For Teachers: Teachers' Guide

China and Europe: 1500-1800

* This section of the website corresponds to the 1450-1750 unit of Advanced Placement World History


Traditional arguments about European economic growth have suggested that Europe was unique in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but Pomeranz and Wong suggest that this interpretation is wrong.

  • Between 1000 and 1500, China was the world’s most dynamic economy. This dynamism was not matched by any parts of Europe until after 1500.
  • But as Europe’s economy began to expand after 1500, regions of China’s economy also continued to expand. A comparison of the lower Yangzi region of China and England in 1750 suggests that the two regions, roughly equal in geographic size, were still roughly economically equal.
  • Between 1500 and 1800 China had many traits typically associated with a modern state: acceptance of a market-based economy, reliance on the use of contracts, specialization of tasks, state oversight of food production and supply, and encouragement of competitive economic markets.
  • China’s participation in the global silver trade between 1400 and 1800 confirms the dynamism of China’s economy and shows that it not isolated in this period.
  • By 1800, Europeans began to move away from exporting silver to China and began to trade opium instead.
  • Under the Qing dynasty in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, China’s size and population expanded significantly and in ways that would eventually create some significant ecological shifts in China.

Key Terms/Vocabulary

Lower Yangzi Delta
income per capita
Oriental Despotism
Sichuan, Red River Basin
contractual relations
specialization of tasks
domestic economy
rural handicrafts
silver trade
population growth
ecological change

Study Questions

  1. What was the nature of China’s economy between 1000 and 1500?
  2. Why is it important to consider the nature of China’s economy before 1500 when comparing the economies of China and Europe after 1500?
  3. In what ways were the economies of the lower Yangzi and England comparable in 1750?
  4. How does the state of the lower Yangzi economy in 1750 affect our traditional understanding of China’s economic development?
  5. What is the difference between a farmer and peasant? Is our use of the term "peasant" usually correct?
  6. How many Chinese migrated to Sichuan in the eighteenth century? How many Europeans migrated to the Americas between 1500 and 1800? What does this comparison suggest about the Chinese?
  7. What were some of the uses of contracts in China between 1500 and 1800? What does the widespread use of contracts in China tell us about the development of a market-based economy?
  8. What does the widespread specialization of tasks suggest about Chinese attitudes towards the market economy?
  9. What were state granaries, and why did the Qing dynasty maintain them?
  10. Why did the Qing encourage population migrations to the south of China, and how did these migrations affect the overall food supply of China?
  11. How do the Qing government policies regarding grains differ from those of European governments?
  12. How and why did the Qing encourage domestic economic production? What were the benefits of this policy?
  13. What was the Qing attitude towards monopoly in the market? What are the two ways in which this attitude can be interpreted historically?
  14. How did cotton production become widespread and popular in China? What does the growth of cotton production tell us about the development of China’s economy over time?
  15. With whom did China first trade for silver, and what was the nature of this trade? What happened to this trade during the sixteenth century?
  16. How does China’s demand for silver affect our understanding of the global silver trade and the development of China’s economy in the period between 1500 and 1800?
  17. In what ways did China’s demand for silver shape the production of coins in other parts of the world?
  18. How did the global silver trade facilitate the global movement of other goods?
  19. What happened to the overall size of the Chinese population between 1680 and 1820, and what were the causes of this change?
  20. What do we know about the geographical location of population growth in China and the cultural variables affecting it? Which specific regions in China experienced population growth?
  21. How did this population growth affect the ecology of China?
  22. What might be some of the long term consequences of this extended period of population growth?
  23. In what ways did the Chinese attempt to regulate population growth?

Discussion Questions

In what ways was Imperial China modern, and how does this affect our understanding of modernity?