Readings on the Chinese “Divergence” and labour in China

Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy

  • “The Great Divergence brings new insight to one of the classic questions of history: Why did sustained industrial growth begin in Northwest Europe, despite surprising similarities between advanced areas of Europe and East Asia? As Ken Pomeranz shows, as recently as 1750, parallels between these two parts of the world were very high in life expectancy, consumption, product and factor markets, and the strategies of households. Perhaps most surprisingly, Pomeranz demonstrates that the Chinese and Japanese cores were no worse off ecologically than Western Europe. Core areas throughout the eighteenth-century Old World faced comparable local shortages of land-intensive products, shortages that were only partly resolved by trade. Pomeranz argues that Europe’s nineteenth-century divergence from the Old World owes much to the fortunate location of coal, which substituted for timber. This made Europe’s failure to use its land intensively much less of a problem, while allowing growth in energy-intensive industries. Another crucial difference that he notes has to do with trade. Fortuitous global conjunctures made the Americas a greater source of needed primary products for Europe than any Asian periphery. This allowed Northwest Europe to grow dramatically in population, specialize further in manufactures, and remove labor from the land, using increased imports rather than maximizing yields. Together, coal and the New World allowed Europe to grow along resource-intensive, labor-saving paths. Meanwhile, Asia hit a cul-de-sac. Although the East Asian hinterlands boomed after 1750, both in population and in manufacturing, this growth prevented these peripheral regions from exporting vital resources to the cloth-producing Yangzi Delta. As a result, growth in the core of East Asia’s economy essentially stopped, and what growth did exist was forced along labor-intensive, resource-saving paths–paths Europe could have been forced down, too, had it not been for favorable resource stocks from underground and overseas.”

Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000

Jean-Laurent Rosenthal & Bin R. Wong : Before and Beyond Divergence. The Politics of Economic Change in China and Europe

  • “China has reemerged as a powerhouse in the global economy, reviving a classic question in economic history: why did sustained economic growth arise in Europe rather than in China? Many favor cultural and environmental explanations of the nineteenth-century economic divergence between Europe and the rest of the world. This book, the product of over twenty years of research, takes a sharply different tack. It argues that political differences which crystallized well before 1800 were responsible both for China’s early and more recent prosperity and for Europe’s difficulties after the fall of the Roman Empire and during early industrialization. Rosenthal and Wong show that relative prices matter to how economies evolve; institutions can have a large effect on relative prices; and the spatial scale of polities can affect the choices of institutions in the long run. Their historical perspective on institutional change has surprising implications for understanding modern transformations in China and Europe and for future expectations. It also yields insights in comparative economic history, essential to any larger social science account of modern world history.”

Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2011, 290 p.

Philip T. Hoffman : “Why was it Europeans that conquered the World?”

  • “By the 1700s Europeans dominated the gunpowder technology, which was surprising, because it had originated in China and been used with expertise throughout Eurasia. To account for their dominance, historians have invoked competition, but it cannot explain why they pushed this technology further than anyone else. The answer lies with a simple tournament model of military competition that allows for learning by doing. Political incentives and military conditions then explain why the rest of Eurasia fell behind Europeans in developing the gunpowder technology. The consequences were huge, from colonialism to the slave trade and even the Industrial Revolution.”

The Journal of Economic History / Volume 72 / Issue 03 / September 2012, pp 601-633

Draft (?) can be downloaded from here.

Complementary readings:

  • Allen, Robert, “The Great Divergence in European Wages and Prices from the Middle Ages to the First World War”, Explorations in Economic History, 2001, 38: 411–447
  • Allen, Robert, “Agricultural productivity and rural incomes in England and the Yangtze Delta, c.1620–c.1820”, The Economic History Review, 2009, 62 (3): p. 525–550
  • Brenner, Robert & Isett, Christopher, “England’s Divergence from China’s Yangzi Delta: Property Relations, Microeconomics, and Patterns of Development”, The Journal of Asian Studies, 2002, 61 (2): p. 609–662
  • Broadberry, Stephen & Gupta, Bishnupriya, “Cotton textiles and the great divergence: Lancashire, India and shifting competitive advantage, 1600–1850”, International Macroeconomics and Economic History Initiative, 2005
  • Deng, Kent, “A Critical Survey of Recent Research in Economic History”, Economic History Review, 2000, 53. 1, p. 1-28 [downloadable]
  • Elvin, Mark, The Pattern of the Chinese Past, Stanford University Press, 1973
  • Feuerwerker, Albert, “Chinese Economic History in Comparative Perspective”, in Paul Ropp, Heritage of China, University of California Press, 1990, p. 224–241
  • He Zhaohui, “Ming China in the Global Context: New Trends in Ming Studies in Mainland China”, Ming Studies, Number 54, Fall , pp. 8-15(8) [Link]
  • Landes, David, “Why Europe and the West? Why Not China?”, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 2006, 20 (2), p. 3–22
  • Ma Debin and Jan Luiten van Zanden, Law and Long-Term Economic Change. A Eurasian Perspective, Stanford University Press, 2011, 376 p.
  • Paul S. Ropp, China in World History, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010, 208 p.

Further readings on China Labour history:

Bibliographies on Ming-Qing China (1368-1911) history online:

  • “Ming Qing shehui jingji shi” 明清社會經濟史專題. Professor Victor (Pengsheng) Chiu 邱澎生 from the Chinese University of Hong-Kong has published a detailed bibliography of major studies on late imperial China society and economy. It constitutes an essentiel access point to studies published in Chinese language. Access here.
  • Marilyn Shea, University of Maine at Farmington, proposes a complete bibliography for Chinese studies that notably includes a section on Economics in Chinese History.
  • The Internet Guide for Chinese Studies (Sinological Institute, Leiden University, Netherlands) has been for long now one of the best access point to resources to Chinese History. It can be accessed here. Subcategories include links to resources on China’s Economy, Society and bibliographies.
  • Also have a look at Professor Leif Littrup’s (University of Copenhagen) Reference Works for Chinese Studies.
  • Chinese readers will also want to follow the reference journal presenting Trends in Chinese History Studies (Zhongguo shi yanjiu dongtai 中國史研究動態) published by the Center for Historical Research of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.