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Accelerated Transition

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British Enterprises in Shanghai and the Transition to Socialism

image of European Journal of East Asian Studies

When the Chinese Communist Party seized power in 1949 it began a process of transforming China’s economy and society. Despite the Party initially advancing a programme of gradual change under ‘New Democracy’, the early 1950s can best be characterised as a period of accelerated transition. This paper uses the case study of the elimination of British business in Shanghai to show how radicalisation in the political sphere catalysed economic change. Drawing on recently disclosed documents from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Archives and materials from the Shanghai Municipal Archives, the paper demonstrates how policy-making and implementation evolved in practice. The elimination of foreign commercial enterprises was deemed a priority, but because they were closely tied into the Chinese economy the processes involved in their removal presented issues that were too difficult to resolve along simplistic ideological lines. While it may seem contradictory to argue that this period was characterised both by accelerated change and by enduring legacies of the old order, this paper demonstrates that behind a façade of cohesive action lay cadres struggling to manage a complex situation. The ccp’s own weaknesses determined their courses of action and the methods they deployed informed the way revolutionary transformation evolved.

Affiliations: 1: University of York


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