The city has never been incorporated in China. Does it nevertheless represent a space of autonomy for merchants? How was the relationship between the merchant and this very particular eco-system, the city, was shaped in late imperial China? China's power structure, based on the alliance of scholars and the military, has hardly been altered by the proliferation of cities. The clans certainly played a decisive role in the conduct of business and conflict management, but one would be hard pressed to detect the emergence of a municipal government controlled by merchants, except during the second half of the nineteenth century, in the treaty-ports. The Chinese city was never established as a legal entity, and remained confined to the role assigned to it by the bureaucratic power. The size of a city was a function of its position on the imperial power's administrative chessboard, rather than its economic power.
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