Introduction to "Rethinking Business History in Modern China"

Wen-hsin Yeh, University of California, Berkeley
Klaus Mühlhahn, Freie Universität Berlin
Hajo Frölich, Freie Universität Berlin
Abstract

In this special issue of Cross-Currents, the contributing authors look at how business linked China and the world from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, and how Chinese and foreign companies interacted with one another, as well as with political power, long before today. Some authors concentrate on material connections, including shipping, banking, the building of railroads, the spread of the motion picture industry, international treaties, and the formation of knowledge, while others investigate the role of business culture and how entrepreneurship and networks of trust crossed borders. Both of these aspects are set against the backdrop of simultaneous Chinese state-building efforts that became evident in the state creation of a national market and the formation of political borders. All of the authors collected here draw on case studies of individual entrepreneurs or companies, just as they draw on the new historical and theoretical scholarship summarized above to fill out the picture of China’s economic development within global processes. As the contributions to this issue demonstrate, rethinking Chinese business history also forces us to rethink Chinese urban history more generally... The new pictures of business practice presented here entail a remapping of the spatial dynamics of such activities and thereby a new understanding of the making of urban China...