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October 18, 2023

The Puzzling Ascent of China’s Corporate Giants

Event Series: Chinese Politics and Economy Research Seminar Series

Shanghai night view

One measure of a country’s economic strength is the scale and number of its modern corporations. In 2008, China had only 27 corporations in the Fortune Global 500, a small fraction of the United States’ 150. By 2021, China remarkably had surpassed the United States. The speed and timing of this historically unprecedented increase is puzzling—China’s corporate giants proliferated as growth steadily declined. Three unusual state policies explain the ascent of China’s corporate giants. The first is the massive and prolonged expansion of credit for infrastructure projects in response to the 2008 global financial crisis. The second is an intensifying drive by central and regional governments to merge state firms. The third is the strategic allocation of China’s massive foreign currency reserves to support corporate expansion abroad. These policies explain the surging numbers of China’s large corporations, most of which are state-owned instruments of national strategy. It is not clear that this development indicates economic strength, at least as conventionally understood. In this talk, political sociologist Andrew G. Walder will share his research on this topic.

This event is jointly sponsored by the Department of Government and the Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues at Georgetown University. Light lunch will be provided.


Andrew G. Walder is the Denise O'Leary and Kent Thiry Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and senior fellow in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. A political sociologist, Walder has long focused on the sources of conflict, stability, and change in communist regimes and their successor states. His publications on China have ranged from the political and economic organization of the Mao era to changing patterns of stratification, social mobility, and political conflict in the post-Mao era. Another focus of his research has been on the political economy of Soviet-type economies and their subsequent reform and restructuring. His current research focuses on popular political mobilization in late-1960s China and the subsequent collapse and rebuilding of the Chinese party-state.