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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 Eight Why Hadn’t the Chinese Discovered the New World and Australia?


Why Hadn’t the Chinese Discovered the New World and Australia?

As a number of scholars1 have underscored, the enormous benefits which the resources of the New World brought to the Europeans are immeasurable. With an area of over 16 million square miles, roughly four times the area of Europe or China, the amount of agricultural, mineral, energy and fishery resources which the New World offered early modern Europe dwarfed the additional resources which the remaining underutilized land in the Old World, namely East Europe and Manchuria, could provide the West and Qing China. Although the New World bonanza may not be a necessary condition for the Industrial Revolution, we could make a strong case that the availability of New World resources accelerated the developments in West Europe, and without them the British Industrial Revolution would have taken longer, perhaps much longer, to erupt and Europe would progress at a slower pace even after the outbreak of the Industrial Revolution.

Since Zheng He’s fleet had sailed all the way from China to East Africa in the early 15th century, covering a distance which is comparable to the distance between China and North America, the natural question to ask is why hadn’t the Chinese discovered the New World during the Ming or Qing era? Was it because of the closed door policies of late imperial China? Or was it because of the waning of Chinese entrepreneurial spirit after the Song-Yuan period? This is the question which we will...

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