opium trade in coastal southern Fujian province, first from contraband to tax staple, and then mutating in the early twentieth century into something that was simultaneously a prohibited commodity, political symbol, and the financial engine of a wide range of regimes: warlords, Guomindang state builders, colonial states in maritime Southeast Asia, and in the very end, the Japanese occupation government. He is now working on a book about the 1853 Small Sword Rebellion and its relationship to the history of diaspora, migration, and citizenship.
Professor Thilly’s June 2017 article in Late Imperial China, entitled “Opium and the Origins of Treason in Modern China: The View from Fujian,” explains how opium traders came to personify treason during the most critical moment in the crystallization of modern Chinese nationalism – the Opium War of 1839-41. His second article, “The Fujisturu Mystery: Translocal Xiamen, Japanese Expansionism, and the Asian Cocaine Trade, 1900-1937,” highlights the role of opportunism and entrepreneurialism within the wider history of state efforts to control trade in maritime Asia. Thilly is also a contributor to the Bodies and Structures 2.0 digital history project, and was co-editor of a special issue of Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review, entitled “Taiwan: Global Island.”