June 15th, 2015
from Department of Economic History, London School of Economics
This is a working paper (from 2009) which examines the comparative data for prices, wages and living standards in China compared to European countries, India and Japan from before the start of the industrial revolution (1738) until the roaring 20s (1925). For wages, the cities of London and Amsterdam were several times higher than other cities which were all rather comparable (Leipzig, Milan, Beijing and Tokyo) from 1738 until the mid 19th century. In the later part of the 19th century and the early part of the wages in all cities studied were growing quite rapidly, northern European cities faster than Milan, which was rising faster than Tokyo, with growth of wages in Beijing lagging all the others.
This paper develops data on the history of wages and prices in Beijing, Canton, Suzhou/Shanghai in China from the eighteenth century to the twentieth and compare them with leading cities in Europe, Japan and India in terms of nominal wages, the cost of living, and the standard of living. In the eighteenth century, the real income of building workers in Asia was similar to that of workers in the backward parts of Europe but far behind that in the leading economies in north western Europe. Real wages declined in China in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and rose slowly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth with little cumulative change for two hundred years. The income disparities of the early twentieth century were due to long run stagnation in China combined with industrialization in Japan and Europe.