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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 Fifteen Implications for China’s Resurgence


Implications for China’s Resurgence

In Chapter Thirteen we have suggested that late imperial China’s largely successful efforts at preserving the unity of the Chinese state since the 13th century have profound implications for the present era. We shall explain why that is the case in this chapter.

During the European Middle Ages, it was the city states in Italy, exemplified by Venice and Genoa, and the market towns of the Hanseatic League to the north which led the resurgence of Europe. But by the early modern period, the leading roles played by the city states were taken over by the new emerging territorial states in West Europe—Spain, France, England, etc.—after those states had consolidated their control over their realm, because city states lacked the manpower and resources to compete with bigger territorial states.1 Territorial states would become the engines which propelled the West to global preeminence by the 19th century.

However, that would change again after the Second World War, when the world became dominated by continental scale superpowers which dwarfed the territorial states after the latter had lost their colonial holdings. Today, only a nation that is truly immense in geographical size and population can realistically aspire to be a foremost global power. That is where late imperial China’s long period of unity becomes hugely consequential.

If, as a rule of thumb, we define a continental scale state as a country with a minimum geographical size of one million...

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