Development and Underdevelopment in the History of Economic Thought

The origins of development economics in China: foreign and Chinese assessments of Zhang Peigang’s theory

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

The paper focuses on the interpretations of the concept of economic development elaborated in the 1940s by the Chinese scholar Zhang Peigang (Chang Pei-Kang, 1913-2011). His doctorate thesis “Agriculture and Industrialization” combined first-hand knowledge about the Chinese rural economy of the 1930s with new Western economic theories. Zhang’s work was noticed by foreign peers. The paper identifies and analyzes ten book reviews in English and Spanish published in scholarly periodicals in 1949-1951. Many reviewers criticized him for giving too much prominence to the presentation of Western economic ideas and paying insufficient attention to the specifics of industrialization in China, they encouraged him to write more exclusively on China’s economic problems. The paradigm of Western economics that Zhang Peigang mastered at Harvard University was not suitable for analyzing centralized planned economy. During the early decades of the PRC his ideas were unclaimed; in the years of “cultural revolution” he was criticized. In the reforms period the economist resumed research on China’s industrialization, making a significant contribution to promotion of development economics in China. Zhang Peigang’s theoretical legacy constitutes an important part of the experience of internationalization of Chinese economics in the late 1940s - early 1950s. In China scholars refer to his ideas to prove that those years the Chinese economists reached the world level of study of economics and even surpassed it. They suppose that academic internationalization will help modern Chinese economists to replicate the success of Zhang Peigang. Chinese attempts to elevate Zhang Peigang to the status of the founder of development economics widely recognized in the West are an exaggeration. At the same time, his concept is firmly rooted in modern Chinese economic literature as an example of development theory adjusted to the needs of a large country with specific institutional structure.


Keywords: development economics, China, agrarian country, industrialization, institutional structure

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