Capital, Technology, and Entrepreneurial Networks in Reform-Era China

Zhaojin Zeng, Duke Kunshan University

From diplomatic normalization in the late 1970s to the Tiananmen incident in 1989, the long decade of the 1980s witnessed a broken honeymoon between the U.S. and China. This political split, however, coincided with the forging of unprecedented economic ties over the Pacific. This paper explores the formation of this special economic connection by shifting the focus away from macro- or state-level political and diplomatic actors to entrepreneurs and firms on the grassroots. Focusing on Beijing Jeep and Tsingtao Brewery, I probe recently available company archives to look at how Chinese and American entrepreneurs fostered capital, technology, and human networks on the ground. Entrepreneurs venturing into new political and social environments adopted various strategies to explore foreign markets, seek new technology, and cope with institutional uncertainty. A micro-historical analysis of the entrepreneurial networks illustrates the larger efforts of Chinese and American businesspeople to nourish the burgeoning exchange of technology, knowledge, and capital across newly opened national borders. Multilayered transnational networks, initiated by these business ventures, came to shape the broader pattern of US-China engagement in the subsequent three decades and also helped to usher in a new global economic order for the post-Cold War world.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 29. Technology and Development in Late Twentieth-Century China