Chapter 10: China Regaining its Position as a Source of Learning
SCIENCE AND CIVILIZATION IN CHINA Towards the end of the 1700s China had similar opportunities to start an industrial revolution comparable to those in England. One important difference was that the essential new energy source – coal – was widespread close to the manufacturing sites in Europe, while distances were far greater in China. In addition, Great Britain and Europe were to beneﬁt from the ﬂow of raw materials, like cotton, from the United States. This is the main argument advanced by Kennneth Pommeranz to explain why industrialization did not start in East Asia.1 However, Benjamin Elman argues that China was in a high-level equilibrium trap in which non-industrial methods were efﬁcient enough to prevent industrial methods.2 Underlying his argument is an assertion that the older and the modern traditions embody fundamental differences and that the former do not permit changes. In a related discourse Ellen Chen has suggested that the problem of tradition and modernization is much more serious and disturbing for original civilizations.3 Thus Chinese, Indian and Islamic civilizations face greater difﬁculties than civilizations that have been constantly attuned to borrowing from other traditions. As a consequence China’s path towards modernization has been particularly tortuous as, like Japan, it had limited borrowing experience and nor did it have any of the colonial guidance from which, for example, India beneﬁted. Chen sees China’s acceptance of the Marxist ideology as a complete system that would in its totality replace the totalistic Confucian system that had failed to direct...
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