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Chinese Studies Economy, 1949-1978
by
Dwight H. Perkins

Introduction

The Chinese economy during the first three decades of rule by the Chinese Communist Party was organized in a fundamentally different way from that of market economies in much of the rest of the world and from what the Chinese economy became in the 21st century after three decades of market-oriented economic reform. Beginning in the mid-1950s, China introduced a centrally planned command economy patterned on that of the Soviet Union. This economic system involved the abolition of household agriculture in favor of collectives, first called “agricultural producer cooperatives” and, later, “Rural People’s Communes.” Industrial inputs and outputs were allocated by administrative means in accordance with a plan developed by the State Planning Commission, and market forces were largely eliminated in industry and large-scale commerce. Wages were set, and skilled workers were allocated to jobs by the government rather than by a labor market. Even many consumer goods were rationed, although some were allocated to households through the market; prices paid to farmers also played a limited role in government procurement of agricultural products. This highly centralized nonmarket, Soviet-type system, however, was introduced into the very different context of a developing country that was extremely poor. From the beginning, China’s leadership and that of Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong, in particular, explored alternatives to these rigid central controls. The result of these explorations more often than not was economic disaster, leading to the 1959–1961 famine in which roughly thirty million people are believed to have died. The government and the leadership also pursued political goals, notably during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), that disrupted the economy and slowed economic growth. Economic studies during this period thus focused on how the economy was organized, how it made the transition from a market economy to a nonmarket command economy, and how the institutions and performance of this command economy performed in various periods. Describing the institutions was easier than measuring performance because, from 1958 to 1960, China published data that grossly exaggerated China’s economic performance. After 1960, given the reality of famine and a poorly performing economy more generally, the government simply stopped publishing statistical data on economic performance. Many analysts outside China thus had to piece together the data that did leak out, and much of their work managed to capture what was happening. The publication of increasing amounts of official data, beginning in 1979, filled in some of the gaps in the earlier literature. Most Chinese economists from 1949 through 1978 were expected to follow the government/party line at the time in anything they published; however, there were exceptions in which individual economists and officials stated views on economic matters that did not reflect the dominant government/party line.

Bibliographies

The main bibliographies dealing with the Chinese economy from 1949 to 1978 include Skinner, et al. 1973, a monumental three-volume work. Many of the works listed in Volume 1, the Western-language volume, are general essays that provide a flavor of how analysts in the United States and Europe viewed China’s economic policies and performance, given the limited amounts of data available at the time and the political constraints that limited the information about which economists working in China could write. Probably most useful for an American or European researcher is Volume 3, the Japanese-language volume, which cites works by such prominent Japanese specialists on the Chinese economy as Shigeru Ishikawa and Reiitsu Kojima, with whom most Western economists are least familiar. Volume 2, the Chinese-language volume, includes studies done by specialists on Taiwan and Hong Kong as well as by economists working on the Chinese mainland, but most of these works are subject to the same limitations of lack of data and political constraints on the ability to write objectively. A later bibliography, Perkins 1983, focuses mainly on selected works in English that reflected the best analysis of mainly Western economists at the time.

  • Perkins, Dwight H. “Research on the Economy of the People’s Republic of China: A Survey of the Field.” Journal of Asian Studies 42.2 (February 1983): 345–372.

    DOI: 10.2307/2055118Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This bibliographic essay includes works mainly by Western economists in English, covering the years through 1983, and captures most of the works in English dealing with the Chinese economy from 1949 to 1978. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Skinner, G. William, Wensun Hsieh, and Shigeaki Tomita, eds. Modern Chinese Society: An Analytical Bibliography. 3 vols. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1973.

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    Volume 1, Publications in Western Languages, 1644–1972, edited by Skinner, includes many articles on the Chinese economy for the 1949–1973 period but also includes articles on other periods and other disciplines. Volume 2, Publications in Chinese, 1644–1969, was edited by Skinner and Hsieh; Volume 3, Publications in Japanese, 1644–1971, was edited by Skinner and Tomita.

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National Accounts and Statistics

China ceased publishing economic statistics in 1961 and did not resume publication until 1979. Furthermore, the official statistics for 1958 to 1960 reported at the time were massively distorted by falsified reporting. Economists outside China, therefore, had to spend much of their effort on trying to reconstruct Chinese production statistics from scattered data occasionally leaked by Chinese sources. It was also possible to reconstruct China’s foreign trade (or large parts of it) from the statistical reports of the countries with whom China traded. These efforts served a valuable purpose during this data blackout period, but most of this literature became obsolete when China’s National Statistical Bureau began publishing data in ever-increasing amounts after 1978.

Estimates Made outside China

Liu and Yeh 1965 is the major study of Chinese gross domestic product (GDP) and its components by economists outside China. Swamy 1989 is a major attempt to compare the economic performance of China and India, by using comparable prices. The main official statistical handbook published by China prior to 1980 was the National Statistical Office 1960; Chen 1966 includes data from that source and a few others and is the most comprehensive collection of official data for the 1950s. The debate between the authors of Perkins 1967 and Klatt 1967 illustrates the difficulties of estimating China’s statistics during the 1960s, when few were published.

  • Chen, Nai-ruenn. China’s Economic Statistics: A Handbook for Mainland China. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1966.

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    This work, by an economist in the United States, compiles most of the economic data for the 1950s available in Chinese sources prior to 1979.

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  • Ishikawa Shigeru. Chūgoku ni okeru shihon chikuseki kikō (中国における資本蓄積機構). Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1960.

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    This is one of the first works on the structure of capital accumulation in China to analyze in depth the quality and nature of Chinese economic statistics.

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  • Ishikawa, Shigeru. National Income and Capital Formation in Mainland China: An Examination of Official Statistics. Tokyo: Institute of Asian Economic Affairs, 1965.

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    This work is the first to bring Ishikawa’s careful analysis of China’s economic concepts and statistics to an English-language audience.

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  • Klatt, Werner. “Comment: Economic Growth in China and the Cultural Revolution.” China Quarterly 31 (July–September 1967): 151–158.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0305741000028757Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This comment criticizes the methods used in Perkins 1967 and illustrates the controversies surrounding data problems prior to 1979. Available online by subscription.

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  • Liu, Ta-chung, and K’ung-Chia Yeh. The Economy of the Chinese Mainland: National Income and Economic Development, 1933–1959. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965.

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    This major study of Chinese GDP and its components was done by economists outside China. Its value is primarily because it ties China’s economic performance in the 1950s to the level of GDP achieved in 1933. The authors recalculated 1950s GDP in the market prices of 1933, the first attempt to recalculate Chinese GDP in the 1950s by using market prices.

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  • National Statistical Office. Weidade shinian (伟大的十年). Beijing: Statistics Press, 1960.

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    This was the main economic statistical handbook published prior to 1979 that covers data for the 1950s.

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  • Perkins, Dwight H. “Economic Growth in China and the Cultural Revolution (1960–April 1967).” China Quarterly 30 (April–June 1967): 33–48.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0305741000029180Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This essay was one of many attempts to estimate economic performance in China during the chaos and data blackout of the Cultural Revolution period. Available online by subscription.

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  • Swamy, Subramanian. Economic Growth in China and India: A Perspective by Comparison. New Delhi: Vikas, 1989.

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    In this work, the author recalculates Chinese GDP in Indian market prices, showing that prior to 1979 the real rate of growth in the two countries was not very different despite the widespread view that the growth rate in China was much higher in this earlier period.

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Official Chinese Estimates

The renewed publication of official Chinese data included a reconstruction of a wide variety of economic statistics series for the period from 1952 to 1978. However, not all the earlier estimates of Chinese economics statistics were made obsolete by renewed Chinese publication of official statistics. This is particularly the case for estimates of China GDP for the pre-1979 period. The official Chinese estimates of GDP for this period continued to use the highly distorted relative prices of the 1950s and 1960s, when agricultural prices were kept low relative to industrial product prices, resulting in GDP growth rate estimates that overstated China’s real GDP growth rate. This distortion was recognized by several of the estimates of Chinese GDP made before 1979, by using relative prices based more on market forces. These alternative estimates substantially lowered the GDP growth rate, particularly for 1952 to 1978, which was lowered from the official 6.1 percent per year to 4.4 percent. For the difficult years of 1957 to 1978, which included the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, the growth rate was lowered from the official estimate of 5.4 percent per year to 3.9 percent. The 3.9 percent figure, when combined with certain other information such as the rising rate of investment and population growth, indicated that the standard of living of the average person in China was improving very slowly, if at all. The official estimates for 1949 to 1978 are in National Statistical Office 2009, among many other sources, and the revised estimates using market prices are in Perkins and Rawski 2008. Eckstein 1979 includes several essays dealing with the methodological issues.

  • Eckstein, Alexander, ed. Quantitative Measures of China’s Economic Output. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1979.

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    This is one of the few in-depth studies of the methodological issues connected to the use of Chinese data. Although the introduction by Robert F. Dernberger and the sector studies by Thomas B. Wiens (agriculture), Thomas G. Rawski (industry), Robert Michael Field (capital formation), and Dwight H. Perkins (pricing issues connected to GDP estimation) were written mainly with respect to data available before 1979, many of the methodological issues discussed remain relevant in the early 21st century.

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  • National Statistical Office. Xin Zhongguo 60 nian (新中国60年). Beijing: Statistics Press, 2009.

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    This is one of many sources giving the GDP data for 1952 to 1978 (and for later years) as estimated by the Chinese government, by using relative prices from the 1950s and 1960s. The source also includes 114 statistical tables covering the full sixty-year period since 1949, for a wide variety of economic sectors.

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  • Perkins, Dwight H., and Thomas G. Rawski. “Forecasting China’s Economic Growth to 2025.” In China’s Great Economic Transformation. Edited by Loren Brandt and Thomas G. Rawski, 829–886. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511754234Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Although this study focuses on China’s 21st-century future, it is one of the few sources to include Chinese GDP data recalculated for 1949 to 1978 and later years, by using Chinese prices in 2000, when market forces largely determined Chinese relative prices.

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Economic Policies and Economic Institutions

A great many general articles and books have been written about the Chinese economy since the late 1950s, and these publications have varied enormously in coverage and quality. Two of the most prominent economists analyzing and writing about the Chinese economy are Choh-ming Li and Alexander Eckstein. Li 1959 focuses on the first and relatively successful phase of China’s development through the first five-year plan (1953–1957). Alexander Eckstein, who began working on China with Walt W. Rostow in the 1950s, wrote several books on China, including an overview of China’s economic policies and performance (Eckstein 1975). Works by economists in China during this period had to stay close to the official line on all subjects, but those writing after the beginning of the reform period were no longer so constrained. Most economists, after the post-1978 reforms began, focused on those reforms, but a few have reviewed again the prereform period and the ideas that shaped policies at that time. Most notable in this regard is Wu 2004, which reviews the evolution of Chinese policy and economic thinking from 1949 into the 21st century. A few general works focused on describing and analyzing the nature of the major institutions governing the Chinese economy and how China converted a poor, developing market economy into a socialist, centrally planned economy patterned in part on that of the Soviet Union. Perkins 1966, Eckstein 1975, and Donnithorne 1967 examine the transition from a market economy to a centrally planned command economy, and the transition, two and three decades later, back to a market economy. Perkins 2008 is an overview of economic performance during the 1949–1978 period, which uses data not published until after 1978.

  • Donnithorne, Audrey. China’s Economic System. New York: Praeger, 1967.

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    This study provides in-depth descriptions of the major institutions governing the Chinese economy. It is the most comprehensive discussion of Chinese economic institutions for this period.

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  • Eckstein, Alexander. China’s Economic Development: The Interplay of Scarcity and Ideology. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1975.

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    One of the leading American economists whose work focused on the Chinese economy, Eckstein published many books and articles dealing with China’s economy, but this work, written shortly before his premature death in 1976, gives a broad view of how he saw economic developments in China during the command economy period.

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  • Li, Choh-ming. Economic Development of Communist China: An Appraisal of the First Five Years of Industrialization. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1959.

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    This is one of the first major efforts to attempt to understand how the Chinese Communist Party and government were changing the nature and performance of China’s economy. It focuses on the period when China was adapting the Soviet economic system to China’s poor, rural economy, and doing so with considerable success. Republished in 1984 (Westport, CT: Greenwood).

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  • Perkins, Dwight H. Market Control and Planning in Communist China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966.

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    This study traces the transition of the Chinese economy from a market economy to a centrally planned command economy through the Great Leap Forward and subsequent restoration of a more decentralized form of central planning. Topics range from an analysis of the nature and impact of agricultural collectivization, to inflation in the Chinese command system, and to prices and wage controls in consumer and producer markets.

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  • Perkins, Dwight H. “China’s Economic Policy and Performance.” In The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 15, The People’s Republic: Part 2, Revolutions within the Chinese Revolution, 1966–1982. Edited by Denis Twitchett, John K. Fairbank, and Roderick MacFarquhar, 475–539. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

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    This article, the economics essay in the Cambridge History of China volume dealing with the 1966–1982 period, is a retrospective on Chinese economic development during the centrally planned command economy period. Unlike many of the earlier works cited here, this work had the advantage of access to much data not available to earlier analysts of this period. Originally published in 1978.

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  • Wu, Jinglian. Understanding and Interpreting Chinese Economic Reform. New York: Thomson Texere, 2004

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    Wu has had a front-row seat through more than five decades of economic policymaking in China. In recent years, he has served as a senior and respected economist in China’s Development Research Center, the think tank for China’s State Council. In this book, the author outlines the major ideas that shaped Chinese economic policy over these decades.

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Conference Volumes Covering Major Economic Issues

Conference volumes that brought together scholars working on the Chinese economy were one of the principal ways in which a wide variety of Chinese economic subjects were made available to a wider audience. The major conveners of such conferences were the Joint Committee of the US Congress (see Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress 1967, the review in Howe 1967, and Hardt 1982), the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) Committee on the Economy of China (the committee’s research was compiled in Eckstein, et al. 1968), and its successor, the SSRC Subcommittee on the Economy of China, of the Joint Committee on Contemporary China (the committee sponsored Perkins 1975 and Dernberger 1980).

  • Dernberger, Robert F., ed. China’s Development Experience in Comparative Perspective. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980.

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    This conference volume sponsored by the SSRC Subcommittee on Research on the Chinese Economy focuses on the question of whether the Chinese economic model of the 1960s and 1970s was unique or whether it had much in common with other developing economies. Essays explore whether others could learn from China’s experience and what China could learn from the experience of other developing economies.

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  • Eckstein, Alexander, Walter Galenson, and Ta-chung Liu, eds. Economic Trends in Communist China. Chicago: Aldine, 1968.

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    This volume of essays was a major effort of the SSRC Committee on the Economy of China chaired by economist Simon Kuznets (who later won the Nobel Prize for Economics), to compile some of the best research on China’s post-1949 economy into a single, comprehensive volume covering most of the major sectors of the Chinese economy.

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  • Hardt, John P., ed. China under the Four Modernizations: Selected Papers. Part 1. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1982.

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    This fourteen-essay volume is another on China by the Joint Economic Committee, written in this case after China had again begun publishing statistics.

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  • Howe, Christopher. “Book Reviews: An Economic Profile of Mainland China and Mainland China in the World Economy.” China Quarterly 32 (October–December 1967): 136–142.

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    This essay is a useful analytical review by one of Britain’s most distinguished specialists of the economic profile of Mainland China, prepared for the US Congress Joint Economic Committee. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress. An Economic Profile of Mainland China. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1967.

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    The Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress published several volumes of essays in the 1960s through the early 1980s reporting on the Chinese economy. The value of all of these collections (not just the one cited here) is that they published the work both of scholars and economic analysts in the US government, notably those in the Central Intelligence Agency.

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  • Perkins, Dwight H., ed. China’s Modern Economy in Historical Perspective. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1975.

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    This conference volume contains several essays that compare and contrast the economy of China before and after 1949. Essays with this perspective include Kang Chao on agriculture (pp. 167–202), Ramon Myers on rural collectivization (pp. 261–278), and Thomas Rawski on industry (pp. 203–234). Carl Riskin argues convincingly that China had a substantial “surplus” in the 1930s that could have been mobilized for development but was not until after 1949 (pp. 49–84).

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Differing Views of the Approaches of China’s Leaders

Economists outside China did make an effort to understand the thinking of Chinese economic policymakers before 1978, with particular attention to the thinking of Chen Yun, the Communist leader and economist who was viewed early on as a major figure whose economic policies were more rooted in Chinese reality than the more utopian efforts of Mao Zedong. Mao’s ideas had a large influence on Chinese economic policy, particularly prior to 1960, with the collectivization of agriculture and the Great Leap Forward (1958–1960). Some economists were inspired by Mao’s efforts to transform Chinese society—or their perception of what he was trying to do—but only a handful of these efforts, such as Gurley 1976, met the standard of economic analysis appropriate for this bibliography. More useful have been efforts to understand the source of Mao’s economic ideas, such as Schran 1975. Written by a historian of China, Selden 1993 is an analysis of the politics underlying China’s development strategy during this period. Dong 1980 is one of the few works by Chinese economists that systematically analyzes the economic problems that arose during the prereform period.

  • Dong Fureng. “Some Problems Concerning the Chinese Economy.” China Quarterly 84 (December 1980): 727–736.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0305741000012637Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This essay by one of China’s most distinguished economists is an appraisal of some of the major problems (imbalances) caused by China’s economic policies in the 1970s and earlier. It was published in 1980, when Chinese economists were less constrained in what they could write. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Gurley, John G. China’s Economy and the Maoist Strategy. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976.

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    This book is an interesting and sympathetic study of Mao Zedong’s approach to economic development, by a distinguished American economist.

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  • Schran, Peter. “On the Yenan Origins of Current Economic Policies.” In China’s Modern Economy in Historical Perspective. Edited by Dwight H. Perkins, 279–302. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1975.

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    This is one of best works by an economist analyzing the relationship of China’s economic policies in the 1950s and 1960s to the economic and related political experience of Mao Zedong and others during the Chinese revolution.

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  • Selden, Mark. The Political Economy of Chinese Development. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1993.

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    Written from perspective of the early 1990s, this book deals with the politics underlying and shaping many of China’s economic policies and strategies, as well as the nature of the socialism that these strategies were designed to create.

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Laws and Regulations

Some of the most objective official economic documents are the actual laws and regulations that were approved and published by the Chinese government. The Zhonghua renmin gongheguo fagui huibian volumes include many of the most important laws and regulations dealing with economic affairs, mostly in the 1950s, whereas Selection Organization 1985 also chronicles many of the major events affecting the economy.

  • Compiling Committee. Zhonghua renmin gongheguo shewai fagui huibian (中華人民共和國涉外法規匯編). Beijing: Renmin jiaotong chubanshe.

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    These volumes, published mainly in the 1950s, are collections of the major laws and regulations as well as other reports, state council directives, and the like. Many of the entries in these volumes deal with economic subjects.

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  • Selection Organization. Zhonghua renmin gongheguo jingji dashiji (1949 nian 10 yue–1984 nian 9 yue) (中华 人民 共和国 经济 专题 大事记1949年, 10月-1984年 9月). Beijing: Beijing chubanshe, 1985.

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    Chinese organizations and scholars occasionally publish volumes that briefly describe major events in various fields and do so chronologically. This volume concerns the economic sector. Official Chinese sources such as the Renmin Ribao (People’s Daily), directives of the State Council, and the New China News agency are used in identifying these events.

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Agricultural Institutions and Production

In the 1950s through the 1970s, over three-quarters of China’s population resided in rural areas, and most were involved in farming or services closely related to farming. Except for the period of the first five-year plan (1953–1957), reliable quantitative data on the performance of the agricultural sector were lacking, and many controversies existed over the reliability of the few figures on production that were leaked. Much more was known about the changes in how agriculture was organized. A number of major treatises were available on land reform—redistribution of landownership from landlords to the tillers of the land—that began well before 1949. Much publicity and many essays in Chinese journals concerned the formation of agricultural producer cooperatives in 1955 and 1956, which was followed by the formation of Rural People’s Communes during the first phase of the Great Leap Forward in 1958. Much is also known about the reorganization of the communes after the failure of the Great Leap and the resulting famine years. Most agricultural production in these later years was turned over to a subunit of the commune, which consisted of a production team with only twenty to thirty families (as contrasted to five thousand or more families in the commune). Rural industry, however, remained at the brigade level, roughly equivalent to the cooperatives of 1956 and 1957, or at the commune level. Analysis of the quantitative performance of agriculture was a bigger challenge, given the limited data mainly from sporadic leaks from the Chinese government, which were supplemented by interviews with Chinese refugees and analysis of China’s agricultural foreign trade data from China’s trading partners. Despite the data limitations, much could be learned about some of the specific problems facing the agriculture sector, by reading Chinese essays analyzing these problems and government directives designed to correct one problem or another. After 1979, rich sources of data on agricultural output and inputs have been published, but relatively few studies have gone back and tried to systematically construct agricultural performance by using these more reliable data. A major exception is the work both by demographers and economists on the 1959–1961 drop in farm output and the resulting famine in which nearly thirty million died. Some of the earliest analytical works on agriculture production were Walker 1965, Walker 1997, and Chao 1970. Lardy 1983, Perkins and Yusuf 1984, and Crook 1988 had the advantage of being able to draw on data published after 1978. Burki 1969 provides a unique set of data on reasonably representative communes in the 1960s, and Tang 1968 provides the first effort to estimate the sources of growth in agriculture.

  • Burki, Shahid Javed. A Study of Chinese Communes, 1965. Harvard East Asian Monographs 29. Cambridge, MA: East Asian Research Center, Harvard University, 1969.

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    Burki was part of a delegation from Pakistan that went to study China’s communes with the objective of obtaining lessons for Pakistan. They therefore asked their Chinese hosts to take them to more-typical communes, and the Chinese agreed, gave them a list of nearby communes, and took them to visit one of these. The result was detailed data on communes that were not showpieces.

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  • Chao, Kang. Agricultural Production in Communist China, 1949–1965. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1970.

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    This is a detailed study mostly of the production side of agriculture, relying to a large degree on 1950s data. It gives a good idea of how grain output for later years was estimated and includes a discussion of grain imports in the 1960s.

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  • Crook, Frederick W. Agricultural Statistics of the People’s Republic of China, 1949–86. US Department of Agriculture Statistical Bulletin 764. Washington, DC: US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 1988.

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    This provides some data for the pre-1979 period that are not readily available in other sources, and it also provides definitions of most of the categories used.

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  • Lardy, Nicholas R. Agriculture in China’s Modern Economic Development. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511528422Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this study, Lardy writes about China’s long-term agricultural growth from the perspective of the early 1980s, before the return to household agriculture was known and fully implemented.

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  • Perkins, Dwight H., and Shahid Yusuf. Rural Development in China. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984.

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    This book was also written too soon after the beginning of the reform period to cover the fundamental reforms in agricultural organization that were underway at the time. Its strength, like that of Lardy 1983, is that it looks comprehensively at China’s rural development experience, having the advantage, over earlier works, of access to large amounts of published data for the years from 1958 to 1978.

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  • Tang, Anthony. “Policy and Performance in Agriculture.” In Economic Trends in Communist China. Edited by Alexander Eckstein, Walter Galenson, and Ta-chung Liu, 459–509. Chicago: Aldine, 1968.

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    This essay is one of the first to use formal economic analysis to estimate the sources of growth in Chinese agriculture in the 1950s.

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  • Walker, Kenneth R. Planning in Chinese Agriculture: Socialisation and the Private Sector, 1956–1962. Chicago: Aldine, 1965.

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    This study was Walker’s first major effort to analyze China’s agricultural institutions and performance.

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  • Walker, Kenneth R. Agricultural Development in China, 1949–1989: The Collected Papers of Kenneth R. Walker (1931–1989). Collected and edited by Robert F. Ash. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

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    Kenneth Walker was one of the earliest economists in the West to focus research on the Chinese economy, especially on agriculture. This work is particularly strong on the production side (the important role played by hogs, among many examples), but it also contributes to our knowledge of agricultural institutions.

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Land Reform and Collective Agricultural Organizations

Two fundamental changes in the institutions governed agriculture in China in the 1950s. The first was the elimination of landlords and the transfer of landownership to the individual tillers in Communist-controlled areas before 1949, which was extended to the rest of the country from 1949 to 1953. Wong 1973 is a major study of this reform process, and Hinton 2008 is a well-known study by a direct observer. Like the Hinton study, Yang 1959 is an analysis of a single village, but this study was done by a distinguished anthropologist. The next major transition began in the winter of 1955–1956, with the formation of agricultural producer cooperatives followed by the creation of the much-larger Rural People’s Communes in 1958, then in the early 1960s by the transition in the management of agricultural production back to smaller collective units, the production teams that were subunits of the communes. Putterman 1993 analyzes this process of collectivization, Parish 1985 analyzes the transition back to household agriculture that occurred after 1978 but also analyzes the system as it operated earlier, and Vermeer 1988 analyzes these transitions and their implications over an even-longer period between 1949 and 1978. Lin 1992 is a sophisticated quantitative effort to estimate the impact of the return to household agriculture in the early 1980s and also analyzes productivity in the prereform period. Lin and Yang 2000 analyzes the initial impact of the effort to create communes, which ended in the disastrous 1959–1961 famine.

  • Hinton, William. Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2008.

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    A number of firsthand accounts of China’s land reform experience have been written in English, and novels and other sources in Chinese also describe the process. None of these works use much, if any, economic analysis, but Hinton’s book is included here because it is by far the best known of these firsthand experiences and is rich in detail of the political process involved in implementing the reforms. Originally published in 1966.

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  • Lin, Justin Yifu. “Rural Reforms and Agricultural Growth in China.” American Economic Review 82.1 (March 1992): 34–51.

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    The main purpose of this article is to assess the impact of the post-1979 reforms on agricultural output and productivity. However, the data used in estimating the sources of growth include data from the 1970s, prior to the reforms, and that analysis can be used to understand the sources of growth in the prereform period. Available online by subscription.

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  • Lin, Justin Yifu, and Dennis Tao Yang. “Food Availability, Entitlements and the Chinese Famine of 1959–61.” Economic Journal 110.460 (January 2000): 136–158.

    DOI: 10.1111/1468-0297.00494Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This is an analytical retrospective on the famine resulting from the Great Leap Forward and the formation of Rural People’s Communes, written by two prominent economists. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Parish, William L., ed. Chinese Rural Development: The Great Transformation. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1985.

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    This collection of essays includes two by economists (Thomas Wiens, pp. 57–94, and Nicholas Lardy, pp. 33–56) but is most useful as a collection of observations about the transition from collective agriculture back to household farming after 1979. This collection provides a clearer picture of the state of agriculture and rural organization at the end of the collective period, as well as a picture of the transformation underway after 1979.

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  • Putterman, Louis G. Continuity and Change in China’s Rural Development: Collective and Reform Eras in Perspective. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195078725.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This work looks back at China’s collective experience in agriculture, with a sophisticated understanding of the nature, strengths, and weaknesses of collective organizations in developing countries, together with extensive observations of the Chinese economic experience.

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  • Vermeer, Eduard B. Economic Development in Provincial China: The Central Shaanxi since 1930. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

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    This is a rare in-depth study of the economy of one region from the 1930s through the early 1980s. Although the book includes a discussion of industry in the city of Xian, the book is primarily about the changes in agriculture in Shaanxi Province over a half-century.

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  • Wong, John. Land Reform in the People’s Republic of China: Institutional Transformation in Agriculture. New York: Praeger, 1973.

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    This is one of the few systematic studies by an economist of China’s land reform experience (landownership to the tiller) during the first years of Communist control of rural areas.

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  • Yang, C. K. A Chinese Village in Early Communist Transition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959.

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    This work by an anthropologist gives a rich overview of the process whereby the rural organization was transformed during the early years of Communist Party rule in China. Republished as recently as 1984 (Westport, CT: Greenwood).

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Water and Agriculture

China’s agriculture, mainly in the northern half of the country, has always suffered from a lack of sufficient supplies of water both in premodern times and throughout the post-1949 era. The nature of the problem of water in China is analyzed in depth in Nickum 1977 and Vermeer 1977.

  • Nickum, James E., ed. Water Management Organization in the People’s Republic of China. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1977.

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    The problems of managing the supply of water to agriculture (and to the cities) have played an important role throughout Chinese history. By the beginning of the 21st century, China was spending tens of billions of dollars trying to overcome water shortages in North China. This book gives an in-depth picture of the nature of the problems in maintaining an adequate supply of water for Chinese agriculture.

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  • Vermeer, Eduard B. Water Conservancy and Irrigation in China: Social, Economic and Agrotechnical Aspects. The Hague: Leiden University Press, 1977.

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    Water conservancy is one of the main challenges facing China, particularly in the North. This was an important early study of the problem.

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Industry

Several themes have emerged in the analysis of Chinese industry. A large share of Chinese industrial investment from 1953 to 1978 was devoted to the growth of a producer goods sector. In this, China was following the path set by the Soviet Union, a path dictated both by military considerations and the fact that China in 1953 to 1978, like the Soviet Union, had a very modest level of international trade, much of which was cut off when the Soviet Union broke with China in 1960. This emphasis was reinforced by leftist critics during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) who opposed relying on foreign technology and importing technology-intensive factories from abroad. In the 1960s, Mao Zedong also feared an attack on China both by the Soviet Union and the United States; hence his decision to move at great expense much of China’s producer goods industry deep into China’s interior. Two other trends in Chinese industry differed markedly from the industrial effort of the Soviet Union. When China broke with the Soviet Union in 1960, it no longer trading mainly with the Soviet-dominated Comecon trading bloc, and China instead shifted much of its trade to market economies in the West. This shift was made easier when in the late 1960s the Western embargo on trade with China was first modified and then lifted altogether. Finally, of particular interest to economists around the world was China’s decision to promote what was originally called “rural small-scale industry,” which later in the 1980s came to be known as “Township and Village Enterprises” (TVEs). This effort began in a disastrous fashion during the Great Leap Forward, when Mao urged farmers and city workers alike to build small-scale steel furnaces, which often ended up wasting large amounts of fuel and industrial materials. By the 1970s, however, the small-scale industry effort had been put on a rational basis, and the foundation was laid for a rural industrial capacity that was to provide the foundation for the TVEs that were central to China’s rapid industrial growth in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Field 1968, Field 1982, and Field 1983 are broad quantitative studies of structural changes in industry and the performance of industry as measured by labor productivity. Rawski 1980 focuses on the central role played by producer goods industries, whereas Naughton 1988 is the first study to analyze Mao’s efforts to move much of China’s producer goods sector into the interior. Renmin ribaoshe guo nei zi liao zu and Zhongguo gongye jingji xiehui diao yan zu 1991 chronicles the major events affecting industry in China. Liu 1970 and Chao 1968 deal with two important individual industries.

  • Chao, Kang. The Construction Industry in Communist China. Chicago: Aldine, 1968.

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    This book is one of the few studies covering the experience in the pre-1979 period of a single industry—in this case, the construction industry.

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  • Field, Robert Michael. “Labor Productivity in Industry.” In Economic Trends in Communist China. Edited by Alexander Eckstein, Walter Galenson, and Ta-chung Liu, 637–670. Chicago: Aldine, 1968.

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    This is only one of Field’s many essays on Chinese industrialization. Others appeared frequently in the China Quarterly and the publications of the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress. This particular chapter focuses on labor productivity in Chinese industry.

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  • Field, Robert Michael. “Growth and Structural Change in Chinese Industry, 1952–79.” In China under the Four Modernizations: Selected Papers. Part 1. Edited by John P. Hardt, 303–333. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1982.

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    This essay is an overview of the change in China’s industrial structure in the prereform period. This Joint Economic Committee volume also contains another essay by Field, written with Judith A. Flynn, “An Energy Constrained Model of Industrial Performance” (pp. 334–364).

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  • Field, Robert Michael. “Slow Growth of Labour Productivity in Chinese Industry, 1952–81.” China Quarterly 96 (December 1983): 641–664.

    DOI: 10.1017/S030574100002436XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A further analysis of labor productivity in industry after China was again publishing data on employment and industrial output. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Liu, Jung-Chao. China’s Fertilizer Economy. Chicago: Aldine, 1970.

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    Chemical fertilizers were a particularly important industry in China because of their role in making possible the increase in agricultural output prior to 1979.

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  • Naughton, Barry. “The Third Front: Defence Industrialization in the Chinese Interior.” China Quarterly 115 (September 1988): 351–386.

    DOI: 10.1017/S030574100002748XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The Third Front industries were those that Mao Zedong moved deep into China’s interior, in anticipation of possible war with the Soviet Union or the United States. This is the first article to identify and analyze this major diversion of Chinese investment resources during the Cultural Revolution. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Rawski, Thomas G. China’s Transition to Industrialism: Producer Goods and Economic Development in the Twentieth Century. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1980.

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    This book presents the most complete version of Rawski’s work on the development of China’s producer goods sector in the prereform period, including some analysis of the sector in the 1930s.

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  • Renmin ribaoshe guo nei zi liao zu, and Zhongguo gongye jingji xiehui diao yan zu, comps. Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo gongye dashiji, 1949–1990 (中华人民共和国工业大事记). Changsha Shi, China: Hunan chubanshe, 1991.

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    A volume that lists what the compilers consider to be the various events of greatest significance in the development of Chinese industry in general and specific Chinese industrial sectors in particular.

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Rural Small-Scale Industry

Of particular interest to economists around the world was the decision by China to promote what was originally called “rural small-scale industry,” which later in the 1980s came to be known as TVEs. This effort began in a disastrous fashion during the Great Leap Forward, when Mao Zedong urged farmers and city workers alike to build small-scale steel furnaces, which often ended up wasting large amounts of fuel to melt down steel scrap and implements that were then turned into steel components of little use to industry and even most farmers. By the 1970s, however, the small-scale industry effort had been put on a rational basis, and the foundation was laid for the rural industrial capacity that led to the formation of the TVEs, which were central to China’s rapid industrial growth in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Early works on this subject include Riskin 1971 and Riskin 1978. Wong provides a perspective on these early developments from the early 1980s, when more data had become available. Two of the studies—American Rural Small-Scale Industry Delegation 1977 and Sigurdson 1977—were based in whole or in part on direct observation of these industries during the 1970s.

  • American Rural Small-Scale Industry Delegation. Rural Small-Scale Industry in the People’s Republic of China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977.

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    This book was a result of the formal academic exchanges between the United States and China. The delegation was composed of engineers, economists, sociologists, and a historian, several of whom were also specialists on China. The group visited fifty small-scale industry factories in five different regions of the country.

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  • Riskin, Carl. “Small Industry and the Chinese Model of Development.” China Quarterly 46 (June 1971): 245–273.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0305741000010687Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Carl Riskin was one of the first Western economists to study and analyze the development of small-scale industry in China’s rural areas. This essay provides one of the first analyses of the nature of the effort in its early stages. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Riskin, Carl. “China’s Rural Industries: Self-Reliant Systems or Independent Kingdoms?” China Quarterly 73 (March 1978): 77–98.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0305741000036249Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article is a follow-up to the author’s earlier work on rural industrialization. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Sigurdson, Jon. Rural Industrialization in China. Harvard East Asian Monograph 73. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977.

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    This book is a comprehensive analytical study of the nature of the rural small-scale industry movement as it existed in the 1970s. The author had direct experience with these industries in China.

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  • Wong, Christine Pai Wah. “Rural Industrialization in the People’s Republic of China: Lessons from the Cultural Revolution Decade.” In China under the Four Modernizations: Selected Papers. Part 1. Edited by John P. Hardt, 394–418. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1982.

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    This is an analysis from the vantage point of 1982 of what was learned from the rural small-scale industry program.

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Planning and Related Economic Analysis

Very little literature is available in Western languages on the nature of economic planning in China, with “planning” narrowly defined as the preparation of the annual and five-year plans by China’s State Planning Commission. The formal procedures were similar to those of the Soviet Union but were applied in the very different context of China. Some five-year plans were published, notably the first and the second plan, but the first plan (1953–1957) really began around 1955 and the second plan (1958–1962) was almost immediately superseded by the Great Leap Forward and its collapse after 1959. One effort to analyze China’s effectiveness in meeting these 1950s plans is Perkins 1968. An effort was made in the early 1960s to restore formal planning as the primary guide to economic investment and growth, although on a more decentralized basis. However, the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), together with the fact that most senior economic (and other) officials were sent to the countryside and to May 7 schools to be “reeducated,” clearly inhibited systematic planning in the latter half of the 1960s and early 1970s. Many of the sources, such as Jihua Jingji and Lardy 1977, are in Chinese or are translations from Chinese and describe planning procedures. In addition, the views of some senior Chinese economic leaders are available; notably, several major statements by Chen Yun have been translated and edited in Lardy and Lieberthal 1982. Chen Yun believed that formal planning of the Soviet type should dominate, but in the 1950s and 1960s he also saw a limited role for market forces, a liberal position in the context of a Mao Zedong–led government that was in the process of abolishing all markets in the late 1950s. Chen Yun also played an important role, mostly behind the scenes, in the early 1960s and then again during the reform period, when his views remained much the same as they were in the 1950s; however, after 1978 his views were considered to be conservative, blocking reform by retaining a major role for centrally planned commands. One of the most prominent economists who advocated the greater use of market methods during this prereform period was Sun Yefang (Sun 1984). The views of other prominent economists in this prereform period are discussed in Hsu 1991. Lawrence Lau is included here because he was one of the first economists outside China to attempt to develop a formal mathematical model of the economy (Lau 1976). Many of the general sources on China’s economy cited earlier also deal with planning in one way or another.

  • Hsu, Robert C. Economic Theories in China, 1979–1988. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

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    This book is primarily concerned with the writings of Chinese economists about reform; however, the author also includes the views of those writing earlier to explain what was different about those advocating reform. Among those discussed in this book are Liu Guoguang, Sun Yefang, and Yu Guangyuan, who were major contributors to the economic literature before 1979.

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  • Jihua Jingji (计划经济).

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    Published in China beginning in the 1950s, this monthly journal is primarily devoted to issues of planning of the Chinese economy.

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  • Lardy, Nicholas R., ed. Chinese Economic Planning: Translations from Chihua ching-chi. Translated by K. K. Fung. Dawson, UK: Sharpe, 1977.

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    This book is a collection of articles from Jihua jingji, translated into English with an introduction by Lardy. It gives a view of how Chinese planners saw the planning process.

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  • Lardy, Nicholas R., and Kenneth Lieberthal, eds. Ch‘en Yün’s Strategy for China’s Development: A Non-Maoist Alternative. Translated by Mao Tong and Du Anxia. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1982.

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    This book translates a number of the speeches and essays of Chen Yun in the 1950s and 1960s and is a good guide to Chen’s thinking not only in that period but, as the editors argue in their introduction, also a good guide to his likely thinking during the first years of the post-1978 reform period.

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  • Lau, Lawrence J. An Econometric Model of China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 1976.

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    Lawrence Lau began efforts to develop an econometric model for China long before adequate data were available to estimate the parameters of the model. The model is not readily available but deserves mention as one of the first efforts of this kind.

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  • Perkins, Dwight H. “Industrial Planning and Management.” In Economic Trends in Communist China. Edited by Alexander Eckstein, Walter Galenson, and Ta-chung Liu, 597–636. Chicago: Aldine, 1968.

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    This essay analyzes China’s planning efforts and the degree to which performance in the 1950s actually followed plan targets.

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  • Sun Yefang 孫冶方. Sun Yefang xuan ji (孫冶方選集). Taiyuan, China: Shanxi renmin chubanshe, 1984.

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    Sun Yefang (d. 1983) was a leading economist purged during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) because of his views that China should make more use of market reforms.

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Fiscal and Monetary Policy and Performance

On the fiscal side during the pre-1978 period, most revenue of the Chinese government was controlled centrally, and a major effort was made to shift government expenditures and to transfer payments to local governments from the relatively wealthy cities on the coast, such as Shanghai, to the cities and rural areas of the interior. Although funds were transferred to the poorer localities, these localities still had to depend on their own resources for most of their expenditures. The controversy between the authors of Lardy 1978 and Donnithorne 1972 was largely over which of these forces—self-reliance by localities versus fund transfers from the center—best described the nature of the Chinese fiscal system at that time. On the monetary side, China had a monobank patterned on those of all Soviet-type economies. That bank combined the functions both of a central bank and commercial banks. The primary role of the banking system was to help enforce the five-year and annual plan targets, by ensuring that enterprises used their funds in the banks in accordance with these plans. Most of the studies of China’s financial system have focused on the system after it was transformed to be more like financial systems found in market economies, but a number of these studies, such as Yi 1994 and Byrd 1983, go into some depth on the nature of the system as it existed before 1979. Hsiao 1971 was written during the command economy period and focuses primarily on that period.

Foreign Trade and International Economic Relations

China’s foreign trade was one area in which hard data were available, largely because China’s trading partners (with some exceptions) reported their trade with China even though China did not during the long data blackout period. Much of the data collection effort prior to 1979 is now obsolete because the Chinese government has reconstructed and reported the trade figures for the earlier periods. However, the analysis in these studies remains relevant. China in the 1950s was not formally part of the Soviet trading bloc governed by the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance. Trade among Communist countries was integrated into the central planning process of each of the members. The plan determined what was to be produced and what inputs were to be used in production, and government bodies made sure that the products were delivered to the designated user. The only difference with foreign traded goods, as contrasted to domestically produced goods, is that the negotiations on who got what and in exchange for what were carried out between sovereign countries rather than by Chinese central planners and individual companies. Prices and exchange rates played only a secondary role in these negotiations. These negotiations were handled by trading companies attached to the Ministry of Foreign Trade, which had a monopoly of the trade in particular sectors. Chinese producers had no direct contact with foreign suppliers, and foreign suppliers typically did not even know where the goods they were selling were likely to be sent. China’s decision to trade mainly with Soviet-bloc nations after 1949 was only partly driven by the desire to trade with political allies who were following similar economic development strategies. China’s entry into the Korean War also led most market economies to impose an embargo on all trade with China. After the break with the Soviet Union in 1960, China began to redirect most of its exports and imports toward market economies. The most-valuable works dealing with China’s foreign trade in the 1950s and early 1960s used trade as a window into an understanding of the nature of the Sino-Soviet economic relationship (Eckstein 1966, Mah 1971), the key role played by Hong Kong (Sung 1991), and the influence of those relationships on shaping China’s domestic development strategy at that time. Lardy 1992 compares this trading system with what succeeded it during the reform period after 1978.

  • Eckstein, Alexander. Communist China’s Economic Growth and Foreign Trade: Implications for U.S. Policy. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966.

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    This study, sponsored by the US Council on Foreign Relations, is the major work exploring the many dimensions of China’s economic relations with the Soviet Union and its Communist allies, as well as the country’s trade with market economies. Trade along with technical assistance was a key element in the transformation of China’s economy from a market economy to a centrally planned command economy similar to that of the Soviet Union.

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  • Lardy, Nicholas R. Foreign Trade and Economic Reform in China, 1978–1990. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

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    Although this book is primarily about foreign trade during the reform period, chapter 2 (pp. 16–36) presents a useful summary of the nature of China’s foreign trading system prior to 1978.

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  • Mah, Feng-hwa. The Foreign Trade of Mainland China. Chicago: Aldine-Atherton, 1971.

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    This study, sponsored by the US Social Science Research Council Committee on the Economy of China, gives a broad overview of the nature and structure of China’s foreign trade both before and after the break with the Soviet Union in 1960.

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  • Sung, Yun-Wing. The China–Hong Kong Connection: The Key to China’s Open-Door Policy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511552298Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This is an in-depth study of the key role played by Hong Kong in China’s foreign trade before and after 1979.

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Employment and Labor

Employment and wages in industry and in urban areas more generally were an integral part of the central plan. Market forces played almost no role at all in determining where a person worked or how much a worker was paid. Workers were allocated to particular enterprises by labor allocation bureaus. Enterprises generally were not supposed to be directly involved in searching for the labor they required. Once hired, wages were set according to government standards for particular kinds of employment and skill levels. For the highly skilled, such as university graduates, the government allocated them wherever the government thought their skills were most needed, even if in some cases husbands and wives were assigned to different cities. Howe 1973 and Korzec and Whyte 1981 describe and analyze this wage system. Migration of labor from the rural areas to the cities was strictly controlled, particularly after the failure of the Great Leap Forward. Planned labor allocation was backed up by the household registration system (the hukou system), which prohibited workers with rural residences from moving to the cities without formal permission. Furthermore, food was rationed, and only registered urban residents were eligible to receive ration coupons. In this context, labor market studies of the kind done in market economies played little role in China until well into the reform period. Therefore, the major studies of labor and employment, such as Howe 1971 and Rawski 1979, focused mostly on the size and changing structure of employment and on the method by which the state-set wage system was implemented. Orleans 1960 is the major study of the availability of highly educated labor in the 1950s.

  • Howe, Christopher. Employment and Economic Growth in Urban China 1949–1957. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1971.

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    This study focuses on the changing structure of the urban labor force in the 1950s, when published data on the subject were available.

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  • Howe, Christopher. Wage Patterns and Wage Policy in Modern China, 1919–1972. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1973.

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    This study is an in-depth description of the wage system, its changes over time, and the reasons why various changes were implemented. The focus is on the 1950s because that is when wage data were available, but policy changes in the 1960s are also discussed. Chinese official sources in the 1960s and 1970s at times published government directives dealing with wage and labor policies.

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  • Korzec, Michel, and Martin King Whyte. “Reading Notes: The Chinese Wage System.” China Quarterly 86 (June 1981): 248–273.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0305741000028459Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article introduces the document Laodong Gongzi Wenjian Xuanbian (Selected Documents on Labor Wages), published by the Planning Commission of the Fujian Provincial Revolutionary Committee in China. The 700-page document contains 390 documents on wages and fringe benefits issued from 1949 through 1973. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Orleans, Leo A. Professional Manpower and Education in Communist China. Washington, DC: National Science Foundation, 1960.

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    An important issue for China in the 1950s was the availability of engineers and scientists to staff its industrial drive. This study carefully attempts to estimate the number of highly skilled individuals trained before 1949 and during the 1950s and to estimate how many of them were still working in the Chinese mainland in the 1950s.

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  • Rawski, Thomas G. Economic Growth and Employment in China. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979.

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    This study carries the story of the changing employment structure of the Chinese labor force through the 1970s, despite the limitations on reliable data availability after 1957. Originally published in 1976.

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Urbanization Issues

Under Mao Zedong, China attempted to limit the shift in population from the rural areas to the cities, and this was particularly the case after the collapse of the Great Leap Forward (1958–1960) and the related famine (1959–1961). Tight controls were placed on rural people wishing to leave their collective farms for the cities. These controls were based first on the household registration system (the hukou system), and individuals were not allowed to stay in the cities if they were registered elsewhere. This policy was not difficult to enforce because people not registered in the urban areas had no access to ration coupons for such essentials as grain, and a surveillance system ensured that public security would quickly hear about anyone not complying with these rules. Actually measuring the impact on the size of the urban population in various periods was not only a problem of lack of data; even after data became available during the reform period, major problems were encountered in interpreting those data. The boundaries of cities were changed from time to time, and the area listed as being in a city typically also included land that was still being farmed. After 1978, much attention therefore was focused on trying to get more-reliable estimates of just how large the urban population was at different times. Studies that have tried to deal with these and many other urban issues include Chan and Xu 1985; Kojima 1990; Kwok, et al. 1987; and Orleans 1982. A number of major studies have analyzed the nature of life and activity in the cities, and some of these studies, such as Whyte and Parish 1984, deal with the economic aspects of urban life, as does Murphey 1980, although in a different way. The authors of many of the works in this area, such as Kirkby 1985 and Ma 1980, have typically been sociologists and city planners, but economists have also been involved to a limited degree.

  • Chan, Kam Wing, and Xueqiang Xu. “Urban Population Growth and Urbanization in China since 1949: Reconstructing a Baseline.” China Quarterly 104 (December 1985): 583–613.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0305741000033324Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This essay is a careful attempt to reconstruct China’s urbanization growth from 1949 to 1985, taking into account the many problems with China’s urban statistics. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Kirkby, Richard J. R. Urbanization in Chinatown: Town and Country in a Developing Economy, 1949–2000 A.D. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

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    This study discusses in depth such issues as what led to the restrictions on development of cities and the decisions to underinvest in housing, among others, both before and after 1978. The book is written from the perspective of geography and urban planning and thus includes much material of interest to economists.

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  • Kojima, Reiitsu. Urbanization and Urban Problems in China. Tokyo: Institute of Developing Economies, 1987.

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    This comprehensive quantitative as well as qualitative study of urbanization in China from the 1950s to the early 1980s is by a leading Japanese economist and specialist on China.

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  • Kwok, R. Yin-Wang, William L. Parish, Anthony Gar-on Yeh, and Xu Xueqiang, eds. Chinese Urban Reform: What Model Now? Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1990.

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    This conference volume was produced during the post-1978 reform period, but the nature and impact of urban growth policies are discussed at length in several of the essays, as part of an effort to discern how policies toward urbanization changed after reforms began.

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  • Ma, Laurence J. C. Cities and City Planning in the People’s Republic of China: An Annotated Bibliography. HUD USER Bibliography Series. Washington, DC: US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research, 1980.

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    This is a useful bibliography of works on China’s urbanization that were written mainly in the prereform period.

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  • Murphey, Rhoads. The Fading of the Maoist Vision: City and Country in China’s Development. New York: Methuen, 1980.

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    The author presents the Maoist vision of a society that attempted to avoid the patterns of urbanization elsewhere in the world, and he analyzes whether such a strategy could ever have achieved other development goals in China.

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  • Orleans, Leo A. “China’s Urban Population: Concepts, Conglomerations and Concerns.” In China under the Four Modernizations: Selected Papers. Part 1. Edited by John P. Hardt, 268–302. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1982.

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    This essay discusses in detail many of the problems with China’s urbanization statistics. This work is more of a reference work than an analytical study of regional development. It presents data on transport, industries, and agricultural products and how they vary by geographic region in the early 1970s.

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  • Whyte, Martin King, and William L. Parish. Urban Life in Contemporary China. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

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    This study goes far beyond economics to look at everything from urban family life to urban crime, but it is based mainly on interviews conducted in Hong Kong in 1977 and 1978 that allow the authors to capture in depth the forces that shaped the size and development of cities in China in the reform period.

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LAST MODIFIED: 04/22/2013

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199920082-0016

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