Introduction to the Economic History of China

By E. Stuart Kirby | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
THE FIRST DYNASTIES

For reasons shown in the foregoing chapters, the study of Chinese social and economic history was, by the time of the outbreak of the Second World War, in a position to advance to the 'new synthesis' which had so long been desired. This was possible on the international plane at any rate, but in China itself the outlook was more negative; in that country a state of war prevailed, and the most active influences were Marxism and other kinds of formalism.

There were--and still are--three convergent lines of progress on which good expectations were based. The first is continued progress in the accumulation of ethnographical data and the refinement of ethnological conclusions, shedding light on the origin and development of the Chinese people. This traces the infusion, all through history, of other races and elements, and shows ever more clearly the results in terms of the exchange and interpenetration of social and cultural ideas and institutions.

The second is the elaboration and deepening of cyclical interpretations of history, and their application to the case of China. This technique of analysis traces ever more clearly the recurrent process whereby dynasties, systems, or epochs rise, flourish, decline and fall, in seemingly inevitable succession.

The third is the realistic application of findings and conclusions drawing especially on the domain of economic geography. Students in this line of thought are concerned with the physical environment, and the constant struggle of the Chinese people and state against that environment, for their survival, as the main and direct explanation of the nature and course of Chinese history. For what may be called technical reasons, the most important school in this group is that which especially considers 'water-control' or irrigation, as a determinant both of the forms of social and political organisation and of the successive changes in 'key economic areas', in terms of which Chinese history is charted and explained.

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