Elusive Capital


Elusive Capital

Merchant Networks, Economic Institutions and Business Practices in Late Imperial China

9781800889897 Edward Elgar Publishing
François Gipouloux, Emeritus Research Director, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, France
Publication Date: 2022 ISBN: 978 1 80088 989 7 Extent: 328 pp
Offering a fresh analysis of late imperial China, this cutting-edge book revisits the roles played by merchant networks, economic institutions, and business practices in the divergence between Europe and China during the trade revolution.

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Offering a fresh analysis of late imperial China, this cutting-edge book revisits the roles played by merchant networks, economic institutions, and business practices in the divergence between Europe and China during the trade revolution.

Focusing on the operating modes of three major regional trading networks active in Fujian, Huizhou, and Shanxi from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, François Gipouloux assesses the driving forces behind their dynamism, the role they played in Chinese economic development, and the constraints in which they were embedded. Examining merchants’ business practices, partnerships, and investment strategies, chapters portray the three central figures of China’s economy – the financier, the middleman, and the business entrepreneur – and their complex relationships with the imperial bureaucracy. By analysing the divergent trajectory of seemingly identical institutions in China and Europe, Elusive Capital takes a comparative approach to shed light on the factors that inhibited the transformation of commercial development into an industrial revolution, ultimately discovering why capital accumulation proved so elusive in late imperial China.

Revealing novel insights from primary documentation including trial accounts, Elusive Capital will prove an invigorating read for students and scholars of economic history, business studies, and Asian urban and regional studies
Critical Acclaim
‘The intrinsic value of Gipouloux’s Elusive Capital lies in an in-depth understanding of traditional China as a unique economic universe parallel to Western Europe. Apart from historians and economic historians, scholars from many other disciplines may also benefit from it, including economics, management, sociology, politics and international relations.’
– Kent Deng, The China Quarterly

‘Examining the details of three major Chinese merchant groups between the 14th and 19th centuries, Professor Gipouloux compares and contrasts the Chinese model of wealth accumulation with the European model of capital concentration. The insightful archival analysis and references provide us with historical clues to discuss the contemporary world economy.’
– Hamashita Takeshi, University of Tokyo, Japan

‘Few historical topics are as timely as late imperial China’s commercial economy, and few Western scholars have penetrated its mysteries as successfully as François Gipouloux. Read with pleasure his disclosures on such vital topics as brokers, maritime trade, Shanxi merchant operations, and capital movement, and feel grateful for his generous erudition.’
– Joseph P. McDermott, University of Cambridge, UK

‘This book will not only be applauded as an expert’s contribution to the economic history of imperial China but will appear on the bibliographies of a growing community of global historians who wish to include Chinese commercial history as highly significant for our understanding of mercantile agency, institutions and developments for transitions to modern economic growth.’
– Patrick Karl O''Brien, University of London and London School of Economics, UK
Contents: 1. Introduction: comparative economic history and the trajectory of economic institutions 2. The city and the merchant 3. Regional merchant networks 4. The figure of the intermediary: brokers, merchant manufacturers and guilds 5. Ultra-marine trade: forms, structures and actors 6. Partnerships, company, contracts and risk management in overseas trade 7. Capital mobilization, human capital development and shareholding 8. The elusive capital 9. The decline of regional merchant networks 10. Conclusion: fragile prosperity and the matter of divergence Bibliography Index
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