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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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When I attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as an undergraduate, the first thing we were taught was not to take for granted received wisdoms as representing the truth, not to be afraid to challenge the validity of orthodox viewpoints, to perform critical thinking on their premises and to make attempts to falsify them. MIT is of course primarily a science and engineering school and this skepticism is directed mainly at the beliefs which concern natural phenomena. Later on in my life, as my interests turn to history, economics and international relationships, I began to apply the same approach to the commonly accepted views in these disciplines. I started to rethink the history of the past couple of centuries—the rise of the West, the decline of China and its recovery in recent years, raising questions about the mainstream explanations for the emergence of these momentous developments in history and ended up with the writing of this book. Therefore this book owes a heavy debt to my education at MIT and to the teachers and fellow students whom I interacted with when I was studying there.

I also wish to express my gratitude to my former colleagues at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Economics and Finance, particularly Steven Cheung, Xu Chenggang, Wing Suen and Frank Song, among others, for their friendship and their comments and support especially in relation to the original version of this book. This book could not have been written without...

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