History Student Studies Chinese Merchant Associations in Shanghai

Maura Dykstra received a pre-dissertation fellowship from the Asia Institute in 2008 to study in Shanghai through the UCLA-East China National University (ECNU) graduate exchange program.

by Maura Dykstra
UCLA History Ph.D. student

My dissertation focuses on the link between legal reforms and economic development in Chinese history from 1875 to 1952. Over this important span, the governments that controlled China pursued a policy of attempting to integrate informal merchant associations into the government bureaucracy, in order to create a systematic formal infrastructure for the organization of commerce. What began in the imperial period as informal, non-governmental merchant associations were first given an ambiguous legal status in the early twentieth century, and then increasingly incorporated into government institutions until, beginning in the 1930s, they were subordinated to other organizations run more directly by the Nationalist government. This process of complete state absorption of merchant associations was completed in the 1950s during the early Communist reform era, and has only recently begun to show signs of changing again–to resemble the earlier form of combined autonomy and cooperation with the state. By studying the history of these organizations across this century, scholars may further understand how the relationship between state and commerce changed over time, and may have more ways to comprehend the background of contemporary business-state relations in China.

I began this research project in 2008, my second year in the UCLA History Department Ph.D. program.  At the time, I worked closely with Professor Dong Jianbo, a visiting scholar of economic history from East China Normal University in Shanghai.  We reviewed a number of sources together, and discussed the feasibility of the project, as well as its place in contemporary scholarship in the field of China history.  During the summer and fall quarters of 2008 I continued to work with Professor Dong Jianbo and his colleagues at East China Normal University during a six-month pre-dissertation fellowship at ECNU, which was funded by the UCLA Asia Institute. In those six months, I attended graduate seminars with students at ECNU, performed research in the Shanghai municipal library and archives, and took short exploratory trips to potential research sites.  My experience in Shanghai has allowed me to form a solid background knowledge of scholarship in China, and has given me some important insights into the complexities of academia in my research country.

Maura Dykstra returned to China in the summer of 2009 and plans to return for a year of archival work and research from 2010 to 2011.

Click here or more information about the ECNU predissertation fellowships

Published: Tuesday, December 01, 2009