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23 CONFERENCE REPORT CHINESE ENTREPRENEURSHIP AT HOME AND ABROAD, 1900-1982 Sherman Cochran The aim of this conference, which was held October 1-2, 1982, at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, was to reconsider conclusions in the existing literature about Chinese· entrepreneurship. In particular, participants were· urged to address one contradiction or paradox that is evident in this literature: Chinese entrepreneurship in China, specialists on this subject have generally concluded, has been weak: but outside China, it has been strong. This contradiction or paradox seems worth testing with reference to the twentieth century for several reasons.· First, the scholars best known for their emphasis on the weakness of Chinese entrepreneurship within China have based their conclusions almost exclusively on pre-20th century examples, leaving 20th-century entrepreneurship unexamined. [1] Second, recent studies have shown both that entrepreneurship developed in 20th-century China and that its development was blocked, raising the issue of whether it has had enduring significance. [2] Third, studies of overseas Chinese in the 20th-century have emphasized their roles as entrepreneurs in several geographical settings, suggesting the need to consider how Chinese entrepreneurship has changed in the process of being carried abroad and adapted for use in Chinese emigrant communites. [3] Fourth, focusing on entrepreneurship--a concept that has been applied, in various forms, to the study of people from several countries and ethnic groups other than the Chinese--offers an opportunity to view the Chinese experience in comparative perspective and assess its worldwide significance. [4] All of the conference papers dealt with entrepreneurship, but the participants made a wide variety of suggestions for the revision of the existing literature on the subject. Their approaches were too numero~s and subtle for me to summarize all of them in this brief statement, but I would like to mention four promising and previously neglected areas for research that were explored by one or more participants at the conference. Defining Chinese entrepreneurship. In the existing literature, China specialists almost invariably invoke Joseph Schumpeter's definition of entrepreneurship, [5] and they rarely add to it their own intrepretations, revisions, or glosses of any kind. At the conference, some participants introduced additional definitions, and others favored a single, synthetic definition. To Schumpeter's definition, for example, were added the Marxian reminder that class and material conditions impose constraints on entrepreneurship and the Weberian reminder that cultural values open the way for entrepreneurial possibilities. To provide a synthesis, one participant suggested that all definitions of entrepreneurship can be boiled down to this: combining factors of production to attain {not necessarily to maximize) long-term profits under conditions of uncertainty. 24 These and other insights offered at the conference provide working _ hypotheses that are not well represented in the published writing on Chinese entrepreneurship. Scale. Perhaps because China specialists have confined themselves to Schumpeter's definition and accepted uncritically his emphasis on the •heroic• entrepreneur, they have concentrated largely on large-scale enterprises and neglected the issues of scale that came up with reference to small enterprises at the conference: Is smallness of scale •un-heroic• and un-or pre-entrepreneurial? If so. how large does a firm have to be before its operations cross the threshold into entrepreneurship? The findings in several papers contributed to this hitherto untouched area of inquiry. Group authority. Past studies have focused not only on large enterprises but also on the particular man at the top within each of these enterprises. By contrast, several papers at the conference analyzed the relationships within groups of individuals who shared authority at the top: and the discussions of these papers suggested that authority was shared along various lines: between Chinese and foreigners, among family members (e.g., between brothers or across generations), between experienced generalists and trained professionals, and according to other patterns, Several papers opened up new possibilities on this subject. Organized structure. individuals at the top, Focusing as scholars have they have not paid sufficient in the past attention to on the interaction between levels in Chinese economic organizations--and especially the action or non-action at the interstices. How tightly has an enterprise at one level been bound to the enterprise at the next level? How...


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