Shizhi Zhang - The Return of China: Historicising China in the Global Economy'

The Senzhen cityline and night

About my PhD thesis

This research aims to provide an alternative understanding of China’s economic transformation and rise in the period of post-1978, by analysing the state economy (from the perspectives of maritime trade and textile industry) and peculiar state-market relationship in the period of 1684-1800. The main argument of this research is that the trajectory of economic transformation does not follow the western liberalism as many economists and political scientist suggests, nor does it identically replicated the ‘Economic miracles’ demonstrated by the several cases in East Asia. Instead, China’s economic success in the period of post-1978 is fundamentally grounded on the ‘historical managed liberalism’ which can be traced back to the development of state economy and state-market relationship in the Qing period by 1800.

What made me interested in this topic

China's rise might be one of the most spectacular events in the past forty years, which has attracted extensive attention from all of the worlds, particularly from academic studies. However, the debate regarding why and how China's economic transformation has succeeded is proceeding.

As two mainstream paradigms and theories, the neoliberalism and state developmentalism are problematic fail to explain China’s rise in multiple aspects. Fundamentally, the conceptualisation of two analytical frameworks assumes China's rise is a brand-new event that started in 1978. Long history and historical legacy that may shape the trajectory of China's development has been largely overlooked. An important reason for such ahistorical conceptualisation has been made is that our world history has been significantly and problematically made by Eurocentric historiography. There was nothing but stagnation and backwardness in non-European histories. However, studies from historical revisionists indicate that China had been rather advanced in the economy, social institutions, technologies, etc. More importantly, in the long history of economic development, a series of new dynamics had emerged which has been largely overlooked by conventional studies in social science. In this regard, I would like to study how these dynamics in the state economy has shaped and impacted the trajectory of development of China's economy in the modern era.

What’s new about this work

This work deconstructs the Eurocentric historiography and reconstructs the image regarding the state economy of China by 1800. In so doing, it reconceptualises the peculiar state-market relationship demonstrated by Qing’s case, as the 'historical managed liberalism'. In the meantime, by applying this new framework, this work provides a new understanding of China's economic transformation and rise in the modern era.

What impact my research could have

This research aims to accomplish contributions and impacts on the fields of IPE (International Political Economy) and World History: Firstly, it enriches the studies regarding China's economic transformation in the past forty years. Notably, this research engages the debate of ‘China’s rise’, by critiquing the mainstream analytical frameworks of neoliberalism and state-developmentalism, as well as providing a new framework and understanding to this topic. Secondly, this research aims to contribute to the debate of ‘great divergence’. This debate that why Europe had exclusively accomplished the breakthrough of capitalism by 1800, is widely perceived as the foundation of mainstream paradigms, theories, and analytical frameworks in current studies of social science. The conventional wisdom in understanding this topic is largely shaped by the Eurocentric historiography. In this case, this research analyses and rediscovers the 'forgotten' history of the state economy in China by 1800. In so doing, it aims to reconceptualise the state economy of China by 1800 and provide an alternative explanation in this debate.

What’s most interesting to me about my work

The main research methods of this work are archival research. Hence, during my fieldwork, I spent around four months in the First Historical Archives of China to roam in historical archives. It was a fascinating journey as it helps me to reconstruct my understanding of both Chinese history and political economy.

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