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. 145-50. © 1998 M.E. Sharpe, Inc. All rights reserved. ISSN 0009--4633/1998 $9.50 + 0.00.

PARKS M. COBLE


Comments and Reflections on Chinese Business History

In reading over the articles by Professors Hao and Chan, I would make several general observations. First, historical studies necessarily reflect the particular time and place in which they are written. In the 1950s, the nations of East Asia, China in particular, were poverty stricken, and no economic miracle was in sight. The Soviet model appeared a viable rival to capitalism as a strategy for economic development. As Yen-p'ing Hao notes in his article, dominant issues of much early scholarship dealt with explaining " China's failure to modernize," the limitations of family firms, and the weaknesses of Chinese entrepreneurship. We have, for instance, Feuerwerker's classic study that discusses the "tardy" nature of Chinese development by focusing on the limitations of the guandu shangban form of business organization. 1

Today, perceptions are much different. The market appears triumphant, socialism dead and dying, and government involvement is widely seen as a certain bet to slower growth. China seems a most vibrant part of the international economy. Overseas Chinese businessmen and ethnically Chinese areas such as Singapore and Taiwan are perceived as part of "Greater China." The question is not being asked why China's growth is 'tardy' but why China's economy and business structure has become so dynamic. Is it the family firm, the Confucian heritage, or other combinations of factors? As Wellington Chan notes, we have gone from reading Max Weber on why Confucianism retarded economic development to Gordon Redding on how Confucianism promotes business culture.

____________________
From a paper presented at the workshop on Scholarly Research on Chinese Business History: Interpretative Trends and Priorities for the Future, University of Akron, Octo­ ber 27-29, 1995.
Parks M. Coble is on the faculty of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Department of History.

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