Edited by Peter Bernholz and Roland Vaubel
Chapter 4: Lessons from the history of Imperial China
4. Lessons from the history of Imperial China Pak Hung Mo INTRODUCTION There are several mysteries commonly expressed by students of Chinese civilization. They include the following. Why has there been a persistent under-utilization of technology for improving the welfare of the society? An example is the impressive achievements in the mediaeval economic revolution during the Sung dynasty (AD 960–1275). During the period, economic growth had been accompanied by the invention of new production techniques. However, in the Ming (AD 1368–1644) and Ch’ing (AD 1645–1911) dynasties, the Sung inventions were underutilized and new inventions were almost entirely absent. Why and how did the dynamism of the ‘Medieval Renaissance’ disappear? What forces support the formation of the world’s largest enduring state? Why have larger states normally broken up into fragments after a certain period of time while China, though it often suffers from invasion, rejuvenates itself because of ‘the extraordinary integrative and absorptive power of Chinese civilization, a power which no invader before modern times was able to withstand’? (Needham 1954: 119). In most of its history, China proper has seldom been under more than two administrations since the unification of the Ch’in dynasty in 221 BC The relatively detailed and long historical record of Chinese civilization and its unusual evolution can provide some important lessons that can enlighten our future development. In this chapter, we attempt to explain the above-mentioned mysteries. Based on the understanding, we discuss briefly the arrangements of domestic and international governance that can...
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