China and Europe: 1500-1800
Was China More Productive Than Europe?, Part 2
Lower Yangzi Leads in 1750
If you look towards the end of that early modern period, let's say circa 1750, the comparison actually is quite revealing, and food supply per capita is roughly comparable.
A woman working at a simple loom
C. V. Starr East Asian Library
In fact the Lower Yangzi may even have been a little bit ahead. Cloth production per capita would again be very close. And those were the two most important sectors of the economy: food and textiles. They were the two largest sectors. Wages seem to be roughly comparable, though it's a little bit deceptive because in England what we're talking about as we get towards the end of the eighteenth century is really wages.
It's people who work for somebody else and get a pay envelope at the end of the week. Whereas in China you're mostly talking about peasants. People who owned their own little farm and maybe had a loom in the house somewhere where the wife or wife and daughter worked. So it's earnings from their own self-employment compared to English wages, which is a little bit deceptive. But still real income seems to be pretty comparable.