Juli 2016

IZA DP No. 10096: Industrialization in China

We see industrialization in China the last 150 years as an ongoing process through which firms acquired and deepened manufacturing capabilities. Two factors have been consistently important to this process: openness to the international economy and domestic market liberalization. Openness and market liberalization are usually complementary: One without the other can seriously limit benefits. For a latecomer like China, modern industry initially finds its most success in more labor-intensive products that require only modest capabilities. Gradual upgrading entails the shift into more skilled-labor and capital-intensive products and processes. China's experience shows that government can both support and obstruct this process. Our review of long-term data shows that i) China's industrial growth rate has consistently exceeded that of Japan, India and Russia/USSR not just in recent decades but throughout most of the 20th century; ii) China's shift from textiles and other light industry toward defense-related industries began before rather than after 1949, as did the geographic spread of industry beyond the initial centers in the Lower Yangzi and the Northeast (formerly Manchuria) regions; iii) the state sector has consistently been a brake on industrial upgrading, highlighting the significance of current reform initiatives in determining China's future industrial path.