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This paper outlines the major policy differences between the post-Stalinist reform in the former USSR and China (Section 1). It then briefly presents the dramatic contrast in outcomes in the two cases (Section 2). The usual explanation is to suggest that the two systems had radically different starting points, with large differences in their respective capacities for 'catching up, forging ahead and falling behind', to use the terminology of Abramowitz (1986). China's 'success.' is seen as mainly due to 'special' factors such as the strength of its historical traditions of 'capitalism' and the advantages enjoyed on account of the impact of Hong Kong and Taiwan. The USSR's failure is seen largely in terms of its 'special' problems such as the greater strength of nationalism or the more conservative nature of the communist party.

Section 3 is the main-focus of this paper. It examines this proposition in detail. It concludes that despite some important differences the two systems in fundamental respects possessed large 'catch-up' possibilities. Indeed, it is far from obvious that China overall possessed greater 'catch up' possibilities than the USSR. The contrast in outcomes was largely caused by differences in policies selected. This applies both to economic policy and to the wider question of the relationship between political and economic reform.


CPPS Working Paper Series No.6 (6/93)

Recommended Citation

Nolan, P. (2013). China's rise, Russia's fall: Policy choice or system difference (CPPS Working Paper Series No.6). Retrieved from Lingnan University website: