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New Perspectives on China’s Late Imperial Period

Why China Slept

Patrick Leung

The book offers new perspectives on the history of China’s late imperial period and presents a much-needed novel explanation for China’s stagnation and decline in recent centuries. It begins by questioning all the conventional wisdom on the factors behind China’s relative lack of progress and subsequent decline since the 15th century and follows with a fresh interpretation of China’s past. The new vantage points provide insights into China’s resurgence in recent decades and its significance for other nations. The book also makes projections on the general direction that China’s future evolution is likely to take with respect to its market economy, rule of law and representative institutions.

The author aims to deepen international understanding of China’s past and present which will hopefully facilitate the development of more productive relationships between China and other nations. The book is written so that it appeals to students, academics as well as the general public and whoever is interested in gaining a better understanding of China’s rapid rise today. The book is relevant to third and fourth year undergraduate courses in history, economics, international relations, law and political science. It can be used as a text book for upper class core or elective courses in history and economics and as a reference book for upper class courses in international relations, law and political science. It can also serve as a reference book for graduate students in the above disciplines.

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This book is a heavily revised and expanded version of an earlier work in Chinese which dealt with the reasons behind China’s backwardness in recent centuries and its unexpected fast recovery in the past few decades.

China had been one of the leading powers of the world for almost two millennia, from the time of the Western Han dynasty in the second century BCE to at least the early part of the Ming dynasty in the 15th century.1 During the Han period, the Han Empire and the Roman Republic/Empire were the two superpowers of the world, each dominating one end of the Eurasian continent. No other political powers in the world came close to matching these two empires in wealth, splendor, military prowess and scale. In the four centuries following the collapse of the Eastern Han dynasty around 200CE, China became fragmented and was subjected to barbarian invasion from the north, but the Roman Empire also disintegrated while lesser powers controlled Persia and Northern India.2 From the seventh to the ninth century, the Sui-Tang Empire which reunified China was again the undisputed hegemon in the Far East, and neighboring countries such as Japan and Korea looked up to it as a model for their own political and cultural development. The Sui-Tang Empire’s only true rival was the Islamic Rashidun-Umayyad-Abbasid Empire in the Middle East and North Africa, the world’s other superpower in those days. The Song-Yuan epoch following the Tang was known as one of China’s...

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