Understanding China

An evolving understanding of an opening county.
  • Transcript


David Dollar: Well when I first went to college I started studying the Chinese language, and I took different kinds of courses that had to do with Asia. Some dealt with Asian religion and philosophy, some with more contemporary politics and history. As I said, the Vietnam War was past its peak by 1972, but it was still going on. I remember going to antiwar demonstrations in 1973, and 1974, and 1975. So I think those contemporary events were very much in people's minds. When China first started opening up, I think there was a lot of fascination with what had been a very closed society. And frankly a lot of academics in the west initially were quite attracted to what seemed to be the lifestyle in China. There seemed to be good things about Chinese communism in terms of bringing literacy to the broad mass of the people, and in creating a society where there was very little crime. So I think there was a certain romance that western academics felt toward China. Probably some people were smarter than me and they did not buy into that; but I think quite a few people initially were attracted to what had been achieved by Chinese communism. And then frankly, as I've spent more time getting to know China and read different things, I've come to see that there were a lot of terrible things that were happening during the Mao period in China. So I think for me personally, the lifetime experience has been kind of getting a more and more real understanding of what's going on in China, and having a more mixed or more complex view of both the past and the present. When I was in college I studied Chinese language, and Chinese history, and Vietnamese history; but I didn't study any modern economics at all. And then I had a chance to live in Taiwan for a year, in 1975-76, and I lived with a Chinese family. I studied Chinese. I bought a motorcycle and traveled all around the country. And that had a very profound effect on me. Taiwan was growing very quickly. It had embraced globalization and adopted an export oriented strategy. I lived with a family of intellectuals, but my American buddy lived with a family that ran a textile factory. And just seeing how things actually worked on the ground had a very striking affect on me. So my initial thinking that this process of integration was good for developing countries, that first started living in Taiwan as a 20 year-old, and not having any economics background just observing what was happening in a textile factory, observing what was happening with development in Taiwan. So later when I chose to study economics and I started studying theory, I had that in my mind  what had happened in Taiwan. So then I saw academics debating different strategies for development. You know, is it good to protect domestic industry, or is it good to open up to world economy? I initially approached that from the point of view the manufacturers in Taiwan what had been their experience, what had been their success. And I found that experience a lot more convincing than any economic theory.

Recorded on: 7/3/07