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Why Europe and the West? Why Not China?

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  • David S. Landes

Abstract

In the history of technological development, why didn't other regions keep up with Europe? This is an important question, as one learns almost as much from failure as from success. The one civilization that was in a position to match and even anticipate the European achievement was China. China had two chances: first, to generate a continuing, self-sustaining process of scientific and technological advance on the basis of its indigenous traditions and achievements; and second, to learn from European science and technology once the foreign "barbarians" entered the Chinese domain in the sixteenth century. China failed both times. What explains the first failure? I stress the role of the market: the fact that enterprise was free in Europe while China lacked a free market and institutionalized property rights; that in Europe innovation worked and paid, while the Chinese state was always stepping in to interfere with private enterprise. As for the second failure, China's cultural triumphalism combined with petty downward tyranny made it a singularly bad learner.

Suggested Citation

  • David S. Landes, 2006. "Why Europe and the West? Why Not China?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(2), pages 3-22, Spring.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:20:y:2006:i:2:p:3-22 Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.20.2.3
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Hartwell, Robert, 1966. "Markets, Technology, and the Structure of Enterprise in the Development of the Eleventh-Century Chinese Iron and Steel Industry," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 26(01), pages 29-58, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ashraf, Quamrul & Galor, Oded, 2007. "Cultural Assimilation, Cultural Diffusion and the Origin of the Wealth of Nations," CEPR Discussion Papers 6444, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. Duarte Nuno Leite & Óscar Afonso & Sandra Tavares Silva, 2015. "The Two Revolutions, Landed Elites and Education during the Industrial Revolution," FEP Working Papers 562, Universidade do Porto, Faculdade de Economia do Porto.
    3. Anastasia Litina, 2016. "Natural land productivity, cooperation and comparative development," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 21(4), pages 351-408, December.
    4. Yusuf, Shahid, 2007. "From creativity to innovation," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4262, The World Bank.
    5. Matteo Cervellati & Uwe Sunde, 2015. "The Economic and Demographic Transition, Mortality, and Comparative Development," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, pages 189-225.
    6. Aoki, Masahiko, 2014. "Economic and Political Transitions from Premodern to Modern States in the Meiji Restoration and Xinhai Revolution: A Strategic Approach," ADBI Working Papers 486, Asian Development Bank Institute.
    7. Herrmann-Pillath, Carsten, 2015. "Energy, growth, and evolution: Towards a naturalistic ontology of economics," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 119(C), pages 432-442.
    8. Shuo Chen & James Kung, 2016. "Of maize and men: the effect of a New World crop on population and economic growth in China," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 21(1), pages 71-99, March.
    9. repec:ipg:wpaper:2014-490 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Brian Snowdon, 2008. "Towards a Unified Theory of Economic Growth," World Economics, World Economics, 1 Ivory Square, Plantation Wharf, London, United Kingdom, SW11 3UE, vol. 9(2), pages 97-151, April.
    11. Guanzhong Wen, 2011. "Why was china trapped in an agrarian society? An economic geographical approach to the needham puzzle," Frontiers of Economics in China, Springer;Higher Education Press, pages 507-534.
    12. Rupa Chanda, 2011. "Impact of Services Trade Liberalization on Employment and People Movement in South Asia," Trade Working Papers 23197, East Asian Bureau of Economic Research.
    13. Van Bavel, Bas, 2015. "History as a laboratory to better understand the formation of institutions," Journal of Institutional Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 11(01), pages 69-91, March.
    14. Litina, Anastasia, 2012. "Unfavorable land endowment, cooperation, and reversal of fortune," MPRA Paper 39702, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    15. Xu, Yi & Shi, Zhihong & Van Leeuwen, Bas & Ni, Yuping & Zhang, Zipeng & Ma, Ye, 2015. "Chinese National Income, ca. 1661–1933," MPRA Paper 70873, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    16. Yu, J. & Nijkamp, P., 2008. "China’s prospects as an innovative country: an industrial economics perspective," Serie Research Memoranda 0009, VU University Amsterdam, Faculty of Economics, Business Administration and Econometrics.
    17. James B. Ang, 2015. "Agricultural Legacy, Individualistic Culture, and Techology Adoption," Economic Growth Centre Working Paper Series 1506, Nanyang Technological University, School of Social Sciences, Economic Growth Centre.
    18. Csaba, László, 2008. "Módszertan és relevancia a közgazdaságtanban. A mai közgazdaságtan és a társtudományok
      [Methodology and relevancy in economics. Today s economics and associated sciences]
      ," Közgazdasági Szemle (Economic Review - monthly of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), Közgazdasági Szemle Alapítvány (Economic Review Foundation), vol. 0(4), pages 285-307.
    19. Nguyen Thang Dao, 2016. "From agriculture to manufacturing: How does geography matter?," Cliometrica, Springer;Cliometric Society (Association Francaise de Cliométrie), vol. 10(3), pages 277-309, September.
    20. Kehoe, Timothy J. & Costa, Daniela & Raveendranathan, Gajen, 2016. "The Stages of Economic Growth Revisited: Part 1: A General Framework and Taking Off into Growth," Economic Policy Paper 16-5, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
    21. Taylor, Mark Zachary & Wilson, Sean, 2012. "Does culture still matter?: The effects of individualism on national innovation rates," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 234-247.
    22. Rafael, Dobado-González & Alfredo, García-Hiernaux & David, Guerrero-Burbano, 2013. "West versus East: Early Globalization and the Great Divergence," MPRA Paper 48773, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    23. Mueller, Dennis C., 2011. "Entrepreneurship and Growth," Ratio Working Papers 170, The Ratio Institute.
    24. Masahiko Aoki, 2011. "The Five-Phases of Economic Development and Institutional Evolution in China and Japan," Development Economics Working Papers 23196, East Asian Bureau of Economic Research.

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