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Chinese Business Practice in the Late Imperial Period

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 February 2015


The rapid development of the Chinese economy over the past several decades has stimulated new interest in the institutions, practices, and social formations that supported the development of business in China before the intensification of pressure from Western traders to conform to “modern” practices in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This article aims to provide a foundation for understanding merchant practice as it developed during the important years of market expansion during the last Chinese dynasty and to dispel some of the enduring myths about the Chinese merchant, his relationship to family, community, and the state, and the ideological constraints on his activities. To that end I examine several aspects of late imperial merchant culture, beginning with the everyday practices that allowed business to flourish in the Qing, turning next to the large social formations through which long-distance merchants in particular identified and pursued their interests, and ending with some preliminary thoughts on the impact of the laissez-faire policies of the last dynasty and their implications for post-Imperial China.

Copyright © The Author(s) 2013. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Business History Conference. All rights reserved.

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