Agricultural productivity and rural incomes in England and the Yangtze Delta, c.1620–c.1820



The productivity of agriculture in England and the Yangtze Delta are compared c.1620 and c.1820 in order to gauge the performance of the most advanced part of China vis-à-vis its counterpart in Europe. The value of real output is compared using purchasing power parity exchange rates. Output per hectare was nine times greater in the Yangtze Delta than in England. More surprisingly, output per day worked was about 90 per cent of the English performance. This put Yangtze farmers slightly behind English and Dutch farmers c.1820, but ahead of most other farmers in Europe—an impressive achievement. There was little change in Yangtze agricultural productivity between 1620 and 1820. In 1820, the real income of a Yangtze peasant family was also about the same as that of an English agricultural labourer. All was not rosy in the Yangtze, however, for incomes there were on a downward trajectory. Agriculture income per family declined between 1620 and 1820, even though income per day worked changed little since population growth led to smaller farms and fewer days worked per year. The real earnings of women in textile production also declined, since the relative price of cotton cloth dropped—possibly also because a larger population led to greater production. The implication is that the Yangtze family, unlike the English family, had a considerably higher real income c.1620, and that period was the Delta's golden age.