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Trafficking of girls and Catholic missionary networks in the South China Sea (18th-19th centuries): a transnational approach


Child trafficking is one of the most challenging problems of our time, a problem with deep historical roots. This interdisciplinary project aims to contribute to the understanding of these roots by studying the migration of abandoned children organised by members of Catholic religious orders in the South China Sea during the 18th and 19th centuries. As part of the Catholic mission in China, Jesuits, Dominicans, and Franciscans took in and bought abandoned Chinese children in their inland missions, Canton and Macau, whence many of these children were sent to distant places such as the Philippines or Goa to be raised as Christians. The project will first reconstruct the channels through which these children, mostly girls, were transported, using Portuguese, Spanish and Chinese sources; and, second, analyse the ethical and moral boundaries crossed and the various effects of this phenomenon in the European and Catholic projects of the Early Modern period. At the same time, it will UNSILENCE the voice of these historiographically neglected children. How many girls were involved in this flow? What was their fate and life trajectories in their foster societies? What was their agency? Unveiling this hitherto unknown traffic and examining its consequences will open a new chapter in the history of early modern intra-Pacific circulations and the analysis of intercultural encounters. Fully within the framework of KU Leuven’s strategic goals, the researcher's cooperation with the ERC AdG TRANSPACIFIC project, and the dissemination of results (high-impact publications, an international conference and a ground-breaking exhibition with educational materials) will greatly boost her career. Moreover, this innovative project will raise awareness about the importance of history in tackling current European and international challenges such as gender equality, decolonisation, and the protection of human rights.

Call for proposal

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Funding Scheme

MSCA-IF-EF-CAR - CAR – Career Restart panel


Oude Markt 13
3000 Leuven
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
EU contribution
€ 166 320