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Image of Photo and detail of book cover of How China Escaped Shock Therapy

How China escaped shock therapy: the market reform debate

The China Centre seminar on Wednesday 9 June 2021 comprised a lecture given by Isabella Weber (Assistant Professor of Economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst), followed by a roundtable discussion chaired by Professor Peter Nolan CBE, with Professor Barry Naughton (University of California San Diego) and Professor Dwight H Perkins (Harvard University).

Assistant Professor Isabella Weber's lecture was based on her recently published book How China Escaped Shock Therapy.

In her lecture Isabella Weber outlined the key arguments put forward by the protagonists in China's 'Great Debate' over economic reform in the 1980s. Her book is based on wide-ranging documentary analysis as well as extensive interviews with the principal participants in the debates, including both Chinese and Western economists. Her lecture emphasised the ancient roots of China's approach to economic system management, notably in the writings contained in the Guan Zi. The way in which the debates in the 1980s were decided set China on the path of experimental system reform ('groping for stones to cross the river') under the leadership of the CPC.

This contrasts sharply with the path followed in the Soviet Union, where collapse of the CPSU was followed by break-up of the country and the implementation of a 'Big Bang' of price and ownership reform.

Isabella Weber's lecture was followed by commentaries from two of the West's leading scholars who had participated in the debates: Professor Dwight H Perkins (Harvard Univesity) and Professor Barry Naughton (University of California, San Diego).  The audience for the lecture included other scholars who had participated in the debates, including Professor Carl Riskin, Professor Adrian Wood and Dr Cyril Lin, each of whom gave their reflections on China's Great Reform Debate in the 1980s.

Isabella Weber holds a Ph.D. in Development Studies from the University of Cambridge and a Ph.D. in Economics from the New School of Social Research and is an Assistant Professor of Economics and the Research Leader for China of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Isabella works on the economics of China’s rise and long-term structures of globalization. She is the author of How China Escaped Shock Therapy: The Market Reform Debate and the Principle Investigator of the Rebuilding Macroeconomics project What Drives Specialisation? A Century of Global Export Patterns.

Dwight H. Perkins is the Harold Hitchings Burbank Research Professor of Political Economy of Harvard University, where he joined the faculty in 1963. Previous positions at Harvard include Harold Hitchings Burbank Professor of Political Economy, 1963-2006; Associate Director of the East Asian (now Fairbank) Research Center, 1973-1977; chairman of the Department of Economics, 1977-1980; Director of the Harvard Institute for International Development (HIID), the University’s former multi-disciplinary institute for research, teaching, and technical assistance on development policy,1980-1995; and Director of the Harvard University Asia Center, 2002-2005.

Professor Perkins has authored or edited twenty-five books and over one hundred articles on economic history and economic development, with special references to the economies of China, Korea, Vietnam and the other nations of east and southeast Asia. Topics include the transition from central planning to the market, long-term agricultural development, industrial policy, the underlying sources of growth in East Asia, and the role of economic and legal institutions in East Asian growth. He has served as an advisor or consultant on economic policy and reform to the governments of Korea, China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. He has also been a long-term consultant to the World Bank, the Ford Foundation, various private corporations, and agencies of the U.S. government, including the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (then chaired by Senator Henry M. Jackson). He has been a Visiting Professor or Scholar at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, the University of Washington, and Fudan University in Shanghai. He also served as a Phi Beta Kappa Lecturer at eight colleges and universities around the U.S. in 1993-94. In 1997 he taught for a semester at the Fulbright Economic Training Program in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and has continued to teach in that program for several weeks each year since 1997. He and has given individual lectures to numerous audiences in the U.S., Asia, Europe, and elsewhere. Dwight Perkins served in the U.S. Navy (active duty 1956-58), received his B.A. from Cornell University in Far Eastern Studies in 1956, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University in 1961 and 1964. He is a member of the American Philosophical Society and of various professional organizations in the fields of economics and Asian Studies.

Barry Naughton is the Sokwanlok Chair of Chinese International Affairs at the School of Global Policy and Strategy, University of California San Diego. He is one of the world’s most highly respected economists working on China. He is an authority on the Chinese economy with an emphasis on issues relating to industry, trade, finance and China's transition to a market economy.

Professor Naughton's recent research focuses on regional economic growth in China and its relationship to foreign trade and investment. He has addressed economic reform in Chinese cities, trade and trade disputes between China and the United States and economic interactions among China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Professor Naughton has written the authoritative textbook “The Chinese Economy: Transitions and Growth,” which has now been translated into Chinese. His groundbreaking book “Growing Out of the Plan: Chinese Economic Reform, 1978-1993” received the Ohira Memorial Prize, and he most recently translated, edited and annotated a collection of articles by the well-known Chinese economist Wu Jinglian. Naughton writes a quarterly analysis of the Chinese economy for China Leadership Monitor. 

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