Research Projects

Electric China: A History of the Chinese Electrical and Electronics Industries, 1870 – 1937

Principal Investigator

Ghassan Moazzin, Assistant Professor, Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences and School of Humanities

Total Fund Awarded

HKD 755,000

Project Duration

36 months

Project Description

The proposed study will constitute the first comprehensive archival-based study of the electrical and electronics industries in prewar China. Today, these two sectors are leading industries in China and major contributors to China’s economic growth. However, despite their current importance to the Chinese economy, very little is known about the historical development of the electrical and electronics industries. Without this critical historical background knowledge of the long-term development of these industries, we remain unable to fully comprehend their contemporary and future development. The aim of the proposed research project, situated at the intersection of business history, the history of technology and the history of consumption, is to address this gap in the scholarly literature. It will do so by making use of British, German, American, Japanese and Chinese primary sources to trace the history of these two key industries during the period in which they first emerged in China — the period between the first influx of electrical technology in the late 19th century and the beginning of World War II in East Asia in 1937. The study will begin by investigating the early history of multinational electrical companies in China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It will explore how these companies first introduced electrical goods and services into China and how they started to interact with Chinese entrepreneurs, officials and consumers. The study will then turn to the first private Chinese electrical companies that began to manufacture and market electrical goods in China and examine how they adapted foreign electrical products to the Chinese market between the 1910s and 1937. Finally, it will investigate the role that the Nationalist government and state-run electrical companies, and their competition and cooperation with other private Chinese and foreign companies, played in the growth of the electrical and electronics industries during the Nanjing Decade (1927 – 1937). In addition to its primary focus on the business history of the two industries, the study will also reconstruct Chinese consumers’ use and integration of electrical goods into their daily lives and how businesses interacted with those consumers. In sum, the proposed study will explain the role that the electrical and electronics industries played in the electrification of modern China and how the two industries can be situated in the broader development of Chinese business and the Chinese economy during the 19th and 20th centuries.