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Essays on China’s economic history of the Late Qing Empire

Historical GDP, Early Industrialisation and the Qing State’s Role in Economic Development
PhD ceremony:Y. (Ye) Ma, MSc
When:December 10, 2020
Supervisor:prof. dr. H.J. (Herman) de Jong
Co-supervisor:prof. dr. J. (Jutta) Bolt
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Economics and Business
Essays on China’s economic history of the Late Qing Empire

This dissertation intends to evaluate China’s economic performance before WWII, encompassing the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This most discussed period in the related literature covers the second half of the Qing regime and the Republican era followed after the downfall of the Qing Empire in 1911, commonly referred to as among the most turbulent periods in the history of China. Discussions remain around whether and how China’s modern economic achievements could be related to its historical performance, e.g. before WWII. Improving our understanding of China’s social and economic changes in history is necessary before taking a long-term perspective on economic development. The interdisciplinary research on economic history tends to ask to what extent we can meaningfully explore historical economic development by applying economic theory and analysis. This dissertation tries to address this underlying question through a case study on China’s economic history. Chapter 2 presents for the first time the general growth pattern and structural change of the Qing economy through a quantitative approach. Chapters 3 provides a new benchmark indicator to look at China’s pre-war industrialisation in comparison with other economies. Chapters 4 and 5 examine the effects of political arrangements on China’s pre-war economy, which considers the role of the Qing state but different from an institutional approach to long-term influences. This dissertation gives a new description of China’s pre-war economic performance and contributes to the literature on economic development.