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Call for paper proposals and conference description


Chinese Business and Culture in Global and Local contexts

Academia Sinica, Taiwan

16-18 November 2000

This conference is co-sponsored by the ESRC Transnational Communities Programme and the Academia Sinica

 The term globalization captures a great number of processes that transcend and redefine regional and national boundaries. The ever freer flow of capital, information and people not only makes its impact felt on the world’s economy, politics and population, but equally on culture, religion and education. In the discussions on globalization, China and the ethnic Chinese routinely feature as the prime example of a group, culture, or civilization that has successfully risen to the challenge of a global modernity originating from and dominated by the West. China from this perspective is different and even more exciting than Japan, because China combines continental size, rapid economic growth and increasing integration in the world system with large, proactive, affluent and widely dispersed diasporic communities.

Various concepts have been proposed to capture part or whole of these exciting developments, including "Greater China", a "Chinese Commonwealth", the "Clash of civilizations", "East Asian" or "Confucian values". We as organizers of the conference feel that these terms point in an exciting direction, yet do not provide the sharp analytical tools that are required. Most importantly, they tend to obscure the fact that the globalization of Chinese business, society and culture is by no means an established and uncontested fact. Chinese globalization has not settled in unambiguous and stable structures or patterns, it is an ongoing process that in fact is constantly on the move. We propose at this conference to explore the usefulness of the more ambitious term of an "emerging Chinese world system", which we conceptualize as embedded in, on the one hand, diversifying smaller regional or national systems, and, other the hand, as a part of a unifying global system. In our view, this reading of the term conceptualizes globalization as a ongoing, never complete and contested process that (1) creates multiple centres, (2) leads to new inequalities and forms of competition and (3) encompasses a multiplicity of developments that are distinct yet at the same time interconnected (4) cannot be understood in isolation from regional or national AND world-wide processes of localization and globalization.

By highlighting the fact that globalization is a process (never a final state) that takes place within a plurality of emerging and mature world systems, we emphatically do not want to resurrect Cold War images of a world carved up in discrete spheres of influence; world systems intersect and interact in a larger global system that is more than the sum of its parts. The periphery of one world system may thus well be the centre of another, while the synergies between world systems are far more important and interesting than defining their putative boundaries.

Speaking of "world systems" rather that "the world system" draws the attention to fundamental reconfigurations of the relations of power, inequality and exploitation both within and between world systems that are intrinsic to globalization processes. A "world systems" approach implies, in the case of China, that this "China" is a culture, society, nation, or economy larger than the Chinese state (in itself a rather problematic unit given the Taiwan, Hong Kong and People’s Republic divisions). This "China", moreover, simultaneously is assumed to have a degree of internal differentiation and cohesion. It is also assumed to complement or compete with other such internally differentiated "wholes", particularly the West.

Globalization, in other words, is as much specifically Chinese as it is universal, entailing specifically Chinese versions and visions of modernity and cosmopolitanism that only partially intersect with their Western or Japanese counterparts. The challenge of globalization studies is not only to delineate the twin processes of universalizing and localizing cultures, networks, capital and population flows. Such an undifferentiated focus on the global and its counterpoint the local fails to appreciate that the social and cultural map of the world actually looks rather different through Chinese, Japanese, American, or European eyes.

We, as the organizers of the conference, do thus not insist that the current focus on globalization is necessarily wrong, but rather that it has brought with it some potentially dangerous biases that we feel need to be scrutinized. For this conference we invite papers that critically and empirically assess the analytical mileage gained from rethinking the categories of the "global", the transnational", and the "local", a rethinking that takes into account the disjunctions and inequalities of a world made up of multiple world systems.

We do not propose that the existence of such an emerging Chinese world system ought to be uncritically accepted by the conference participants. Rather, we hope that papers will focus on a particular aspect of Chinese or ethnic Chinese business or culture as much with a view to discover the limitations of a world systems or more generally globalization approach as to discover its strengths. To give just one example, much recent work presents the ethnic Chinese as the pioneers of a new age of transnational Asian capitalism. Like with all stereotypes, there definitely is truth in this, but there also is a real danger that this image blinds us to facts that do not easily fit received opinion. This is all the more regrettable since the flip side to this stereotype is becoming increasingly apparent. In many countries in Southeast Asia, ethnic Chinese have traditionally been viewed with suspicion, and the new stereotype of the transnational Chinese businessman mainly raises old fears of treason and exploitation. With the recent anti-Chinese riots in Indonesia, Chinese have been rudely reminded of the dangers of their structurally insecure position in many Southeast Asian countries. Observers of Chinese communities in turn are well advised to reconsider unduly optimistic assessments of the promise of Chinese transnational business.

The conference itself is divided into two sections that each investigate these issues within a specific field of research; both however have in common a desire to look at Chinese globalization from the bottom up rather then from the top down: what are the opportunities and constraints that come with the opening up of a global Chinese social space. The first section focuses on Chinese business practices, the second on issues of religion, consumerism, language and popular culture that can broadly be termed "cultural". We realize that the choice for these two topics leaves out several obvious aspects of Chinese globalization (such as politics, international relations, or migration), but we felt that choices had to be made to allow for focussed and fruitful debate.

The conference will be convened with the collaboration of the ESRC Research Programme on Transnational Communities and the Academia Sinica. The conference will take place in Taiwan at the Academia Sinica between 16 and 18 November 2000 and will consists of a keynote lecture by a distinguished scholar in the field, followed by two panels (described below) on Business and Culture. The conference will be concluded by a plenary session.

In total, 30 papers will be presented at the conference, 15 at each panel. Papers presentations will be by invitation or will be selected from proposals submitted by mail, e-mail or fax before 30 April 2000 to the organizers. Complete papers should be sent in before 30 September 2000.

Paper proposals for the panel on Business should be sent to:

Dr Edmund Terence Gomez
Faculty of Economics
University of Malaya
Kuala Lumpur 50603
Phone: (6-03) 7593633/45; Fax: (6-03) 7567252


Professor Jeffrey Henderson
Manchester Business School
University of Manchester
Booth Street West
Manchester M15 6PB
Phone: 00-44-161-2756470/6391; Fax: 00-44-161-2756598/6489

Paper proposals for the panel on Culture, Religion and Consumerism should be sent to:

Dr Frank N. Pieke
Institute for Chinese Studies
Walton Street, Oxford OX1 2HG, Britain
Phone: 00-44-1865-280386; Fax: 00-44-1865-280431


Each panel is expected to lead to a book-length edited volume that will be submitted for publication in the ESRC Transnational Communities Programme book series with Routledge. Papers are submitted for presentation at the conference on the understanding that the organizers of the conference reserve the right of first refusal for publication of the paper in one of the two conference volumes.

Conference Panel A

Chinese Business in East Asia: Economic Crisis and Corporate Change

Panel convenors

Dr Edmund Terence Gomez, University of Malaya
Professor Jeffrey Henderson, University of Manchester

Before the onset of the East Asian economic crisis in 1997, it was widely argued that in view of the collective economic strength of Chinese-owned enterprises in the region, such ethnic capital would have an enormous impact on the global economy in the next century. Following the crisis, some analysts have predicted that ethnic Chinese in East Asia would emerge economically stronger, reinforcing their prospects as a global force. This panel will assess, through detailed empirical research, the development of Chinese enterprise in East Asia, the implications of the economic crisis on their operations, and the future direction of their business in local and global contexts.

Case studies of Chinese enterprise can cover four broad areas of research: a) history; b) large-scale companies; c) small and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs); and d) economic sectors. Our primary objective is that these empirical-based studies should provide nuanced insights into key issues such as Chinese networking, entrepreneurship, and organizational and firm development, as well as the impact of state policies on Chinese corporate development. For example, most of the assumptions about the economic dominance of Chinese capital in East Asia have been fed by the notion of extensive networking and interlocking business links among ethnic Chinese of the diaspora. Such intra-ethnic business networking reputedly occurs domestically, regionally and globally, thus the potential impact of Chinese capital in the post-crisis period. However, the hypothesis that there is much business networking or interlocking corporate ownership ties among Chinese companies in East Asia has not yet been conclusively proven.

The impact of the crisis has raised other important questions. Since the crisis has had a greater impact on some companies rather than others, what does this reveal about entrepreneurial skills and of the pattern of development of firms and of their organizational structures? Were companies that adopted a vertical or horizontal pattern of growth less affected by the crisis than those that grew through diversification of their enterprise? Does the impact of the financial crisis on stock markets suggest that securities markets are far from essential for the financing of capitalist enterprise? Will the family style business ownership pattern be reorganized, for example, by incorporating professional managers at decision-making level, in order to facilitate growth?

State policies, including deregulation of capital markets, affirmative action plans, corporate development strategies and industrial policy initiatives, have had an impact on Chinese enterprise. Some countries have focused on nurturing large-scale enterprises through a selective process of rent distribution. This has led to charges of cronyism, corruption and abuse of the financial sector for vested interests. How has financial liberalization, which facilitated huge inflow of portfolio investments, affected Chinese enterprises?

In almost all countries in East Asia, with the exception of Taiwan, Chinese-owned SMEs have received little or no support from the state. In spite of this, Chinese enterprises have managed to thrive, even in Indonesia and Malaysia, countries where the community is an ethnic minority. Following the crisis, a number of governments in Southeast Asia, recognizing this dynamism among Chinese SMEs, have began to channel more support to these enterprises as one means to revive their economies. Another state initiative has been to encourage more foreign direct investment (FDI), including from Taiwanese companies. What has been the impact of such state support on Chinese SMEs? Are intra-ethnic business links being forged between Southeast Asian Chinese firms and companies from Taiwan?

Studies on Chinese enterprise in key economic sectors would also provide important lessons. For example, the impact of the crisis on the banking sector has been particularly significant, with the closure of some Chinese-owned banks, while others have been encouraged to merge. In spite of this, there is no evidence of major tie-ups between Chinese-owned banks. The property sector, in which ethnic Chinese in East Asia have extensive investments, have been badly affected by the crisis. What does Chinese involvement in the property sector reveal about their investment and financial deals in property development? Would a comparison of Chinese involvement in property as opposed to manufacturing reveal the heterogeneity, rather the homogeneity, in business styles among Chinese capitalists?

The countries identified for study in this panel are those where ethnic Chinese play a significant role in the economy, i.e. Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines. We encourage proposals that discuss these issues in comparative perspective across different countries.

Conference Panel B

Culture, Religion and Consumerism

Panel convenor

Dr Frank N. Pieke, University of Oxford

The ethnic Chinese are not the unfettered comopolites they recently have been made out to be. In the long tradition of studies on the ethnic Chinese, the focus has usually been on Chinese communities in specific places, be it a town, a region or a whole nation. The topics studied in this tradition spanned and continue to span a very broad range: family and marriage, employment and entrepreneurship, associational structure, political participation, religion and ancestor worship, and language to name just the most prominent ones. Much of this scholarship on the ethnic Chinese sits uneasily with the more recent studies of Chinese transnationalism, which focuses mainly on "business networks" and a curiously stereotypical "Confucianism". To a lesser extent, transnationalism has also informed the study of family and marriage - particularly the role of the extended family in building up and managing multi-firm businesses, or the phenomenon of families dispersed across two or more countries and the endogamous nature of migrant communities and their places of origin - and, more recently, Chinese associations, but again mostly as a corollary of Chinese business practices and networks, rather than as a topic worthy of study in its own right.

The picture that derives from recent work on Chinese transnationalism and globalization is thus both curiously lop-sided and engages insufficiently the more traditional literature on the Chinese. This panel wishes to contribute to bridging this gap between more traditional ethnographic and historical work on local Chinese communities and the more recent concerns of identity, transnationalism and globalization. It proposes to do so by inviting papers on a limited number of cultural topics that as yet have been largely ignored in the work on Chinese transnationalism. We particularly invite papers that build on research of a specific Chinese community, which then moves on to a critical assessment of the benefits that come with looking at a specific topic within this community as locally rooted yet also shaped by the opening up of a new, transnational social space.

This panel thus aspires to achieve two seemingly contradictory yet, we would like to argue, complementary tasks. First, as far as the issue of identity and belonging is concerned, it tries to bring the local back into the transnational. Despite the strong discrimination against Chinese and their own often very strong anti-assimilationist sentiments, especially among first generation migrants, the rootedness of Chinese in local communities and nations ultimately determines how and why they participate in transnational politics, business, associations, churches and culture. Second, the panel’s aim is to bring the transnational to issues that are usually studied as local phenomena. The focus on business has obscured the social and cultural aspects of Chinese transnationalism, or else has spawned a discussion of such aspects chiefly in terms of transnational business and economic expansion.

In particular, this panel welcomes contributions that address the tension between the local and the transnational in the following fields:

1. Religion. Religion has always been a key field in Chinese Studies and features prominently in the study of transnationalism in other cultural areas, yet has largely been ignored in studies of Chinese transnationalism. With the demonstrations of the Falonggong sect in Beijing in April of this year, the force of transnational religion suddenly made itself felt on the Chinese domestic scene. Similarly, missionary Protestant churches, Buddhist sects and syncretic sects such as the Yiguandao, usually operating from Taiwan or Hong Kong, play a prominent role in Chinese communities from Vancouver to Amsterdam. Religious organizations such as these facilitate the formation of Chinese communities and their integration in mainstream society, yet simultaneously tie these communities back into a transnational social space that is quintessentially Chinese.

2. Culture and consumerism. Hong Kong is the metropolitan hub of a thriving Cantonese culture industry, whose products are marketed in Chinese communities around the world and in China itself. Although the dominant role of Hong Kong-Cantonese mass culture begins to be challenged by Mandarin language cultural products from China or Taiwan, Hong Kong (and with it the Cantonese language) continues to define much of what it means to be Chinese, raising issues among the ethnic Chinese that are not all that different from the fears of American Hollywood mass culture among Westerners. Equally important, particularly for ethnic Chinese born overseas, in linking Chinese variously into a local Chinese community, transnational Chinese networks and a globalizing Chinese culture are literature, painting, calligraphy, or martial arts. These aspects of culture are often strongly packaged and commodified, yet are usually thought to define "real" or "essential" Chinese culture, supposedly vastly different from the vulgar culture of mass consumption.


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