China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
With the stunning success of the East Asian newly industrializing economies during the post-war era, Chinese policy-makers looked to corporate models in Japan as they sought to reform and revitalize the country’s largest state-owned enterprises. East Asian developmental states pioneered enterprise groups (qiye jituan): a pyramidal form of corporate organization linking production units in different localities, finance companies, and research institutions together under a set of “core” enterprises. Through a series of international exchanges beginning in the late 1970s, Chinese officials and economists studied the structure and operations of Japanese enterprise groups. Chinese participants published detailed studies on the organizational structure and management of enterprise groups and recommendations for how these corporate forms could be adapted to build China's national champions. I use archival sources to document these exchanges, explore their impact on the reform of China’s state-owned enterprises, and critically assess the results of Chinese enterprise group experimentation. This study highlights the understudied influence of international models and exchanges during China's early economic reform, revealing the syncretic process by which Chinese policy-makers explored and adapted different forms of corporate organization to address the challenges of domestic development and global competition.