Module Code: HIS-00018-H

Term Taught: T2

Credits: 20

Tutor: Dr David Clayton

Pre-requisites: Not available as an elective

The pattern of the recent economic past is well known. The West (North America, and Northern Europe) got richer; and the Rest (large parts of Africa, and Asia) got, relatively speaking, poorer. But there were some interesting exceptions: Japan, and the Four Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) caught up with the West. This pattern was, in hindsight, highly surprising. No contemporary economist, economic historian, politician or media pundit would have predicted these trends in say 1950: they would all have placed their bets on Argentina, or even Ghana (then the resourse-rich British colony the Gold Coast), converging with Western living standards; and no bets would have been placed on Japan, a resource-poor country, with no oil or coal, which had just been defeated in the Pacific War and which was (like Iraqi today) occupied by American military forces. This course has, therefore, two aims. The first is to plot more precisely the trends above, and to look at Asian development, where possible, in its own terms. Is there an Asian mode of development? Did the group-orientation of Asian societies affect social organisation and, in turn, how goods and services were exchanged? The second is to consider some of ideas put forward by economic historians and development economists to explain Asian convergence: on the differential impact of new technologies; on the processes of cultural change; on good and bad government policies; on environment-cum-population constraints and how they were overcome. Examples will be drawn from Japanese, Greater Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, and Korean economic histories.

Learning Outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will be able to:

  • Grasp the character of comparative history and its possibilities and limitations
  • Apply an understanding of comparative methods to the history of economic development in Asia         
  • Discuss the events and processes which have historically shaped human development in Asian societies        
  • Assess conceptual, methodological, and empirical aspects of the history of Asian development   
  • Further develop oral and written skills through seminar and essay work

Teaching Programme

The module will be taught in Weeks 2-10 of the Spring Term. Students prepare for and participate in nine weekly three-hour seminars. They will also write a procedural essay using a comparative approach.

Seminar topics are likely to include the following:

  • Development: concepts, orientations and comparators
  • Asian societies: cultural building blocks and obstacles to growth
  • Populations: puzzles, problems and policies
  • Agriculture: rice economies
  • Agriculture: consumption and production in peasant societies
  • Industry: artisan versus mass production
  • Government policies: guided-markets in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan
  • Government policies: planned economies across the recent Chinese past
  • Environmental constraints and long term costs of development


The module is assessed by a 24 hour open exam taking in the assessment period of the Summer Term, in which students answer one question.

Preliminary Reading              

  • Ken Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: China, Europe and the Making of the Modern World Economy (Princeton, 2000).
  • Jeffery Sachs, The End of Poverty (2005).
  • Gregory Clark, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World (Princeton and Oxford, 2007).
  • Frank B. Tipton, The Rise of Asia: Economics, Society and Politics in Contemporary Asia (1998).