Sprouts of capitalism
The sprouts of capitalism, seeds of capitalism or capitalist sprouts (translations of Chinese: 资本主义萌芽; pinyin: zīběnzhǔyì méngyá) are features of the economy of Late Imperial China (Ming and Qing dynasties) that mainland Chinese historians have seen as resembling developments in pre-industrial Europe, and as precursors of a hypothetical indigenous development of industrial capitalism.
History of the idea
As China's feudal society had developed a commodity economy, and so carried within itself the seeds of capitalism, China would of herself have developed slowly into a capitalist society even without the impact of foreign capitalism.
Similar ideas had been explored by Chinese Marxists in the 1920s and 1930s, and provided a way of reconciling Chinese history with Joseph Stalin's five stages of modes of production: primitive, slavery, feudal, capitalist and socialist.
Shang Yue and other Chinese historians sought to justify Mao's hypothesis in the 1950s, producing a series of papers collected in two volumes entitled Essays on the debate on the sprouts of capitalism in China published in 1957 and 1960. They identified a number of developments in the Chinese economy between the 16th and 18th centuries, including improved farming and handicraft technologies, improvement and expansion of markets, and changes in wage labor relationships. These developments were compared to earlier changes in European economies, and held to constitute a new proto-capitalist phase of Chinese economic history. Some versions of the theory held that indigenous development of industrial capitalism was forestalled by the 17th century Manchu invasion or 19th century European attacks, while others believed that the sprouts were always weak and had withered by the 19th century.
These ideas were also explored by Japanese historians of China in the 1950s, though they concluded that a decisive transformation was unlikely. In 1980 the late-Ming historian Mori Masao said this work "failed to produce satisfactory theoretical results, though it uncovered a wealth of historical facts which had hitherto been unknown." Western economic historians have tended to dismiss the suggestion that these developments presaged a capitalist transformation.
In China, Shang Yue and the "sprouts" theories were denounced in the Anti-rightist Movement and Cultural Revolution for their emphasis on capitalism, and for contradicting Mao's emphasis on Chinese reaction to Western imperialism in the 19th century. The fall of the Gang of Four in 1976 and the resurgence of the Chinese economy in the 1980s led to renewed Chinese interest in these ideas. A notable contribution was the 3-volume A History of the Development of Capitalism in China, by Wu Chengming and colleagues in 1985, with the second volume dealing with the sprouts of capitalism. Many Chinese historians now accept that the "sprouts" did not amount to a decisive new phase of economic development.
Late Ming Dynasty
Late Ming taxes were low in comparison with both earlier periods and other contemporary states. The Chinese economy became very commercialized as market agriculture replaced subsistence farming. Wage labor became increasingly common as large-scale private industry developed, displacing and often buying out government workshops. Economic historian Robert Allen estimates that family incomes and agricultural labor productivity of the Yangtze delta region, the richest province of China, were substantially higher in 1620 than in most of contemporary Europe.
In addition to being a period of wealth and economic growth, the late Ming dynasty also brought intellectual fervor and liberalization. New thinkers such as Wang Yangming and Li Zhi challenged orthodox Confucianism, arguing that the words of Confucius and Mencius were fallible and that wisdom was universal; they also questioned government power over the economy and personal rights. Scholars of the Donglin school protested increases in government taxation during the Wanli Emperor and restrictions on freedom of speech, advocating a program similar to Classical liberalism. Ming scholars also adopted western science, including that of Archimedes. Additional scientific advancement also flourished during the late Ming. Some scholars contend that the economic and social developments during the late Ming paralleled the development of pre-industrial Europe and would have allowed China to enter a modern age, but was halted by the Manchu conquest and subsequent Qing Dynasty.
- Economic history of China (pre-1911)
- Asiatic mode of production
- Great Divergence
- Conners, Shawn, ed. (2009), Collected Writings of Chairman Mao – Politics and Tactics, Special Edition Books, p. 117, ISBN 978-1-934255-25-4.
- Feuerwerker, Albert (1961), "China's History in Marxian Dress", The American Historical Review 66 (2): 323–353, JSTOR 1844030.
- Dirlik, Arif (1982), "Chinese Historians and the Marxist Concept of Capitalism: A Critical Examination", Modern China 8 (1): 105–132, JSTOR 188834.
- Brook, Timothy; Blue, Gregory (2002), China and Historical Capitalism: Genealogies of Sinological Knowledge, Studies in Modern Capitalism, Cambridge University Press, pp. 150–152, ISBN 978-0-521-52591-6.
- Myers, H. Ramon; Wang, Yeh-Chien (2002), "Economic developments, 1644–1800", in Peterson, Willard, The Ch'ing Empire to 1800, The Cambridge History of China 9, Cambridge University Press, pp. 563–647, ISBN 978-0-521-24334-6, pp. 643–644.
- Faure, David (2006), China and capitalism: a history of business enterprise in modern China, Understanding China: New Viewpoints on History And Culture, Hong Kong University Press, pp. 16–17, ISBN 978-962-209-784-1.
- Pomeranz, Kenneth (2000), The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy, Princeton University Press, p. 217, ISBN 978-0-691-09010-8.
- Kwan, Man Bun (1998), "Chinese Business History in the People's Republic of China", in Gardella, Robert; Leonard, Jane Kate; McElderry, Andrea Lee, Chinese Business History: Interpretive Trends and Priorities for the Future, M.E. Sharpe, pp. 35–64, ISBN 978-0-7656-0346-3.
- Twitchett, Denis C.; Mote, Frederick W. (1998), "Introduction", in Twitchett, Denis C.; Mote, Frederick W., The Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644, Part 2, The Cambridge History of China 8, Cambridge University Press, pp. 1–8, ISBN 978-0-521-24333-9, pp. 6–7.
- Xu, Suming (2005), "人学史观视阈下的中西大分流——对“为什么江南不是英国”之新思考 (The Great Divergence from a humanist perspective: Why was Jiangnan not England?)", Tianjin Social Science (in Chinese) 6.
- Zhang, Xianqing (2008), "晚明：中国早期近代化的开端 (Late Ming: the beginning of China's modern era)", History of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (in Chinese) (5).
- Allen, Robert (2009), "Agricultural productivity and rural incomes in England and the Yangtze Delta, c.1620–c.1820", The Economic History Review 62 (3): 525–550, doi:10.1111/j.1468-0289.2008.00443.x, pp. 532, 546.
- Mao, Peiqi (2008), "明清易代与中国近代化的迟滞 (Ming-Qing transition and China's stagnation in the early modern period)", Hebei Academic Journal (in Chinese) (1): 72–75.
- 中國資本主义萌芽問題討論集 [Essays on the debate on the sprouts of capitalism in China], Beijing: People's University of China, 1957.
- 中國資本主义萌芽問題討論集 : 續編 [Essays on the debate on the sprouts of capitalism in China, continued], Beijing: People's University of China, 1960.
- Xu, Dixin; Wu, Chengming (1985), 中国资本主义的萌芽 [Sprouts of Capitalism in China], 《中国资本主义发展史》 [A History of the Development of Capitalism in China] 2, Beijing: Renmin Chubanshe.
- Xu, Dixin; Wu, Chengming; Curwen, Peter (translator) (2000), Chinese capitalism, 1522–1840, Macmillan, ISBN 978-0-312-21729-7, revised and abridged translation of the three volumes of Xu & Wu (1985).