In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Marketing System in Pre-Modern China

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Statistics
  • Tang Dynasty to Song Dynasty
  • The Political Economy of Markets
  • Merchant Organization
  • Premodern Foreign Trade
  • Markets in Comparative Economic Perspective

Chinese Studies The Marketing System in Pre-Modern China
Carol H. Shiue
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0059


The idea that people can improve their welfare by trading can be found in the late Ming work of the high-ranking official Qiu Jun (1420–1495) in an oft-cited text called Daxue yanyi bu (Supplement to the Exposition on the Great Learning), which was presented to the emperor in 1487. Qiu Jun starts by explaining that a market is “a central place where people whose conditions of livelihood allow them to produce more of one thing and less of another met to exchange their surplus with those whose different conditions of livelihood provided them with different surpluses and lacks.” Modern economics textbooks have a very similar description of markets. A “market” denotes a time and place where people have agreed to meet to buy or sell goods or services through money or barter. Markets are important for increasing the immediate welfare of the buyer and seller. Descriptive histories of markets in China also provide us with a sense of whether trade is voluntary or controlled, and who is controlling the market; both are important for understanding changes in market efficiency over time. This bibliography surveys studies on the market in China, spanning the period from the Tang dynasty to the Republican period, focusing on commodity markets rather than factor markets (e.g., labor markets or land markets). Over the past several decades, researchers have accumulated increasing evidence of the nature and the function of markets in China, their scope, and the efficiency of marketplace transactions in comparison to other advanced areas of the world as of the mid-18th century. One of the key implications that has emerged from this research is that despite the presence of an autocratic state, markets were functioning relatively well in China in the premodern period. More recently researchers are starting also to come to a better understanding of China’s role in the world economy in history, and, more controversially, the impact of Western imperialism on China’s integration with global markets from the 19th century to today.

General Overviews

McMillan 2002 is an excellent introduction to the conceptual and theoretical importance of markets to the overall economy, the impact of markets, and the institutional foundations of marketplaces. O’Rourke and Findlay 2007 provides an extremely comprehensive and informative account of world trade since the first millennium CE, taking a truly global perspective that shows where China fits into the overall picture. Reference to the importance of the market in China’s premodern economy can be found in many articles and books, especially those that focus on the economy of China. Kato 1953 gives a broad overview of Chinese economic history, including the market economy. Brook 1998 gives an overview of the Ming economy and attitudes toward market activities, especially among the elite. Myers and Wang 2002 provides an overview of the Qing economy, with many sections of this essay devoted to the market. Rowe 1984 provides a detailed look at the meaning and function of the marketplace for a major Chinese city.

  • Brook, Timothy. The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in the Ming China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

    A narrative of the evolution in communication and commerce that occurred during the Ming dynasty; includes sections on the impact of the European voyages of discovery. Contains many illustrations and detailed anecdotes of economic life.

  • Kato Shigeshi 加藤繁. Shina keizaishi kōshō (中国经济史考证). Tokyo: Tokyo bunko, 1953.

    A collection of research papers by Kato, a leading Japanese scholar on Chinese economic history. Includes extensive discussions and studies on monetary and currency issues, agriculture, trade, commercial developments with a broad view from ancient history to the Qing. A Chinese translation by Wu Jie 吴杰 has been published as Zhongguo jingjishi kaozheng 中国经济史考证 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1959).

  • McMillan, John. Reinventing the Bazaar: A Natural History of Markets. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002.

    Written through the lens of economic theory, this book gives an extremely readable and informative explanation of the market mechanism, what it is, and what it looks like around the world, why it works, and why it can fail.

  • Myers, Ramon, and Yeh-chien Wang. “Economic Developments, 1644–1800.” In The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 9, The Ch’ing Empire to 1800; Part I. Edited by Willard J. Peterson, 563–647. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    Like other Cambridge History of China volume chapters, this essay provides a summary perspective and overview. The chapter describes the customary, command, and market economies of the Ming and traces the development of these economies in villages, towns, and administrative cities to the mid-Qing.

  • O’Rourke, Kevin H., and Ronald Findlay. Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.

    China makes a frequent appearance in this comprehensive historical account of the evolution of global trade by two leading economic historians.

  • Rowe, William T. Hankow: Commerce and Society in a Chinese City, 1796–1889. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1984.

    This study provides an in-depth look at one city and the trade and urban social organization that enabled it to function as a major commercial location in central China. Chapters in the book cover the salt trade, the tea trade, credit and finance, the relaxation of state control on commerce, and the structure and function of guilds in the privatization of commercial development.

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