tirsdag 1. juni 2021

James Newman: How Rich Was Imperial China?

China today is an economic superpower, predicted to overtake the U.S. by 2028. The perception in the West today of China as a modern, high-tech, and advanced economy is in sharp contrast to the images held of the old Chinese Empire. While the great wonders of Imperial Chinese civilization – such as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City – are held in high regard, Imperial China is largely seen as a decaying entity that entered into a terminal decline after encountering the West. This article will show that the truth is more complex. For centuries, China was the wealthiest country in the world, and even after establishing relations with the West, it held a commanding position in global trade networks.

Prior to the establishment of large-scale commercial relationships with the West in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, China had consistently ranked as one of the largest economies in the world for the past thousand years, competing with India for the title. This trend continued following the Age of Exploration, in which European powers sailed east. While it is well known that the expansion of empire brought great benefits to the Europeans, what is perhaps less commonly known is that commercial contact with the West was to increase China’s dominance of the global economy for the next two hundred years.