Money, Banks and Finance in Economic Thought

Early attempts to introduce traditional Chinese economic thought to the West (1910s-1920s)

Borokh Olga, Russian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Far Eastern Studies

The paper is focused on doctoral dissertations on the history of Chinese economic thought written in English by two Chinese PhD students in the United States – Economic Principles of Confucius and His School by Chen Huanzhang and The Influence of Taoism and Related Philosophies on Chinese Economic Thought by Yuan Xianneng. Comparison between two works highlights common topics and demonstrates essential differences in approaches. The dominant trend in the early twentieth century was the assimilation of Western economic theories in China. Chen and Yuan assumed the task of introducing Chinese economic ideas to the West. Prior to studying in the United States, Chen Huanzhang received traditional Chinese education, in 1904 he got the highest degree of jinshi. He held a doctorate in Economics from Columbia University in 1911. His dissertation was welcomed by Western intellectuals, one of the reviews was written by J.M. Keynes. For the first time the book presented Chinese traditional views in English within the framework of categories of Western economics. Chen Huanzhang reduced the Chinese notion of economics expressed in the form of “doctrine of wealth management” (licaixue) to consumption and production. The book provided detailed renderings of economic fragments from Chinese primary sources. Chen emphasized that in the past China preceded other nations in economic practices, including the use of money. The dissertation focused on the ideas of Confucians. After returning to China, Chen Huanzhang concentrated on propagation of Confucian religion, he did not influence the process of formation of economics in China. Yuan Xianneng received a doctorate degree from New York University in 1929. Although the title of the dissertation mentioned Taoism, in fact the text embraced Confucianism and other schools of ancient thought. Yuan Xianneng described the Taoists as liberals who advocated naturalness and non-action. Some of his ideas were close to the views of Chen Huanzhang. Yuan Xianneng disagreed with widespread Western notions that Chinese economic thought had no valuable contents and exercised no influence outside China. He believed that prior to Adam Smith in the exchange of thoughts with the West “China was in the favorable position”, and “the Physiocratic theories were marked with Chinese traits”. After returning from the US, Yuan Xianneng joined teaching and research work in the field of history of economic thought, he was rather influential during the Republican period. In the West his ideas remain unknown till our days.


Keywords: Chinese economic thought, Western economics, PhD dissertations, Confucianism, Taoism

Paper file