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  • The Chinese Market Economy: 1000–1500 by William Guanglin Liu
  • Hugh R. Clark
The Chinese Market Economy: 1000–1500 by William Guanglin Liu. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2015. Pp. xvii + 374. $100.00 cloth, $100.00 e-book.

Few scholars would question that the Song dynasty was an era of remarkable economic expansion. Equally, it is widely believed that the early Ming saw a dramatic contraction. It was, perhaps, Mark Elvin more than anybody else, through his pathbreaking monograph The Pattern of the Chinese Past and his translation of Shiba Yoshinobu’s Sōdai shōgyōshi kenkyū 宋代商業史研究, who introduced the English-speaking [End Page 235] world to what he called the “medieval economic revolution” of the Song.1 However, Elvin was drawing heavily on the Japanese scholarship that preceded his own work, scholarship with which all Song historians were already familiar. Similarly, the contraction of the early Ming was not unrecognized among scholars—indeed, it was central to Elvin, who identified it with his controversial theory of the “high-level equilibrium trap,” and it has long been acknowledged by scholars in Asia. Perhaps the most important scholarly discussions of the early Ming contraction in English, however, are in The Cambridge History of China, especially the contributions of Ray Huang and Martin Heijdra on fiscal administration and the agrarian economy.2

As deeply embedded as both paradigms are in China’s historical narrative, however, William Guanglin Liu proposes that neither the Song expansion nor the Ming contraction have been subject to a thorough quantitative analysis. His bold study, therefore, is an attempt to address that gap. “Lacking a solid explanation for the Song-Yuan-Ming transition,” he asserts, “quantitative analysis helps to clarify historical assumptions and highlights certain data sources that may lead to the reinterpretation and reexamination of events that had hitherto found support only in anecdotal accounts” (p. 6). Liu focuses the core of his discussion on the eleventh century and the initial decades of the Ming: “fortunately,” he tells his readers, “for these two periods, we can find the richest and most reliable data among all the extant data sources” (p. 7). With that premise, he then runs through a wealth of data that he argues collectively proves what scholars have long assumed.

Liu’s argument rests on the contrast he draws between the preindustrial market economy of the Northern Song and the command economy of the Ming. Under the former, his extensive data demonstrate, China experienced qualitative economic growth, reflected in vibrant markets, flourishing interregional long-distance trade, a commercialization [End Page 236] of production, a rising standard of living, and broad population expansion. His data similarly demonstrate that the policies of the latter led to demonetization and a collapse of markets as well as of interregional long-distance commodities trade, which in turn led to an overall decline in living standards and demographic contraction.

To structure his analysis, Liu uses a wide array of quantitative data extracted from sources such as the Song huiyao 宋會要, “a most important collection of Song official documents and financial data” (p. 7), the encyclopedia projects of the late Song and the Yuan, and the Ming shilu 明實錄 and Ming huidian 明會典. His analysis is buttressed by extensive reading in contemporary scholarship, both from Asia and the West. Although his discussion ranges widely, he most particularly focuses on two years: 1077, because “most of the categories in public finance [for that year] are preserved in the Song huiyao and Wenxian tongkao [文献通考]” (p. 7); and 1393, because, following the lead of Ho Ping-ti and of Liu’s own mentor Dwight Perkins, he recognizes the census data for that year to be uniquely reliable among the plethora of Ming population records (p. 8).

In order “to provide a comprehensive description of the expansion and contraction of the Chinese market economy during the Song and Ming eras,” Liu focuses his discussion around four themes: “population growth, urbanization, and land acreages; trade, water transports, and the money supply; taxation; and prices, real wages, and household income” (p. 36). Throughout, he is at pains to demonstrate the reliability of his data, which he maintains “come close to modern surveys and provide trustworthy...


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