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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 Seven Literacy Rates of Ming and Qing China


Literacy Rates of Ming and Qing China

A country’s literacy skills level is an important measure of the quality of its human resources and therefore the country’s potential for development. According to conventional wisdom, the vast majority of traditional China’s huge population was illiterate because only the tiny percentage of males who took the civil examinations was educated in China. That is presumed to be a further reason for China’s slowdown. However Evelyn Rawski of the University of Pittsburgh and Chinese scholar Li Bozhong have come up with some convincing arguments which question this view. According to them, many occupations in the highly commercialized world of Ming and Qing China required a certain level of literacy skills—ordinary merchants had to maintain records and balance their books, study government notifications and regulations, go over the market reports and rules of trade guilds and read commercial manuals; mortgagors and mortgagees needed to review their mortgage contracts; purchasers and renters of farmland must study their purchase and rental agreements; lessors and lessees of vessels and boats had to examine their lease contracts; and peasants and small rural workshop owners had to read agriculture manuals such as Shenshi Nong Shu (The Shen Clan’s Farming Manual) and craft manuals such as Bu Jing (Textile Manual). Even humble couriers and haulers had to be able to read receipts and schedules of charges, and low level government clerks must have the ability to keep records and read official documents. Moreover, many events in rural...

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