A Chinese Capitalist Vision
Harvard University Press 2015
New Books in East Asian StudiesNew Books in EconomicsNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Political ScienceNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network June 2, 2015 Carla Nappi
Brett Sheehan‘s new book traces the interwoven histories of capitalism and the Song family under a series of five authoritarian governments in North China. Based on a wide range of sources a range of sources including family papers, missionary archives, corporate records, government documents, newspapers, oral histories, novels, and interviews, Industrial Eden: A Chinese Capitalist Vision (Harvard UP, 2015) explores a family of “capitalists without capitalism.” The book follows the development of Song Chuandian and his son Song Feiqing into businessmen in order to inform and transform how we understand the modern history of the Chinese economy in its social and political context. The evidence of the Song family, Sheehan compellingly argues, allows us to understand the impact of European and Japanese imperialism on the Chinese economy and Chinese business practices in a new way. At the same time, there is no single, culturally-determined set of “Chinese business practices”: in the example of Song Feiqing, we see a hybrid of Confucian paternalism, Christianity, industrialism, hygiene, discipline, and more. Though the authoritarian governments that ruled China in the twentieth century varied widely, Industrial Eden shows that Chinese states and businesspeople came both to accept a government role in business that became increasingly intrusive, and to expect increasingly more from the state over time. The book also pays careful attention to the ways that this story informs the history of missionary activity, commodities, nationalism, labor, diaspora, and disciplining of the modern subject in nineteenth and twentieth century China.