ps writing discussion-03

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Consider the arguments put forth by Landes and Frank regarding the rise of the West. Which argument appears to have the strongest evidence supporting it? Why?


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American Economic Association Why Europe and the West? Why Not China? Author(s): David S. Landes Source: The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Spring, 2006), pp. 3-22 Published by: American Economic Association Stable URL: Accessed: 17-09-2018 16:02 UTC JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at American Economic Association is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Journal of Economic Perspectives This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Sep 2018 16:02:58 UTC All use subject to Journal of Economic Perspectives-Volume 20, Number 2-Spring 2006-Pages 3-22 Why Europe and the West? Why Not China? David S. Landes The The world history of technology is the story of a long, protracted inversion. As late as the end of the first millennium of our era, the civilizations of Asia were well ahead of Europe in wealth and knowledge. The Europe of what we call the Middle Ages (say, tenth century) had regressed from the power and pomp of Greece and Rome, had lost much of the science it had once possessed, had seen its economy retreat into generalized autarky. It traded little with other societies, for it had little surplus to sell, and insofar as it wanted goods from outside, it paid for them largely with human beings. Nothing testifies better to deep poverty than the export of slaves or the persistent exodus of job-hungry migrants. Five hundred years later, the tables had turned. I like to summarize the change in one tell-tale event: the Portuguese penetration into the Indian Ocean led by Vasco da Gama in 1498. This was an extraordinary achievement. Some scholars will tell you that it was some kind of accident; that it could just as easily have been Muslim sailors, or Indian, or Chinese to make the connection from the other direction. Did not the Chinese send a series of large fleets sailing west as far as the east African coast in the early fifteenth century--bigger, better and earlier than anything the Portuguese had to show? Don't you believe it. These affirmations of Asian priority are especially prominent and urgent nowadays because a new inversion is bringing Asia to the fore. A "multicultural" world history finds it hard to live with a eurocentric story of achievement and transformation. So a new would-be (politically correct) orthodoxy would have us believe that a sequence of contingent events (gains by Portugal and then others in the Indian Ocean, followed by conquests by Spain and then others in the New World) gave Europe what began as a small edge and was then worked up into centuries of dominion and exploitation. A gloss on this myth contends that m David S. Landes is Emeritus Professor of Economics, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Sep 2018 16:02:58 UTC All use subject to 4 Journal of Economic Perspectives a number of non-European societies were themselves on the edge of a technological and scientific breakthrough; that in effect, European tyranny (to paraphrase Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"), "froze the genial current of the [Asian] soul." A variant on this history-as-accident (or luck) is the pendulum approach associated with Jack Goody's (1996) book, East in the West. Everything starts on an even keel thanks to the allegedly common heritage of the Bronze Age; but then different parts move ahead, only to be caught up and passed by others, which then lose ground to their predecessors. So Europe was just especially lucky, taking the lead at the crucial turn to the Industrial Revolution. But Asia's turn will now come; indeed is already coming. As Goody (pp. 231-232) writes: "[I] t is a pendular movement that continues today, with the East now beginning to dominate the West in matters of the economy." As for efforts to understand this European successespecially explanations based on allegedly deep characteristics that were present in Europe but wanting in China-such efforts are irrelevant, writes Goody (p. 238): ... since all these features must have been present [in China] at the earlier period. Those discussions can be seen for what they are, as representing the understandable but distorting tendency of Europeans to inflate their overall contribution to world society and even to 'Western civilisation', a tendency reinforced by their undoubted achievements over the past few centuries. Such inflation of oneself inevitably involves the deflation of others; self-congratulation is a zero-sum game. But of course, Westerners were not alone in noticing some European deep characteristics. Thus Abu Talib, an Indian Muslim visitor to Britain late eighteenth century, commenting on British precocity in mechanization: "The British," he wrote (cited in Khan, 1998, p. 303), "were endowed with a natural passion for technical innovation. They possessed inventive skills and preferred to perform even minor routine jobs with the aid of mechanical instruments rather than manually. They had such great passion for the use of technical instruments that they would not perform certain tasks unless the necessary instruments were at their disposal." The French, he went on, were not like that.1 I shall return later to this revisionist debate. Here, suffice to say: 1) The Portuguese success was the result of decades of rational exploration and extension of navigational possibilities in an ocean (the south Atlantic) that was hostile to traditional techniques of navigation, which essentially involved following the coast- line. This technological enhancement rested in turn on a systematic utilization of astronomical observations and calculations, taken from the Muslims and transmitted largely by Jewish intermediaries, which allowed the Portuguese to follow winds and currents across the south Atlantic, and then use a knowledge of latitude to swing back around the tip of Africa and into the Indian Ocean. 2) The Chinese 1 Khan (1998, p. 328, n. 122) notes further that the Arabic lacked the vocabulary needed to speak of factory manufacture or machinery. For the latter, Abu Talib used "wheels and tools." This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Sep 2018 16:02:58 UTC All use subject to David S. Landes 5 abandonment of westward exploration was partly the result of contingen events; but at bottom it reflected the values and structures of Chinese s civilization. 3) European exploitation of the breakthrough rested on a di power technology (better powder and better guns) as well as on na superiority. The extension of European power into other parts of the world expression of these and other disparities. Why other regions did not ke Europe is an important historical question, for one learns almost as m failure as from success. It is not possible in brief compass, of course, to question for every non-European society or civilization; but three d serious reflection: Islam, China, and India. I shall focus in this essay on The First Chance: Science without Development The one civilization that was in a position to match and even antici European achievement was China. China had two chances: first, to continuing, self-sustaining process of scientific and technological advan basis of its indigenous traditions and achievements; and second, to lear European science and technology once the foreign "barbarians" entered nese domain in the sixteenth century. China failed both times. The first failure has elicited much scholarly inquiry and analysis. An remains an abiding mystery. The China specialists tell us, for example number of areas of industrial technique, China long anticipated Europe: i where the Chinese had a power-driven spinning machine in the thirteent some 500 years before the England of the Industrial Revolution knew wa and mules; or in iron manufacture, where the Chinese early learned to u probably coke (as against charcoal) in blast furnaces for smelting iron turning out perhaps as many as 125,000 tons of pig iron by the later century--a figure not achieved by Britain until 700 years later (Elvin, 19 In general, one can establish a long list of instances of Chinese pri wheelbarrow, the stirrup, the rigid horse collar (to prevent choking), th paper, printing, gunpowder, porcelain. (But not the horse-shoe, which im the Chinese did not make use of the horse for transport.) The mystery lies in the failure of China to realize the potential of som most important of these inventions. One generally assumes that know know-how are cumulative and that a superior technique, once known, 2 Elvin (1973) gives the figure as "between 35,000 to 40,000 tons and 125,000 tons," but sa the higher estimate. He relies here on Yoshida Mitsukuni, aJapanese specialist writing in 196 Hartwell (1966, p. 34), also advances the higher figure. In Hall (1985, p. 46), this beco 125,000 tons." In this regard, Elvin (p. 285) quotes a description by Yen Ju-yu of iron w Hupei/Shensi/Szechwan borders with blast furnaces 18 feet high, using charcoal and ha bellows (more than ten persons relaying one another) and working continuously. Th apparently used for castings, and there is no indication of further refining as either wro steel. This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Sep 2018 16:02:58 UTC All use subject to 6 Journal of Economic Perspectives nate older methods and remain in use. But Chinese industrial history offers a number of examples of technological regression and oblivion. The machine to spin hemp was never adapted to the manufacture of cotton; cotton spinning was never mechanized; and coal/coke smelting was allowed to fall into disuse, along with the iron industry. Why, asks Elvin (1973, pp. 297-298)? It would seem that none of the conventional explanations tells us in convinc- ing fashion why technical progress was absent in the Chinese economy during a period that was, on the whole, one of prosperity and expansion. Almost every element usually regarded by historians as a major contributory cause to the Industrial Revolution in north-western Europe was also present in China. There had even been a revolution in the relations between social classes, at least in the countryside; but this had had no important effect on the techniques of production. Only Galilean-Newtonian science was missing; but in the short run this was not important. Had the Chinese possessed, or developed, the seventeenth-century European mania for tinkering and improving, they could easily have made an efficient spinning machine out of the primitive model described by Wang Chen. A steam engine would have been more difficult; but it should not have posed insuperable difficulties to a people who had been building double-acting piston flame-throwers in the Sung dynasty. The crucial point is that nobody tried. In most fields, agricul- ture being the chief exception, Chinese technology stopped progressing well before the point at which a lack of scientific knowledge had become a serious obstacle. Why indeed? Sinologists have put forward several partial explanations. Those that I find most persuasive are the following. First, China lacked a free market and institutionalized property rights. The Chinese state was always stepping in to interfere with private enterprise-to take over certain activities, to prohibit and inhibit others, to manipulate prices, to exact bribes. At various times the government was motivated by a desire to reserve labor to agriculture or to control important resources (salt and iron, for example); by an appetite for revenue (the story of the goose that laid the golden eggs is a leitmotif of Chinese history); by fear and disapproval of self-enrichment, except by officials, giving rise in turn to abundant corruption and rent-seeking; and by a distaste for maritime trade, which the Heavenly Kingdom saw as a diversion from imperial concerns, as a divisive force and source of income inequality in the ecumenical empire, and worse yet, as an invitation to exit. This state intervention and interference encountered evasion and resistance; indeed, the very needs of state compelled a certain tolerance for disobedience. Still, the goal, the aim, the ideal was the ineffable stillness of immobility. When in 1368 the new Chinese emperor inaugu- rated a native (Ming) dynasty to replace the defeated Mongol invaders, he ascended the throne in Nanjing as the Hongwu ("Vast Martial") emperor. Let not the name deceive the reader: Hongwu's goal was anything but war. He wanted rather to immobilize the realm. People were to stay put and move only with the permission of the state-at home and abroad. People who went outside China without permission were liable to execution on their return. The Ming code of core laws also sought to block social mobility, with severe penalties for thosejumping professional This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Sep 2018 16:02:58 UTC All use subject to Why Europe and the West? Why Not China? 7 and occupational barriers. In this regard, Timothy Brook (1998, p. vii) cites in epigraph one of the Hongwu emperor's favorite moral dicta: Let the state be small and the people few; So that the people... fearing death, will be reluctant to move great distances And, even if they have boats and carts, will not use them. So that the people... will find their food sweet and their clothes beautiful, Will be content with where they live and happy in their customs. Though adjoining states be within sight of one another and cocks crowing and dogs barking in one be heard in the next, Yet the people of one state will grow old and die without having had any dealings with those of another. These matters reached a wretched climax under the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), when the state attempted to prohibit all trade overseas.3 Such interdictions led of course to evasion and smuggling, with concomitant corruption (protection money), searches for contraband, confiscations and punishment. All of this necessarily acted to strangle initiative, to increase risk and the cost of transactions, and to chase talent from commerce and industry. A second reason why China did not realize the economic potential of its scientific expertise involved the larger values of the society. The great HungarianGerman-French sinologist, Etienne Balazs (1968 [1988]; see also Balazs, 1964), saw China's abortive technology as part of a larger pattern of totalitarian control. He recognizes the absence of freedom, along with the weight of custom and consensus and what passed for higher wisdom. His analysis (pp. 22-23) is worth repeating: ... if one understands by totalitarianism the complete hold of the State and its executive organs and functionaries over all the activities of social life, without exception, Chinese society was highly totalitarian.... No private initiative, no expression of public life that can escape official control. There is to begin with a whole array of state monopolies, which comprise the great consumption staples: salt, iron, tea, alcohol, foreign trade. There is a monopoly of education, jealously guarded. There is practically a monopoly of letters (I was about to say, of the press): anything written unofficially, that escapes the censorship, has little hope of reaching the public. But the reach of the 3 The imperial authorities vacillated in their attitude to foreign trade, now favoring it, now clamping down; and these tergiversations were in themselves a deterrent to stable enterprise and capital accumulation. In addition, even when the state relented, it did so in circumstances that pushed the traders into illicit operations. Thus, the early Mongol (Yuan) dynasty (1280-1368) allowed freedom of enterprise, but then succumbed to the temptation of instituting a licensing system. This enabled officials to play the role of capitalist, financing venturers and dividing profits 70-30: 70 for the official, 30 for the working trader. That was greedy, compared to the typical European 50-50 split. The traders presumably sought to conceal gains, but in the long run, trade had to suffer. This content downloaded from on Mon, 17 Sep 2018 16:02:58 UTC All use subject to 8 Journal of Economic Perspectives Moloch-State, the omnipotence of the bureaucracy, goes much farther. There are clothing regulations, a regulation of public and private construction (dimensions of houses); the colors one wears, the music one hears, the festivals-all are regulated. There are rules for birth and rules for death; the providential State watches minutely over every step of its subjects, from cradle to grave. It is a regime of paper work and harassment, endless paper work and endless harassment. The ingenuity and inventiveness of the Chinese, which have given so much to mankind-silk, tea, porcelain, paper, printing, and more-would no doubt have enriched China further and probably brought it to the threshold of modern industry, had it not been for this stifling state control. It is the State that kills technological progress in China. Not only in the sense that it nips in the bud anything that goes against or seems to go against its interests, but also by the customs implanted inexorably by the raison d'Etat. The atmosphere of routine, of traditionalism, and of immobility, which makes any innovation suspect, any initiative that is not commanded and sanctioned in advance, is unfavorable to the spirit of free inquiry. In short, to go back to Elvin (1973), the reason the Chinese did not develop based on their scientific knowledge is that no one was trying. Why try? Especially since the Chinese were not without their own quiet resources to thwart bureaucratic interferences and frustrations-reliance on personal and familial collaboration, for example, in place of arbitrary or institutional practice in business. In such matters, personal trust could yield more dependable performance than legal rules. In all this, the contrast with Europe was marked. Where fragmentation and national rivalries compelled European rulers to pay heed to their subjects, to recognize their rights and cultivate the sources of wealth, the rulers of China had a free hand. Again Elvin (1973, pp. 224-225) captures some of this: ... it was the great size of the Chinese Empire which made the adoption of the policies of the Ming emperors possible. In a Chinese subcontinent made up of smaller independent states, like those of the Five Dynasties [907-960 C.E.] or the Ten Kingdoms, no government could have afforded to close itself off. International economic interdependence (as that between regions would have become) would have removed this option; and the need for diplomatic and military alliances, and revenue from foreign trade, would have made isolationism undesirable. With smaller states, there might also have been, as there was in north-western Europe in early modern times, a closer conscious identification of the governed with their countries and rulers. Prior to modern communications, the immensity of the empire precluded nationalism. Whatever the mix of factors, the result seems to have been a curious pattern of isolated initiatives and sisyphean discontinuities-up, up, up and then down again-almost as though the society were constrained by a ho ...
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Ps-Writing Discussion
I find David S Landes argument more compelling and convincing than that of Frank. Landes
examines the success of Europe and the West from historical times. He stipulates how Europe
and the West ...

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