Yuen Yuen Ang, "How China Escaped the Poverty Trap" (Cornell UP, 2016)


I spoke with Dr Yuen Yuen Ang, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She published in 2016 a great new book How China Escaped the Poverty Trap (Cornell University Press, 2016). This is a very original and non-conformist book on China. It is also an important contribution to political economy and to development economics. We started with the origin of her book and a brief definition of ‘poverty trap’. Her book explains what went right in China and how other developing countries could follow a similar approach to reform and institutional transition. We discussed why traditional contributions such as those by Acemoglu and Robinson cannot explain the success of China’s reform. On the one hand, the fail to understand Chinese reforms, including political ones under Deng, on the other hand, they are biased. They were developed looking at traditional western development paths that cannot and should not be treated as a universal recipe for any other country in the world. We discussed about property rights, transitional institutions and the performance evaluation system of local cadres. The author defines China as an ‘autocracy with democratic characteristics’ and, since Deng, the systematic evaluation of local political leaders worked well as a proxy of democratic control. We also discussed how China avoided the mistakes of the Russian transition. And we learnt how China traditionally is not monolithic in its economic policy because allows decentralization and experimentation. The book is very strong in its theoretical framework but is also based on an extensive fieldwork across three provinces that exemplify the diversity within the Chinese sub-continent and the act of balancing between uniformity and variety, center and periphery. We concluded talking about the challenges ahead for China and the next books being prepared by prof. Yuen Yuen Ang. A great book, and I hope a good podcast too.
Andrea Bernardi is Senior Lecturer in Employment and Organization Studies at Oxford Brookes University in the UK. He holds a doctorate in Organization Theory from the University of Milan, Bicocca. He has held teaching and research positions in Italy, China and the UK. Among his research interests are the use of history in management studies, the co-operative sector, and Chinese co-operatives. His latest project is looking at health care in rural China. He is the co-convener of the EAEPE’s permanent track on Critical Management Studies.

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