Chinese Business History: Interpretive Trends and Priorities for the Future

By Robert Gardella; Jane K. Leonard et al. | Go to book overview
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Chinese Studies in History, vol. 31, nos. 3-4, Spring-Summer 1998, pp. 127-44. © 1998 M.E. Sharpe, Inc. All rights reserved. ISSN 0009-4633/ 1998 $9.50 + 0.00.

WELLINGTON K. K. CHAN


Tradition and Change in the Chinese Business Enterprise
The Family Firm Past and Present

Introduction

Until the recent emergence of a thriving economy along the China coast and among communities of Chinese diaspora all over the Pacific Rim, the history of Chinese business and entrepreneurship had received scant scholarly attention. The new interest, however, has also generated a great deal of confusing interpretations because so many of the successful Chinese business organizations and practices in contemporary East Asia do not seem to conform to Western or Japanese models. Moreover, Chinese traditional business ideology and institutions are often considered unprogressively clannish, lacking in the transformative power of entrepreneurship as well as in the spirit of communal trust. This contrasts rather sharply with the state of the field of business history in the United States, where it is far more developed and recognized. Thus, the history of the rise of large-scale, multi-unit and professionally managed corporations from modest beginnings, as well as their crucial impact on the American economy, are justly celebrated through the influential works of Alfred D. Chandler and others. And, in 1993, the Nobel Prize in economics went to two other senior practitioners in the field, Douglass C. North and Robert W. Fogel. 1

The accomplishments of business history in the younger China field are still rather uneven and quite small by comparison. One important factor is the

____________________
From a paper presented at the workshop on Scholarly Research on Chinese Business History: Interpretative Trends and Priorities for the Future, University of Akron, October 27-29, 1995.
Wellington K.K. Chan is on the faculty of Occidental College, California, Depariment of History.

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