Identity and Behaviour
CSC China Perspectives series
Edited by Minglu Chen and David S.G. Goodman
Chapter 7: Institutional determinants of the political consciousness of private entrepreneurs
The role of the bourgeoisie and the middle class has been a favourite topic for historians and social scientists alike as the middle class is inextricably linked to such sociopolitical concepts and events as industrialization, nation, state and revolution, and in particular with the French Revolution. Although true class consciousness in the Marxist tradition is only ascribed to the proletariat (Lukacs  1968), it is the consciousness of the bourgeoisie that matters for the ‘birth of modernity’, and in particular the birth of the modern nation state (Fehér, 1990). For an understanding of the political role of China’s emerging middle class there are good reasons to revisit the economic and political origins of the European bourgeoisie and class consciousness. The concept of a bourgeoisie raises pertinent political and economic issues when looking for an equivalent of the European bourgeoisie in contemporary China. Is there any likelihood of the emergence of a bourgeoisie in China – a class that controls both the economy and the state and asserts itself against an ancien régime that impedes economic development, or is this concept in itself an untenable simplification? Attempts to trace the role of the bourgeoisie in preparing the ground for the French Revolution have led to a more complex understanding of state–society interaction and class formation (Higonnet, 1990). Studies of the French Revolution have shown that the bourgeoisie was closely involved in the formation of the nation state and the transition from indirect rule to direct rule by a modern centralized government (Tilly, 1990).
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