Debates - Guilds

Were guilds an impediment to economic growth?


(China only)

Within the Chinese context, merchant guilds especially demonstrated great flexibility in adapting to a changed global economic environment. The rise of the numbers of Chinese guilds sets in when international trade was enhanced in the second half of the nineteenth century. Incorporated business demanded change of inefficient economic policies and practices in the late nineteenth century, and strove for the realization of Chambers of Commerce, a process that ushered in the 'Golden Age of the Chinese Bourgeoisie' (Bergère). In that sense, they can hardly be considered to be an impediment to growth, but they did change in the process. As for craft guilds, they were, according to the surveys among the Beijing craftspeople conducted by Gamble and Burgess and their Chinese colleagues, and later by the Niida group, less enthusiastic about change. Nevertheless, we can hardly consider the craft guilds to be impediments to change. Especially in the countryside, handicraft production held out in many production branches until the Communist takeover, and in many places the guilds as concomitant organizations were not declining as they may have been in the industrializing cities. The asynchronicity and the variance of socioeconomic processes in China needs to be taken into account for a discussion of this question.



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