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Business | Marketing



This study examines how informal business networks achieve marketing goals in socially uncertain contexts. Drawing from multiple historical sources, Shangbangs, a type of business network that thrived in pre-1949 China, are analyzed.


The Critical Historical Research Method (CHRM) undergirds a study of Shangbangs’ historicity (i.e. their socio-historically embedded multiplicity, including organizational forms, activities and connotations.


As informal regional, professional, project-based, special-product-based or mixed marketing networks, Shangbangs relied on “flexible specialization” and coupled multiple business needs to market goods and services, business organizations, specific social values and, when necessary, to debrand business rivals.

Research limitations/implications

This analysis extends theories about marketing networks by probing their subtypes, diverse marketing activities, multipronged channels and relationship building with social entities (including underground societies, business associations and guilds) in response to pre-1949 China’s market uncertainties. Substantiating an alternative approach to “flexible specialization” and marketing innovations within the pre-1949 Chinese economy shows how a parallel theoretical framework can complement western-based marketing theories.


This first comprehensive analysis of Shangbangs, an innovative historical Chinese marketing network outside the conventional market-corporate dichotomy, can inform theory building for marketing strategy-making and management conditioned by social contexts.

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Marketing Commons