Tenacious patterns of ethnic and economic inequality persist in the rural, largely minority regions of China's north- and southwest. Such inequality is commonly attributed to geography, access to resources, and recent political developments. In Corporate Conquests: Business, the State, and the Origins of Ethnic Inequality in Southwest China (Stanford University Press, 2020), C. Patterson Giersch provides a desperately-needed challenge to these conventional understandings by tracing the disempowerment of minority communities to the very beginnings of China's modern development.
Focusing on the emergence of private and state corporations in Yunnan Province during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the book reveals how entrepreneurs centralized corporate power even as they expanded their businesses throughout the Southwest and into Tibet, Southeast Asia, and eastern China. Bringing wealth and cosmopolitan lifestyles to their hometowns, the merchant-owners also gained greater access to commodities at the expense of the Southwest's many indigenous minority communities. Meanwhile, new concepts of development shaped the creation of state-run corporations, which further concentrated resources in the hands of outsiders. The book reveals how important new ideas and structures of power, now central to the Communist Party's repertoire of rule and oppression, were forged, not along China's east coast, but along the nation's internal borderlands. It is a must-read for anyone wishing to learn about China's unique state capitalism and its contribution to inequality.
Huiying Chen is a Ph.D. candidate at University of Illinois at Chicago. She researches on the history of travel in eighteenth-century China. She can be reached at hchen87 AT uic.edu