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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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Chapter Two Differences Between the Beliefs and Value Systems of the West and China


Differences Between the Beliefs and Value Systems of the West and China

There is an influential view that the fundamental reason behind the emergence of the Great Divergence is the differences in the beliefs and value systems of the West and China. Of paramount importance is the Christian belief in the existence of an almighty creator who laid down the laws of nature. This belief is taken by many to be the indispensable prerequisite for the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions which is the sine qua non of the West’s predominance. Another vital notion is the idea of progress, often regarded as a uniquely Western concept that is crucial to the eventual ascendancy of the West. Somewhat less widely accepted nowadays is the view that Protestant—particularly Puritan—work ethics is a precondition for the rise of capitalism and modern economic growth. Lastly, the dissimilarities between the classical Greek and Chinese ways of thinking are thought to have given rise to the divergent development paths of Western and Chinese political systems. We will provide an overview and examination of the above beliefs and value systems in this chapter before we begin our discussion of the other purported reasons for China’s relative stagnation during the early modern period in later chapters.

There is a rich literature which expounds the view that it was Christianity—and Protestantism/Puritanism in particular—which gave birth to the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions of the 17th and 18th century.1 According to this view, it...

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