The Purpose of the Asian Historical Statistics Project

1. Objectives

The object of our research project is to compile modern economic statistics on modern Asia and make them readily available to the public. This is a collaborative project which will draw on the efforts of numerous researchers in many, mainly Asian, countries. The initial phase of the Project will last five years from mid-1995.

We intend to cover the whole of Asia, excluding Japan, on the most comprehensive scale possible. The basic geographic regions to be examined are defined as East, Southeast, South, Southwest, and North Asia (the latter including eastern Russia), plus the Middle East and even north Africa (see Chart 1). Although the entire region is in principle the subject of research, difficulties in gathering data mean that, realistically, it may not be possible to include every single country in the region.

We intend to compile statistics beginning from what we define as the "early modern" era (just prior to the advent of industrialization) up to the present. Ideally, we would like to compile statistics from around 1850; in practice, periods covered in some countries may begin closer to 1900, depending on the availability of data and research conditions.

Retrieving economic statistics from diverse regions and different eras then arranging them to facilitate comparative research is no simple undertaking. Nevertheless, we believe furnishing accurate and detailed information on Asia's history and development to be an important task. In order to understand national historical and social heritages and to use such knowledge to plan for the future, we need highly objective clues--in short, statistical data is essential. Therefore, gathering and interpreting economic statistics constitutes a practical intellectual undertaking.

2. Contents

This collaborative research project takes as its model The Long-term Economic Statistics of Japan, compiled by Kazushi Okawa, Miyohei Shinohara, and Mataji Umemura, all formerly of the Institute of Economic Research, and published by Oriental Express Publishing Co. between 1965 and 1988. The project will follow the same basic plan, though the methodology has been duly improved and revisions made to reflect the change in subject matter from Japan to the whole of the pan-Asian region (excluding Japan).

The main features of the project are as follows:

A major goal is to coordinate the compilation of data regarding t= he components of national income (item 2) to enhance cross-national compatibility. The different statistical areas will clarify the significance of the macrolevel national income figures. Other types of statistical data will be gathered if they are useful to such analysis.

Supplementary investigations (item 3) will improve our utilization of the economic statistics and deepen our understanding of the social economic environments which they describe; they will also further our efforts to verify the accuracy of the data. We will investigate alternative methodologies by examining statistical designs and collecting and studying research manuals from areas under study. In addition, since evaluating non-quantitative information is essential to making full use of the statistical data, researchers will examine social movements and scrutinize changes in industrial classifications.

Because statistics on national income can illustrate no more than a small part of the functionings of a national economy, we also intend to examine social indicators related to quality of life (item 4). Key components include education, nutrition and health, hygiene and sanitation, and urbanization. This data will enhance our understanding of distinctive traits of particular regions and eras.

3. Distinctive Features of the Project

This research project comprises three distinctive features:

(1) We will maintain the integrity of the data of the subject countries (or regions) and, at the same time, prepare the information so that it can assist comparative research. Producing results which will expedite international comparison is a central purpose of the project. After we have meticulously checked accuracy and made necessary corrections to the basic statistical materials, we will use a standardized framework to integrate and process information into a database with the most homogeneous format which can be devised.

(2) In addition to gathering statistics on the contemporary post-World War II era, we seek to obtain the oldest available data for each country (or region). Depending on area, there are major differences in the degrees of difficulty involved in using materials. Whether statistical records actually exist will sometimes depend on the point in time being investigated, while the types of materials may vary by region. In order to obtain as much useful information as possible, we will not limit ourselves to a single point in time from which to begin our searches.

(3) We will emphasize relationships between historical and contemporary statistical records. By clarifying the connection between past and present, we can elucidate the contemporary significance of historical statistical data. We plan to devote special efforts to linking data of the pre- and post-World War II eras.

The first two objectives, creating a homogeneous database and gathering the oldest available statistical data, are not easily compatible, yet it is necessary to attempt to harmonize them to expedite long-term cross-national analysis. Achieving both of these sometimes contradictory goals will require the full and energetic exploitation of the intellectual resources available to this project.

4. Significance

We believe the database will make important contributions to scholarship and social development because it will:

(1) Clarify the locus of economic development in Asia. There are strong continuities between past and contemporary economic history, so it is important to delve into development in earlier periods.

(2) Identify changes in patterns of development in the Asian region. In particular, we can attempt to confirm the so-called East Asian Development Model, compare and contrast it with other developmental models, and reevaluate the Japanese experience.

(3) Create a comprehensive database available for use by scholars in all fields to assist policy formation as well as socioeconomic analysis. Conversely, constructive criticism from scholars who utilize the database can help us to improve our database (see Chart 2).

(4) Strengthen interaction between Japanese and non-Japanese, especially Asian, researchers by conducting collaborative research. The common research experience will provide a foundation for closer scholarly cooperation in the future (see Chart 2).

(5) Affirm the self-identity of future generations in Asia by deepening our understanding of national social and economic heritages.

The long-term economic statistics will constitute a prized intellectual resource not only for contemporary observers examining the present and past but also for those contemplating the future. We believe that the project's open endeavor and systematic compilation of quantitative materials on Asian economic history will make an important contribution to international scholarly cooperation.

5. Formation and Direction of the Research Group

At present, the project is being conducted by the group of designated researchers and cooperating members named in the list at the back of the newsletter. These scholars are forming research groups organized by country and by specialty. Their responsibilities include supervising the progress of the work, managing finances, and taking charge of storing and recording data. They will establish bases for research overseas and enlist support from non-Japanese researchers, whether in gathering data or helping to establish research bases.

We will publish a regular newsletter in English as well as Japanese and hold academic gatherings, including general meetings, specialized forums, and international symposia (every other year) to describe the progress of the research and disseminate findings. In addition, our specialists will convene small advisory committees to discuss research designs, announce mid-term and final results, and invite comments and criticism.

6. Disseminating Results

Results of the research will be made available as they become ready through discussion papers, internet postings, or other means. The final results will be made openly available, in both Japanese and English, through an electronic database and publication of a multi-volume series of books.

7. Dispositions of the Researchers

This immense project must be completed in a relatively short period of time, and therefore requires the close cooperation of a wide range of specialists in addition to our core research team. Our members at the projects beginning, in the fall of 1995, are listed below (grouped by research institution and listed alphabetically therein). As the project advances we expect to add more non-Japanese members to the list.