History, Department of
Date of this Version
The Journal of Asian Studies 73:1 (2014), pp. 213-214; doi:10.1017/S0021911813001897
Liu Hongsheng (1888–1956) was one of the pioneering Chinese entrepreneurs of the early twentieth century. Beginning his career as a comprador for the British Kailuan Mines, he parlayed his success into cement manufacturing, woolen textile production, real estate, and commercial wharves in Shanghai. He is best remembered, however, as China’s “match king” because of the prominence of his Great China Match Company. Liu was the archetypical patriarch of a family enterprise. In much of the literature on the history of Chinese capitalism, the family firm with a strong male leader is considered the dominant form. The patriarch controls and grooms his sons to take over designated roles in the family business. But is this portrait valid? Could the patriarch really maintain control if family members were separated by distance and political regimes? Substantial scholarship exists on the business history of the Liu enterprises, including work in English by Sherman Cochran and Kai Yiu Chan.7 But in this remarkable study, Cochran and Andrew Hsieh turn to the family itself, looking at the inner workings of the Liu clan. And what a family it was. Liu Hongsheng and his wife Ye Suzhen produced twelve children (nine boys and three girls), and Liu had two additional sons with his mistresses. Liu believed that Western education was essential and so sent three sons to Britain, three to the United States, and two to Japan for education. He and his wife set three rules for the children: they must return home after studying abroad, they must go into the family business as needed, and they must not marry foreigners. To a remarkable extent, the children complied with their parents’ expectations.
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