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August 17, 2005

Another Book: Economic Change in China, c. 1800-1950

Another one to add to the pile:

Economic Change in China, c. 1800-1950: Philip Richardson (1999), Economic Change in China, c. 1800-1950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 0521635713). Reviewed for EH.NET by Debin Ma, Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo, Japan and Department of Economics, University of Missouri, St. Louis.

Richardson shows there are relatively firm statistics indicating that foreign trade and investment grew enormously in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Industrial output, particularly the modern sector, also exhibited an impressive growth record during the twentieth century. But these elements were far from altering the basic structure of the economy dominated by the giant agricultural sector where traditional technology prevailed and estimates of per-capita output growth are dubious due to the lack of consistent aggregate time series data.... "The major long-term influences... were the pressure of population on the land, the intensification of commercialized market mechanisms, contact with the outside world and the role of state. By the middle of the twentieth century those factors had... produce[d]... significant elements of modernization but not... sustained growth....

I believe there is still room for Richardson to push his assessment a little bit.... [M]odern economic growth... had clearly taken root in regions where modern industrial sectors clustered and agriculture was most commercialized.... China was farther along on the path toward modern economic growth in the 1930s or 1950 than in 1890 or 1850.

I do have some reservations about Richardson's assessment of Chinese agricultural conditions in the 1930s.... The relatively reliable data on rice yield per acre in the 1930s shows that the Chinese level was still about 60-70% of the contemporaneous Japanese level... equivalent to... early Meiji Japan... average farm size in China was comparable to... Japan, Taiwan and Korea.... [P]er-capita gross value added of farm output... peak.... The 1930s per-capita level was only surpassed after de-collectivization and the diffusion of the household responsibility system in the 1980s China.

Chinese farmers may have been poor in the 1930s, but they were not much poorer than those in Japan, Taiwan and Korea in their early stages of development. Very likely, they were just as well-off as the Chinese farmers in the late 1970s....

Citation: Debin Ma (2000), "Review of Philip Richardson Economic Change in China, c. 1800-1950" Economic History Services http://www.eh.net/bookreviews/library/0255.shtml

Posted by DeLong at August 17, 2005 11:11 PM