China since 1800: Culture, institutions and economic growth

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Melanie Meng Xue SAR 6.12


This course is available on the BA in History, BSc in Economic History, BSc in Economic History and Geography, BSc in Economic History with Economics, BSc in Economics, BSc in Economics and Economic History and BSc in Economics with Economic History. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.


A background in statistical methods is preferred but not required.

Course content

The first half of the course focuses on facts and follows a chronological order, covering major phases of historical China, including traditional China, the Great Divergence, late Qing and Republican China, Communism, and post-1979 economic reform. The second half of the course is more analytical and examines a number of topics, including (1) Geography, (2) Institutions, (3) States, (4) Culture, (5) Social Capital, (6) Gender, (7) Human capital, (8) Social Mobility, (9) Trade, (10) Disasters.


This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures totalling a minimum of 40 hours across Michaelmas Term and Lent Term. 

This course includes a reading week in Week 6 of Michaelmas and Lent Term.

Formative coursework

Students are expected to produce 2 essays during the two teaching terms.

Indicative reading

  • Deng, Kent, Mapping China’s Growth and Development in the Long Run, 221 BC to 2020 (London: World Scientific Press and Imperial College Press);
  • Richard von Glahn, The Economic History of China: From Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century Cambridge University Press, 2016;
  • Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence, China, Europe and the making of the modern world economy Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton UP, 2000;
  • Wong, Roy Bin. China transformed: historical change and the limits of European experience. Cornell University Press, 1997
  • Loren Brandt, Debin Ma, and Thomas G Rawski (2014). “From Divergence to Convergence: Re-evaluating the History Behind China’s Economic Boom”. Journal of Economic Literature.
  • Robert C Allen, Jean-Pascal Bassino, Debin Ma, Christine Moll-Murata, and Jan Luiten Van Zanden (2011). “Wages, prices, and living standards in China, 1738–1925: in comparison with Europe, Japan, and India”. The Economic History Review
  • Chenggang Xu (2011). “The Fundamental Institutions of China’s Reforms and Development”. The Journal of Economic Literature 49.4, 1076–1151
  • Avner Greif and Guido Tabellini (2010). “Cultural and institutional bifurcation: China and Europe compared”. American Economic Review 100.2, 135–40
  • Carol H Shiue and Wolfgang Keller (2007). “Markets in China and Europe on the Eve of the Industrial Revolution”. American Economic Review 97.4, 1189–1216


Exam (70%, duration: 2 hours) in the summer exam period.
Essay (15%, 1500 words) in the MT.
Essay (15%, 1500 words) in the LT.

Coursework of two take home essays of 1,500 words (inclusive of bibliography and footnotes) to be completed independently by each individual student. The essays should develop arguments, analysis and evidences on a specific research question (or a set of research questions) chosen by the student in consultation with teachers and should be related to the course materials covered. While it is essential to demonstrate one’s grasp of the course material, students are encouraged to develop their own insights and arguments going beyond the course material.


Key facts

Department: Economic History

Total students 2021/22: 66

Average class size 2021/22: 17

Capped 2021/22: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.