This study presents a systematic documentation of Chinese accounting and management control practices in two eminent family households of the early Qing Dynasty. There is a lack of information on management control during this period (during the 18th century) and a scarcity of empirical evidence on the control practices of family institutions in ancient China. We attempted to address these problems by analyzing the accounting and management control practices described in the popular novel A Dream of the Red Mansions. Further analyses were made to ensure that the control practices thus observed were in harmony with the social and cultural settings of the early Qing Dynasty. Pairing the control practices observed in the novel with a definite set of cultural and social values led to several empirical conclusions. Big family households of the early Qing Dynasty clearly recognized the importance of, and made distinct achievements in, accounting and management controls. They mastered the segregation of duties, the control of cash, the use of budgets for planning, the containment of costs, and the efficiency of operations. However, social and cultural factors that were prevalent during the Qing Dynasty impeded the effectiveness of such practices. The obsession with preserving harmony in society and the family system eventually led to excessive power distance and rigid rules, at the expense of flexibility and professionalism. As history is often indicative of the future, the research results should facilitate our understanding of the management of family-owned businesses in Chinese communities.
- Accounting history; Accounting and management control; A Dream of the Red Mansions; Cultural and social perspective of control