Sino-Foreign Business Networks: Foreign and Chinese banks in the Chinese banking sector, 1890–1911

Abstract At the turn of the twentieth century, foreign bankers viewed China as one of the up-and-coming markets for international banking. This led to a rapid influx of foreign banks into the banking sector of the China coast. Consequently, foreign banks became a major presence in the treaty ports, where they financed China's foreign trade, provided loans to the Chinese government, and supplied Chinese banks with credit. However, their operations in the Chinese banking sector were always dependent on interaction with Chinese banks. Previous scholarship has largely portrayed the relationship between foreign and Chinese banks in terms of the former dominating and controlling the banking sector of China's treaty ports. This article challenges this view and shows that the relationship between foreign and Chinese banks was one of interdependence rather than one-sided control. It demonstrates how foreign banks had to adapt their business practices to the Chinese business environment and how they were integrated into existing Chinese business networks. Moreover, this article reveals how Chinese entrepreneurs could use their relationship with foreign banks for the benefit of their own business networks and exploit information asymmetries between foreign and Chinese banks to generate profits. The result of the development of this interdependent relationship between foreign and Chinese banks, and of the integration of the former into existing Chinese business networks was the formation of Sino-foreign business networks, which played an important role in making possible the operations of financial markets in China's transnational treaty port economy.