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).