Defying the Gravity of ‘Dominant Parent’ Sino-Foreign JVs: Nationalist Leadership and Control of Eurasia Aviation Corporation, 1931-1943

In 1931, Deutsche Luft Hansa and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government came together in Shanghai to form the Sino-German airline joint-venture, Eurasia Aviation Corporation. Sun Yat-sen’s vision of turning towards international cooperation to help build a new and prosperous Chinese Republic was put to the test. For the next decade, Eurasia would ply the skies over China and beyond, carrying both passengers, mail, and cargo through peacetime and war as part of its mandate to project newfound state modernities and enable a sustainable and viable Chinese aviation complex against growing airline competition and the omnipresent threat of military aggression from Japan. Nevertheless, scholars of Modern China like William Kirby have characterized Eurasia as a failure of Nationalist incompetence to astutely leverage technology transfer towards state-building. By tracing the founding, development, and dissolution of Eurasia Aviation Corporation, this paper seeks to overturn Kirby’s paradigm of the “dominant parent” enterprise where the foreign party controlled the fates and destinies of Sino-foreign JVs, often to the detriment of the Chinese side. Using official communication and contracts between Luft Hansa, the Executive Yuan, Eurasia, and the various ministries that had purview over the Sino-foreign JV as well as putting them in context with German aerophilatelic catalogues, route networks of Eurasia, and Chiang’s lectures on The Chinese Citizenry and Aviation (Guomin yu Hangkong), this paper proposes that Nationalist state actors were capable of formidable and strategic stewardship over the business that transcended the formal equality on paper. While Eurasia collapsed due to a combination of diplomatic disputes and its increasingly tenuous commerciality, it at once engendered an extensive domestic aviation network and established managerial tenors that provided models for later state-led developments in the contemporary Chinese airline industry.