Beijing Jeep, Tsingtao Beer: Entrepreneurship, Networks, and the Re-making of the US-China Economic Relations in the 1980s

From diplomatic normalization in the late 1970s to the Tiananmen incident in 1989, the long decade of the 1980s witnessed a broken honeymoon between the U.S. and China. This political split, however, coincided with the forging of unprecedented economic ties over the Pacific. This paper explores the formation of this special economic connection by moving focus away from political and diplomatic actors at the macro or state level to entrepreneurs and firms on the ground. Focusing on Beijing Jeep and Tsingtao Brewery, I utilize recently available company archives to look at how entrepreneurs ventured into new political and social environments, exploring foreign markets, seeking new technology, and coping with institutional uncertainty. A micro-historical analysis of these two cases illustrates the larger efforts of Chinese and American businesspeople to nourish the burgeoning exchange of technology, knowledge, and capital across newly opened national borders. Multilayered transnational networks, initiated by these business ventures, came to shape the broader pattern of US-China engagement in the subsequent three decades and also helped to usher in a new global economic order for the post-Cold War world.