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A critical survey of recent research in Chinese economic history

Deng, Kent (2000) A critical survey of recent research in Chinese economic history. Economic History Review, 53 (1). pp. 1-28. ISSN 0013-0117

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Identification Number: 10.1111/1468-0289.00150


China is a resilient dinosaur. In contrast with so many other great empires in Eurasia – the Egyptian, Roman, Byzantine, Arabian, Ottoman and Tsarist-Soviet – China has the longest history. The Empire kept expanding until the mid-nineteenth century when it practically reached the physical limits for a predominantly agrarian economy. The size and wealth of the Chinese economy, the variety of its produce and the degree of commercialisation and urbanisation made China one of the most popular international trading destinations from Roman times. With the rise of the opium trade in the early nineteenth century, however, the Chinese economy has been severely impoverished at least in relative terms. In response, since the 1870s, the Chinese sought to rescue their civilisation by adopting a wide range of foreign examples in social engineering for social experiments and reforms. Nevertheless, China's per capita GDP is still very low despite its political influence in the world since the 1970s. It is justifiable to view China as a case of growth failure in the recent centuries. The study of Chinese economic history has the same age as China's modern history itself. The field has been led and dominated by the West. Scholarly attempts have been made since the turn of this century to explain China's premodern success and its downfall after the Opium War. Two approaches can be identified: the 'Sinological approach' which refers to China only and the 'comparative method' which compares China with the West. The former tries to find out what achievements China managed to make and when and how it made them and the latter seeks to understand why premodern China was not industrialised.

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Additional Information: This is an electronic version of an Article published in the Economic history review 53 (1), pp. 1-28 © 2000 Blackwell Publishing. The definitive version is available at LSE has developed LSE Research Online so that users may access research output of the School. Copyright and Moral Rights for the papers on this site are retained by the individual authors and/or other copyright owners. Users may download and/or print one copy of any article(s) in LSE Research Online to facilitate their private study or for non-commercial research. You may not engage in further distribution of the material or use it for any profit-making activities or any commercial gain. You may freely distribute the URL (<>) of the LSE Research Online website.
Divisions: Economic History
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
Date Deposited: 23 Jun 2006
Last Modified: 20 Jun 2021 01:30

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