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. 151-65. © 1998 M.E. Sharpe, Inc. All rights reserved. ISSN 0009-4633/1998 $9.50 + 0.00.

DANIEL NELSON


Western Business History
Experience and Comparative Perspectives

In recent decades, Western business history has grown in volume and sophistication, creating important benchmarks for students of Chinese and other non- Western business systems. At its best, it has emphasized the limitations of traditional historical scholarship, blurred customary distinctions among business history, economic history, and the history of technology, and underlined the common features of market economies characterized by diverse economic activities. Business history thus serves as a forceful reminder of the power of economics and technology over culture. It also illustrates the obstacles that lie ahead for Chinese business historians. Western business historians have emphasized change over time under conditions of relative economic freedom, where risk-taking and technical and organizational creativity are the principal routes to individual wealth and power. To study the operation of business in a context where change has been slower, economic freedom more circumscribed, and market stimuli more subdued poses challenges that the Western example cannot adequately address.


Origins

American business history dates from the early twentieth century and the particular political climate of that era. Nineteenth-century American history had been characterized by conflict between business groups, notably between farm proprietors and nonfarm entrepreneurs. The emergence of large private

____________________
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.
Daniel Nelson is on the faculty of the University of Akron, Department of History.

-151-

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