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‘The British boss is gone and will never return’: Communist takeovers of British companies in Shanghai (1949-1954)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle



Publication details

JournalModern Asian Studies
DateE-pub ahead of print - 22 Apr 2013
DatePublished (current) - Nov 2013
Issue number6
Number of pages36
Pages (from-to)1941-1976
Early online date22/04/13
Original languageEnglish


In May 1949 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) seized Shanghai. Rather than being elated at the prospect of harnessing the economic power of China’s largest city to complete the revolution, the Communists approached it cautiously. How would the CCP set about transforming this free-wheeling port city with a ‘semi-colonial’ past into an orderly and socialist city? How would it balance ideology and pragmatism in reshaping Shanghai? This paper uses the takeover of two British companies as case studies through which these issues are explored at the ground level. It is argued that the means by which these companies were transformed tell us much about the CCP and its state-building policies. When cadres entered foreign companies, their priority was not radical change and anti-imperialism, but rather fostering a sense of stability and unity in order to avoid disrupting production. Their gradual approach was due in large part to the Party’s awareness of its own limited skills, resources and manpower, but also because the CCP leaders and cadres recognised that before they could remake Shanghai anew they had to first deal with the material and human legacies of the past.

    Research areas

  • communism, Shanghai, public utilities, IMPERIALISM, decolonisation, TAKEOVERS



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