China’s GDP Per Capita from the Han Dynasty to Communist Times
& Patrick O'Brien
Published: June 2016
This article is a critical survey of the concepts and data utilized by economists and economic historians that purport to measure relative levels and long term trends in GDP per capita from the Han Dynasty to Communist times. We favour attempts to extend macro-economic analysis and its associated quantification to China’s long imperial history, but have concluded that estimates calibrated in international dollars for 1990, or 2005 or 2011 are not fit for that purpose. Furthermore, and after surveying recent endeavours to reconstruct the published secondary and official statistical sources available for the measurement of primary production for Ming and Qing China (1368-1911), we reluctantly suggest that Kuznetsian paradigms for empirical economics are probably not viable, either for the measurement of the empire’s growth over time or for reciprocal comparisons with European economies. This is because on both conceptual and statistical grounds the concept and associated metric for GDP per capita does not travel easily and securely between the fiscal systems of China and the West (Yun-Casallila and O’Brien 2012).