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China in the Global Economy

Edited by P. J. Lloyd and Xiao-guang Zhang

China in the Global Economy focuses on the theme of twin transitions occurring in the Chinese economy: the transition from a centrally planned economic system to a market oriented one, and from an agrarian to a modern industrialised society. China’s exporters face unprecedented competition in the world market and the flow of foreign direct investment has fallen restraining the growth of the domestic economy. These new challenges have fuelled debate on the perspective of the Chinese economy and its role in the global economy.
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Chapter 16: Stature, nutritional status and economic reform in China

Stephen L. Morgan


Stephen L. Morgan China embarked on economic reform in the late 1970s. Markets were revived first for rural domestic produce, and the external sector was opened up to the outside world, a bold break with the inward-looking autarkic development strategy of the past. Over the past two decades China has been transformed from a plan-centred to a market-oriented economy. The economic growth that accompanied this shift raised average incomes, created much private wealth and reduced the incidence of poverty. It has come at the price of an increase in regional and sectoral disparities, though there is little consensus about the magnitude of the disparities or the trend. Most Chinese are better off than they were in the pre-reform days. Rising incomes have improved the nutritional status of the Chinese, no better illustrated than in the marked rise in the average heights of school-aged children since the mid-1970s. Higher real incomes make for more food, better quality food and better access to health and education services. The effect is a gain in aggregate levels of nutrition that allows the population to realize better their genetic potential for growth. Those gains, though, have been unevenly distributed. The aim of this chapter is to analyse the trends in the standard of living in China’s provinces using data other than conventional economic indicators. Instead of using per capita income and consumption data typical of recent studies of the standard of living in China, anthropometric data (stature, weight and body mass indices) are used. Height...

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