Laurent Chircop-Reyes

Ph.D. candidate in social anthropology and Chinese Studies at Asian Research Institute (IrAsia) of Aix-Marseille University.

  • Ethnohistory of modern and contemporary China
  • Rise and fall of social categories
  • Transmission of knowledge and social values
  • Diachrony of practices and traditions


My Ph.D. research is part of the discipline of anthropology and is conducted by an ethno-historical approach of social phenomenon in modern and contemporary China. The subject of my thesis is the emergence and the decline of the social category of merchant escort, as well as the evolution of escort’s practices in relation to the trading world in Northern China, during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) until the beginning of the Republic of China (1912-1949).

The “escort companies”, biaoju 镖局, are defined as structured companies providing escort, protective and insurance services that operated from the 17th century until their decline in the early 20th century. They were responsible for the transport of goods, for example money (tael), salt, silk and tea, but were also in charge of protecting the traders, who were victims of plunder organized by brigands during their journeys.

These traders came from Shanxi province and are commonly called Jinshang 晋商. The formal dimension of the biaoju recognized as a legal company system of protection and transport insurance was progressive: this formalization is manifested with the emergence of a new profession, called biaoshi 镖师, “escort-master”, embodied by a peasant social class interacting with the merchant class.

The origins of the biaoju phenomenon are nebulous, owing to the lack of data in the imperial archives. This absence, or rather lack of primary documentary sources may be an occasion to explore the question from an anthropological point of view. Since the subject belongs to history and, therefore, cannot be confirmed by field investigation, my thesis does not have the ambition to expose historical truth in the strict meaning of the term. Nonetheless, the method used for this research, namely ethnographic interviews with the descendants of late-Qing’s escorts combined to a research on Qing’s archives documents, tends to provide new understanding of the biaoju, especially in questioning this phenomenon through the social interaction between escorts and merchants, but also through the role played by the threat of brigandage during the Qing period.

Furthermore, the biaoju phenomenon is structured around the transmission of clannish martial art traditions. For this reason, these practices are the subject of an in-depth study; one of the main boxing lineages involved in the escort profession was the art of xinyiquan 心意拳 (lit. boxing of intention), from which a new style called xingyiquan 形意拳 (boxing of form and intention) was created in the second part of the 19th century. Nowadays, both xinyiquan and xingyiquan lineages belong to neijia 内家––an “internal martial art” based on Daoism’s conception of human body and Chinese ancient cosmology thought such as Yin Yang Wu Xing Jia 阴阳五行家 (Yin Yang and Five Phases).

The description of the interactional logics between the groups concerned may reveal new fields of understanding about the phenomenon of escort companies and its role in the process of transforming techniques and modes of transmission of practices related to the protection of convoys and the guarding residences profession.

The combination of the ethnographic method (interviews with contemporary descendants of the martial tradition lineage concerned), archives research, as well as an analysis of primary and secondary textual sources, gives this study a historical and social depth, which should help shed new light on the relationship between martial arts practices, brigandage and trade.


Research scholarship from Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO), European Centre Research for Chinese Studies (ECRCS), Beijing, China, 2017-2018.

Ethnographic fieldwork research scholarship from musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac (Paris, France). The field was conducted in Shanxi province, China, in collaboration with the Jinshang Research Institute of Shanxi University (Taiyuan), 2016-2017.

Chinese government scholarship (Hanban), Nanjing Normal University, 2012-2013

Teaching experience

Anthropology of Asia lecturer (historical anthropology and ethnohistory of China), Department of Anthropology of Aix-Marseille University, 2018-2019.

Chinese language lecturer, Department of Asian Studies of Aix-Marseille University, 2018-2019.

Chinese Culture and Society lecturer, Research Institute of Europe-Asia of Aix-Marseille University, 2017.

Languages, Culture and Society of Asia, one-off intervention for the Master courses of Anthropology of Asia of Aix-Marseille University, 2017-2018.

Chinese language mentoring program, Department of Asian Studies of Aix-Marseille University, 2014-2015.

Academic and administrative experience 

Co-organization of the 6th Annual Conference of Martial Arts Studies, “Martial Arts, Religion and Spirituality”, Aix-Marseille University, 2020 (in coming).

Co-organization of the special issue of Impression d’Extrême-Orient, Animal Ethics in Asian Literature, 2018-2019.

Co-organisation of the doctoral research workshop of the Asian Research Institute (IrAsia), Aix-Marseille University, 2018-2019.

Co-organisation of the inter-laboraty of anthropology workshop (SILAAM), Aix-Marseille University, 2017-2018.

Position as visiting scholar, invited by the Jinshang Research Institute of Shanxi University (Taiyuan, China), 2016-2017.


« Merchants, Brigands and Escorts: an Anthropological Approach to the Biaoju 鏢局 Phenomenon in Northern China », Ming Qing Studies 2018, Paolo Santangelo (éd.), Rome, WriteUp Site, 2018, pp. 123-151 (304 p.).

« La tradition martiale des escorteurs de marchands du Shanxi en Chine du Nord (19e  siècle). Ethnographie d’une lignée héritière à Qixian (Shanxi) », Annales de la Fondation Martine Aublet, Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, Actes Sud, 2018-2019 (in coming).

« Le monde disparu des arts martiaux des années 1930 en Chine du Nord » [online], Open Edition Journals, Impressions d’Extrême-Orient, IrAsia/Aix-Marseille Université, décembre 2017.

 « Le métier d’escorteur au XIXe siècle en Chine du Nord : de la protection des caravanes des marchands du Shanxi aux convois des premières banques du pays » [online], Centre d’Études de l’Asie de l’Est, Université de Montréal, Octobre 2017.


« Brigandage on Ancient Northern China Tea Road: A Secret Communication Skills As a Peaceful Means of Exchange », The 11th International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS), Leyden, Netherlands, juillet 2019 (in coming).

« Revive China Society Through Martial Arts Culture. The “Tianjin’s Alliance of Warriors” (1910-1928) As an Instrument for Nationalism », 5th Annual Conference of Martial Arts Studies Research Network, Chapman University, Orange, California, mai 2019 (in coming).

 « Rapport de terrain ethnographique sur l’étude d’une lignée héritière d’escorteurs de marchands du Shanxi (Chine) pour la Fondation Martine Aublet », musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, département de la recherche et de l’enseignement, septembre 2018.

« Piaohao 票号 et capitalisme marchands. Quand les négociants du Shanxi deviennent banquiers », colloque international, The Rise of Asia, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Université Le Havre Normandie, mars 2018.