China's Escape from the "Big Bang": The 1980s Price Reform Debate in Retrospect

26  April 2018    5:00 pm CEST

Isabella Maria Weber, Lecturer in Economics at Goldsmiths, University of London


wiiw, Rahlgasse 3, 1060 Vienna, lecture hall (entrance from the ground floor)


China’s rise and Russia’s fall shape today’s global political economy. This new great divergence originates from the different policies pursued in the transition from a command economy. Russia applied a ‘big-bang’ doctrine with rapid price liberalisation at its core. In contrast, a policy of experimentalist gradualism manifested in the dual track price system laid the foundations for China’s economic success. But China came close to implementing a big bang in the 1980s and the gradual approach was defended in a fierce reform debate. The talk sheds light on this critical crossroads of the 1980s. First, it is shown how exchanges between Eastern European émigrés and Chinese reform economists, which were facilitated by the World Bank, bridged previous reform debates in the socialist world with China’s first attempts of the early 1980s.  Second, the economic logic underlying the alternative pathways of ‘big bang’ and gradualism are analysed. Third, it is discussed how China ultimately came to escape a ‘big bang’ in price reform.

Isabella Maria Weber is a lecturer in economics at Goldsmiths, University of London. She gained her Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge and was recently a visiting researcher at Tsinghua University (Beijing). She holds an M.Phil. and M.A. in Economics from the New School for Social Research (New York), a B.A. in Politics and Economics from Free University Berlin and studied Chinese at Peking University. Her research combines history of economic thought, China studies and global political economy, in particular she is interested in the role of economic thinking and research in periods of deep social transformations. Her current project investigates the intellectual underpinnings of China’s economic reform process and is forthcoming as a book with Routledge titled “Reassessing China’s Reform Debates, 1978-88: Market Creation and Price Regulation”. Isabella is a member of a research project of the China National Social Science Fund together with researchers at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics to study China’s recent history of economic thought. Isabella’s awards include the European Recovery Programme (ERP) fellowship, the German National Academy scholarship, the Cambridge Trust’s Vice Chancellor Award, the China Scholarship of the German Federal Ministry of Education and others.