Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/738

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small and equally numerous, and, with the sunlight as the active force, each green cell may contribute to the world's gain in the food substances that enable all creatures to live and move and enjoy a fairly comfortable existence.



THE remarkable longevity of a large number of business houses in China is not due solely to the general conditions of society or to those which are peculiar to the commercial class, but their stability and their fame rest upon a special organization, under which they are united in groups. It is customary for all the houses possessing the same specialty to form an association which I shall call a corporation, reserving to myself the privilege of pointing out a few exceptions to the rule. These corporations, which seem to date from at least three centuries back, are difficult subjects to study.' Various in type, formed by the individuals interested, without the state having had anything to do with their regulations or even perhaps authorized them, they exist by force of custom and live conformably to their traditions, while some, I have been told, have written regulations and even, perhaps, archives—which they have not thought fit to communicate to the public. What is to be learned of them has, therefore, to be deduced from their visible transactions.

The corporation fixes the minimum price of articles of sale, and has secret agents to watch that no house takes less, thereby setting bounds to competition and preventing the injurious depreciation of goods. Only the public suffers from the existence of the minimum, but it does not seem to perceive it, and the Government never interferes except in respect to the price of grain, for which it fixes a maximum, and in times of great stress sells from its own granaries. The corporation, too, as represented in the banks and loan offices, fixes the rates of interest to be paid or received, and the kinds of securities and moneys that shall be accepted. In short, it adjusts the general regulations of business transactions, and defends the common interests of all those associated in it. If one of them is implicated in a judicial proceeding of general interest the corporation sustains him with its credit and its funds. It further takes in hand injuries to the interests of its associates. In 1883 the tea merchants' corporation of Hankow suspecting frauds by the agents of certain foreign houses, asked those houses