To read this content please select one of the options below:

Marketing via Shangbangs (Chinese business networks)

Tony Yan (Global Business Leadership Department, College of St Benedict and St John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA)
Michael R. Hyman (Institute for Marketing Futurology and Philosophy, Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA)

Journal of Historical Research in Marketing

ISSN: 1755-750X

Article publication date: 30 January 2024




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.



Yan, T. and Hyman, M.R. (2024), "Marketing via Shangbangs (Chinese business networks)", Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2024, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles