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Before the Great Divergence? Comparing the Yangzi Delta and the Netherlands at the Beginning of the Nineteenth Century

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 December 2012

Bozhong Li*
Chair Professor, Division of Humanities, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong, China. E-mail:
Jan Luiten van Zanden*
Professor of, Economic History, Utrecht University, Drift 10, 3512 BS Utrecht, The Netherlands. E-mail:


This article tests recent ideas about the long-term economic development of China compared with Europe on the basis of a detailed comparison of structure and level of GDP in part of the Yangzi delta and the Netherlands in the 1820s. We find that Dutch GDP per capita was almost twice as high as in the Yangzi delta. Agricultural productivity there was at about the same level as in the Netherlands (and England), but large productivity gaps existed in industry and services. We attempt to explain this concluding that differences in factor costs are probably behind disparities in labor productivity.

Copyright © The Economic History Association 2012

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