Chinese Business History: Interpretive Trends and Priorities for the Future

By Robert Gardella; Jane K. Leonard et al. | Go to book overview

superior approach? Despite the ever growing volume of work, business- government relations have yet to produce a Chandler.

Finally, industrial relations and human resource policies have commanded growing attention. The decline of organized labor has emphasized the importance of labor issues that are unrelated or only indirectly related to traditional subjects like formal organization, collective bargaining, and strikes.

Other contemporary issues are likely to have substantial effects in the future. In recent years, the largest corporations have come under attack for their inability to keep pace with competition, including foreign competition. The decentralized structure that Chandler identified as a key to their success is now cited as a source of costly sloth. In many cases, middle managers have been discharged in efforts to improve short-term financial performance. Does this trend represent a short-sighted fad, like the conglomerates of the 1960s, or a reversal of the managerial revolution, as popular writers have suggested? 29 If they are right, when did the process begin and what effects is it likely to have on business and business history writing?

These speculations should not obscure the fact that big business and corporate organization, top-down histories that emphasize organization building and technological creativity, dominate Western business history and will likely dominate it for many years. Though political, factors will receive more attention and transnational operations and comparisons of business activities in different countries will become more popular, the large corporation remains the overriding concern of Western business history. The process that Chandler initiated in the 1950s has transcended the milieu that originally encouraged it and has had a pervasive impact in the United States, Europe, and Japan. It should be the starting point of scholarly efforts to make sense of the role of the firm and the business community in China.


Notes
1.
See Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The "Objectively Question" and the American Historical Profession ( New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988).
2.
Gras's approach was partly utilitarian: to provide case studies used in his business history course, a practice that continues to the present.
3.
Louis Galambos, American Business History (Washington: American Historical Association, 1967), pp. 1-4. Most of these works appeared in the Harvard Studies in Business History, which Gras edited.
4.
N. S.B. Gras, Business and Capitalism: Introduction to Business History ( New York: F.S. Crofts, 1939).
5.
See, for example, Walter B. Rideout, The Radical Novel in the United States, 1900-1954 ( Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1954).
6.
See, for example, Peter D'A Jones, ed., The Robber Barons Revisited ( Boston: Heath, 1968).

-163-

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