International Conference Discusses the Great Divergence after Ten Years of Debate

The vivid contrast of the historical evolution between Chinese and Western European economies, especially the ‘Great Divergence’ since the modern history, has always been a hot topic of research and discussion for Chinese and overseas scholars. The comparative studies on the great divergence have made many remarkable contributions and become an academic focus during the past decade. Tsinghua University successfully organized a dialogue of top economic historians, economists and historians between overseas and Chinese academia. The conference of “The Great Divergence” was held from August 29th to 30th, 2012 at Tsinghua SEM. Professor XIE Weihe, Vice President of Tsinghua University and Mr. LI Bozhong, Professor of Tsinghua University’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences and Chair Professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology delivered the opening remarks.
 
Mr. Daniel Little, President of University of Michigan gave a comprehensive review of the discussions on the “Great Divergence” in academia over the past two decades, and elaborated on the latest development of comparative studies on Chinese and Western agriculture. Professor Robert Allen from Oxford University argued that comparatively high price of labor relative to capital and energy acted as the incentives of technological innovation and led to the inventions of Industrial Revolution in Britain. Professor Masahiko Aoki from Stanford University, former President of the International Economics Association, explored the systematic causes of the “Slight Divergence” between Japanese and Chinese economic development in the report titled “Institutions in China's Economic Development in a Comparative Perspective.” He held the view that institutional heritage in contract implementation has a profound impact on the modernization of the two countries. Professor Jack Goldstone from George Mason University emphasized the cultural foundations of technological change in Asia and Europe.
 
 
Professor Robert Allen from Oxford University
 
 
Mr. LI Bozhong compared the GDPs and industrial structures of Yangzi Delta and the Netherlands in 1820s and came to the conclusion that both of them have transformed from traditional agricultural economy to modern industrial and commercial economy. Professor James Lee, Dean of the Humanities and Social Sciences School in Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, stated in his research based on data analysis that unlike traditional view, China in Ming and Qing Dynasties was not caught in "Malthusian trap". Professor Leonard Blussé from Leiden University, the laureate of the Dutch Queen Knight Medal of Honor, illustrated the developing process of urban agglomeration in Lower Yangzi and Rhine Basin after 13 century in his report titled “Rhine and Yangzi, a Great Divergence? The Lower Yangzi and Rhine Basin Compared: 1350-1850.” The report argued that the development of urban agglomeration drives the local economy to be global. Professor Joseph McDermott from Cambridge University analyzed the financial function of Chinese ancestral shrine that had been neglected by other scholars in the past by using ancestral shrine in Huizhou as the study object and compared it with Japanese temples in the research report titled “What Weber, Freedman, and Pomeranz Did Not Know about the Ancestral Shrine.” Professor Long Denggao from Tsinghua University’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences analyzed diversified form of Chinese land ownership transactions and property rights. He came to the conclusion that resource allocation centered on land property is reinforced in Chinese traditional agricultural economy while the transformation to resource allocation centered on capital in modern economy is difficult. Professor Myung Soo Cha from Korean Yeungnam University expounded his comparative studies on famine relief system of China and DPRK in Qing Dynasty in the research report titled “State Famine Relief as a Cause of the Great Divergence: Evidence from a Vassal State of China.” He argued that state famine relief system will hinder long-term development of agricultural economy. Mr. Martin Uebele from University of Muenster estimated Germany’s GDP in 1500 to the mid-19th century and its long-term growth rate in the report titled “German Long Growth Since 1500 in the Context of the Great Divergence.”
 
 
  LI Bozhong, Professor of Tsinghua University School of Humanities and Social Sciences and Chair Professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
 
 
 
 Professor Leonard Blussé from Leiden University
 
 
After the conference, the book launch of ““Series of Social Economic History” was held. Professor Robert Allen, Leonard Blussé, Jack Goldstone and Peter Nolan met with Chinese readers with their books in Chinese Translation: The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective; Visible Cities: Canton, Nagasaki, and Batavia and the Coming of the Americans; Why Europe? The Rise of the West in World History 1500-1850; China's Rise, Russia's Fall: Politics, Economics and Planning in the Transition from Stalinism. This series of books are published by Zhejiang University Press with Professor Long Denggao as the chief editor.
 
The International Conference of Great Divergence is jointly initiated by Tsinghua SEM Professor BAI Chong-en and Mr. LONG Denggao from Tsinghua University’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences with Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management and School of Humanities and Social Sciences as co-organizers, and International Economics Association, China Association of Economic History, Institute for Fiscal Studies at Tsinghua, Center for Economics History Studies at Tsinghua as collaborators. Scholars from various institutions including Tsinghua University, Peking University, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Renmin University, Beijing Normal University, Central University of Finance and Economics, Sichuan University, the Chinese University of Hong Kong had in-depth and extensive exchanges with overseas scholars from the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, Korea etc.