Understanding China's Lewis Turning Point: The Role of Regional Heterogeneity

Zheng (Annie) Wei, Fung Kwan

    Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


    The question of whether China has reached the Lewis turning point (LTP) has recently been intensively debated in the literature. Partly, this is due to the profound policy implication of the turning point posited by Lewis (1954) and Ranis and Fei (1961), while it is also closely related to the growing concern of China's growth sustainability. Various empirical approaches and criteria have been applied in the literature and greatly contributed to the diverse findings on the questions of China's LTP. In this paper, we carefully review the approaches applied in the existing studies and revisit the question by applying the wage-productivity approach which is most closely to the theoretical definition of LTP and the core criterion recommended by Minami (1968). Moreover, we examine the regional heterogeneity of China's LTP which has long been neglected in the literature but shall have significant policy implications to China's regional economic development. Our results show that in China's Eastern provinces, the marginal product of labour has increased rapidly and outpaced agricultural incomes by 2002 for the earliest and 2008 for the latest. In Central China, most provinces included in the sample of our study have passed the LTP by the mid to late 2000s except for Jiangxi province. In contrast, half of the examined provinces in Western China have not yet passed the turning point. The regional heterogeneity of the LTP can be explained by diverse levels of economic development of China's regions. It also indicates that China should adopt heterogeneous industrial policies across regions.
    Original languageEnglish
    Commissioning bodyCrawford School of Public Policy
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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