Corporate Conquests
Business, the State, and the Origins of Ethnic Inequality in Southwest China
C. Patterson Giersch



IN LATE 1947, Fang Kesheng made his way from westernmost Yunnan to the Chinese capital of Nanjing, where he would serve as a delegate to the first People’s Participatory Conference (see figure 1). Upon arrival and before the conference opened, Kesheng prepared Ideas, a plan for the economic and political development of western Yunnan.1 With this plan, he sought to educate powerful Nationalist government officials about his home region, the Tai-ruled domains along the Yunnan-Burma border. For Chinese, the region was the Teng Long border region, a name referring to the important towns of Tengchong and Longling. But much of the region was not Chinese culturally or linguistically; it was more diverse but dominated politically by the Tai elites from principalities such as Nandian, Ganyai, and Mangshi. From a Han Chinese perspective, the Tai elite were a dangerous, anachronistic nobility called tusi, native officials who had inherited the feudal right to govern but were no longer welcome in a modernizing China. From a Tai point of view, the leaders of these principalities were the saophas, the lords of the sky, often well-educated hereditary princes who managed local bureaucracies, marshaled their own troops, and intermarried to form a network of kinship and shared culture reaching into northern Burma’s Shan States, which were the domains of other Tai princes.2

Kesheng sought to convince Nationalist officials to preserve Tai elite authority while accepting his plan for sustainable economic development in the borderlands communities, including Kesheng’s home principality of Mangshi. He wanted to transform the local economy from one in which Tai farmers produced primary products, often for sale to Han merchants, into a modern economy consisting of diversified cash cropping and light industry using local raw materials to produce finished goods for export to China proper (neidi) and abroad. Kesheng further envisioned a region well connected through transport networks and well served by educational and financial institutions. All of this, he argued, would produce a society in which the barriers between the Tai minority and China’s Han majority were lowered, reducing ethnic conflict.

FIGURE 1. Fang Kesheng with researchers from the Institute of History and Philology, April 1935. Fang is in the center. His brother, Fang Keguang, is to his left.
SOURCE: Image courtesy of the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica. Reprinted with permission.

At first glance, Kesheng’s vision of development seems reasonable, but there were plenty of reasons that Ideas faced enormous obstacles. To preserve local authority, Kesheng would need to counter near-hysterical media portrayals of the Tai nobility as traitors and separatists.3 This reputation originated in the run-up to Burmese independence in 1948, when it was reported, with more than a little exaggeration, that the Tai of western Yunnan were plotting with British colonial authorities and the Tai elite of the Shan States to seek independence. To envision a form of development that empowered Tai producers and local communities, moreover, Kesheng would need to both confront the private Chinese companies controlling regional commerce, as well as challenge foundational conceptions, reinforced by decades of surveys and state planning, of borderlands people as backward and in need of state-controlled intervention to raise them from their sorry states.4

If Kesheng’s plan was self-serving, it was also a radical, alternative vision for a Chinese national future, a vision of ethnic cooperation and empowerment for minorities that has only rarely been embraced over the past seventy years. It was a vision embedded in a tradition of Tai elite thinking that dated back to the twentieth century’s first few years, when the Ganyai principality’s lord of the sky, saopha Dao Anren, began planning for a vibrant, local commercial economy.5 And it was a vision that would largely fail.

Despite its stated commitments to ethnic equality, the Communist state would take power just a year after Kesheng’s proposal and would eventually mobilize the modern prejudices and ethnic hierarchies that Kesheng sought to combat. Throughout China’s vast borderlands, far beyond Yunnan, the Maoist regime (1949–1976) would embrace earlier patterns of inequality and disempowerment by undermining minority leaders, forcing minority farmers to remain in agriculture by limiting other options, and developing industries that served majority-Han communities, leaving others behind because they were deemed less trustworthy or less capable.6

In the aftermath of China’s more recent market reforms, the inequalities continue; most minority citizens have seen income gaps between themselves and Han citizens widen. In 2000, the regime sought to stem the growing inequality by launching the Great Western Development Program and other poverty-reduction plans, some of which produced positive results. Standards of living were raised, although this needs to be understood in context: in Yunnan, investment in tourism and local enterprises tended to advantage some locales but left behind many others. The cost in terms of the commoditization of minority cultures and the uneven geographic distribution of benefits, with only a few towns and mostly outside investors benefiting, suggests less-than-complete success. Thus, market-based, state-led development has raised many from poverty while also reinforcing inequalities along spatial and ethnic lines—inequalities reinforced because minority citizens often have less access to good education, fewer opportunities to move out of agricultural work, and more difficulty in finding urban jobs due to discrimination in hiring. Increasing state investment has also brought, in some places, rapid growth in the security industries, which are used in Tibet and Xinjiang to segregate and monitor minority citizens. Based on the expert analysis of Bjorn Gustafsson, the bottom line is that “most of China’s rural ethnic minorities lag behind the Han. They have lower average per capita income and higher rates of poverty.”7 The costs of inequality include ethnic tension in places such as Xinjiang.8

Based on recent scholarship, it is safe to say that inequality along ethnic lines is still endemic to China. But why? A simple answer points to geography. Gustafsson argues that the urban-rural income gap is the most important factor structuring inequality: because many minority communities are rural, they are poorer.9 This makes perfect sense, of course, but it does not explain why rural China, and especially the largely minority regions of the rural northwest and southwest, have particularly tenacious patterns of inequality. Nor does it explain how there can be patterns of ethnic inequality within these poor regions.

To probe these problems more deeply, we need to realize that work in economic geography demonstrates that the fixed aspects of geography, including climate, terrain, and natural resources, are important to making some regions and communities more prosperous than others, but so too are the historical events and human institutions that structure access to and exploitation of these resources.10 If we take human agency and historical events seriously, then it is plausible that geographical regions are dynamically transformed by important ideas and hierarchies of power that provide access to capital and resources to some, but not others.11 In other words, we must consider that China’s borderlands and its minority communities may have been underserved by economic development not simply because of location and geography, but because of how their home regions and their populations have been perceived and treated over long periods. As Judd Kinzley has argued, we need to deepen our understanding of modern China by analyzing the history of spatial and ethnic patterns of unequal economic development.12

There are a few good studies of spatial and ethnic inequalities for the People’s Republic of China (1949–). In her work on Tibet, for example, Emily Yeh reveals how the party conceived of development as a generous gift to Tibetans, but undergirding the policies of development were beliefs in the low capabilities of Tibetans and the subsequent use of outside Han experts and Han migrants to implement development schemes. The gift of development therefore facilitated Han domination of new economic opportunities, leaving Tibetans marginalized economically and victimized by largely successful efforts to depict them as backward and underdeveloped.13 As Yeh demonstrates, the ideas that officials and migrants had about Tibetans are important to understand, because those ideas guided the reordering of Tibetan spaces. Marginalization is in part a product of policy, but policy is influenced by party leaders’ deep-seated prejudices. As Andrew Martin Fischer argues, leaders’ ideas matter a great deal because the state has consistently denied Tibetans the power to make decisions about resources and development. As a result, Tibet has an economic structure, says Fischer, that “is effectively very similar to that of a colonial-type economy.” There are high degrees of dependence on outside power holders and outside resources; the control of development funds usually rests in the hands of Han Chinese–dominated institutions.14 This leads to disempowered development, as Fischer calls it, and, while plenty of communities fight against disempowerment, the policies enabling it have influenced much of China’s borderland regions.15

Disempowering indigenous peoples is not unique to China, and literature from other places reveals how devastating it can be to deny local decision-making power. In the United States, for example, Native American reservations have long suffered extraordinary levels of economic distress. For white Americans, these conditions became naturalized. Poverty and dependency, it was believed, were the inevitable outcome of primitive lifestyles and backward cultures. But Native American dependency was not a product of culture or primitiveness; instead, it was imposed from the outside.16 In the United States, the advent of market economics has long been linked to the patterns of dependence among indigenous peoples, and that dependence has been exacerbated by the state. As early as the 1920s, the U.S. federal government introduced economic development schemes onto Native American reservations, but policymaking and control of resources remained in the hands of outsiders. It was only in the 1980s, after multiple efforts to return developmental autonomy to indigenous communities, that some tribes began to experience economic success. According to work by Stephen Cornell and Joseph Kalt, successful tribes share one crucial trait: they gained control over economic decision making and institutions. Cornell and Kalt could find no other factor as uniformly important to success.17

As in the United States, the People’s Republic of China has usually prevented indigenous communities from gaining control over resources and development decisions. In Xinjiang since the 1950s, the party, state, and military have dominated development and turned the region into one largely run by state-owned enterprises (SOEs).18 In other borderlands provinces, including Yunnan, where minority indigenous populations are numerous, SOEs also control unusually high percentages of the economy.19 However, there have been some efforts to return control to local communities. In 1985, for example, the Guizhou provincial government began to use tourism as a developmental strategy. The economy did not grow as quickly as in neighboring Yunnan Province, where tourism was also a development strategy, but in Guizhou, poverty rates declined more rapidly because of local participation in new business opportunities. In contrast, Yunnan allowed outside investors to dominate tourism, thus excluding locals from many opportunities.20

Guizhou’s approach to poverty reduction seems to be an outlier, and as Chih-yu Shih has argued, poverty and cultural backwardness are assumed to be endemic to minority lives, an assumption that makes minority agency more difficult.21 But why might this be? When and how did trajectories of disempowerment develop?

While most scholars have looked to the history of the People’s Republic and the Communist Party for answers, this book peers deeper into the past to demonstrate that the problem is not simply a party problem, although the party’s despotic and discriminatory tendencies certainly exacerbate it. By focusing on the borderlands regions of Yunnan and eastern Tibet’s Kham (administered primarily by Sichuan Province), the book traces the multifaceted origins of disempowered development back to a series of changes occurring from the 1870s to the 1940s. During this period, borderlands communities became enmeshed in more intense networks of regional and global trade. In Yunnan and Kham, those networks were often built by a new form of private trading corporation that emerged in the nineteenth century: Yunnanese shareholding partnerships. However, this was also the era when, for the first time, the state built its own modern corporations. As these corporations, both private and state, gained control over trade networks, they also gained greater access to local resources, at the expense of indigenous communities. This was also the period in which those same borderland indigenous communities were subjected to new nation-building projects emanating from the national and provincial capitals. During the process of nation building, non-Han elites were transformed rhetorically from legitimate rulers integral to the Qing empire’s survival to denigrated, backward, and often illegitimate (in the eyes of the Chinese state but not necessarily those of local communities) competitors for power who had no place in the modern nation. Both of these developments constitute core elements of China’s particular transition to modernity, and while this book focuses on the Southwest, these developments reverberated throughout China’s vast borderlands.

To narrate these important, multifaceted changes, the book introduces a range of protagonists from different backgrounds, including Yunnanese businessmen such as Yan Zizhen and Cun Haiting; a Khampa medicine collector named Peldengyel; famous Qing (1636–1912) and Republican (1912–1949) officials such as Zuo Zongtang, Zhao Erfeng, Cen Yuying, and Long Yun; Yunnanese technocrats such as Miao Yuntai and Yang Kecheng; and Tai saophas such as Fang Kesheng and Dao Anren. While these individuals are among the human protagonists who helped transform the Southwest, the other agents of history in the book are the corporations: private, state, and joint public-private ventures. I believe that the book’s originality lies in the study of both private and state corporations as they developed across the volatile decades spanning the late Qing dynasty to the early People’s Republic. By combining the study of the private and the state, we can understand how new business practices combined with new ideas about territory, ethnicity, and state power to transform these corporations into agents of disempowered development.

My interest in this topic was first raised by a simple puzzle I encountered in the Qing dynasty archives, the sprawling collections of documents housed in both Beijing and Taipei. In earlier years, I read hundreds of these documents for an investigation into the expansion of the Qing state into the lands dominated by Tai and Tibeto-Burman-speaking indigenous communities. As I read, I frequently encountered peddlers and merchants. In the writings of Qing officials, these traders were often portrayed as evildoers who sold on credit to the unsuspecting, simple, and uncivilized peoples whose communities dominated the Qing borderlands. While these writings reflected some important truths, the realities of merchant life and activity were often hidden from view, and though I tried to capture a respectable historical portrait of these merchants, I was unsatisfied with the result. And so I continued to wonder about the private merchants of China’s borderlands. How were their businesses run? What was their impact on the communities in which they lived and worked?

This book is an answer to those questions, and it is designed to enrich our study of merchant and corporate activity in the borderlands, where merchants were integral to Qing imperial expansion.22 This book is different from earlier work, which tends to focus on the Northwest and to emphasize state-merchant relations during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Here, I follow southwestern merchants deep into the twentieth century, treating the rise of their private corporations as a trend that was relatively independent of state activities. While some merchants supplied Qing military efforts, especially in Kham,23 and many merchants benefited from certain state actions, it was not until World War II (1937–1945) that the largest private Yunnanese corporations attracted the attention of economic planners seeking to harness them for state-led development.

To capture this relatively autonomous rise of private corporations and subsequent integration into state development plans, the book is divided into two parts. The first traces the origins and development of Yunnan private firms, including their tremendous impacts on two types of local communities: the hometowns of corporate ownership and the home villages of Khampas (Tibetan-speaking inhabitants of Kham). To trace this history, we cannot be limited by the spatial confines of Yunnan Province itself. Inspired by work that provocatively encourages liberation from traditional spatial categories, part I reveals how histories of trade and corporations must be placed in transregional or global frameworks, meaning, as Melissa Macauley argues, that they must “be analyzed across the multiple sites within which historical interactions occur.”24 For Yunnanese corporations, those multiple sites include Southeast Asian trading towns, as well as the villages and pastures of Kham, where traditional medicines, one of the commodities that made the firms wealthy, were collected.

Part II begins with a history of modern, mechanized mining in Yunnan and goes on to explain the rise of Yunnan province’s innovative state-run corporations; it also places these developments within the larger context of evolving concepts and practices of territorial control, citizenship, ethnicity, and economic development. In the final chapter and the Epilogue, the book reveals how the two initially disparate historical stories—of private corporations and of modern state building—become entangled as new, powerful state corporations and institutions sought to dominate both private enterprise and the development of the borderlands.

In focusing on corporations, this book not only provides a new way to understand the structuring of power in China’s modern borderlands; it also applies the lens of ethnicity to the story of modern China as a whole. Challenging the assumption that modernity moved from east to west, from the coastal cities to the isolated inlands, the book reveals how important new concepts about state power, including the use of corporate institutions and markets to transform allegedly backward rural peoples, were forged in the pre-Communist borderlands.

In this book, the term corporation is defined based on the realities of the institutions that existed in the Southwest. A corporation was a shareholding institution established by private owners or the state to carry out commercial or industrial activities, or both.25 I use the term interchangeably with firm and company. In the years before the 1930s, most of the private corporations mentioned were shareholding partnerships, and the state-run corporations were initially joint-stock companies formed under the Qing policies for state supervision and merchant management (guandu shangban). After 1904, most of the state-run corporations were incorporated under the new Company Law. From the 1930s until 1949, many of the corporations mentioned were limited liability stock companies registered under the Company Law updated in 1929.26 These legally registered corporations included both private corporations and the provincial corporations created by Yunnan’s activist, autonomous provincial government. In the aftermath of the Communist occupation of Yunnan, the nature of the corporations began to change as the new government incorporated state-run firms into their bureaucratic state planning administration and created new companies that effectively competed with private corporate activity until the private firms submitted to joint state ownership (gongsi heying).

Structuring the entire book is its positioning at the intersections of the histories of business, state building, and the borderlands. If we wish to understand what China was, is, and will become, we need to incorporate the study of business institutions into our broader histories. Archive-based studies of Chinese companies have revealed the diversity of corporate ownership and finance strategies.27 I therefore treat Chinese businesses as historical institutions rather than as stereotyped, ahistorical Chinese family companies.28 By investigating the historical realities of finance and management, I reveal that shareholding partnerships were particularly attractive to private entrepreneurs. Their adoption of various forms of record keeping and management techniques, moreover, allowed them to transform business relationships, align ownership and management interests, and expand their reach well beyond Yunnan—into Burma, South Asia, China proper, and Kham.

Following in the footsteps of the history of capitalism, this book moves beyond traditional business histories to examine how businesses transformed local and regional political and cultural contexts.29 In Chinese history, this is exemplified by Elisabeth Köll’s study of Zhang Jian and his companies, which demonstrates the impact an entrepreneur might have on a region’s social and economic development. In Köll’s study, Zhang’s ideas about modernity and his ambition for personal prestige transformed his city and the people living in it.30 If Köll’s work helps us understand how corporations might transform human spaces and activities, then related studies investigate how the business elite transformed themselves. The wealthy, for example, represented themselves through cultures of distinction, whether it was the bourgeoisie in nineteenth-century America or the new merchants in early twentieth-century Shanghai, who pioneered ways to differentiate themselves from other Chinese and to seek legitimacy through their contributions to philanthropy and nation building.31 In Yunnan, the emerging merchant elite developed their own practices of self-representation and legitimization by reinvesting corporate profits in their hometowns to build elaborate private homes and public institutions such as libraries and schools. In the process, these merchants articulated a particularly Yunnanese vision of modernity. They also began to create spatially and ethnically based patterns of inequality.

Just as the book historicizes the actions of businessmen and private corporations, it also considers the state to be, in the words of Patrick Joyce, an “assemblage” of tentative “outcomes or achievements” created by the accumulation of historical actions.32 The Communist state enterprise system, for example, was not produced by transplanting to China the institutions and factories of the Soviet Union in the 1950s. Instead, each of the enterprise system’s defining characteristics, including bureaucratic organization, accounting systems, and housing benefits, was added in a different time and under different circumstances. In the end, then, the enterprise system was not the product of a single, unified vision but an assemblage of Chinese and imported practices amassed from the 1860s through the 1950s.33 The institutions of each state, then, are a hodgepodge of accretions accumulated over time. In China, this was particularly true for borderlands regions, where state-led development projects might begin in the late Qing and be restarted by Republican-era provincial governments before being poached by first the Nationalists and finally the Communists. Development projects in Xinjiang were layered in just this way, meaning that beginning with the late Qing, each successive state adopted and modified the investments and institutions of the previous states. The result, argues Judd Kinzley, was “not a unified, centralized program of state building, but rather the accumulation of a disjointed, mish-mash of . . . institutions.”34

State-building and economic development are thus historically contingent processes, spanning the late Qing, Republican, and early Communist periods. By the time the party was assuming control of Yunnan’s state-run and private corporations after 1949—and creating development plans for borderlands minority communities—it was doing so with an assemblage of institutions, ideas, and circumstances that reached back into the late Qing. The important elements of the existing assemblage included both institutions and ideas, including a long-standing and powerful vision, dating to 1876, of mechanizing Yunnan’s mining industry. Over time, this vision was passed on to new generations. By the 1930s, it took shape in a number of innovative state-run corporations created to industrialize Yunnan’s mining, textiles, and other industries in order to develop—as many Yunnanese themselves described it—a poor and isolated province that was strategically vulnerable because of its many backward minorities. The Yunnanese tendency to portray the home province in such stark terms was not an accurate reflection of lived reality. As we will see, there were a number of oases of wealth and privilege scattered across a landscape that also saw dire poverty. The wealth was provided by the private corporations, which also connected certain towns to transnational networks of information and mobility. Those who enjoyed such networks included the Tai saophas of western Yunnan, like Fang Kesheng, who were not, in the end, so backward after all. Still, the simple image of backwardness and isolation stuck, and in the 1930s, it influenced how the Yunnanese government created state-run corporations to reverse the province’s fortunes. When the new Communist Party inherited these corporations and ideas, the inheritance would provide the foundations for the party’s construction of an allegedly new China, one in which the term corporate conquests had a double meaning: even as the party conquered private corporations by gaining control over ownership and management, it used corporations to conquer borderlands areas by taking control of their economies and development.

In relating this history, the book places the borderlands at the center of analysis. Originating with the work of Herbert E. Bolton (1870–1953), borderlands scholarship initially studied the Spanish Empire in North America, seeking to investigate, notes David Weber, “the interplay of cultures on both sides of the frontier.”35 In other words, Bolton and his students did not conceive of the American West from a narrow eastern and Anglo point of view. Thus, Bolton’s approach has been, in the long run, a fatal challenge to Frederick Jackson Turner’s Anglo-centric definition of the frontier as the “meeting point between savagery and civilization,” just as recent scholarship has challenged the Han-centrism of earlier approaches to (and current government narratives about) China’s diverse West.36

The strength of borderlands methodologies lies in their careful consideration of multiple points of view and their unwillingness to accept national boundaries as obstacles to historical inquiry. This in turn allows us to overcome the pernicious use of frontier history for constructing nationalist ideologies of dominance and inequality.37 Rather than reinforce the story of a nation created by an expanding Han people (represented by the party after 1949) who settled, civilized, and modernized the borderlands by gifting development, the book reveals how dynamically modern some parts of the so-called backward borderlands were.

In poor, isolated Yunnan, there were merchants who, influenced by developments in colonial Burma, sought to transform their communities with hydroelectric plants, libraries, and education for their daughters. There were Tai saophas who, through their transnational connections, were privy to discussions about autonomy and independence in Burma; they could imagine a world of new political relationships in which borderlands people had a legitimate voice. And in Miao Yuntai, there was an economic planner who drew from his childhood visions of a backward Yunnan as well as experiences in the United States and Shanghai to create state-led, profit-oriented corporations that not only placed Yunnan’s economic organization ahead of national trends but also anticipated some of the post-1979 reforms to China’s economy.

Such findings unsettle the typical understandings of the past, including the assumption that the history of China proper can stand in for modern Chinese history as a whole, as it was once common to use the northeastern United States to narrate purportedly American national stories.38 Building from the methodologies espoused by histories of capitalism and the borderlands, we can formulate a broader, more accurate history of China. If, as Louis Hyman argues, we realize that “people on the margins matter,” then it is possible to understand how China’s history, including its history of economic development, need not be written from east to west but might also be written from west to east.39

By incorporating the borderlands into our historical understandings of China as a whole, moreover, historians will better serve the public. As I draft this introduction in 2019, we are watching the Communist Party’s despicable internment of thousands upon thousands of Uyghurs and Kazakhs in Xinjiang, and only a few specialists are able to make sense of this for a public who is largely ignoring this abomination. This led Rian Thum to argue that “any understanding of China is distorted without a consideration of the minorities with which the Han majority is intertwined. Such distortion helps keep the gross injustices in Xinjiang invisible, and risks enabling an even darker future, foreshadowed by the stories of torture and deaths that have already begun to emerge from the internment camps.”40

By making borderlands communities visible and by turning to borderlands’ voices, historians can recapture a past in which alternative futures were possible. Through documents such as Fang Kesheng’s Ideas, we might realize that disempowered development was not the only option. To identify alternatives, however, we need to place the borderlands at the center of analysis, leap across the barriers that separate Qing from Republic and Republic from People’s Republic, and focus on unconventional topics, such as the histories of Chinese corporations and their conquest of the Southwest.


1. Fang Kesheng, Jianshe Teng Long bianqu ge tusi de yijianshu.

2. The Tai of western Yunnan call themselves Tai Le (IPA with superscript tone identifiers: Tai2Lə6), which should not be confused with the Tai Lü of southern Yunnan. In this book, the Tai Le, who were subject to China, are referred to simply as Tai, while the Tai subject to colonial Burma are often referred to as Tai Shan. I use the common term saopha to refer to the rulers of Tai principalities in both Burma and China, although a more accurate rendering in Tai Le would be tsau faa (tsau4 faa5). For a short introduction to the Tai Le, see Yos Santasombat, Lak Chang: A Reconstruction of Tai Identity in Daikong, 1–11; note that the author uses the term Tai Yai for the Tai Le. For Tai Le as an autonym and for the proper rendering of saopha in Tai Le, see Luo Yongxian, comp., A Dictionary of Dehong, Southwest China, xi–xii, 199.

3. For example, “Dian Chuan Kang Baiyi yunniang duli chou zu Nanchao lianbang hezhong guo.”

4. For the role of surveys in creating the idea of backward minorities, see Tong Lam, A Passion for Facts: Social Surveys and the Construction of the Chinese Nation-State, 1900–1949, 10–11, 133–139.

5. Roger V. Des Forges was the first to write on Dao in English. See Hsi-liang and the Chinese National Revolution, esp. 82, 85, 115.

6. The concept of disempowerment is from Andrew Martin Fischer, The Disempowered Development of Tibet in China: A Study in the Economics of Marginalization. For creation of spatial and ethnic inequalities in Xinjiang from the 1940s to the 1990s, see Judd C. Kinzley, Natural Resources and the New Frontier: Constructing Modern China’s Borderlands, 181–182. For Maoist policies and their adverse impact on minority communities, see Bjorn Gustafsson, “Ethnic Disparities in Economic Well-Being in China,” 344. For Communist Party labeling of minorities as less capable, see Janet C. Sturgeon, “Governing Minorities and Development in Xishuangbanna, China: Akha and Dai Rubber Farmers as Entrepreneurs,” 318–328.

7. Gustafsson provides an outstanding, balanced overview in “Ethnic Disparities,” 348–349, 352–355, 360–362. Other information in this paragraph is from James Leibold, “Interethnic Conflict in the PRC: Xinjiang and Tibet as Exceptions?” 223–250; Susan K. McCarthy, Communist Multiculturalism: Ethnic Revival in Southwest China, 83–88, 104; John A. Donaldson, “Tourism, Development and Poverty Reduction in Guizhou and Yunnan,” 333–351.

8. Kinzley, Natural Resources and the New Frontier, 15–16.

9. Gustafsson, “Ethnic Disparities,” 344, 347.

10. Paul Krugman, “Where in the World Is the ‘New Economic Geography’?” 52, 58; Andrew D. Mellinger, Jeffrey D. Sachs, and John L. Gallup, “Climate, Coastal Proximity, and Development,” 169–194.

11. Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space; Neil Smith, Uneven Development: Nature, Capital, and the Production of Space.

12. Kinzley, Natural Resources and the New Frontier, 16.

13. Emily T. Yeh, Taming Tibet: Landscape Transformation and the Gift of Chinese Development, 6, 21, and esp. chap. 3.

14. Fischer, The Disempowered Development of Tibet, chap. 1, esp. p. 24.

15. For a thoughtful review, see Elena Barabantseva, “The Politics of Everyday Ethnicity in China,” 355–361. For the impact of policies in Yunnan but also resistance against definition by the state, see McCarthy, Communist Multiculturalism, 9–10, 81.

16. Richard White, The Roots of Dependency: Subsistence, Environment, and Social Change among the Choctaws, Pawnees, and Navajos, 315–321.

17. Stephen Cornell and Joseph P. Kalt, “Pathways from Poverty: Development and Institution-Building on American Indian Reservations,” 24.

18. Nicholas Becquelin “Staged Development in Xinjiang,” 44–64.

19. Andrew Batson, “Mapping China: Which Provinces Are Most Dominated by State-Owned Firms?”

20. Donaldson, “Tourism, Development and Poverty Reduction,” 333–351.

21. Chih-yu Shih, Autonomy, Ethnicity, and Poverty in Southwestern China: The State Turned Upside Down, 2–3.

22. For pioneering works in the field, see James A. Millward, Beyond the Pass: Economy, Ethnicity, and Empire in Qing Central Asia, 1759–1864; Peter C. Perdue, China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia, esp. chap. 11 and p. 397. For a more complete review of merchants and borderlands, see C. Patterson Giersch, “Commerce and Empire in the Borderlands: How Do Merchants and Trade Fit into Qing Frontier History?” 361–383.

23. Yingcong Dai, “The Qing State, Merchants, and the Military Labor Force in the Jinchuan Campaigns,” 36, 62–63; see also Dai, The Sichuan Frontier and Tibet: Imperial Strategy in the Early Qing, 179, 184–185.

24. For an outstanding summary of the field of translocal history, see Melissa Macauley, “Entangled States: The Translocal Repercussions of Rural Pacification in China, 1869–1873,” 756–757. For the inspiring challenge to national and area studies boundaries in Asia, see Willem van Schendel, “Geographies of Knowing, Geographies of Ignorance: Jumping Scale in Southeast Asia,” 647–668.

25. Note that my definition resembles broadly accepted definitions. James T. Scott, “Corporations,” 417–420; Sara Hsu, “Corporatization.”

26. On company law, including the Nationalist government’s excluding its own enterprises, see William C. Kirby, “China Unincorporated: Company Law and Business Enterprise in Twentieth-Century China,” 43–63, esp. p. 52.

27. I have been deeply influenced by the work of Madeleine Zelin, including “The Firm in Early Modern China,” 623–637 and The Merchants of Zigong: Industrial Entrepreneurship in Early Modern China. Other influential work: Kenneth Pomeranz, “‘Traditional’ Chinese Business Forms Revisited: Family, Firm, and Financing in the Yutang Company of Jining, 1779–1956,” 1–38; David Faure, “The Lineage as Business Company: Patronage versus Law in the Development of Chinese Business.”

28. For scholarship that essentializes the Chinese business firm, see, for example, Peter L. Berger, “An East Asian Development Model?” 3–11; S. Gordon Redding, The Spirit of Chinese Capitalism; Murray Weidenbaum and Samuel Hughes, The Bamboo Network: How Expatriate Chinese Entrepreneurs Are Creating a New Economic Superpower in Asia.

29. Stephanie Decker, Matthias Kipping, and R. Daniel Wadhwani, “New Business Histories! Plurality in Business History Research Methods,” 33.

30. Elisabeth Köll, From Cotton Mill to Business Empire: The Emergence of Regional Enterprises in Modern China.

. Sven Beckert and Julia B. Rosenbaum, eds., American Bourgeoisie: Distinction and Identity in the Nineteenth Century; Wen-hsin Yeh, Shanghai Splendor: Economic Sentiments and the Making of Modern China, 1843–1949, 1–3, chap. 1.

32. Patrick Joyce, The State of Freedom: A Social History of the British State since 1800, 19.

33. This is the deeply historical argument of Morris L. Bian’s excellent The Making of the State Enterprise System in Modern China: The Dynamics of Institutional Change; see esp. the argument summary, 213–214.

34. Kinzley, Natural Resources and the New Frontier, 2–3. I find Kinzley’s argument particularly compelling because I came to a similar conclusion before reading his fine book. I chose Joyce’s concept of “assemblage” to convey a sense of assembling something from disparate, and perhaps not altogether compatible, parts, an apt metaphor for the modern Chinese party-state. “Mish-mash” serves the same purpose.

35. David J. Weber, “Turner, the Boltonians, and the Borderlands,” 73, emphasis added.

36. Frederick Jackson Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” 32.

37. Pekka Hämäläinen and Samuel Truett, “On Borderlands,” 338. One of the finest examples of challenges to Han-centric narratives is Perdue, China Marches West.

38. Richard White, “The Nationalization of Nature,” 980.

39. On new approaches to business history and the history of capitalism, see Decker, Kipping, and Wadhwani, “New Business Histories!” 30–40. For Hyman’s points, see Louis Hyman, “Why Write the History of Capitalism?”

40. Rian Thum, “Comments” part of a ChinaFile conversation: “How Should the World Respond to Intensifying Repression in Xinjiang?”