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From divergence to convergence: re-evaluating the history behind China’s economic boom

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  • Loren Brandt
  • Debin Ma
  • Thomas G. Rawski

Abstract

China’s long-term economic dynamics pose a formidable challenge to economic historians. The Qing Empire (1644-1911), the world’s largest national economy before 1800, experienced a tripling of population during the 17th and 18th centuries with no signs of diminishing per capita income. While the timing remains in dispute, a vast gap emerged between newly rich industrial nations and China’s lagging economy in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. Only with an unprecedented growth spurt beginning in the late 1970s did this great divergence separating China from the global leaders substantially diminish, allowing China to regain its former standing among the world’s largest economies. This essay develops an integrated framework for understanding that entire history, including both the divergence and the recent convergent trend. We explain how deeply embedded political and economic institutions that contributed to a long process of extensive growth before 1800 subsequently prevented China from capturing the benefits associated with the Industrial Revolution. During the 20th century, the gradual erosion of these historic constraints and of new obstacles erected by socialist planning eventually opened the door to China’s current boom. Our analysis links China’s recent development to important elements of its past, while using recent success to provide fresh perspectives on the critical obstacles undermining earlier modernization efforts, and their eventual removal.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History in its series Economic History Working Papers with number 50816.

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Length: 111 pages
Date of creation: Mar 2013
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ehl:wpaper:50816

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Postal: LSE, Dept. of Economic History Houghton Street London, WC2A 2AE, U.K.
Phone: +44 (0) 20 7955 7084
Web page: http://www.lse.ac.uk/economicHistory/
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  1. History matters: the influence of pre-industrial China’s institutions on post-1978 economic boom.
    by missiaia in NEP-HIS blog on 2012-02-22 15:24:00
  2. History matters: the influence of pre-industrial China’s institutions on post-1978 economic boom.
    by missiaia in NEP-HIS blog on 2012-02-22 15:24:00
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Cited by:
  1. Yuyu Chen & Hui Wang & Se Yan, 2014. "The Long-Term Effects of Protestant Activities in China," CEH Discussion Papers 25, Centre for Economic History, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.

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