Chinese Studies in History, vol. 31, nos. 3-4, Spring-Summer 1998, pp. 106-26. © 1998 M.E. Sharpe, Inc. All rights reserved. ISSN 0009-4633/1998 $9.50 + 0.00.
This chapter examines the major themes and issues in Western literature on Chinese business history since the late Ming period. As an area of academic inquiry, Chinese business history is relatively new, being a subfield of America's postwar China studies, and less developed, reflecting the peripheral role of the bourgeoisie in Chinese history. There are limitations in doing research on this field, partly because of scarcity of materials in the official history, and partly because it does not have a clearly focused scope for study. Indeed, there is no generally accepted definition of business history, even in the United States, where this discipline started and has thrived. The amorphous nature of this field is further indicated by the fact that it does not have a counterpart on the Chinese side.
The study of Chinese business history can be traced back to its humble origin in 1949, when a brief survey of the modern Chinese business class was published. Kwang-Ching Liu's pioneering work on an American company in China and Albert Feuerwerker's important book on China's early industrialization represent the serious scholarship of the 1950s. Historiography grew in volume and sophistication in the following decades, reaching a milestone in 1980, when Sherman Cochran's book on China's big business was published as a volume in the Harvard Studies in Business History Series. Since then this field has developed further, as reflected by the Business History Review's special issue on East Asia ( 1982), the formation of a____________________