Brad DeLong has a long post up on the economic history of China. It’s not all that good, but as he is asking for comments people might want to go and give some. Can anyone think of a good passage by someone more current on the literature that covers the Late Imperial period better?
Actually the post and the comments (on the main page) are a treasure trove of the type of zombie errors that crop up in my classes all the time. “Confucianism” retarded trade. The Chinese economy was stagnant after the Song. The Chinese had a printing press but never printed many books. If you want a nice picture of the general state of knowledge of Chinese history among those who are smart and well-informed but don’t know much about China, this is the place to go.
(I sometimes ask students what they know about China on the first day of class but I never formalize it into essays, since a long boring assignment that makes them feel stupid does not strike me as a good way to start off class. Now if I just assume that my incoming freshmen know about as much about China as Brad Delong (and his commentors) my questions about their knowledge-base are answered.)