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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 Three What Closed Door Policy?

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What Closed Door Policy?

One of the most commonly offered explanation for China’s decline in the past few centuries is the so called closed door policies of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The Ming government’s tributary trade system, the rebuilding of the Great Wall of China in the middle of the Ming period to keep out nomads from the north, and the Qing government’s one-port scheme which required some Europeans states to trade with China via Canton only are all taken as evidences of the arrogance, complacency and anti-trade and inward-looking attitude of China. As the argument goes, if only China had opened itself to overseas trade, if Zheng He’s ocean voyages had continued, if the Chinese had shown more interest in foreign products and learnings, then China would not have fallen behind; quite the opposite, it would be able to keep pace with the West and maintain its dominant position in the world.

This chapter will argue that late imperial China’s government was not hostile to foreign trade; neither was that government or the Chinese people indifferent to foreign products, learnings and technologies. If the trade policies of Ming-Qing China differed from those of contemporary European states, it is primarily because of the dissimilarities in their economic needs and the geopolitical challenges which confronted them. To maintain that the Ming-Qing state pursued a closed door policy is to misread the true intentions of the state. Late imperial China had in fact welcomed foreign commodities, ideas...

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