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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 Ten Why China Had No Scientific and Industrial Revolution?


Why China Had No Scientific and Industrial Revolution?

The 18th century Industrial Revolution in Britain is arguably the single most important contributing factor which led to the rise of the West. Without it the gap between the West and the rest, or the Great Divergence, in the last two centuries would not have been so huge. The natural question to ask is: why had a similar revolution not occurred in Ming and Qing China given that Chinese technology in the Song and Yuan period was among the world’s most advanced? That was the question raised by the British sinologist and historian Joseph Needham. Since then, a variety of explanations has been proffered for the “Needham Puzzle,” including: traditional China excelled in technical knowledge but had no science, Chinese relied on experience but did not recognize the importance of experiments, China had a huge labor force which made it unnecessary to invent machines, the civil examination (keju) system channeled the energies of Chinese intellectuals away from the sciences and technology to the study of the classics, Confucianism was contemptuous of technical skills, traditional China lacked a patent system, traditional China did not develop a financial system which could provide funding for new technologies, technology was monopolized by the Chinese state, and even deficiencies in the Chinese language and script.1

In the previous chapter we have explored the development of military technology in China from the Song period to the late Qing. While China was the first in...

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