Abstract: China's Encounter with Scientific Management in the 1920s-1930s

Stephen L. Morgan


Chinese industrialists, industry government officials, and business academics embraced Fredrick W. Taylor's ideas of scientific management (kexue guanli fa) for the advancement of China during the 1920s and 1930s. In this paper, I explore the discourse surrounding the introduction of scientific management in China, which occurred on a wider scale than is commonly realized. It was influential in the redesign of personnel systems and work organization in the 1930s. As Taylor sought to break the power of the artisan over the industrial process, Chinese managers strove to break labor contractors. The interest in "new" management extended beyond personnel issues to embrace organizational design, industrial psychology, and the industrial rationalization movement (chanye helihua), and it was not the province of industrialist and industry officials alone. Discussion of managerial practices around the world had currency in journals read by educated workers, clerks, and petty intellectuals, as well as the business elite. My paper is an initial exploration of the transfer of management "know-how" or soft technologies to China, how they were received, and how managers adapted new practices given the constraints of the Chinese business environment.

BEH On-Line Paper