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Cultures of commerce compared: a comparative study of the ideal of the businessman in China and England, c.1600-1800

Andrews, Michael (2011) Cultures of commerce compared: a comparative study of the ideal of the businessman in China and England, c.1600-1800. MPhil thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This study compares business culture in seventeenth and eighteenth century China and England through an examination of the ideals of the businessman. It focuses on these ideals as presented in business advice literature, the core of which are business handbooks giving advice on how businessmen were expected to behave. These handbooks have not previously been used comparatively. This study looks at three aspects of the ideal of the businessman – attitudes to the market, wealth and social relations. Business culture is an important factor in global history for explaining economic performance and the Great Divergence. In England, the rise of a bourgeoisie with commercial values and increasing status of commerce is seen as a spur to economic development. On the other hand, in China, the ideal of the Confucian merchant has been argued to be a possible hindrance. By comparing the business cultures of China and England through an analysis of business advice literature we find similarities which dispel many stereotypes, and differences, which point out factors important in the Great Divergence. Through this this study aims to shed new light on cultural debates in global economic history. This study argues that there are highly surprising similarities between the ideals of the businessmen of China and England, including thrift, charity and attitudes to the market. However, it also argues that through this comparison two key differences in attitudes are crystalized which might have been important in looking at the Great Divergence. In England the ideal of honesty was made malleable and subsumed to commerce. In China a familial emphasis was present in the ideal of the Chinese businessman to a much greater degree than for the English businessman.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil)
Additional Information: © 2011 Michael Andrews
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
Sets: Departments > Economic History
Supervisor: Wallis, Patrick and Ma, Debin

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