From Family Firm to State-Owned Enterprise: Baojin Company, Shanxi Merchants, and the Transformation of Business Culture in Early Twentieth-Century China

Zhaojin Zeng

Business enterprises were at the center of China's historical transition from an imperial state into a post-socialist country over the twentieth century. This paper examines the rise of China’s state-owned enterprise by looking at the early development of Baojin Company, the first and largest industrial coal mining enterprise in North China in the first half of the twentieth century. From its founding in 1907 to the communist acquisition in 1947, Baojin Company underwent three crucial stages of transformation. First, it was one of the first business enterprises in modern Chinese history that was established upon the shareholding structure, which distinguished itself from traditional Chinese family firms. Second, Baojin Company adopted new marketing strategies, management practice, and modern technologies in the Republican era, which transformed itself into a modern industrial enterprise. Last, during the second Sino-Japanese war (1937 – 1945), Baojin Company was controlled and managed by the Japanese military authority. The Japanese state-led business and management culture deeply affected Baojin Company. When the Communists nationalized Baojin Company in 1947, it was already an organization that had different origins of business culture and practice. By exploring the case of Baojin Company, this paper illuminates how Chinese state-owned enterprise took shape amid traditional Chinese family business, Western corporate structure, Japanese militarized business management, as well as the Maoist state enterprise system.