Corporation Law in Late Imperial China
Research Handbook on the History of Corporate and Company Law (Harwell Wells ed., Edward Elgar Press 2018)
27 Pages Posted: 15 Mar 2018 Last revised: 20 Mar 2018
Date Written: 2018
According to received wisdom, there is no such thing as a Chinese tradition of corporation law. In Max Weber’s pithy conclusion, “The legal forms and societal foundations for capitalist enterprise were absent in traditional China.” Although this claim is intuitively appealing, it is incorrect, or at least wildly exaggerated. Drawing on earlier work, I argue in this chapter that in late imperial China there existed a tradition of “corporation law,” to use a term that admittedly sounds anachronistic. Conventional wisdom to the contrary notwithstanding, and despite Confucian hostility to commerce, even before the introduction of European law at the turn of the century, the Chinese operated “clan corporations,” or relatively large commercial enterprises whose existence was justified by the legal fiction of kinship. Because of this fiction, these enterprises were governed by the norms of family law which in turn performed many of the key functions of corporation law.
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