Syllabus 2014 Fall

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China’s Modern Economy

Econ 274 Fall 2014 MWF 11:15 am – 12:10 pm Huntley 324


p style=”text-align: center”>Prerequisites: Economics 101 and 102.

Speak to me if you want to take the course but have not had “Principles”.

China’s economy is the third largest in the world, trailing the EU and just behind the US. This reflects a population of 1.35 billion combined with 30 years of 10% per annum growth. GDP is abstract; rapid growth transforms lives. In 1980 most people lived on the farm; half are now urban – China has 100+ cities with a population over a million. Twenty years ago there were virtually no private cars in China; today it is the world’s largest market, and very profitable for the leading firms, VW and GM.

Yet China remains a developing country, with per capita GDP of $10,000; the prosperity of a Shanghai or Guangzhou contrasts rural hinterlands that remain dirt poor. Institutions remain young, with weak banking regulation and skewed fiscal incentives at the local level sparking a real estate bubble. As in much of the developing world, China remains a one-party state, though the “Communist” in the name of the ruling party is anachronistic, as market mechanisms and not government planning drive the economy. Similarly, despite images of a strong state, China is dominated by centrifugal forces, and Beijing remains remote. That is particularly apparent in the treatment of pollution, where local commercial interests trump regional and national concerns.


p class=”base”>Many of the themes of this course are those of development economics: household decision making, migration, the roles of infrastructure and education. We also examine the growth process – something that is applicable to any economy, and look at the challenge of building a fiscal system that can provide education, healthcare and other local services.


  • modeling production and incentives in a developing country context.
  • the rural sector, as an exemplar of shifting incentives at the micro;
  • migration, fertility and social transformation, as seen through the lens of household-level decision-making;
  • the growth process at the macro level, including interactions with population dynamics;
  • barriers to future growth, including the less-than-fully-developed markets for finance


I assume that you have no background on China, and so have chosen texts that provide vignettes of rural and urban life. Indeed, only 1 of our 4 books is by economists, with others by a journalist/anthropologist, a historian and a business consultant. These books introduce key topics as well, and provide concrete illustrations – “data” – for the models that we will develop in class. I also ask you to watch 2 documentaries and one feature film, now all available on YouTube.



p class=”base”>While I will devote part of some classes to the presentation of theory and basic background, most days will be devoted in part or their entirety to discussion of the readings, from the four books we use and a selection of academic papers that complement them. That requires doing the assigned readings in advance. On a periodic basis I will choose a class member to lead off class discussion of readings – what are the main points, is there a core underlying model, what jargon is used, and why is it important for understanding the Chinese economy. We will also devote a class to discuss the topic of each of the paper assignments, on the day they are due. Extenuating circumstances aside, I thus do not grant extensions on papers.

I emphasize writing. You will be responsible for a three short papers on specific readings; I will provide detailed guidance in class. You may revise any of the short papers for a better grade, as long as you do it promptly. I also ask you to write a longer paper on a policy area based on one of the chapters of the World Bank eBook, Urban China. Each chapter of that book has an extensive bibliography, which will help you dive in deeper. The paper is due before Thanksgiving break; I will provide written comments on it (and of course return your paper) when classes resume. I ask you to respond to those comments, either in a separate memo or if you are ambitious, by revising the paper. For the last two weeks of class we read a book, In Line Behind a Billion People, on challenges to China’s growth. The final exam focuses on that book, which provides an opportunity to pull together what you learned this term.

Complementing papers will be blogging, which is an opportunity to keep current on business and economic news, and to write in a manner even more concise than in our short paper. 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 times) and commenting about 20 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 the week before final exams. I will conduct an in-class tutorial on using WordPress, overwhelmingly the most popular software for blogging and basic web site development. See the course web site for a guide to WordPress specific to the course web site. I have not removed posts from previous terms, so you can see a wide array of examples written by your peers. The course web site also hosts the syllabus, schedule, links to readings, links to China resources, paper guidelines and syllabi from previous years.

Written Work:

I ask that all written work be submitted in printed form. 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. Writing well and concisely is important – papers should have a (single) clear introductory paragraph, should avoid the passive voice and indefinite modifiers (“some” “very”), should utilize economic jargon and provide concrete examples (ideally, both statistical data and quotes from readings), should indicate relevant models (hand-drawn graphs/equations are fine), 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 update the schedule if we have a snow day (as happened last year) and with links to specific readings. Please refer to it regularly.

Office Hours:

I will post my schedule once the term is underway with suggested office hour slots. Please contact me if those slots don’t work for you. I will give all of you my cell phone number [but please email me rather than texting]. Leave a voicemail if I don’t answer – I don’t answer my phone if I’m in a meeting, including with one of you during office hourse.


  • 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

Downloadable supplements:


I will schedule evening showings of assigned films/documentaries if you as a class prefer that to watching on your own. All appear to be available on YouTube.


Note that good attendance and regular participation are expected of everyone.

Long “issues” Paper 20%
Response to comments on “issues” paper  5%
Background Paper 15%
Agriculture 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. Chide me if I’m guilty at some point.

Honor Code:

All work is governed by the honor code. Note that I expect all of you to seek assistance on your papers (peer editors, the Williams communications center); duly acknowledge them.

Special Accommodations


p class=”base”>As per university policy, please contact me in private regarding special accommodations.