Organized Panel Session
A key aspect of economic change in late 19th and 20th century East Asia involved changes in political-economic discourses and practices to foreground “growth” as an analytical tool and policy priority. The challenges faced by local state actors in incorporating different types of growth have been underplayed in existing histories of political economy in this region, as economistic accounts of trade and industrialization have overshadowed the novel emergence of the “growth” category in history. This naturalization of “growth” obscured the dynamic history of its rise through various institutional and intellectual forces, as well as contentions over what “growth” would look like within local frameworks of political economy.
This panel seeks to historicize “growth” as a concept in two distinct junctures of modern East Asian history. Holly Stephens and Dong Yan investigate the levers of public and private debt that propelled state revenue and economic growth to the forefront of government priorities in colonial Korea and late Qing China. The respective papers contrast how “economic growth” was sought by different types of state authorities through debt, and illustrate its ambivalent effects on rural society and local discourses of political economy. For late twentieth century, Andrew Liu argues that visions of growth metamorphize over time, as he situates the political economy of export-led modernization in Reform-era China within broader temporal and geographic trajectories. Together, these papers suggest that “growth” in East Asia has been a historically specific idea inseparable from regional politics in their engagement with the global economy.