Article Analysis: From Divergence to Convergence: Reevaluating the History Behind China’s Economic Boom
It is interesting to see how different nations have developed after establishing empires in the past centuries. Countries such as Spain, for instance, boasted of the largest territorial empire since the Roman and Mongol empires. Britain, on the other hand, instigated numerous advancements in third world countries. Although these empires made incontestable influences on the modern world, none of them has had as great domestic significance as the Qing and Ming dynasties. Like explained in the article by Brandt, Ma and Rawski, policies designed and implemented during these imperialistic times negatively affected China’s economic development during the Industrial Revolution.
There are numerous arguments offered in the article under review. The main argument, however, is that China diverged from the strategies employed by other global powers during the Industrial Revolution (Brandt, Ma and Rawski 45-123). The Asian nation lagged for more than a century and required an economic boom in the mid to late 20th century to catch up with other economic powers. The authors also argue that China had the highest economic growth before 1800 but later suffered detrimental economic and political institutions. Ironically, these were the same strategies that made it the greatest economy back then. For example, the authors identify China's reliance on tax revenue derived from privately-held land as an inhibitor of advancement during the Industrial Revolution (49). It is also consequential that the nation differed from other industrialized countries by depending extensively on a civil service comprising of commoners. The article suggests that it would have been different had China depended on the more educated aristocrats. Such institutions prevented China from harnessing the full benefits of the Industrial Revolution.
The article also argues that China’s finance and credit systems limited its growth. Unlike in other powerful nations, the Ming and Qing dynasties designed their formal financial systems around native and traditional banks that were inadequate for industrialization (54). These formal systems were largely inseparable from informal setups in the way they offered loans, had unlimited liability and conducted currency exchange. Besides, the Chinese financial system was poorly financed by the dominant agricultural industry. Brandt, Ma and Rawski explain that the large population in China limited most of its population to agricultural activities thus discouraged an inclination to industrialization (55). These factors, in addition to the Imperial System’s limitations to economic growth, inhibited China’s competition with other global powers.
The authors of this article make a convincing conclusion based on their arguments on China’s unique economic development. For instance, Brandt, Ma and Rawski are accurate in their criticism of Mao Zedong’s reign and its contribution to economic growth (94-95). The authors explain that the end of Mao’s reign was the real beginning of China’s economic boom. In spite of Mao’s popularity and revolutionary ideas, some of his policies dragged China behind. An example is his promotion of population growth that made the nation the most populous in the world. Mao’s successors focused more on addressing hunger, instability and industrial productivity without threatening the political legitimacy of the CCP.
I also agree with the conclusion that entrepreneurship, human capital and education were instrumental in China’s economic boom. Brandt, Ma and Rawski explain that China benefited from a Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976 that made citizens emphasize more on learning and study than during past times (105). Equipped with better skills than other generations, young people in China were able to apply these abilities in an economy rapidly shifting to extensive industrialism. Additionally, it makes sense that the new generation was well equipped in running their enterprises as proprietors rather than depending on formal employment.
In addition to various criticisms of the article's conclusions, there are additional weaknesses in the article's arguments. For instance, Brandt, Ma and Rawski explain that China’s turning point was during the nation’s defeat by Japan during the Sino-Japanese War between 1894 and 1895 (85). However, this argument holds little weight as China continued struggling with a weak economy for many decades after that. In spite of its defeat, China still focused on questionable policies in agriculture, finance and credit and globalization. It was not until the end of the Second World War that China’s policies started reaping benefits.
It is also ambiguous that the authors attribute China’s economic boom to the agriculture industry. Brandt, Ma and Rawski explain that China’s rural population revolutionized the country’s agricultural economy by embracing household tenancy (96). However, the authors had also faulted China’s failure to embrace industrialization to an overemphasis on agriculture. With the country having the highest population in the world, the authors identified agriculture as an industry that limited China’s focus on industrialization and urbanization (55). Therefore, the authors’ later attribution of economic growth to the same sector that limited China from growing feels unsatisfactory and equivocal.
In spite of several weaknesses in the article’s arguments and conclusion, it is clear that policies designed and implemented during the Qing and Ming empires negatively affected China’s economic development. For instance, overemphasis on agriculture distracted China from embracing the Industrial Revolution like other global powers of the time. High population growth is another factor rightly criticized in the article. The authors are also accurate in identifying reforms after Mao Zedong’s death as vital to China’s economic boom. From these depictions, it is unimaginable how different China’s economy would be had the country adopted Industrial Revolution strategies like other powerful nations in the world.
Brandt, Loren, Debin Ma, and Thomas G. Rawski. "From divergence to convergence: reevaluating the history behind China's economic boom." Journal of Economic Literature 52.1 (2014): 45-123.