“National bourgeoisie capital” refers to a country’s own private capital. It includes the non-governmental and non-foreign capital in its economic sector. The stronger a country’s national bourgeoisie capital, the stronger its industry and commerce, and thus the more robust its overall economy. This capital can promote coordinated development in other fields including scientific research and education, bringing prosperity to the nation and higher living standards to its people. This has been the case for Europe, the United States, and Japan in modern times. After the founding of the Republic of China (ROC) in 1912, the country, despite remaining fraught with internal and external challenges, witnessed certain economic growth and a speed-up in national bourgeoisie capital.
Capitalism emerged in China in the late Ming dynasty (明代), but it failed to develop further. After the Opium War in 1842, China’s economic lifeline was subject to heavy manipulation by foreign capital suddenly imported in huge volumes. The Self-Strengthening Movement in this period sparked the inception of modern China’s national bourgeoisie capital. Although new national industry and commerce emerged in the country, these could hardly compete with its foreign counterparts. In the early Republican years, China was fraught with wars among warlords. Although these warlords advanced the economic development within their respective jurisdictions, their incessant battles impeded the national economic development.
Western powers could not divert their attention from the European warfare during World War I, China’s national bourgeoisie capital was thus gifted with a “transient spring”. From 1914 to 1919, 379 new factories and mines were established (63 per year on average) and 85.8 million Chinese yuan was newly invested (14.3 million Chinese yuan per year on average), representing a more-than-doubling of both figures when compared with the previous 19 years. From 1913 to 1920, the average annual growth rate of national bourgeoisie capital was 10.54 per cent, and the ratio of national bourgeoisie capital to domestic industrial capital rose from 16 per cent in 1913 to 22 per cent in 1920. Cotton textile and flour milling demonstrated the fastest development, followed by manufacturing, mining and metallurgy, and shipping. Numerous other industries such as cigarettes, matches, cement, oil, paper, and sugar saw factories springing up as well. In addition to promoting economic development, national bourgeoisie capital during this time made significant contributions to scientific research, charity, and other fields.
During the golden decade (1928-37) of national unity following the Northern Expedition, national bourgeoisie capital, industry, and commerce all grew fast. However, the development of private bourgeoisie capital was then seriously hampered by the eight-year Total War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the four-year civil war between the Kuomintang of China (中國國民黨) and the Chinese Communist Party (中國共產黨), as well as under the constraints of bureaucrat capitalism. The containment of national bourgeoisie capital seriously affected China’s economic development. In 1936, modern industries only contributed 10.8 per cent of China’s domestic industrial and agricultural production value. In 1949, the ratio increased to a mere 17 per cent, which served as evidence of the slow growth.
From left to right: Rong Zongjing (榮宗敬), Rong Desheng (榮德生), and Rong Yiren (榮毅仁). Rong Zongjing and his younger brother Rong Desheng were representative national industrialists of the Republican period. Originally from Wuxi (無錫), Jiangsu Province (江蘇), they founded and operated a number of businesses including cotton and flour mills. The family business was later inherited and run by Rong Yiren, the son of Rong Desheng.
Foo Sing Flour Mills (福新麵粉廠) founded by brothers Rong Zongjing and Rong Desheng on Guangfu Road (光復路), Shanghai (上海), in 1912.
Sung Sing Cotton Mill (申新紡織公司) founded by Rong Zongjing and Rong Desheng on South Baili Road (白利南路, now Changning Road﹝長寧路﹞), Shanghai, in 1915. During the Republican period, it was the largest private-owned cotton mill in the country.
Wing On Cotton Mill was founded by Kwok Lok, an overseas Chinese, in Shanghai in 1922. It was second only to Sung Sing Cotton Mill in terms of scale. Kwok was also the founder of the Wing On Department Stores in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Left: Liu Hong Sheng (劉鴻生), a Republican-period industrialist who established and operated various industries. He was known as the “King of Coal”, “King of Matches”, “King of Cement”, and “King of Enterprise”. Right: Shanghai Portland Cement Works Company Limited founded by Liu in 1920.
Oil and sugar mills saw significant growth during the Republican period. Left: an employee working at Hengde Oil Mill (恒德油廠) in Wuxi, Jiangsu. Right: a Shanghai Dacheng Sugar Mill (上海大成製糖廠) advertisement for lemon sweets.
Left: Fan Xudong (范旭東), a chemical industrialist, was acclaimed as the “Father of China’s National Chemical Industry”. Right: in September 1914, Fan founded the Chiuta Refinery (久大精鹽公司) in Tanggu (塘沽), Tianjin (天津). It was China’s first refined salt factory.
Left: Yongli Alkali Company was the first associated enterprise to produce synthetic ammonia in China. The photo shows the laboratory in its alkali factory. Right: the Huanghai Research Society for Chemical Industry (黃海化學工業研究社), the first privately funded chemical research institute in China.
Papermaking played an important role in the ROC’s industrial development. The photo shows the Fujian Paper Mill (福建造紙廠) in Fuzhou (福州).
The industrialists’ patriotic support manifested in various business activities. They were even willing to sacrifice their businesses to save the nation at critical moments. He Ren’an (賀仁菴), a shipping industrialist from Qingdao (青島), Shandong Province (山東), and the founder of Changji Shipping Company (長記輪船公司) was one such entrepreneur. In 1948, the National Government of the ROC formally awarded him for his contribution to the War of Resistance.
Source of most photos used in this feature piece: Fotoe.