Proposal preview

Institutional Change and Chinese Enterprises across the 1949 and 1978 Divides

The objective of this session is to examine the ways in which changing economic conditions in China from the 1940s through the 1970s have influenced the operations and performance of business enterprises, both private and state-run. The development of modern enterprise systems in China from the middle of the nineteenth century has taken place amidst dramatic changes in government policies, technologies, trade practices, labor relations, and the very institutions of the economy such as markets, financial institutions, and state planning organs. Like the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911 and efforts to establish modern economic institutions during the Republican period (1911-1949), the implementation of the socialist economic system by the Chinese Communist Party after 1949 was one of the most transformative events. During the period of the bureaucratic socialist economy from 1949 to 1978, the government of the PRC adopted some distinctive economic institutions and policies, including the transformation of property rights from private ownership to state management, the attempt to implement a command economy for the production and distribution of goods, and the disruption of economic relationships with the capitalist West. Although the reform policies after 1978 partially removed state controls, the institutional changes implemented in the planned economy period continue to affect the behavior of contemporary Chinese enterprises, both state and private. Therefore, it is necessary to review the transformations and legacies of the socialist economic system and its influence on business practices to understand fully Chinese economic and business history over the long term.
To achieve these goals, it is essential to examine both the institutional features of China’s socialist economic system and the changes in Chinese enterprises’ business practices since 1949. This panel gathers experts in Chinese economic and business history to compare and present research based on a variety of archival materials. The papers provide both broad understandings of the institutional changes affecting Chinese enterprise systems and focused case studies of significant Chinese enterprises. The researchers have utilized a wide range of unpublished historical sources including documents from the archives of state companies, ministries, provincial and municipal governments, unions, and industrial associations, as well as the personal diaries of an enterprise manager and internal documents from Chinese companies from the 1940s through the 1970s. In conducting their research and writing up their papers, the participants have paid careful attention to comparisons with existing historical case studies and scholarship on the economic history of China over the past five decades. The participants are especially interested in continuities that cross the 1949 and 1978 divides. Individual papers explore specific topics such as the socialist transformation of private firms, the conversion of private capitalists into cadres, the practices of enterprise leaders, the state planning system (or lack thereof), the distribution of materials and products, the management of industrial enterprises, and domestic and international trade.
The panel participants are going to hold a pre-conference discussion in April 2018 via Skype to compare their sources, methods, and conclusions, and to clarify the findings that we will present in Boston. If possible, we will also meet at the WEHC before our panel to finalize the main themes and focus and to clarify our common points and differences. These preliminary discussions will help the participants to position their specific case studies within the comparative context of Chinese economic and business history. The papers and discussion will contribute to historians’ understanding of the influence of institutional change on the development of enterprises in twentieth-century China and to the exploration of the historical significance and long-term consequences of state socialism in China.

Carles Brasó Broggi (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain)
Jixia Ge (Changzhou University, China, co-author with Carles Brasó Broggi)
Jun Kajima (Yokohama National University, Japan)
Juanjuan Peng (Georgia Southern University, USA)
Robert Cliver (Humboldt State University, USA)
Wei Zhang (Nankai University, China)
Shiho Matsumura (Hokkaido University, Japan)
Koji Hayashi(Seijo University, Japan)
Chaochao Lin(Institute of History, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, China)

Candidates for discussant (or chairperson):
Pui-tak Lee (The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)
Thomas G. Rawski (University of Pittsburg, USA)
Toru Kubo (Shinshu University, Japan)


  • Jun Kajima, Yokohama National University, Japan

Session members

  • Carles Brasó, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain
  • Jixia Ge, Changzhou University, China
  • Robert Cliver, Humboldt State University, USA
  • Jun Kajima, Yokohama National University, Japan
  • Juanjuan Peng, Georgia Southern University, USA
  • Wei Zhang, Nankai University, China
  • Chaochao Lin, Institute of History, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, China
  • Shiho Matsumura, Hokkaido University, Japan
  • Koji Hayashi, Seijo University, Japan


  • Toru Kubo, Shinshu University, Japan
  • Thomas Rawski, University of Pittsburg, USA
  • Pui-tak Lee , University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong


Panel abstract

This session examines the impact of institutional changes implemented under China’s socialist economic system on the long-term development of Chinese business enterprises. During the planned economy era (1949-1978), the PRC government adopted distinctive economic institutions and policies that continue to affect the behavior of Chinese firms even after four decades of post-1978 reform. Understanding China’s long-term economic and business history therefore requires a searching review of the lasting influence of socialist transformations and legacies on the structure and conduct of business. To achieve these goals, this panel gathers experts in Chinese economic and business history. Their papers provide broad understanding of the institutional changes affecting Chinese enterprise systems as well as focused case studies of significant Chinese enterprises.

1st half

Planning China’s future. The contributions of Liu Guojun to China’s post-war economic recovery

Carles Brasó Broggi, Jixia Ge

The Development of Social Welfare Programs in the Yudahua Business Group, 1921–1957

Juanjuan Peng

From “Guilds” to “Chamber of Commerce”: Bankers and Commercial Associations in 1950s Chongqing

Koji Hayashi

Labor-Capital Consultation and Factory Management in Chinese Capitalist Enterprises in the 1950s

Robert Cliver

The Rise of Industrial Trusts in China and Their Systematic Predicaments in the 1960s

Chaochao Lin

Food Shortage and the Development of Rural Industry in the late Mao period: Changing Central–Local Relations

Shiho Matsumura

2nd half

Performance of Chinese Enterprises across the 1949 and 1978 Divides: A Case of Shanghai’s Textile Industry

Jun Kajima

Institutional Change and the Township Enterprises: the Continuity and the Discontinuity on the Rural Industrialization in the Long 20th Century

Wei Zhang