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Malthus Goes to China: The Effect of “Positive Checks” on Grain Market Development, 1736–1910

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 October 2021

Yanfeng Gu
Yanfeng Gu is Assistant Professor, Institute for Advanced Study in Social Sciences, Fudan University. E-mail:
James Kai-sing Kung*
James Kai-sing Kung is Sein and Isaac Souede Professor in Economic History and Professor in Economics, Faculty of Business and Economics, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong.
E-mail address:


After peaking around the mid-eighteenth century, grain market integration in China declined by a colossal 80 percent amid a twofold increase in population and remained at low levels for well over a century. Markets only resumed their growth momentum after the largest peasant revolt—the Taiping Rebellion—wiped out roughly one-sixth of the Chinese population starting 1851. This U-shaped pattern of grain market integration distinguished China from Europe in their trajectories of market development. Using grain prices to divide China into grain-deficit and grainsurplus regions, we find that the negative relationship between population growth and market integration originated from the grain-surplus-cum-exporting regions.

© The Economic History Association 2021

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We thank the editor Dan Bogart and two anonymous referees for helpful comments and suggestions on earlier drafts. The remaining errors are our own responsibility. James Kung would like to thank Sein and Isaac Souede for their generous financial support.


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