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POLI 338 (20)
Juan Wang (20)

POLI 338 - Deng: A Critical Survey of Recent Research in Chinese Economic History

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Political Science
POLI 338
Juan Wang

Deng – A Critical Survey of Recent Research in Chinese Economic History Splits attempts to explain China's failure to continue economic growth into two camps: (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 industrialize? 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 credit institutions 3) China protected producers' incentives with well-defined property rights 4) Long-term patterns in China's growth (Elvin's high-level equilibrium trap, etc.) 5) China's rapid population rise after seventeenth century, with high education and literacy attainment II. Criticisms 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 history? 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 empire-wide studies. 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' (China).” 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 This view
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