A. Sen's recent work has emphasized the ineffectiveness of economic growth in achieving fundamentally important human ends. Here, his influential propositions concerning post-Mao China are assessed. Factors affecting mortality rates and life expectancy in China since the mid-1970s are discussed in section 2. In section 3 it is shown that, contrary to his claims, post-Mao China achieved a widespread decline in death rates, an improvement in life expectancy and a reduction in the number of people living in absolute poverty. The poorest rural households were not excluded from the benefits of rapid growth of output after the reforms.