Reading ‘The Wealth of Nations’ inspired me to understand China’s economics
Learn, adapt and progress
Published: Sep 07, 2023 08:20 PM
Editor's Note:

"Read ten thousand books, and your pen will be guided as if by the gods" is an ancient Chinese idiom that can be seen in students' textbooks. China's Ministry of Education has published an action plan to further promote reading among students across the nation. With new and diverse book recommendations, the reading scene is expected to be revived not only at schools, but also across society. To contribute to this endeavor, the Global Times launched "My Reading Life" essay contest for middle school students.

Please pick up a pen and share your stories with us at

Participants will be rewarded once the article has been selected.



In 2022, when I was at home due to the second wave of COVID-19, I found a beautifully-bound book in a corner of my bookcase - The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, the godfather of classical economics. Attracted by its fancy appearance, I read a few pages. Unexpectedly, I was deeply intoxicated by its interesting expressions. This founding work of classical economics deftly combined economics, politics, philosophy, history, and detailed economic practices all together. Seemingly loose-structured, each paragraph has a fascinating point. 

The book suddenly opened up my mind, leading me from focusing only on the small world of myself to the big world of our nation.

COVID-19 has brought the global economy to a pause. Restarting the economy has been the world's top priority nowadays. Governments around the world are doing everything they can to fuel up their economies and create new jobs, but most nations remain struggling in its aftermath. Fortunately, according to statistics, China's economy was one of the few positive, slow-growing economies even during the pandemic. Why? 

"Zibo Barbecue" has been a hot topic recently, which I think gives a possible answer as to why the Chinese economy has been performing well. "Zibo Barbecue" shows the vitality and resilience of China's economy perfectly - no matter how tough, as long as the government and the people work together, we can always create some miracles.

I'll try to explain the "Zibo barbecue" phenomenon with Smith's economics. The Wealth of Nations says, individuals, as a rational economic individual, will naturally strive to get maximum benefit from their economic activities. There is no need to do any pushing by the government. Moreover, the motivated individuals will lead economic prosperity in larger regions, even the whole country. 

After the pandemic, the private economy of Zibo city, Shandong Province, has gradually gained pace to pull itself out of difficulties, turning "Zibo Barbecue" into a golden name card of the city, attracting crowds of people from all around the country to this previously little known tourist city. At one point, it was hard to get a train ticket there. With the help of the media, other cities learned from Zibo, creating a tourism boom nationwide. 

I am struck by the coincidence of Smith's theory and Zibo's practice; especially since there is more than 200 years in between the two. But Smith emphasized that "the government should totally stay out of the market as much as possible," which was not adapted by Zibo, obviously. People all over the country know how hard the Zibo local government guided and supported its private economy. There is no doubt that "Zibo Barbecue" would not have been so popular without the effective promotion of the Zibo government. 

Actually, the sudden success of "Zibo Barbecue" was not born out of nowhere. The logic behind it is that since the Open Door Policy, China has always been "localizing" Western economic theories. Zibo is just one of the examples. We absorb what its good from West and adjust it to fit our specific situation.

Besides economic recovery, employment is another vital issue post-pandemic. After all, employment is essential for millions of Chinese families. As the pandemic-induced economic downturn squeezed market demand, it is not difficult to imagine how stressful unemployment will be. 

"Some college graduates become unemployed right after graduation" has been a hot online search in the past several months. As a high school student, I can't help thinking: Are there too many college undergraduates in China? What should I do in the future?

According to relevant statistics, since the college entrance examination resumed in 1977, the total number of undergraduates in China is 4.43 percent of our population. Apparently, the number is far from oversupply. Finally, I found the core is that the talent cultivated by universities cannot match market demand. 

In fact, most high school students have experienced "blind applications" in the past decades, and then were directly thrown into an "ivory tower" to further their study. Before stepping into society, there is no chance to get in touch with society at all. So it's not surprising that some college undergraduates can't match market demand and can't get employed quickly after 4-5 years on campus.

It reminds me of the "gap year culture," which is widely accepted in the West. The term "gap year" originated from the UK in the 1960s, meaning students will take a year off to travel after accomplishing a high school. Different from sightseeing, gap year is more like a pre-social practice. We can learn from the "gap year," to let students find out their passions according to their experience in the off year. 

From the perspective of history, China has always been a great nation full of open-minded, innovative and excellent learners. From the ancient Silk Road to the economic and cultural exchange activities in modern times, Chinese people have always made progress through constant learning. 

It's our generation's historical mission to make China a wealthier and stronger country by learning from other civilizations.

The author is a student at the High School Affiliated to Beihang University