Joan Robinson's infatuation with Mao's China remains the most controversial episode of the Cambridge economist's life. Drawing on the literatures on observation in science and economics, and economists' travels, we aim to overcome the dichotomy between Robinson as a political pilgrim and Robinson as a development economist. Instead, we take a closer look at her observation practices, her literary choices, and her position within different political and intellectual communities. The structure of the article is quasi chronological: each trip to China is both described in its own right and treated as an entry point to shed light on a particular aspect of Robinson's engagement with the country.

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