The Chinese merchant and craft associations that are most similar to European guilds originated in the late sixteenth century. They started to proliferate from the mid-eighteenth century onward and, after the intercession of the Taiping rebellion and the Opium Wars, their numbers soared from the mid-nineteenth century on. Commercial and handicraft guilds began to decline after Chambers of Commerce were promoted in the economic and political reforms during the last years of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Subsequent governments of the Republic of China, both at Peking (1912-1927) and Nanking (1927-1937) first launched branch-specific commercial and industrial associations, and eventually ordered the re-organization of the traditional guilds. Although this command was formally implemented, various transitional modes and arrangements lingered on until the foundation of the People's Republic in 1949. A set of Chinese guild statistics published in 1995 forms the basis of this overview. The paper discusses distribution, internal organization, functions, the relationship of the guilds with different levels of the administration, and points of comparison with guilds worldwide.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-247
Number of pages34
JournalInternational Review of Social History
StatePublished - 2009

ID: 276430