Reading list: Understanding the Chinese economic miracle

Linda Yueh selects essential reading for all those who want to understand the Chinese economic miracle.


Selling China: Foreign Direct Investment During the Reform Era

Author: Yasheng Huang
Cambridge Modern China Series, 2002

Huang founded and heads the China Lab and India Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School. Beijing-born, he has worked with the World Bank, at the University of Michigan and Harvard Business School. His books include Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics.

Selling China came out as China was joining the World Trade Organisation and in it Huang controversially claimed that the huge amount of foreign direct investment (FDI) flowing into China was a sign of weakness rather than strength in the Chinese economy. Chinese institutions and financial sector were simply not up to the job of maximising the $50 billion flowing into the country every year. This challenged prevailing wisdom.

Selling China also portrays the positive side of FDI and created a formidable reputation for Huang. “This volume surely makes Huang one of the world's most authoritative political economists currently writing on China,” concluded International Affairs.

Demystifying the Chinese Economy

Author: Justin Yifu Lin
Cambridge University Press, 2011

The stats are dramatic. Lin reports that since 1978 China has maintained rapid economic growth for 33 consecutive years with an average annual growth rate of 9.9 per cent and average annual growth of foreign trade of 16.3 per cent. China’s success has, Lin argues, benefitted the world. Think of the huge Chinese investment in Africa for example.

Lin, Chief Economist and Senior Vice-President of the World Bank, provides a compelling historic perspective on the Chinese economic renaissance. Demystifying the Chinese Economy is a collection of his Peking University lectures. It offers a timely reminder that China has experienced economic power and success in previous centuries. Indeed, before the 18th century, it was a world power and then declined dramatically, left behind by the Industrial Revolution. What goes down can come up.

China's Unfinished Economic Revolution

Author: Nicholas Lardy
Brookings Institution Press, 1998

Lardy is the Anthony M. Solomon Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Previously, he was a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and chaired the China Program at the University of Washington from 1984 to 1989. He is a prolific author on the Chinese economy.

China’s Unfinished Economic Revolution evaluated the reform of China's banking system and measured the economic consequences of deferring reform in the state-owned sector. It sounded a powerful warning to China’s policy makers and rulers of some of the dangers of headlong growth.

Most recently Lardy is the author of Sustaining China's Economic Growth after the Global Financial Crisis (2012), The Future of China's Exchange Rate Policy (2009), and China's Rise: Challenges and Opportunities (2008).

Growing Out of the Plan: Chinese Economic Reform, 1978–1993

Author: Barry Naughton
Cambridge University Press, 1995

Naughton is the So Kwanlok Chair of Chinese International Affairs at the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego. Growing Out of the Plan won the Masayoshi Ohira memorial prize. In it Naughton argues that China’s economic revival was not driven by a brilliant masterplan but was political and opportunistic, an experimental embrace of laissez faire as opposed to a dramatic conversion. As such, the Chinese story offers hope for any totalitarian regime hoping for economic change.

The Political Economy of China

Author: Carl Riskin
Oxford University Press, 1987

An expert on Maoist and post-Maoist economic development policies, Riskin (Distinguished Professor of Economics at Queens College, CUNY) is widely known for his research documenting widespread poverty and the growing income gap between rural and urban China. In his early work he looked at four decades of China’s economic development from the Revolution, through various phases of Maoist policy such as the “great leap forward,” to the inception of market-oriented reforms in the 1980s.

China’s Political Economy: The Quest for Development since 1949 is often regarded as the definitive study of the interrelations of politics, ideology, technology, and incentives in that nation’s recent economic history.

Much of Riskin’s more recent work has been devoted to helping international agencies understand the challenges of the global economy.

The Search for Modern China

Author: Jonathan Spence
WW Norton, 2001

British-born Spence was Sterling Professor of History at Yale University from 1993 to 2008. The Search for Modern China surveys the last several hundred years of Chinese history based on his course at Yale.

One of his themes is attempts by the West and others to change China. They fail. Instead, Spence portrays China as something of a recalcitrant but fascinating outsider. “I understand a ‘modern’ nation to be one that is both integrated and receptive, fairly sure of its own identity yet able to join others on equal terms in the quest for new markets, new technologies, new ideas,” he writes. “I like to think that there were modern countries – in the above sense – in A.D. 1600 or earlier, as at any moment in the centuries thereafter. Yet at no time in that span, nor at the end of the 20th century, has China been convincingly one of them.”

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

Author: Jung Chang
Harper, 1991

One of the publishing sensations of the last two decades, Wild Swans has sold more than 10 million copies and is available in 30 languages. It tells the stories of the author, her mother and grandmother; the broad and personal sweep of history.

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