A blog on Chinese economy & society

Posts Tagged ‘history

China’s share of global GDP

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Why is China overtaking Japan to be the 2nd largest economy newsworthy? But for some strange reason, it’s all over the place, some more interesting than others. The Economist has recycled Angus Maddison’s data to give some historical background.

As to The Economist’s rhetorical question,

China and India were the biggest economies in the world for almost all of the past 2000 years. Why they fell so far behind may be more of a mystery than why they are currently flourishing.

many readers have resorted to a chicken and egg answer: that China and India had the biggest populations. Hello! Doesn’t having a large population in an agrarian economy in and of itself suggests higher productivity (due to whatever reason), and hence more surplus? Chinese population was almost HALVED after the fall of the Eastern Han Dynasty in 220CE. There were numerous accounts of the horrendous famines and population loss in the early 17th century, before the fall of Ming. So it’s in fact large economies that make large populations sustainable, instead of the other way round.

As to China and India’s sudden fall from the first league, the quick and easy answer is colonialism, which I think is wrong again in terms of cause and effect. Colonialism is like germs that populate our living world. It simply invades countries that have been weakened by other reasons. By the 19th century, China was already in her dying throbs. As such, the GDP share seems like a lagging indicator of a nation’s economic wellbeing.

One of the best books that deal with this fascinating topic is The Great Divergence, by Kenneth Promeranz. Mind you, the writing is horrible, but it’s well worth the effort.


Written by Cindy Luk

August 18, 2010 at 2:33 am