Discussion Questions China's Early 20th Century Economy: 1900-1949



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Discussion Questions

China's Early 20th Century Economy: 1900-1949

  1. Was China a free-market economy during the first four decades of the twentieth century?

  2. Briefly describe the economic impact of the war of 1937-1945.

  3. Summarize and evaluate evidence indicating that China's economy experienced an increase in per capita output and income during the first four decades of the twentieth century.

  4. Map question. Name five province-level units of the People's Republic of China that

    1. are contiguous with the province of Sichuan.

    2. form part of the international land borders of the People's Republic of China.

The Era of Economic Planning, 1949-1976

  1. To what extent was Communist ideology grounded in ideas of K.Marx?

  2. Karl Marx predicted the emergence of communism in countries where capitalism is at its most advanced stage. Instead, communism won in backwards agrarian country, Russia, and later in China. Give several reasons why communists were not successful in Western Europe. Why were they more successful in China?

  3. How would you explain the rise of the communist movement over the world in the 1950-80s? Do you think communism may regain its popularity any time soon? If yes, why and where?

  4. Why is communism often called a utopian idea?

  5. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote their Communist Manifesto in December 1847, as a guide to the fundamental principles and practices of communists. Based on the Manifesto , what are the characteristics of an ideal communist society?

  6. How did Communists come to power in China?

  7. What were the goals of Chinese communists?

  8. In your opinion, why were Communists more successful than Nationalists? Name several factors, including the countries climate, geography and features of the national character, which could have played a role.

  9. When was the first 5-year-plan? What was the purpose of the first 5-year plan?

  10. What type of economic, political and social institutions did the Communist government introduce in the 1950s?

  11. Prior to 1957, what was the Chinese approach to creating socialism?

  12. List dates, names, and brief explanations of major economic and political events in China under Mao Zedong?

  13. What was the Great Leap Forward trying to accomplish? What were its effects?

  14. If you personally were appointed the supervisor of the Great Leap Forward, what would you have done differently?

  15. What was the purpose of Cultural Revolution? How did Cultural Revolution affect the economy?

  16. Did Chairman Mao’s vision of Chinese development differ from most other socialist economies? In what ways?

  17. What similarities and differences between communism in China and in Russia does Rostow point out in his 1955 article on “Russia and China under Communism”?

  18. What was the cause of the Sino-Soviet split?

  19. Did the Mao government conduct political repressions?

  20. How did China's economy overall perform over 1949-76 under a system of socialist planning? Give a general overview of achievements.

  21. What sectors of the economy grew the most during Mao’s rule?

  22. What were the main features of the socialist economy in China under Mao that distinguished it from the Western market economy?

  23. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the socialist system in China.

  24. Was income equality achieved during under socialism?

  25. How successful were China's efforts to adopt modifications to counteract the inherent shortcomings of the socialist system while maintaining its advantages? Were there attempts to reform the system?

  26. Did the material welfare of Chinese households overall increase, decline, or stagnate during the era of socialist planning?

  27. In your opinion, would it be correct to say that Chinese socialism "failed" or "collapsed"?

  28. Discuss one feature of the regime, or one of its policies, during this period of time that you have found noteworthy (striking, impressive, horrible). Explain why.

China's Economy after 1979: Two Decades of Reform

  1. What do we mean by "economic reform" in Chinese context?

  2. Why did China's leaders decide to initiate economic reform?

  3. What did China's reform leaders seek to achieve?

  4. Discuss the fundamental elements of the economic reforms in China under Deng Xiaoping.

  5. What is open-door policy? Explain its goals.

  6. Describe some of the perceived harmful short run effects that have surfaced as a result of the open-door policy and globalization process in China.

  7. Was economic reform in China similar to reform in other socialist economies, for example, in non-socialist Asian economies like Taiwan and Korea?

  8. What happened on Tiananmen square in 1989? What impact did that episode have on foreign investment and growth in China during the years immediately thereafter?

  9. Why are state enterprises often criticized for being less efficient compared to private firms?

  10. Which sectors of the economy grew relative to the rest of the economy since 1979?

  11. How did development change the nature and structure of the rural economy?

  12. What are the main features of urban development during China's socialist era? How was urban growth organized? How was it financed?

  13. Why was urban reform more complex and gradual than reform in the countryside? How has reform affected the structure and operation of China's urban economy?

  14. Did the reforms improve or hurt the standard of living of most Chinese citizens over the two decades since 1979?

  15. Discuss one feature of economic development in that period of time, or one policy that you have found noteworthy.

China's Economy Today

  1. Why, do you think, China is often referred to as a “Socialist Market Economy”?

  2. Has China built a "market economy"?

  3. What distinguishes China from the textbook model of capitalism?

  4. What are the consequences of reduced control over domestic interregional migration?

  5. Why does reform take so long?

  6. Give examples of the market economy institutions that emerged between 1979 and present.

  7. Discuss the role of the following in promoting economic growth and making economic activities more efficient:

    1. property rights and their enforcement

    2. transparency of economic arrangements

    3. contract enforcement

    4. law and order

    5. government treatment of money-losing enterprises

    6. protection of intellectual property rights .



  1. Is income distributed evenly or are there wide gaps between monetary and non-monetary incomes of various groups and regions?

  2. What sort of welfare provisions exist, and what effect does their presence or absence have on other aspects of the economy (e.g. birth rates)?

  3. What are the environmental consequences of rapid economic growth involving 1.2 billion people?

  4. How does China's government chart the course of the economy under the former planning system and the current mix of plan and market?

    1. How large is the state sector in China?

    2. What resources does government command?

    3. What control mechanisms are used by the government?

    4. Do the country’s planners still use 5-year planning horizons?

  5. Is China exposed to the sort of macroeconomic instability that we see in Korea or Indonesia?

  6. Why do you think a well-functioning financial system would be important for economic development?

  7. Comment on China's financial system. What choices are available to people who save money?

  8. Do private businesses use the banking system to obtain loans?

  9. What are the strengths and weaknesses of China's financial system?

  10. How important is China to the world economy now? Give several numbers to illustrate your point.

  11. Have this changed during the past 40 years?

  12. Who benefits from U.S.-China trade? All Americans? Most Americans? Only a few Americans? All Chinese? Most Chinese? Only a few Chinese?

  13. Does trade with China reduce employment opportunities for United States workers?

  14. Who benefits from U.S. corporate investments in China?

  15. “China’s currency is undervalued”. What does it mean?

  16. What are China’s main exports and imports?

  17. List several current economic problems in China. Next to them, list how the government is planning to deal with each, if it is.

  18. Is corruption a problem? Why? How is the government addressing the problem of corruption?

  19. In 2002, the Chinese Communist Party announced a goal of quadrupling per capita income by the year 2020. This requires annual income growth rate of 7%. Is China likely to attain its growth target? Why do you think so?

  20. What is new “socialist countryside campaign”?

  21. Is China "a totalitarian state" ?

  22. What fundamentals of Chinese growth does R.Chow identify in his articles? Explain each briefly.

  23. Why, in your opinion, was China much more successful in attracting foreign capital than were other developing countries such as India and African nations?


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