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Shanghai and China’s integration into the world economy

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China’s recent growth of trade and income is routinely characterized as staggering and the like. We zoom in on Shanghai to see which part is hyperbole and which is not taking the long view. The city is ideal for this‐‐Shanghai held more than half of China’s foreign trade in 1850 and is the world’s largest port today. We find that while some features of China’s performance are extraordinary, others are not. First, there is continuity. For example, Shanghai’s trade openness at the turn of the 21st and the end of the 19th century was the same. Second, there is recovery. China’s trade was severely depressed during the early PRC years relative to historic trends. It would be wrong to believe that recent trends could continue indefinitely, or that recent gains are mainly due to the 1978 reforms. Third, there is change. Shanghai is trading more like a ‘normal’ economy, a lot with geographically proximate places, and China has become more like Shanghai over the past 150 years. Finally, trade seems to matter. The correlation between Shanghai’s trade openness and China’s share in world GDP over a century and a half is 0.74.

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