For Teachers: Teachers' Guide

China and Europe: 1780-1937

* This section of the website corresponds to the 1450-1750 and 1750-1914 units of Advanced Placement World History


In the sixth section, Pomeranz and Wong use Jan De Vries’ concept of the "Industrious Revolution" to describe the global economic transformation that occurred between 1500 and 1800.

  • During this period, the real price of basic necessities, such as bread and rice, increased. People offset this increase through increased domestic production of goods for the market and increased reliance on specialized goods produced by others.
  • China and Europe continued to be similar in this period in terms of real wages, life expectancy, and consumption of non-essential goods.
  • Around 1800, China and Europe also continued to remain roughly comparable in terms of the ecological transformation.
  • Given the extensive similarities between China and Europe, only the European use of fossil fuels, the steam engine, and the presence of colonies and plantations in the Americas can explain why Europe industrialized during the nineteenth century.
  • The Chinese, meanwhile, began to experience significant ecological decline in the peripheries of the empire, which led to outbreaks in famine and population decline during the nineteenth century.
  • The core regions of China along the coast reached out to other parts of East Asia for its resource needs and participated in an extensive maritime East Asian trade boom. These economies of these regions even began to transform into a more industrialized economy, similar to the transformation in late nineteenth century Japan.
  • But because of the uneven development between China’s declining inland peripheries and its more dynamic coastal core regions, as well as European incursions, the Qing dynasty was unable to implement a widespread industrialization policy.
  • Instead, some areas of China continued to export finished goods and other regions became exporters of raw materials.
  • A similar uneven economic development can be found around much of nineteenth century Asia.

Key Terms/Vocabulary

Industrious Revolution
leisure time
fossil fuels
steam engines
New World
Asian trade boom

Study Questions

  1. How did people pay for the increasing price of bread, as well as other new items, in Europe? How did people pay for the increasing price of rice, as well as other new items, in China?
  2. What happened to the amount of leisure time that people had in the period between 1500 and 1800?
  3. How do the rates of consumption of nonessential goods in England and the Yangzi delta compare?
  4. How does the ecological transformation of China and Europe compare in 1800?
  5. Why was Western Europe and England, in particular, more easily able to access its coal deposits than China?
  6. What different factors contributed to the success of the steam engine in Europe
  7. How did the New World help to ease the demand for raw materials in Europe? How else did the New World benefit Europe?
  8. Why did China’s inland peripheries decline in the nineteenth century?
  9. What was the Asian trade boom of the late nineteenth century? How did it affect the coastal regions of China?
  10. How did the decline in the peripheries affect the economic development of China’s coastal core?
  11. How did the economic development of Asia in the nineteenth century differ from the development of Africa? How does this difference affect our overall picture of nineteenth century Asia?

Discussion Questions

What does the economic development of Asia in the nineteenth century tell us about the use of broad, geographic-based generalizations? What issues do we need to consider when making generalizations in world history?

From other readings, can you discuss:

  • What was the nature of the European impact on China in the 1800s?
  • How did the timing of this impact affect developments in China?