‘Scientific’ Management in Republican Shanghai: American-Returned Students and the Concept of Efficiency

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This paper examines the introduction of ‘scientific’ management in Republican Shanghai through its first translators, the academic Yang Xingfo (楊杏佛) and the industrialist Mu Xiangyue (穆湘玥). Both were American-returned students who embraced the ideas of Frederick Winslow Taylor as potential solutions to China’s ills. By the collapse of the Qing dynasty, foreign characterizations of China as inefficient, irrational, and chaotic had gained painful purchase among Chinese elites and intellectuals. As such, these returnees introduced ‘scientific’ management as a reliable and even supposedly objective method of promoting efficiency, discipline, and order. Yet, in reality neither Yang nor Mu were neutral observers or translators. Like many Republican elites, they subscribed to dismissal assessments of their fellow countrymen and worked to integrate Taylorism across Chinese society as a technocratic tool to control and reform the unwashed masses. From the textile industry and cotton agriculture to vocational education and personal behavior, they worked with networks of fellow reformers and American-returned students to transform the Chinese people into more efficient and thereby more productive and valuable citizens in their eyes.
Period12 Nov 2021
Held atThe University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong