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《Historical Recearch》 2002-04
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Development or Involution? Great Britain in the Eighteenth Century and China——A Comment on The Great Divergence: Europe, China, and the Modern World Economy by Kenneth Pomeranz (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000)

Philip Huang  
Kenneth Pomeranz in his new book The Great Divergence has put forth a surprising argument of considerable appeal: that “the great divergence” between European development and Chinese involution did not occur until after 1800. However, because of his disregard for concrete knowledge about the conditions of production and of life, and his preference for fashionable theories and mere statistics, his book makes major empirical errors. For example, he imagines that Jiangnan peasants consumed ten bolts of cloth and two bolts of silk per person annually. And, he thinks that of the seven days required for producing a bolt of cloth, higher paying weaving took up three days (when it actually took up just one). Moreover, his book does not grapple seriously with the main scholarly achievements of the last two decades of research on 18 th century England, namely demonstrations of five big changes: an agricultural revolution, urban based proto industrialization, development of small towns and cities, new demographic behavior, and changes in consumption. Pomeranzs book tries to turn these revolutionary changes into involutionary ones (i.e. with diminishing marginal returns to labor), and the Yangzi deltas population pressures on land into developmental changes (i.e. with increased marginal returns to labor), thereby erasing the basic differences between the two. In actuality, Englands industrial revolution originated from the conjuncture of those five tendencies with the early development of coal, while the Yangzi delta evinced none of those. Rather than a 19 th century industrial revolution, we find a gigantic social crisis in the making. Chinas path to modern economic development would eventually turn out to be entirely different from Englands: capital accumulation would be undertaken through social revolution, to be followed by the distinctive development of modern industry in the countryside to reduce population pressure (in some areas). Even then, to truly alter the involutionary pattern of the countryside, and to raise labor productivity to the standards of the modern world, will require further development of small towns cities and of industry, as well as the conversion of crops only agricultural production into a more diversified system.
【CateGory Index】: K107
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