The question of how a state committed to Communism became the world’s biggest trading nation in markets dominated largely by capitalist countries, controlling industries and setting prices, has long been puzzling. Author Jason M Kelly, in Market Maoists, provides a sober, detailed account of the way modern China came to see that global trade could be a way to “fortify socialism … rather than degrade it.”

The Tyranny of Nations: How the Last 500 Years Shaped Today's Global Economy,  Palak N Patel (Bifocal Press, May 2021)
The Tyranny of Nations: How the Last 500 Years Shaped Today’s Global Economy, Palak N Patel (Bifocal Press, May 2021)

The Tyranny of Nations places the ground-shaking political and economic events of modern times in context. Palak Patel draws on his experience investing in government bond markets to demonstrate how the present fits a specific historical pattern that has defined the past 500 years.

It is not unusual for journalists from leading publications to turn their hand to books, but it is less usual for such books to have started off in Chinese. Jin Xu is senior editor and chief financial commentator at the Financial Times Chinese and her 2017 monetary history of China, Empire of Silver, has just been released in English in a translation from the well-regarded Stacy Mosher.

The Religious Ethic and Mercantile Spirit in Early Modern ChinaYing-shih Yü, Yim-tze Kwong (trans), Hoyt Cleveland Tillman (ed.) (Columbia University Press, March 2021)
The Religious Ethic and Mercantile Spirit in Early Modern China, Ying-shih Yü, Yim-tze Kwong (trans), Hoyt Cleveland Tillman (ed.) (Columbia University Press, March 2021)

Why did modern capitalism not arise in late imperial China? One famous answer comes from Max Weber, whose The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism gave a canonical analysis of religious and cultural factors in early modern European economic development. In The Religions of China, Weber contended that China lacked the crucial religious impetus to capitalist growth that Protestantism gave Europe.

Around the Chinese New Year period, millions of Chinese migrant workers return home from jobs in China’s major cities to their rural villages to visit their families. China’s urban centers and factory towns rely on migrant workers from provinces like Guizhou: places that are still relatively underdeveloped, despite the massive growth seen on China’s coasts. The fact that, this year, many migrants likely can’t return home due to the COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder of the instability that defines much of their lives.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every country around the world in a manner not seen since the Great Financial Crisis of 2008, and is perhaps one of the most transformative events in decades. Most countries and governments have played catch-up to the pandemic, trying to get a handle on case numbers after an explosive increase. But a few places: Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam and China appear to have kept the virus largely under control.

Titling a book The Myth of Chinese Capitalism invites prospective readers to expect an unraveling of this singular, definite-articled story. It also suggests, to this reader at least, weighty theoretical contents, including perhaps tables and pie-charts. Dexter Roberts’s book is no work of dense economic theory, however, nor does it pretend to have uncovered some singular narrative of China’s development. Rather, it is lucid, personal, nuanced—and rather difficult to summarize.