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... Free Sample on History

Topic: Development of Underdevelopment in China 1800-1949


Of all the explanations considered in assigned reading, what do you consider to be the most important causes for the development of underdevelopment in China between 1800 and 1949? Why? Below is a suggested format of how to answer this question. A: Introduction: define the term underdevelopment. B: What are the cultural causes? (about 400 words) C: What are the demographic/technological causes? (about 400 words) D: What are the (internal) historical reasons? (about 400 words) E: Did imperialism cause underdevelopment in China? (about 400 words) F: Conclusion: What do you think is the most appropriate explanation for China's underdevelopment? Why?



One way of approaching the developmental path would be to distinguish between factors that had a direct causal effect versus those that merely facilitated the trend or acted to support the weak equilibrium. Furthermore, variable such as pure historical events or initial conditions should appropriately be referred to as uncontrollables, with controllables being the domains of the institutional framework subject to controlled reforms (ongoing or discontinuous). One, further, would do wise distinguishing between variables that caused the trajectories versus those that merely facilitated the trends. 

Underdevelopment defined

Growth can reasonably viewed as a sustained increase in the value added produced, or somewhat indirectly, in the standard of living. Development, by contrast, accounts for qualitative evolution of the society as well as its economy's productive forces. We will thus treat an evolutionary pattern as underdevelopment, as long as it materially deviates from its potential, or saddle path. Alternatively, this can be expressed in terms of sub-optimal institutional framework.

Cultural aspects 

The predominant cultural pillar here is the so-called Neo-Confucian ideology of the nineteenth century's ruling elite. It espoused status quo and self-sufficiency, and adherence to tradition as the more reliable path. Clearly, such criterion of evolutionary stability (guised as efficiency) was largely self-fulfilling. The respect for the older as the authority at all levels-hierarchy, technology, and institutional order-had provided certain stability for the Qing dynasty at prior stages, however now was beginning to undermine in light of increasing exposure to external environment. With foreign trade and international relations expanding, the Chinese imperial elite was successful enough in championing the superiority of all things Chinese. That not only materialized in trade protectionism, but also secured significant institutional rigidity. Any updates were in this light viewed as an inexpedient compromise of superiority (associated with eternity and constancy). 

Demographic/ Technological Causes

The nineteenth century China was experiencing growing pressures of internal economic origin as well. The 300 million Chinese could account for a substantial stock of human capital, all-indispensable for sustained development. However, development and growth are largely grounded in complementarities, whether it be on a level of simultaneous reforms, or availability of various types of resources. In this particular case, the complementarities prerequisite was not met, due to a lacking industrial and trade sector to absorb the huge stock of labor force. Underemployment, or misallocation of scarce resources, is by far a single most important contributor to underdevelopment. Free foreign trade based on comparative advantage could not only provide a proxy for technological development, but also secure a partial solution to the unemployment problem. 

However, China's foreign trade was restrained initially, then monopolized by the Portuguese seizing on their first mover advantage throughout Southeast Asia at the time. Britain, for example, succeeded in bypassing protectionist barriers by establishing third-party trade schemes, whereby they focused their primary exports on India and Southeast Asia, exchanging for raw materials and semi-finished commodities (opium included) that were gaining popularity with the Chinese consumers. This spread of trafficking and smuggling operations was not the only adverse effect of distorted trade, however. By then, China was beginning to access the European markets primarily with its tea, silk, and porcelain. 

Such structure of exports (and export-oriented industrial organization) was biased toward low-processed (low value added) sectors, which not only resulted in unfavorable terms of trade, but also amounted to what's called the "Dutch Disease." This phenomenon refers to the experience of Holland in discovering new deposits of oil in the Northern Sea. This initially innocent-looking source of easy money gradually distorted the whole structure of industry, by distracting resources away from fundamental sectors and more into extracting capacities. We have chosen to use this term when referring to a pattern of specialization other than comparative advantage based, which has a huge adverse and lasting effect on the industrial structure and productivity. 
Continually subjected to foreign intervention (on the part of the powers like Britain and the US pressing on the weak fronts in the face of their interests being oftentimes compromised in areas like trade and extraterritoriality), China had to give way by accepting unprofitable concessions, in terms of tariffs and foreign resident statuses, as well as de-jure loss of jurisdiction over its adjacent overseas territories in Southeast Asia. As one consequence of wars (e.g. the Opium War in 1839-42) and numerous (rather limiting) treaties, China entered a century of what they would call "national humiliations," which further undermined the perception of national superiority and prepared the society for a series of crucial event and reforms. 

Mounting urban pauperism and the activities of secret (Mafia-like) societies only contributed to social marginalization and unrest. Additional channel of propagation was the corruption within the bureaucracy and the military systems, which essentially amounts to dysfunctional institutions and inadequate agency (or, symmetrically, to prohibitively high transaction costs of making them work). 

A more active and influential channel of exposure and convergence was the Western religious missions. The rather moderate rate of conversion put aside, what it brought was the material contribution to the Chinese knowledge, in fields as diverse as arts to construction to sciences. That undoubtedly was a large and positive cause that contributed to development on both the technical and reform levels. The new elite of the Chinese society, the military scholars serving as high officials and advisers to the government, exerted enormous influence on the educational, legislative, and bureaucratic systems. From then onwards, the new educational system encouraged students studying abroad and gaining a first hand experience observing and adopting the best Western practices. 

Historical Reasons

Ironically, it was not least the notorious Taiping Rebellion of 1814-64 that propagated the stability of the then dominant institutional framework in the educational area. A village teacher, he had flunked the imperial examinations. He was known to confess a toss up between pre-Confucian utopianism and the new Protestantism, and proclaimed a pressing need to establish a new order of Heavenly Kingdom of great Peace, which reflected the institutional preferences of the large masses that would restore the peasants right to own land, judicial and social justice. This initiative began as the Self-Strengthening Movement aimed at stabilizing the society and restoring national unity. However, it also implied that the observed instability to the system was largely due to this system's (with hint at the empire) very existence. The Qing were successful in oppressing the deadly initiative by appointing Zeng Guofan as governor general. Himself a scholar-official, ironically it would be him to secure new power to the emerging Han elite and thus further to erode the Qing authority. 


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