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How China Escaped the Poverty Trap

Yuen Ang

Cornell University Press | Cornell Studies in Political Economy 2017
A Foreign Affairs 2017 Best Book of the Year
Before markets opened in 1978, China was an impoverished planned economy governed by a Maoist bureaucracy. In just three decades it evolved into the world's second-largest economy and is today guided by highly entrepreneurial bureaucrats. In How China Escaped the Poverty Trap, Yuen Yuen Ang explains this astonishing metamorphosis. Rather than insist that either strong institutions of good governance foster markets or that growth enables good governance, Ang lays out a new, dynamic framework for understanding development broadly. Successful development, she contends, is a coevolutionary process in which markets and governments mutually adapt.
How China Escaped the Poverty Trap offers the most complete synthesis to date of the numerous interacting forces that have shaped China’s dramatic makeover and the problems it faces today. Looking beyond China, Ang also traces the coevolutionary sequence of development in late medieval Europe, antebellum United States, and contemporary Nigeria, and finds surprising parallels among these otherwise disparate cases. Indispensable to all who care about development, this groundbreaking book challenges the convention of linear thinking and points to an alternative path out of poverty traps.
  • This book is a triumph, opening a window onto the political economy of China’s astonishing rise that takes as its starting point systems and complexity. Its lessons apply far beyond China’s borders. Using China as an elephant-sized case study, Ang takes a systems sledgehammer to this kind of linear thinking and argues that development is a ‘coevolutionary process’.

    Duncan Green

    Professor-in-Practice in LSE’s Department of International Development
  • In terms of policy implications, Ang's thesis has the potential to upend much that the global development establishment holds dear.

    Linda Lim

    Professor of Strategy at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan
  • The lens Yuen Yuen uses to understand the China story is unique and powerful. And its value goes far beyond enlightening the China story. It points to the value of decentralized governance in generating strategy variations and the importance of a strong party to coordinate actions.

    Yongmei Zhou

    Co-Director, World Development Report 2017, World Bank
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