This timely book traces the development of banking and paper money in republican Tianjin in order to explore the creation of social trust in financial institutions. Framing the study around Bian Baimei, a conscientious branch manager of the Bank of China, Brett Sheehan analyzes the actions of bankers, officials, and local elites as they tried to overcome political and financial crises and instill trust in the banking system.
After early failures in promoting trust, government authority as a regulator of the financial system gradually increased, peaking in 1935, when the state unified the money supply for the first time in several hundred years. Concurrently, when local elites proved unable to develop successful strategies to make people trust the system, their influence declined. The need for trust in increasingly complex financial arrangements redefined state-society relations, simultaneously enhancing state power and creating new constraints on the actions of both elites and governments.
Trust in Troubled Times is a valuable new perspective on the economic, social, and political history of modern China.
Drawing in an extensive archival work and theoretical studies on trust, money, and banking, Brett Sheehan’s book breaks new ground in the history of modern China by providing a comprehensive account of Tianjin’s financial, social, and political history in Republican China… [S]tudies of Tianjin’s banking history are largely absent from the historiography of modern China. Sheehan’s work is the first to fill this void… [Trust in Troubled Times lends a] valuable new perspective on the social and political history of modern China. Sheehan’s innovative look at state–society relations and the role of elites will certainly be an important resource for sociologists and political scientists who are eager to incorporate a comparative dimension in their work… Not the least value of this book is its unique style of narration… Sheehan draws stories from contemporary newspapers, journals, folk songs, and official documents and makes various players in this book true to life. He turns an ordinarily dull subject into a fascinating one and makes this book a truly enjoyable read.
Interpreting financial crises as ‘suspension of impersonal trust’ and applying Western theories of trust to the characteristics of the republican banking sector, Sheehan’s analysis adds valuable new aspects to the scholarly debate about the role of personal networks and personal trust in Chinese banking and business.
This book will make an important contribution to our understanding of the history of modern China. Despite the importance of banking and finance in modern China, there has been little scholarly research published on this topic. Sheehan’s book helps to redress this gap. The focus on Tianjin is a major strength of this study, which depicts a story of development amid chaos that is quite striking.
Drawing on extensive archival work and theoretical studies on trust, money, and banking, this is an original piece of scholarship. The writing is lucid and readable. No comparable study of Chinese banking history exists in English, and readers interested in comparative studies of trust, central banks, and state-building strategies will find it useful.
- 286 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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