chapter  5
38 Pages

The Study of the Chinese Economy

Before the early 1970s the way people studied China's economy was largely shaped by the paucity of data. Most data that were available were for the First Five-Year Plan period (1953-57). Other information was obtained from the Central Intelligence Agency or interviewees in Hong Kong, and by extrapolating from policy statements printed in the official Chinese press. WaIter Galenson, in a review of the field in 1967, described the situation this way:

The Chinese have gone far beyond the Russians (in data suppression), and, indeed beyond any major nation in modem times. Most books, journals, and newspapers have been embargoed, so effectively that they are not even available in Hong Kong. Those few that still come through contain almost no economic data. There is an occasional statement about the success of an individual enterprise in raising its output, and a few percentage increase claims have been released. . . . Visitors have been given an odd figure or two. But there is nothing of a systematic character; not even plan targets. Indeed, we do not know whether China is actually operating under a 5-year plan. (Galenson 1967,4)

From this distant vantage point, few standard economic theories seemed relevant to the Chinese case. Throughout the 1 950s agriculture was being collectivized and industry and commerce were being nationalized, following the example of the Soviet Union. With the Great Leap Forward, China diverted from the Soviet path, but in a way that did not fit the experience of other developing countries. These factors, combined with studying China from a distance, influenced the type of research that was done on China by V.S. scholars at the time.