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  • Jingji Xue: The History of the Introduction of Western Economic Ideas into China, 1850–1950
  • Ting Xu (bio)
Paul B. Trescott. Jingji Xue: The History of the Introduction of Western Economic Ideas into China, 1850–1950. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2007. xxiv, 442 pp. Hardcover $55.00, ISBN 978-9-629-6206-9.

Prior to 1905, economics was not included in the curriculum of the Chinese school system, which was mainly concerned with moral and ethical philosophy, although the Confucian texts did not lack economic concerns. How economics (jingji xue), as both ideas and a discipline, was introduced into China is an important question that this book successfully answers. The author focuses on the channels for transmission in the period between 1850 and 1950, including biographical details of individual intellectuals, data on the large numbers of students who studied economics in the West, and missionary and Chinese universities.

China’s painful process of modernization started after its defeat in the first Opium Wars (1839–1842). Chinese elites began to realize that what China should adopt from the West was not just technologies and weapons but also Western thought and institutions. The significant influx of Western economic ideas to [End Page 494] China began in the late nineteenth century, stimulated in particular by the Chinese humiliations in the Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) and the Boxer Rebellion (1900) and the urgent need to strengthen the nation. Chinese intellectuals, including Yan Fu (1853–1921), Liang Qichao (1873–1929), and Sun Yat-sen (1866–1925), played important roles in transmitting and interpreting Western economic ideas, particularly the thoughts of Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus (chapters 1 and 2). Yan and Liang were impressed by the benefits of the free market promoted by Adam Smith, and the first Chinese translation of Smith’s The Wealth of Nations by Yan Fu was published in 1902. In contrast, Sun considered Japan a model for China to emulate. Being highly influenced by the German economic theories that were popular in Japan as well as Japanese economic thought, he favored a centralized, collectivist approach to economic policy and emphasized the role of the state in the economy (chapter 3).

From the 1920s onward, the introduction of Western economic ideas into China accelerated. The author gathers extensive materials and data on students who studied in the West (1,200 in the United States at the graduate level and around 400 in Britain and continental Europe). He analyzes their backgrounds, research areas, and careers (chapters 4–6). Economics appealed to Chinese students not only as a guide to policies for strengthening the nation but also for the wide range of career opportunities it offered in academic institutions, business, and government.

Reforms to the Chinese educational system made the development of economics a core program in the curriculum for higher education possible. The rise of Western-style universities came about both through the spread of missionary colleges and the reforms to indigenous Chinese universities. Chinese universities brought Western-trained economists into their faculty and prepared Chinese students well for their further graduate study in economics abroad. During the first quarter of the twentieth century, Protestant missionary colleges also expanded rapidly and included such institutions as Yenching (Yanjing) University, Nanjing University, St. John’s (Shanghai), and Lingnan (Canton Christian College) (chapters 2, 7–9). Economists such as John Lossing Buck (1890–1975) and John Bernard Tayler (1878–1951) taught at these institutions and played an active role in bringing economics to China. Their extra rural activities were impressive. For example, Tayler promoted grassroots programs to develop rural industry and cooperatives while teaching at Yanjing University (chapter 8). In 1920, Buck joined Nanjing University and began to teach agricultural economics. He famously investigated rural organization and credit, farm management, and land utilization in China. He advocated and led projects to survey Chinese farms and land utilization (chapter 9). Modern Chinese universities, including Nankai University, Peking University (Beida), and Qinghua University, witnessed an increase in university enrolments in economics (chapters 10–13). Philanthropic organizations such as the Rockefeller Foundation also played an important role in shifting the [End Page 495] orientation of university research (pp. 213–214). The author gives detailed...


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