A significant but uneven spurt of industrialization started in China during the first three decades of the 20th century at a time of political instability and national disintegration. This article argues that economic growth during this period was closely associated with the rise and expansion of major treaty ports designated under the Western imperialist framework. I focus on the political institutions of a city-state adopted in early 20th century Shanghai – the rule of law, secure property rights and provision of public goods – as a crucial determinant to such growth. Using a historical GDP framework, this paper shows that the Shanghai-based industrialization exerted a significant quantitative impact on her immediate hinterland, the Lower Yangzi region. Per capita income in the two Lower Yangzi provinces was 64% higher than China’s national average, and it had experienced a magnitude of growth and structural change between 1914/18 and 1931/36 comparable to contemporaneous Japan and her East Asian colonies
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