Why Maddison was Wrong: The Great Divergence Between Imperial China and the West

Kent Deng & Patrick O'Brien

Published: June 2017

Much academic debate in Western and Chinese universities has engaged in testing the hypothesis that standards of living in China did not fall behind those of the populations of the national economies of Western Europe until late in the eighteenth century Unfortunately, the data for China accessible in secondary sources do not provide historical runs of estimates either for GDP or for total population, let alone for any purchasing-power-parity rates of exchange estimates. Angus Maddison used short-cut methods to circumvent these difficulties, but a platoon of distinguished economists have found his methods and estimates to be conceptually and statistically unacceptable as historical evidence. The data currently available for China are and may well remain too fragmentary, ambiguous and insecure to sustain a Kuznetsian perception for investigation into the historical origins of the Great Divergence.

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