Deng – A Critical Survey of Recent Research in Chinese Economic
Splits attempts to explain China's failure to continue economic growth into
(1)Sinological, referring only to China; what achievements did China
make, when, and how?
(2)Comparative, comparing China with the West; why did China not
I. Sinological Approach
Five main findings:
1) China enjoyed premodern technological, economic, and military
superiority to Eurasia
2) By premodern standards, China achieved high degree of
commercialization and urbanization, including paper currency and
3) China protected producers' incentives with well-defined property rights
4) Long-term patterns in China's growth (Elvin's high-level equilibrium
5) China's rapid population rise after seventeenth century, with high
education and literacy attainment
Two main methodological problems of Sinological approach:
(1)What is the relationship between regions and the empire?
(2)Where did ecological and political forces enter long-term economic
Regional studies have developed to deal with size of China. However, Deng
points out certain forces that played a unifying/centralizing role across
regions, such as a national market, a single government, in-migration, and
Confucianism. This is coupled with a declining prominence and frequency of
It was not until early 190s that ecological factors such s natural disasters
were explored for their economic effects. III.Comparative Approach
Comparisons between China and West is problematic, given the large
differences between the two. As such, these projects assume unilinear
development based on a Hegelian-Marxist model.
Others have attempted to avoid this by asking why China did not repeat its
own achievements under the Song. Yet this still “posits socio-economic
hegemony under the Song and socio-economic inferiority afterwards.
Hegelism will always be with us.”
“Some visible or tangible universal yardsticks are needed to measure
technological and economic status.... nevertheless, this European benchmark
will, pace Darwin, remain as a second-best solution regardless of opposition
from both the camp of the 'reference' (western Europe) an the 'comparee'
IV.Why Didn't China Industrialize?
From a Darwinian perspective, a linear development is not a given. “Whether
the economy was ever truly a candidate to become the first industrialized
society become irrelevant.”
Nevertheless, many studies have tried to answer the question of why China
did not industrialize. Deng splits these into nine schools of thought:
1) Ideological determinism
“Since religions, ideologies, and ideas are not difficult to identity and they
are often more or less unique to individual civilizations or 'cultures,'
everything can be attributed to them.”
Though this approach promotes cultural understanding, it cannot explain
why peoples who share similar cultures or beliefs come to very different
paths of economic development.
2) Market model
Many focus on the market as a locomotive for economic growth. However,
China had market institutions such as private ownership and property rights
even earlier than the West.
Furthermore, “although a functioning market can optimize the allocation of
resources, it does not automatically give rise to sustained technological and
economic development.” Indeed, it may give rise to a Ricardian 'stationary state.'
3) Environmental determinism
This view says that Europe had a geographic advantage vis-a-vis Asia.
However, Deng points out that the China seas functioned as an 'Asian
Mediterranean,' facilitated migration and trade.
4) Class-struggle paradigm