Scholarly explanations of the worsening financial performance of Chinese industry over the reform era, particularly the loss-making phenomenon, have coalesced around two rival stories: the “inefficient institutions causing poor financial performance” story and the “increased competition inducing profitability decline” story. This article critically reviews the arguments and empirical substantiation of the two stories, and gives an alternative explanation that takes demand conditions and industrial configurations into the analysis. On this basis, it is argued that the worsening financial performance is a macro as well as micro problem that points to the fundamental contradictions in contemporary Chinese political economy. Some policy implications from this analysis are raised in the concluding section.
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