Abstract: Corporate Governance and Institutional Dynamics of Chinese Firms: Experiments in the 1920-30s and Their Contemporary Relevance

Stephen L. Morgan


Business history has until recently neglected temporal and comparative differences in corporate governance. The paper's premise is that models of corporate governance are embedded in historically shaped cultural and institutional frameworks that enable and constrain owners, investors, managers, and the state. Path dependency may explain some differences, but national systems of governance have not developed in isolation. We explore this argument with data from China in the 1920s and 1930s that allows us to discuss the influence of domestic and foreign models of enterprise organization and governance. We focus on how business network ties that are pervasive in the Chinese context were crucial for governance of inter-firm and investor relations in China at the time. Many institutional aspects are similar to the competitive environment of China today, with a mix of state-owned, private, hybrid and foreign firms active. The paper draws on archives for Chinese enterprises of the early twentieth century and the business associations that promoted modern approaches to management and governance.