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Chinese Economic Performance in the Long Run

Author(s):Maddison, Angus
Reviewer(s):Gottschang, Thomas R.

Published by EH.NET (July 2001)

Angus Maddison, Chinese Economic Performance in the Long Run. Paris:

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 1998. 194 pp.

$33 (paper), ISBN: 92-64-16180-5.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Thomas R. Gottschang, Department of Economics, College

of the Holly Cross.

Chinese Economic Performance in the Long Run is an unusual book that

seeks to serve as a gateway and road map to China’s economic history for

scholars who study other countries. Angus Maddison (Professor of Economics at

the University of Groningen, the Netherlands) received this assignment from

the research program on “The Reform and Growth of Large Developing Countries”

of the Development Center of the OECD, which also published the book in

French, under the title L’Economie Chinoise: Une perspective

historique. Maddison’s approach to this task was to study key secondary

works on each major topic of China’s economic past, then draw his own

conclusions about the central issues, based to a large extent on his extensive

work on world economic history. His major effort is devoted to data; the text

chapters include 53 tables and almost half of the book consists of appendices,

which contain 62 tables. Throughout the book, Maddison has critically

evaluated and revised the available data to reconcile inconsistencies and to

make it compatible with economic measurement standards used by the OECD.

Maddison begins the book with a short summary of his conclusions, including

relevant comparisons to the economic histories of other countries. He then

divides China’s economic past into three very broad periods, each of which

receives a brief chapter of text. An important theme of the book is that

China’s economic performance in the twentieth century was largely shaped by

prior centuries of change and must therefore be considered in light of the

historical record. Chapter 1 describes growth from the earliest unified

empire, the Qin (Ch’in) 200 B.C., to the period of dynastic disintegration and

foreign intervention in the early nineteenth century. Chapter 2 deals with

the period from 1820 to 1949, which was marked by dynastic decline, failed

democracy, and humiliation by powerful foreign interlopers. Chapter 3

describes the entire sweep of history under the People’s Republic, from its

founding in 1949, through the death of Mao Zedong (Mao T’se-tung), into the

reform era of the 1980s and 1990s. Chapter 4, the last chapter of text,

devotes four pages to an assessment of China’s most pressing policy problems

at the end of the twentieth century, followed by a forecast of China’s place

in the world economy of the early twenty-first century. Each chapter is

supported by numerous statistical tables, including comparative data for other


The text chapters are followed by statistical appendices in which Maddison

addresses the technical difficulties presented by efforts to construct

effective historical data series for key economic variables in China. The

appendices quantify performance in agriculture from 1933 to 1995, performance

in industry from 1913 to 1995, growth of GDP from 1890 to 1995, population

changes over the last two millennia and employment since the 1930s, and

finally foreign trade since the mid-nineteenth century.

The volume concludes with a list of names in the Wade-Giles and Pinyin

romanization systems, maps, and a very good bibliography.

This book is not intended for China scholars, who will already be familiar

with the history and will inevitably find fault with some of Maddison’s

conclusions on points that arecontroversial within the field. As a concise and

comparative introduction to Chinese economic history, however, the book

succeeds in its mission. Non-specialists can rapidly gain insights into

central issues and can readily move on to the relevant secondary literature by

referring to Maddison’s bibliography.

Thomas R. Gottschang is the co-author (with Diana Lary) of Swallows and

Settlers: The Great Migration from North China to Manchuria (Center for

Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, 2000).

Subject(s):International and Domestic Trade and Relations
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII