In Search of Chinese Pirates

September 25, 2014
Tyler P. Parham '15

During the 2nd semester of the 2013-14 academic year, I participated in a study abroad program at Fudan University, located in Shanghai, China, through IES Abroad (Institute for the International Education of Students). While I was there, I studied Chinese, diplomacy, anthropology, and economics.

Tyler with tigerStudying a language in another country is one of the best things that you can do. Being fully immersed in a particular culture and being able to just walk outside your apartment and to converse in a different language is an unbelievable experience and one that will truly change you.

While I was studying at Fudan, I had access to historical records and newspapers. I sorted through lots of information to find what could help me with my on-campus Summer Honors Research project pertaining to Chinese maritime piracy between the two Opium Wars. I was able to gain a better understanding of what was occurring at that particular time in history by talking with some of my professors there.  I brought back this knowledge and applied it to my research and built a solid foundation to work off of.

In addition to gathering information, I was also able to see areas where the pirates, whom I had recently learned about, had established their safe havens. I traveled all the way to Hainan and even further south to places like Thailand and Singapore. It was an amazing trip.

My research this summer focused on the rise in piracy during the 1840s as a result of British socioeconomic imperialism. I examined how the British restructured the trading framework and economy in southern China, namely the Canton region. This new economic system had put many seafaring peoples out of jobs and forced them into desperate poverty. One of the few ways to avoid the poverty that others had succumbed to was piracy. Many Chinese locals living along the littoral regions had taken up maritime piracy, which later caused large issues for both the British and the Qing Dynasty.

Studying here at H-SC is remarkable, and you develop characteristics that transform you into a Hampden-Sydney man. However, it is just as rewarding to take that one-month, four- month, or yearlong trip to another place in the world and show others what Hampden-Sydney has taught you. In turn, you are able to bring back all sorts of cultural ideas and wisdom that you have acquired while studying abroad and to apply that to future studies here on the Hill. And that is exactly what I did.