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The Pattern of the Chinese Past
by Mark Elvin
A satisfactory comprehensive history of the social and economic development of pre-modern China, the largest country in the world in terms of population, and with a documentary record covering three millennia, is still far from possible. The present work is only an attempt to disengage the major themes that seem to be of relevance to our understanding of China today. In pa ...more
Paperback, 348 pages
Published June 1st 1973 by Stanford University Press
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Jan 08, 2014 Hadrian rated it 4 of 5 stars
This is an expanded version of Elvin's 1972 paper, "The High-Level Equilibrium Trap", which explains why China never experienced an Industrial Revolution, despite its advances in science and technology, and surpluses in agriculture. In short, it had effectively reached an equilibrium between supply and demand, and had no incentive to improve or change the economy, compared to the labor-intensive and inefficient economy of Western Europe, which had every reason to trend towards scientific experim ...more
Still the best overarching narrative of Chinese history. Elvin takes technology seriously, is perhaps a bit simplistic in his understanding of changing social trends post Song (from the present perspective). The high-level equilibrium trap is still a somewhat persuasive analytical framework.