The case study of the town of Shihshi in Fujian serves as a prime example of the distinct nature of property right development in this corner of China. An exploration of the town, and the individuals and families that make it, bring into sharp focus the role of lineages in the local economy, and how the small business model grew.
The city of Shishi sits on the focal point of a stout peninsula jutting off of Fujian into the Taiwan Strait. From its imperial days of bustling trade with other coastal cities and overseas Chinese communities, to its streets today overflowing with goods from around the world, Shishi has always displayed a natural tendency toward trade and commercial markets. Before the 1949 revolution, Shishi was known as the little Hong Kong, with vendors relying on overseas connections to import foreign goods and pedal them on the thriving local markets. Everything from toothpaste to milk powder and pens traded freely in those days. Over half of the goods were stamped with a "made in the USA" label.
The 1949 revolution changed all this of course, or at least it tried. Between the mid-1950s and early 1970s - the period of Anti-Rightist movement and commune system - imports were banned and all goods produced had to be planned and distributed by the government. In 1953, for instance, Shishi followed the national trend of practicing the "socialist correction" (shehui zhuyi gaizao) over individual businesses and private commerce. This meant all industry and business was brought into the cooperative system in which products were bought and sold through the bureaucracy instead of free market mechanisms. Naturally, commercial activities disappeared for some time.
However, in Shishi, commercial activities were concealed and found a way to survive. Despite the crackdown, Shishi constantly tested the limits