Syllabus 2014

Econ 274 Winter 2014 MWF 11:15 am – 12:10 pm Huntley 321

China’s Modern Economy

Prerequisites: Economics 101 and 102 (the “Principles” sequence)


China’s economy is the third largest in the world with a GDP (current PPP) of $11 trillion, behind the EU and the US but ahead of Japan. This size reflects a population of 1.35 billion combined with 30 years of strong growth, growth that averaged nearly 10% per annum. GDP is abstract; rapid growth transforms lives. In 1980 most people lived on the farm; now China has 100+ cities with population over a million. Twenty years ago there were virtually no private cars in China; today it is the world’s largest motor vehicle market, nearly 50% larger than that of the US. Other changes are visible in stores in the US: during this period the economy went from near-autarky to being the workshop of the world, exporting more than the US or Germany. While the Communist Party remains in power, China is thoroughly capitalist: market mechanisms and not government planning drive the economy.

We divide our study into four segments, using books by journalists and economists, feature films and documentaries, and academic research. One segment examines the rural sector, another industry, and a third the migration that links the two. We also model the evolution of the economy from an aggregate “macro’ perspective and in terms of microeconomic sectoral issues. In the process we will read about both small-scale export-oriented manufacturers and global multinationals. As we will see, despite images of a strong state, most of the time Beijing remains remote; the Chinese political economy is dominated by centrifugal forces. That is particularly apparent in the treatment of externalities such as pollution and the rule of law, where local interests often trump regional and national concerns.


While I devote part of each week to lectures, particularly for the presentation of theory and basic background, part will be devoted to discussion of the readings, both the four books we use and writings by academic economists that complement them. Rather than midterms, you will be responsible for a series of short papers on the books used this term. You will also write a short research paper on a policy area of your choice. I will at my discretion “pop” a few quizzes your way, depending on how systematically you do assigned readings in preparation for class discussion; sometimes I’ll request that you hand in a one-page memo on the readings at the start of class. I’ll choose class members on a random basis to lead off class discussion of readings – what are the main points, is there a core underlying model, what jargon is used to key economists into the discussion. I will also (all groan in unison, myself included) ask you to write a final exam where you will have an opportunity to pull together what we learn this term.

Complementing this will be blogging. I will make each of you an “author” for this W&L-hosted WordPress site, which will enable you to post and comment. You should be posting once a week (10-11 times) and commenting about 30 times over the course of the term. To prevent a mad rush in April, I will track participation on a weekly basis, and will disable posting (but not commenting) just before final exams.

I will conduct an in-class tutorial on using WordPress. See the courrse web site for a guide to HTML code specific to the course web site to help you format what you write. I also have 100 or so photos that I took (no copywrite concerns!) that you can use to dress up your postings. The course web site contains other material, including old blog posts by your predecessors, links to China resources, paper guidelines and syllabi from previous years. If you choose to use photos from elsewhere, please pull by linking to a site where the author took the photos AND give credit.

Written Work:

I ask that all written work be submitted in printed form, backed up with pdf files posted to your dropbox on Sakai. (That provides a time-stamp for when work was submitted…) Papers should be (i) double-spaced with standard margins in 11pt Times Roman, (ii) use in-line citations and a final bibliography, (iii) be proofread or (iv) at your discretion, taken to the Williams School CommCenter. Papers should have a (single) clear introductory paragraph, should avoid the passive voice and indefinite modifiers (“some” “very”), should utilize economic jargon and concrete examples (ideally, both statistical data and quotes from readings), should indicate relevant models (including, as appropriate, by attaching hand-drawn graphs/equations), and should have a conclusion that is not a mere repetition of the introduction. All work is presumed pledged.


The schedule for the course (as well as other course materials) are available online on the course WordPress site at I will revise the schedule as the term progresses, including with links to specific readings. Please refer to it frequently.

Office Hours:

I will post office hours once the term commences and I know my schedule . But please feel free to contact me if such time slots don’t work for you. I will give all of you my cell phone number [no texting, please, I don’t have a data plan and each one costs 20¢] – please feel free to call and if you do so, please leave a voicemail if I don’t answer.


One text is by a journalist, one by a historian, one by an economic consultant based in Beijing, and one by a former corporate executive turned industry consultant. These provide different snapshops of modern China, including the evolving rhythm of daily life in the countryside and the city, the changing structure of manufacturing, from low-end workshop to high-end joint venture, and (a challenge for Americans!) what until recently was the dominant economic and social structure for most Chinese, the village. To add material from a formal economics perspective we will also use an eBook from the World Bank and the latest report on China from the IMF alongside working papers and journal articles which I will incorporate (with links) into the schedule.

  • Hessler, Peter. Country Driving. HarperCollins, 2010. ISBN 9780061804090
  • Li, Huaiyin. Village China. Stanford, 2009. ISBN 9780804776578
  • Dunne, Michael. American Wheels, Chinese Roads: The Story of General Motors in China. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ISBN 9780470828618
  • Miller, Tom. China’s Urban Billion: The Story Behind the Greatest Migration in Human History. Zed Books 2012. ISBN 9-781180-321417
  • World Bank, China 2030, available for download HERE.
  • IMF 2013 China Article IV Consulation, available for download HERE.


I will schedule evening showings of two feature films. Dates on the schedule are tentative. I will ask the Tucker Multimedia Center to make them available for viewing outside of the scheduled showing.


This reflects intended assignments and will be adjusted to reflect additions/deletions. Note that good attendance does not enhance your grade, nor does participation. Poor attendance and participation will lower your grade. I assume all will do several one-page papers on readings and movies, but will not assign a letter grade to them. Failure to do them will likewise lower your grade.

Final Paper 25%
Agriculture Paper 15%
Factory Paper 15%
Urbanization Paper 15%
Blogs 15%
Final Exam 15%
Total 100%

Class conduct:

Please have cell phones silenced and out of reach and your laptop put away. Don’t sit in the back row.

Honor Code:

All work is governed by the honor code. I hope that all of you seek assistance (editors, communications center) – but then acknowledge them.

Special Accommodations

As per university policy, please contact me in private regarding special accommodations.

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