China's Political Economy in Modern Times: Changes and Economic Consequences, 1800-2000

China's Political Economy in Modern Times: Changes and Economic Consequences, 1800-2000

China's Political Economy in Modern Times: Changes and Economic Consequences, 1800-2000

China's Political Economy in Modern Times: Changes and Economic Consequences, 1800-2000


This book makes an important contribution to the study of changes in China's institutions and their impact on the national economy as well as ordinary people's daily material life from 1800 to 2000. Kent Deng reveals China's mega-cycle of prosperity-poverty-prosperity without the usual attribution to the 1840 Opium War, or the alleged population pressure, class struggle and oriental despotism. The book challenges the conventional view on 'rebellions', 'revolutions' and their alleged motivations and outcomes. Its findings separate commonly circulated myth with reality based on solid evidence and careful evaluation. The benchmark used by the author is people's entitlement and mundane day-to-day material well being, instead of the stereotype of aggregates of industrial hardware and national GDP.

China's Political economy in Modern Times proves that state-building was the prime mover in China's modern history. Contrary to the popular belief in mass movement, Deng shows convincingly that changes were in most cases imposed by a minority with external help. Therefore, the quality of the state was unpredictable, seen from the anti-state that cost lives and economic growth.

This book will be of interest to students and scholars of Chinese Politics, Chinese Economics, Chinese History, and Political Economy.


The year 2011 is the centenary of the 1911 Revolution, an event commonly viewed as a turning point in China’s modern history for the better. Meanwhile, the period from 1800 to 2000 was underscored by turbulent changes unseen since the Mongol conquest of the thirteenth century. Crises of wide scope and high intensity appeared: recurrent civil wars, repeated unrest, continual political purges, societywide narcotic abuse, and an unparalleled man-made famine. China was also defeated five times by invaders and forced into humiliating treaties with a host of foreign powers. China became a country ruled by Murphy’s Law, everything that could go wrong, went wrong.

As the author, my aim is to unveil the key mechanisms that affected a quarter of humanity over the past two centuries. The intended thrust of this book is a high degree of consistency, something commonly lacking in works in this field. Few logical explanations have been offered as to why and how attributing China’s problems to the long-lasting success of the Qing led to sudden failure without introducing an external force, such as the British invasion in the 1840 Opium War, or some farfetched factors, such as universal class struggle or Oriental Despotism. With this in mind, the major objective of the study is to disentangle truth from myth, probe the real historical causation, and measure the costs and benefits of changes. Extensive use is made of original Chinese materials, instead of recycling what has been circulating in secondary sources.

My task is to navigate through China’s messy modern history using the compass of one overriding drive rather than many unrelated contingencies. This historical drive was the pursuit of state power by a tiny minority of movers and shakers in society, something that has often been overlooked. In the process, nothing from the existing literature is assumed. Everything is scrutinised against primary facts. For example, despite the alleged rise of nationalism, China’s movers and shakers were often foreign-power dependents. Even Sun Yat-sen openly sought foreign support and was fully prepared to give up China’s sovereignty in exchange for it, while the communists lived on foreign hand-outs for decades. Such behaviour sounds outrageous to this generation, but it was highly rational to the contemporary mind. The main challenge is how to assess ‘rebellions’ and ‘revolutions’ behind which the minority of movers and shakers carefully concealed their true colours. The sole criterion used here is whether these movements delivered anything beneficial . . .

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