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Doing Business in Rural China

Liangshan's New Ethnic Entrepreneurs

Open-access edition: DOI 10.6069/9780295804095

Longlisted for the 2009 ICAS Book Award

Mountainous Liangshan Prefecture, on the southern border of Sichuan Province, is one of China's most remote regions. Although Liangshan's majority ethnic group, the Nuosu (now classified by the Chinese government as part of the Yi ethnic group) practiced a subsistence economy and were, by Chinese standards, extremely poor. Their traditional society was stratified into endogamous castes, the most powerful of which owned slaves. With the incorporation of Liangshan into China's new socialist society in the mid-twentieth century, the Nuosu were required to abolish slavery and what the Chinese government considered to be superstitious religious practices. When Han Chinese moved into the area, competing with Nuosu for limited resources and introducing new cultural and economic challenges, some Nuosu took advantage of China's new economic policies in the 1980s to begin private businesses.

In Doing Business in Rural China, Thomas Heberer tells the stories of individual entrepreneurs and presents a wealth of economic data gleaned from extensive fieldwork in Liangshan. He documents and analyzes the phenomenal growth during the last two decades of Nuosu-run businesses, comparing these with Han-run businesses and asking how ethnicity affects the new market-oriented economic structure and how economics in turn affects Nuosu culture and society. He finds that Nuosu entrepreneurs have effected significant change in local economic structures and social institutions and have financed major social and economic development projects. This economic development has prompted Nuosu entrepreneurs to establish business, political, and social relationships beyond the traditional social confines of the clan, while also fostering awareness and celebration of ethnicity.

About the Author

Thomas Heberer is professor of political science and East Asian studies at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany.


"Make[s] important contributions to the existing perspectives on China's ethnic minorities not least for their new rich ethnographies and research findings. One . . . major input is the exploration of the 'big' questions on Chinese national identity, citizenship, and modernity from the perspective of ethnic minorities."—Elena Barabantseva, Asian Ethnicity, October 2011

"This book sheds new light on the dynamics of ethnic China by bringing attention to its enormous complexity and the impact of ethnic entrepreneurs on impoverished minority areas. This book will interest scholars and graduate students in China studies, Asian studies, ethnic studies, and social change."—Journal of Anthropological Research

"..A richly detailed and insightful study, bound to appeal to students of contemporary Chinese culture and society."—The China Journal

"The great strength of this book lies in its exploration of the idea of the 'ethnic entrepreneur' and his (or, very rarely in the case of the Nuosu, her) role in economic, social and cultural development. Heberer competently applies general theory on entrepreneurship and ethnicity to his case study of Liangshan, and the book should therefore find readers well beyond the clan of China specialists . . . . Thomas Heberer's work on the Nuosu is highly recommended."—Pacific Affairs

"Heberer's focus on Nuosu entrepreneurs as operating between two worlds yields interesting and unanticipated results concerning ethnicity and modernity. . . . Will be of interest to scholars in a wide range of fields—economics, politics, sociology, anthropology, and business. . . . A stimulating and original take on market development in China."—China Quarterly


9780295987293 : doing-business-in-rural-china-heberer
280 Pages
$105.00 USD
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