China moved till yesterday in an orbit of her own, little influencing the West and little influenced by it. Partly because of her long isolation, partly because the foundations of her own civilisation were singularly stable, partly as a result of the new resources of science and technique to which the West became heir in the nineteenth century, the perspective of her recent history has been foreshortened. She had mastered certain fundamental arts of life at a time when the West was still ignorant of them. Like her peasants, who ploughed with iron when Europe used wood, and continued to plough with it when Europe used steel, she had carried one type of economic system and social organisation to a high level of achievement, and was not conscious of the need to improve or supersede it. For ages the most powerful agent in spreading civilisation in the East, it was not till less than a century ago that she was forced against her will into continuous and intimate contact with the civilisation of the West.

The phenomenon which disturbed the balance was the rise of the great industry, first in England, and then, a generation later, on the continent of Europe and in the United States. The flood of economic change washed east and west. In countries whose social institutions and intellectual traditions had been adapted to the new order by a long process of development, it was harnessed, if with difficulty, without disaster. The more different the conditions into which it penetrated from those at its source, the more disturbing its results. In Europe, where it started, it produced, side by side with a rapid increase in income per head, a period of dislocation. In China, unprepared by her previous history to absorb and control them, the


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Land and Labour in China


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