GE-2 - A comparison of the theories of lack of industrial...

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A comparison of the theories of lack of industrial development in China The industrial revolution is an interesting topic in social science and economic history. A common question is often: why did the industrial revolution happen? Another question to be asked is: why did the industrial revolution not happen all over the world, but only in select places? China is an excellent example for this second question. I, John Fairbank, have previously written on this subject and have my own theory on why the industrial revolution did not reach Chinese shores. Recently, I have read the works of four prominent scholars and compared their theories and ideas to my own. As I will soon discuss, much of my theory is supported by these scholars, but some of my ideas, such as the idea of the conservative merchant, may need some reevaluation. In The Pattern of the Chinese Past , Mark Elvin brings up the concept of the high-level equilibrium trap. In it, Elvin explains that the Chinese economy was suspended in its current state of development. The returns from agriculture had been severely diminished. Compared to other countries and regions of the world, late imperial China's population was astronomical. Because of the rules of supply and demand, this led to a large drop in the price to hire manual labor. This cheap labor was largely put to work on farms. Unfortunately, this led to diminishing returns. A finite amount of land cannot simply produce a (nearly) infinite amount of crops when tended to by a (nearly) infinite number of laborers. Industrial machines that improved farm output in Europe would not nearly be as useful in China. Europe had an abundant supply of land that had the potential to yield much more because the cultivation was not intense. The industrial revolution worked on European farms my 1
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maximizing crop yield per acre, something that China had achieved simply through labor input. Elvin also brings up the point of resource scarcity, especially of metals. China suffered from a scarcity of resources such as copper, iron, and silver. Metal shortages were detrimental to the start of an industrial revolution. The majority of inventions brought about by the European industrial revolution required copper, iron, or other metals. In return, these inventions offered their owners an increase of productivity and some saving of labor. The scarcity of metals meant Chinese tools would be extremely expensive in comparison. In addition, they would not yield much benefit as crop output was already extremely high and labor saving techniques were not very inciting considering labor was so cheap. A higher cost and a lower benefit means it was simply not advantageous to use these new tools. Other notable inventions of the industrial revolution were transportation
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This note was uploaded on 12/28/2010 for the course SOCIAL SCI SOSC119 taught by Professor Wenkaihe during the Fall '10 term at HKUST.

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GE-2 - A comparison of the theories of lack of industrial...

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