2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 377

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Reinventing Commercial Culture in China: from Late Qing to the Early People’s Republic

Organizer: Xin Zhang, Independent Scholar, USA

Chair: Kenneth Pomeranz, University of Chicago, USA

Discussant: Andrea L. McElderry, University of Louisville, USA

One of the most important tasks facing Chinese historians today is understanding the historical backdrop against which China has dramatically transformed itself in commercial culture in the last several decades. To meet that challenge, a group of us joined together to investigate how China has evolved from after the Opium War to after the founding of the People’s Republic. We intend to discern the continuities and changes within China’s commercial culture through analyzing the multilateral endeavors made by various entities -- be they foreign, societal or of the state --to interject different values, assertive roles and even direct control into a commercial environment that was constantly changing alongside a shifting political system and an evolving society. Brett Sheehan will focus his attention on the interaction that occurred during the 19th century between foreign missionaries and a Chinese business. Xin Zhang will examine the role played by a particular business organization at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Di Wang will scrutinize how the government of the People’s Republic tried to regain state control of the public arena in consumption and entertainment through tea-house guilds in the mid-20th century. We suggest that these efforts were important contributing factors to the reemergence of a novel commercial culture in modern Chinese history, becoming the foundations for what we are witnessing in the 21st century.

The Gospel of Development in Late-Nineteenth Century Shandong
Brett G. Sheehan, University of Southern California, USA

In the late Qing dynasty some British Baptist missionaries in Qingzhou Shandong province turned their attention to providing economic opportunities for poor rural Chinese. Their idea to save bodies as well as souls met considerable resistance back home in England, but they persevered. In China, their work provided new opportunity structures for some Chinese such as Song Chuandian who became one of the richest men in Shandong province. The presence of missionaries served primarily three functions in Song Chuandian’s business success. First, the missionaries introduced global consumer culture to rural Shandong. Second, the missionaries provided a conduit to make connections with foreign markets. Third, the missionaries provided the education necessary to allow Chinese the linguistic and technical abilities to deal with the global market. In the end, although certain individuals such as Song Chuandian succeeded, missionary efforts failed to change the overall social and economic structures of the Shandong countryside.

Transforming Commercial Culture at the Turn of the 20th Century: the Zhenjiang Story
Xin Zhang, Independent Scholar, USA

Many of us who study Chinese history are intrigued by how Chinese commercial culture was transformed after the mid-19th century when, as Takeshi Hamashita suggested, the country’s commercial system became an open one that not only connected Asia externally with Europe but also internally within Asia itself, linking its open ports with their hinterlands and coastal regions. To find some answers to that question, while paying special attention to mid-sized cities, I decided to conduct an investigation on an organization, qianye gongsuo, in the city of Zhenjiang. My purpose is to discern how an organization such as this functioned as a de facto facilitator of changes within the local business community. Not only did this make it possible for Zhenjiang to be connected to Shanghai commercially, but it also transformed commercial culture within the city itself at the turn of the 20th century.

Reorganization of Guilds and State Control of Small Business: A Case Study of the Teahouse Guild in Chengdu during 1950 and 1953
Di Wang, University of Macau, Macau

This paper attempts to investigate the dying process of the Chinese traditional economic organizations under the communist regime and to show how the political change altered economic life and social life in China. Although the socialist transformation of private ownership started in 1954, the communist regime used state power to gradually weaken private ownership far before the year, building a foundation for the large-scale socialist transformation later. The reorganization of the Teahouse Guild in Chengdu reflected the general procedure of the Communist Party to change the traditional social and economic organizations. As the representative of the profession, the new guild almost became a government spokesman and in fact no longer contained the nature of the traditional guilds. Actually, the guilds only existed in name after the reorganization in the early 1950s. The death of the guilds was a result of declining of the social organizations while strengthening of state power.