The Chinese Economy

The Chinese Economy

The Chinese Economy

The Chinese Economy


There have been many monographic studies of the specifically economic aspects of Chinese society and civilisation, but very few broad surveys. Indeed a competent introductory economic history of China is still badly needed. Of the general surveys of the modern scene Professor Tawney Land and Labour in China is justly the most celebrated, but Tawney himself wrote a brilliant palinode in his Introduction to Agrarian China and, in any case, the crowded events of the last generation have rendered his work out of date.

This book attempts, however inadequately, to fill the gap. The story of China's economic development since 1949 is trebly instructive. First and not least for its own intrinsic significance; in a world which can be bounded in a nutshell the path on which nearly a quarter of its inhabitants have irrevocably entered cannot be ignored, or, worse still, dismissed as a bad dream.

China has combined evolutionary with revolutionary changes and methods in nice proportions. While the pace of economic growth is gradual, it is nonetheless swift -- indeed probably swifter than that achieved by any country other than Russia. The annual rates of growth in national income, gross output and the crucial sector of heavy industry since 1952, i.e., after the initial period of reconstruction in which the rates of growth were almost inevitably very high, are most impressive.

Second, the Chinese experience is instructive for the light it throws on the problems of industrialisation in under-developed and backward countries. The lessons to be learned are admittedly complex in character and in no way imply that Chinese institutions and practices are exportable in toto and without modification. On the contrary, it has been one of China's main sources of strength that she has insistently taken her own historical and social background into account and that she has eschewed doctrinaire prescriptions which Mao Tsetung once compared to "the foot-bandages of a slut, long as well as smelly."

Nevertheless, the relevance of Chinese economic growth to countries embarking on or still in the early stages of industrialisation can hardly be over-estimated, especially as it is arguable that the transition to capitalism has now become at least as difficult as the transition to socialism for such countries. To adapt Pope's misleading couplet,

For forms of government let fools contest,
Whate'er is best industrialised is best.

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