The Economic System of China – Coase & Cheung

June 20, 2008 Update: Here are my initial random thoughts of the first two installments of Prof. Cheung’s “The Economic System of China”.

July 22, 2008 Update: Here is a link to various coverage of the 2008 Chicago Conference on China’s Economic Transformation including an indirect link to Prof. Ronald Coase’s Introduction at the conference. Enjoy.

Oct 7th, 2008 Update: I have blogged and referenced extensively about The Economic System of China, you can search for these blog entries by clicking here.


Economics Nobel Prize winner Professor Ronald Coase (the Coase in Coase Theorem) is 96 years old and Professor Steven N S Cheung is younger at 71 years old. Both are well passed the retirement age but still are hard at work!

Coase is organizing a 2008 Chinese Economics Reform Symposium (my translation from “中 國 經 改 研 討 會 議”) and has personally requested Cheung to deliver its 90 minutes opening address. The fact that 2008 is also the 30th Anniversary of the Chinese Economic Reform has added extra pressure for Cheung to deliver something important and insightful.

Here is my rough translation (follow by the original text) of a few interesting things from Cheung’s Chinese article “短 期 不 想 談 經 濟” (sub required, Cheung authorized blog & simplified Chinese version here thanks to Angela),

  • 30th anniversary is an important milestone, I don’t really know where to hide if I don’t deliver a good paper. Furthermore, Chinese economic system is a challenge topic as there is no example in history, I just don’t have other examples (or experiences) as the tools to unlock the secret of the economic system of China. “三 十 周 年 是 大 日 子 , 文 章 寫 壞 了 我 不 知 要 躲 到 哪 裡 去 。 再 其 次 是 中 國 的 經 濟 制 度 實 在 湛 深 — — 歷 史 沒 有 出 現 過 , 要 解 開 中 國 的 制 度 密 碼 我 沒 有 其 他 經 驗 的 依 憑 。”
  • After Coase read the draft, even he used “powerful” and “great”, etc. to describe the draft, I received seven pages of feedback from him, including 27 suggestions for changes. One of them is quite interesting. In my paper, I’ve used the words “miracle” a few times. One of them says “small miracle”, Coase disagrees. Coase said the Chinese economic reform is a monumental one in human history, the word “small” shouldn’t be used. “高 斯 讀 文 稿 後 , 雖 然 以 powerful 與 great 等 字 眼 來 形 容 , 但 今 天 收 到 他 傳 來 七 頁 評 論 , 建 議 修 改 的 有 二 十 七 處 之 多 。 其 中 一 處 倒 也 有 趣 。 我 在 文 中 幾 次 用 上 miracle 這 個 字 , 其 中 一 處 說 是 small miracle , 他 不 同 意 , 說 中 國 的 經 改 是 人 類 歷 史 最 偉 大 的 , small 這 個 字 不 能 用 。”
  • I’ve followed the Chinese economic reform since 1979 for 28 years since the beginning and know the history of this reform. I went to Hong Kong to teach in 1982 which can be viewed as the best place to observe the change in China. I know the Chinese language and culture. Using contracts to analyze economic systems is my profession, and the development of Chinese contract/subcontracts [承 包 合 約] is an ideal research area for me. “一 九 七 九 年 起 開 始 跟 進 中 國 的 經 濟 改 革 , 凡 二 十 八 年 , 可 謂 走 足 了 全 程 , 知 道 這 改 革 的 發 展 歷 史 。 一 九 八 二 年 五 月 回 港 任 職 , 是 當 時 最 適 宜 觀 察 中 國 變 化 的 職 位 。 懂 中 文 , 對 炎 黃 子 孫 的 文 化 傳 統 有 認 識 。 從 合 約 的 角 度 看 制 度 是 我 的 專 業 , 而 中 國 的 承 包 合 約 的 發 展 正 中 下 懷 。”

I am highly anticipating Cheung’s yet-to-be-published 17,000 words address/paper “The Economic System of China” as it should laid a solid foundation for those interested to learn more about China. At the moment, I am quite envious of Gary M C Shiu for having an advanced draft copy of the 62 pages paper. And I truly hope this important paper will be available on the internet and shared with the interested public.

P.S. As an aside, I am really hoping to get my friend Angela‘s help to fix up the poorly written Wikipedia entry of Prof. Cheung. The Wikipedia entry is disproportionately dominated by Cheung’s legal troubles instead of having a proper focus and balance in his economics thinking and contributions.

4 Responses to The Economic System of China – Coase & Cheung

  1. Angela says:

    Working on a paper about Singarpore’s immigration policy right now, but I promise I will help out after the paper is due (which is October 8).

    Looking forward to read the address as well!
    BTW, you know he got a blog at Sina?
    It’s in Simplified Chinese tho.

  2. kempton says:

    Great, thanks a lot Angela. I look forward to you finishing your Singarpore’s immigration policy paper (Acutally, I am curious about that too!) so I can get your help fixing the Wikipedia entry of Cheung. You had no idea how much time it took me to [承 包 合 約] as “contract/subcontracts” which I am still unsure if it is accurate!


  3. […] I ended up staying up 3+ hours (well passed 3am) to finish reading the paper I had been waiting for since Sept 2007 (plus blogging about it). Yes, the paper is that good! (note: Prof. Cheung has dedicated the paper […]

  4. […] I ended up staying up 3+ hours (well passed 3am) to finish reading the paper I had been waiting for since Sept 2007 (plus blogging about it). Yes, the paper is that good! (note: Prof. Cheung has dedicated the paper […]

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