Research Handbook on the History of Corporate and Company Law
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Research Handbook on the History of Corporate and Company Law

Edited by Harwell Wells

Understanding the corporation means understanding its legal framework, but until recently the origins and evolution of corporate law have received relatively little attention. The topical chapters featured in this Research Handbook, contributed by leading scholars from around the world, examine the historical development of corporation and business organization law in the Americas, Europe, and Asia from the ancient world to modern times, providing an invaluable resource for both further historical research and scholars seeking the origins of present-day issues.
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Chapter 13: Corporation law in late Imperial China

Teemu Ruskola


Chapter 13 studies the corporation in late imperial China, arguing, against much received wisdom, that even before the introduction of Western law in China at the turn of the twentieth century China had entities analogous to the business corporation in the form of ‘clan corporations’” Developing within a Confucian tradition that looked askance at profit-seeking and saw the family, rather than the natural person, as carrying a legal personality, clan corporations initially developed out of ancestral trusts, formed to pool property to provide for ancestral sacrifices. The ancestral trust, however, lent itself to the creation of large, for-profit business enterprises, often with unrelated investors and expert managers—enterprises clothed in a form acceptable to Chinese attitudes at the time, but with many of the characteristics of modern Western corporations. What differentiated these organizations from European or American counterparts was not, this makes clear, anything essential about their nature, but rather the ‘vehement ideological insistence on kinship as the organizing principle, even in the case of large clan corporations in which kinship was the most threadbare fiction and many of the governing relations in fact originated in contract, not kinship’.

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