Economy, 1895–1949

Tim Wright

in Chinese Studies

ISBN: 9780199920082
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:
Economy, 1895–1949

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The nature of the pre-Communist Chinese economy and the degree of its success, if any, at least up to the outbreak of war in 1937, are matters of some controversy, and these issues are closely linked to much broader debates on the relative merits of the market economy and economic planning. For a long time a “pessimistic” view held sway both in the West and more particularly in China, where it both fed into and was used as justification for the adoption of economic planning. Beginning in the 1980s a number of scholars, of whom Thomas G. Rawski has been the most influential, questioned many aspects of this perception. There was substantial if not rapid growth, even in agriculture, and some improvement in living standards, while the market served China and its population well. To an increasing extent, scholars both within and outside China have come to see the post–Mao Zedong economy as picking up many of the features of China’s market economy in the 1930s (e.g., family farms, family-based entrepreneurship, urban consumerism), while the planned economy between 1949 and 1978 is seen as at best an interlude and at worst an aberration. Although parts of this more “optimistic” position are now widely accepted, there are still major differences in emphasis among scholars. Intersecting with overall judgments on the success of the economy are a number of other controversies. Insofar as the economy is perceived as a failure, and growth, especially in agriculture, is seen to have been slower than it might have been, scholars differ on whether the main impediments were social and political (e.g., the role of the state, the impact of imperialism, the structure of rural society) or material and technological (population pressure and the slow take-up of modern technology). The foreign impact has been controversial in terms of both its magnitude and its nature (beneficial or harmful). Chinese entrepreneurship has been variously criticized for falling behind the ideal mandated by modernization theory and upheld as an example for contemporary Chinese managers seeking to escape the dictates of the planned economy. The Nationalist regime of 1927–1937 is seen variously as a predatory state whose activities were a major barrier to development or as a precursor to the planned economy under the Chinese Communist Party.

Article.  13690 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Studies ; Asian History ; East Asian Philosophy ; East Asian Religions

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