The demise of state-owned enterprises, the transformation of collectives into shareholding cooperatives, and the creation of investment opportunities through stock markets indicate China’s movement from a socialist, state-controlled economy toward a socialist market economy. Yet, contrary to high expectations that China’s new enterprises will become like corporations in capitalist countries, management often remains under the control of the onetime bureaucrats who ran the socialist enterprises.
The concepts, definitions, and interpretations of property rights, corporate structures, and business practices in contemporary China have historical, institutional, and cultural roots. In tracing the development under founder Zhang Jian (1853–1926) and his successors of the Dasheng Cotton Mill in Nantong into a business group encompassing, among other concerns, cotton, flour, and oil mills, land development companies, and shipping firms, the author documents the growth of regional enterprises as local business empires from the 1890s until the foundation of the People’s Republic in 1949. She focuses on the legal and managerial evolution of limited-liability firms in China, particularly issues of control and accountability; the introduction and management of industrial work in the countryside; and the integration and interdependency of local, national, and international markets in Republican China.