Industrial Entrepreneurship in Early Modern China

5 September 2006 at 9:15 am Leave a comment

| Peter Klein |

Coase, Williamson, and others have long called for comparative institutional analysis across countries and across time. How do various institutional arrangements perform under alternative institutional environments? We are only beginning to understand this question. (Important contributors to the literature include Witold Henisz, Tarun Khanna, Masahiko Aoki, and various members of the Centre ATOM, among others.) Can changes in the institutional environment be regarded as exogenous “shift parameters,” as Williamson has articulated the problem, or is there a more subtle, complex co-evolution among institutions and organizational form?

These issues are raised in Madeleine Zelin’s The Merchants of Zigong: Industrial Entrepreneurship in Early Modern China (Columbia University Press, 2006), reviewed here by Carol Shiue for EH.Net. Zelin’s new book traces the history of the salt merchants of western Sichuan province, who created one of the first, vertically integrated industrial enterprises in modern China. Though not explicitly a comparative study, Zelin’s volume provides a useful companion to the landmark studies by Chandler and others of the history of modern enterprise in the West. As Shiue observes, “A recurrent theme of the book is that the business arrangements seen in the Chinese salt industry belie not only previous perceptions about the predatory influence of the ‘feudal’ state on entrepreneurial incentives in China, but also the purported uniqueness of Western business practice.”

See also Shiue’s earlier review of Zelin, Ocko, and Gardella, eds., Contract and Property in Early Modern China (Stanford University Press, 2004).

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Business/Economic History, Entrepreneurship, Strategic Management, Theory of the Firm.

Entrepreneurship and Uncertainty Bearing More on Methodological Individualism and Subjectivism

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