The Rural-Urban Divide
As Cantonese merchants expanded into sugar and cotton production, they became part of a growing rural-urban divide reshaping Peru’s northern coastal agricultural valleys. The construction of this rural-urban divide resulted from several conjoined processes: the expansion of towns across Peru into regional commercial hubs, the industrialization of rural production and the romanticization of rural imaginaries. These processes were part of a broader restructuring of rural social relations brought about as the logics of industrial capitalism continued to penetrate the countryside, which included the transformation of the campesino (peasant) into a proletarianized wage laborer, the introduction of machinery to accelerate agricultural production and the employment of engineers to rationalize and maximize production. Photographs and descriptions of Cantonese owned or operated plantations portrayed them as modern enterprises of rational and engineered oversight that maximized the production of agricultural commodities for export, contributed to national economic development and improved the conditions of workers.
The album also presented readers with romantic images of the plantations, depicting them as spaces where cattle and dogs roamed and Cantonese hacendados (plantation owners) and their families enjoyed gardens, strolling, hunting and horseback riding. When contrasted with the numerous photographs of urban commercial firms and Cantonese businessmen in suits, these images depict plantations as idyllic spaces of unspoiled natural landscapes and leisure. The pastoral scenes naturalize the social transformations taking place in the countryside, masking the darker side of those changes, including labor unrest and land enclosures. The photographs also communicated another important message: Cantonese merchants had become settlers. Following the trajectories of an earlier wave of European migrants, Cantonese arrived as merchants and became plantation owners and settled immigrants with families. The pictures suggested a trajectory of localization, of Chinese immigrants becoming Peruvian.