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Political Competition, Innovation and Growth in the History of Asian Civilizations

Edited by Peter Bernholz and Roland Vaubel

Do political decentralisation and inter state competition favour innovation and growth? There has long been a lively debate surrounding this question, going back to David Hume and Immanuel Kant. This book is a new attempt to test its veracity. The existing literature tends to assume that the beneficial effects of inter state competition have been confined to European history. By contrast, China, India and the Islamic Middle East are regarded as inherently imperial and overcentralised. However, these civilisations have not always been unified politically. In their history, there have been long spells of decentralised rule or inter state competition. The same is true for Japan. If the Hume–Kant hypothesis is correct, it should also apply to those periods. This volume analyses the qualitative and quantitative evidence.
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Chapter 4: Lessons from the history of Imperial China

Pak Hung Mo, Mark Elvin, Toby E. Huff, Li Chen and Ugurlu Soylu


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 facilitate our future development. Our reasoning follows the...

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