China's Foreign Trade: Perspectives from the Past 150 Years

55 Pages Posted: 29 Nov 2010  

Wolfgang Keller

University of Colorado; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Ben G. Li

Boston College - Department of Economics

Carol H. Shiue

University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Date Written: November 2010

Abstract

This paper studies the trade of China in the past 150 years, starting from the first opening of China after the Opium War. The main purpose of the paper is to identify what is (and was) China's 'normal' level of foreign trade, and how these levels changed under different trade regimes, from 1840 to the present. We present new evidence on China's foreign trade during the treaty port era (1842-1948), drawn from disaggregated trade data collected by the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, that yields important findings for current research. First, although the volume of foreign trade remained limited initially, there was a notable expansion in the diversity of products, with many new goods being imported into China. Second, the regional diffusion of foreign goods through China was greatly facilitated by the expansions of the port system. Third, the importance of Hong Kong as an intermediary in China's trade has undergone long-term fluctuations suggestive of learning effects. China's recent wave of liberalization has led by the early 1990s to a trade level comparable to the high of the 1920s. While much of China's recent growth in world trade is in line with her income growth, there is no doubt that China's trade openness today, comparable by some measures to Denmark's, is a stunning reversal relative to the pre-1978 and also the pre-1840 period. The paper emphasizes the roles that history and institutional change have played in this.

Keywords: China, international trade

JEL Classification: F1, F15, F54, N45

Suggested Citation

Keller, Wolfgang and Li, Ben G. and Shiue, Carol H., China's Foreign Trade: Perspectives from the Past 150 Years (November 2010). CEPR Discussion Paper No. DP8118. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1714890

Wolfgang Keller (Contact Author)

University of Colorado ( email )

Department of Economics
PO Box 256
Boulder, CO 80309
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom

Ben G. Li

Boston College - Department of Economics ( email )

140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.benli.net

Carol Hua Shiue

University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Economics ( email )

Campus Box 256
Boulder, CO 80309
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) ( email )

77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom

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