Image of Photo of Prof Christopher Marquis and front cover of his book, Mao and Markets...

Mao and Markets: The Communist Roots of Chinese Enterprise

The China Forum lecture on Wednesday 3 May 2023 was delivered by Professor Christopher Marquis (Fellow, Jesus College, and Sinyi Professor of Chinese Management, Cambridge Judge Business School).

Professor Marquis’ lecture was based on his book Mao and Markets: The Communist Roots of Chinese Enterprise (Yale University Press, 2022/23). The book was written in order to help the West understand China better. Professor Marquis argued that people in the West find it hard to understand how a country led by a communist party can have achieved the most successful economic development in world history. Western perceptions of China have not fully appreciated the flexibility of the Chinese system of governance. Instead of a system in which ‘state’ and ‘market’ stand in opposition to each other, China’s development path since the late 1970s has been based on a flexible and symbiotic relationship between state and market. China’s pragmatism and flexibility in economic policy and business practice is deeply-rooted in Chinese history. Professor Marquis’ lecture explored the flexibility of China’s governance system, analyzing the lasting influence of Maoist ideology and organisational systems. He examined the role of ideological principles, mass campaigns and institutions during the Maoist era upon business practice in China today. His perspective on the nature of the firm in China is based on extensive fieldwork across China, involving interviews with numerous entrepreneurs. In his lecture he drew upon concrete examples to demonstrate Mao Zedong’s lasting impact, including Mao’s military strategy, the Great Leap Forward (1958-59), ‘self-reliance’ in resource mobilisation, and decentralisation under the ‘Third Front’ industrial strategy.

The Q&A session addressed the following issues: the degree to which Mao’s pre-revolutionary experience in the Chinese countryside influenced his approach to institutions and policy; the extent to which concepts used by Mao Zedong, such as ‘serve the people’ and the ‘mass line’, influence business practice; the extent to which Professor Marquis’ interviewees were aware of the lasting influence of Mao Zedong; the role that Adam Smith’s ‘visible hand’ and ‘invisible hand’ play in Chinese economic policy today; the implications of Professor Marquis’ research for understanding policy discussion and debate in China; the role of entrepreneurship in China today; the role of leadership in Chinese business practice; the level of innovation in China’s state-owned enterprises compared with non-state enterprises; and the extent to which China’s indigenous firms are competitive in high technology industries, including semi-conductors, aircraft, electricity generation and distribution, and high-speed rail.

Christopher Marquis is the Sinyi Professor of Chinese Management at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School. He is the author the award winning books Better Business: How the B Corp Movement is Remaking Capitalism and Mao and Markets: The Communist Roots of Chinese Enterprise. Prior to joining Cambridge he worked at Cornell for over 6 years, and Harvard for over 11 years, where he developed an award-winning course on social entrepreneurship. He is the author of more than 20 peer-reviewed academic articles and more than 50 Harvard business cases on topics related to sustainable business, and has earned awards for scholarly achievement from the Academy of Management and the American Sociological Association. Marquis earned a PhD in sociology and business administration from the University of Michigan and BA in History from Notre Dame. Before his academic career, he worked for six years in the financial services industry, most recently as vice president and technology manager for a business unit of J.P. Morgan Chase.