Taxi Shanghai: Entrepreneurship and Semi-Colonial Context

Shuang L. Frost*, Adam K. Frost

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Scholars of entrepreneurship can agree that ‘context matters.’ However, there is little consensus regarding the processes through which context and entrepreneurship are mutually constructive. While the influence of top-down forces on entrepreneurial action is well-studied, the ways in which ‘bottom-up’ entrepreneurial processes reshape context remain undertheorized. To help fill this void, this article explores the dynamic interplay between entrepreneurship and semi-colonial context in Republican Shanghai (1911–1949), by retracing the history of Shanghai’s ‘Taxi King’, Zhou Xiangsheng, and his enterprise, Johnson Taxi. Through context theorising, the article explicates mechanisms by which Chinese entrepreneurs reshaped semi-colonial Shanghai: how they launched informal taxi services that filled critical gaps in urban connectivity; combined heterogenous technologies to build city-wide taxi networks that traversed Shanghai’s many divides; and harnessed rising nationalistic sentiments to link the consumption of transportation services with political identity. We argue that through such mechanisms, Chinese entrepreneurs not only navigated their situated context, but actively re-imagined and transformed it.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBusiness History
Number of pages30
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Epub ahead of print. Published online: 03 Jun 2021.


  • Entrepreneurship
  • Semi-colonialism
  • China
  • Contextualisation
  • Transportation
  • Urban studies
  • Shanghai
  • Automobiles
  • Nationalism

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