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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 Four Almost Everybody Disliked Merchants

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Almost Everybody Disliked Merchants

According to conventional wisdom, merchants had low social status and commercial activities were held in contempt in traditional China because of Confucianism’s purported anti-merchant bias. That resulted in the retardation of China’s economic and industrial development and was another important contributory factor of China’s stagnation in the Ming and Qing period. There is an obvious problem with this view because China was very much a Confucian society in the Song period too, but its living standards and technology levels were at the world’s forefront during that era. Furthermore, if we examine the attitudes towards merchants in other civilizations, particularly in Christian and Hindu societies, we will find that negative sentiments towards merchants and commerce were also prevalent in them. In the Gospel of Matthew, for instance, there is a passage which said

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and said unto them, it is written, my house shall be called the house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves.1

Thus Jesus appears to equate vendors and moneychangers with thieves and view market transactions as dishonest activities.

The Indian classic Arthashastra written by Kautilya, chief advisor of the founder of the Maurya Empire Chandragupta Maurya in the fourth century BCE, also contains derogatory remarks about traders:...

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