China & Europe

1500-2000 and Beyond: What is "Modern"?

with Kenneth Pomeranz and R. Bin Wong

From 1000-1500, China led the world in economic development. As trade between China and Europe begins to expand from 1550 onwards, the Chinese economy is, by many measures, more productive than Europe's. (Map 1 below)

Comparing the leading economic region in Europe (England) and in China (the Yangzi delta) in the period from 1500 to 1800, we find that these two regions perform quite similarly. The population of the Lower Yangzi Region in China is roughly as well off as the population of England at this time. (Map 2 below)

• How do new findings change the conventional historical storyline: that China was "stagnant" and economic "modernization" began as a "reaction" to the Western initiatives in the late 1800s, specifically after the Opium War with England?

• How do we define "modern," then, and when and where does this "modern" period begin?

• And how do new perspectives on China affect our understanding of China's development path in the 21st century and our current understanding of world history?

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