Past, Present and Future
Edited by D. S.P. Rao and Bart van Ark
Chapter 2: Six Transformations in China: 960-2030
In world perspective China’s performance has been exceptional. In the thirteenth century, it was the world’s leading economy in terms of per capita income. It outperformed Europe in levels of technology, the intensity with which it used its natural resources, and capacity for administering a huge territorial empire. By 1500, western Europe had overtaken China in per capita real income, technological and scientific capacity. From the 1840s to the middle of the twentieth century, China’s performance actually declined in a world where economic progress elsewhere was very substantial. In the past 60 years, China has been resurrected in a catch-up process which seems likely to continue in the next quarter century. By 2030 Chinese per capita income will be well above the world average. In terms of GDP, it will very probably have overtaken the USA as the world’s biggest economy around 2015 (see Figure 2.1 and Tables 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3). 2.1.1 Six Transformations One can identify six major phases in economic performance of China in the past millennium. 1) The first transformation saw intensive and extensive growth in the Sung dynasty 960-1280, when per capita income rose by a third and population almost doubled. There was a major shift in the centre of gravity of the economy. In the eighth century three-quarters of the population lived in North China, where the main crops were wheat and millet. By the end of the thirteenth, three-quarters lived south of the Yangtse. This area had been swampy and lightly-settled, but with irrigation and early ripening seeds, it provided an ideal opportunity for massive development of rice cultivation.
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