The office of the procurator of the papal Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide) offers a unique case study of noncommercial interloping in the long eighteenth century in the Pearl River Delta, and reveals the complexity and fluidity of life at the intersection of Asian and European maritime environments in that special human ecosystem. The oceanic infrastructure of the Age of Sail and the Sino-Western trade system in Canton sustained the Catholic missionary enterprise in Asia, and the professional figure of the procurator represented its economic and political linchpin. Procurators were agents connected with both European and Qing imperial formations, yet not directly at their service. They utilized existing maritime trade networks to their own advantage without being integral parts of those networks’ economic mechanisms. All the while, they subverted Qing prohibitions against Christianity. Using sources preserved in Rome, this article offers new insights into the global mechanisms of trade, communication, and religious exchange embodied by the procurators-interlopers and their networks, with significant implications for the history of the Sino-Western trade system, Qing policies toward the West and Christianity, and the history of Asian Catholic missions.
Keywords: Guangzhou, Macao, Canton System, Propaganda Fide, papacy, Jesuits, Portugal, Kangxi Emperor, Clement XI, Yongzheng Emperor, Qianlong Emperor, Qing dynasty