After the Gold Rush: Informal Resource Extraction in the Shadows of Global China
China has undoubtedly become much more visible on the world stage in the four decades since the country initiated economic reforms and reintegrated into the global economy. While there is a growing body of research on contemporary Chinese globalisation, much of the emphasis has been on the large, official, and current, with less focus on the informality and diversity characterising much of China’s increasing global presence. This project seeks to shift focus to — and historicise — the small scale, unofficial, and often (semi) illicit aspects of ‘bottom up’ Global China. To accomplish this, I will examine Chinese informal/semi-formal mining practices during three resource booms: the 19th-century gold rush in Victoria, Australia; the contemporary gold rush in Ghana; and the recent Bitcoin boom, focusing on cryptocurrency miners in Sweden and the USA. A detailed analysis of these three cases will illuminate under-explored aspects of the long-run historical emergence of Global China and shed light on the dynamics underpinning informal capitalist extraction between the physical and digital realms — both crucial areas of study for understanding socioeconomic, political, and ecological transformations in the 21st century.