Contesting the Indigenous Development of 'Chinese Double-Entry Bookkeeping' and its Significance in China's Economic Institutions and Business Organization Before c.1850
52 Pages Posted: 10 Feb 2015
Date Written: February 3, 2012
The recent rapid growth of China’s economy has reopened historical debate about the extent to which it had also prospered during the last Imperial dynasties (the Míng and the Qīng, 1368-1911) through developing a significant market orientation on its underlying agricultural base. As a contribution to this debate, we question here the extent to which there is justification for claims concerning the development of a concomitant and indigenous Chinese form of double-entry bookkeeping (CDEB) — conventionally seen as having developed among bankers, merchants and proto-industrialists — and for its significance within such a market economy. Given that discussion on post-medieval European accounting history indicates that there is not necessarily a direct and positive connection between the development of Italian double-entry bookkeeping (DEB) from the fourteenth century and the development of Western capitalism, we argue that caution should be exercised in drawing any analogous connection in the Chinese context. We therefore review how far the emerging archival and related historical evidence for the development of Chinese accounting practices and discourses supports the arguments that have been made for CDEB. Considering how these developments may then be viewed in the context of the Chinese knowledge-world we comment on the more foundational issue concerning the similarities and differences between the knowledge-worlds within which DEB and CDEB emerged, as a means to better reading the specific historical practices and discourses of each and their linkages to the modern world. As part of such a rereading, we question how far there could have been possible intercultural linkages between the Western and Chinese developments across the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries. In this way we seek to problematize conventional formulations of the respective significance of both DEB and CDEB, while acknowledging that, in the present circumstances constraining such transcultural historical study, the mechanisms of translation and diffusion of practices and discourses generally remain obscure and inconclusive until we reach the era of the transformation of China’s modern economy in recent decades. There remains a clear need for further collaborative research between Western and Chinese scholars, utilising additional primary archival sources as they are discovered, to further test the arguments developed in the existing research literatures, and here.
Keywords: Chinese accounting, double-entry, Sombart thesis, intercultural translation, mercantile capitalism
JEL Classification: M14, N011, N85, P51
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation