Chinese Business History: Interpretive Trends and Priorities for the Future

By Robert Gardella; Jane K. Leonard et al. | Go to book overview
Chinese Studies in History, vol. 31, nos. 3-4, Spring-Summer 1998, pp. 16-34. © 1998 M.E. Sharpe, Inc. All rights reserved. ISSN 0009-4633/ 1998 $9.50 + 0.00. ALBERT FEUERWERKER
Doing Business in China over Three Centuries
Many Chinese, long used to being shut out of the political process, seemed unaware or uninterested in the most recent ( September 1995) Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee meeting. "Who cares, really?" asked a Chinese manager of a joint-venture enterprise to an Associated Press reporter. For him, the shift to a partial market economy had brought a degree of prosperity and freedom that has made the leaders' decisions seem less important. But, the leaders are not impotent yet: The manager also earnestly requested that the reporter not use his name.Above all I am going to be talking about the state and the economy. My aim is to suggest some continuities--and therefore, by implication, differences as well--in the matter of "doing business" in China over three centuries: (1) toward the end of the era of the Ming-Qing "tribute system," which came to a close with the "Opium Wars" of the mid-nineteenth century; (2) under the "unequal treaties" imposed by the foreign victors from 1842 through World War II; and (3) since 1949 in the People's Republic of China (PRC). My comments, which can barely skim this immense subject, will consider both Chinese domestic business practice and the matter of foreigners doing business in China.Of course the Chinese economy in, say, 1800 differed from the economy in 1933, and even more so from that in 1995.
1. . In the first of these eras, imperial China stood basically unchallenged at the center of an East Asian system of international relations and com
____________________
From a paper presented as the keynote address at the workshop on Scholarly Research on Chinese Business History: Interpretative Trends and Priorities for the Future, University of Akron, October 27-29, 1995.
Albert Feuerwerker is A.M. and H.P. Bentley Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Michigan.

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