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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