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Assessing the wealth of a nation: British and French views of China's political economy during the Enlightenment.

Millar, Ashley Eva (2010) Assessing the wealth of a nation: British and French views of China's political economy during the Enlightenment. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science (United Kingdom).

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Abstract

Early modern Europeans, particularly during the Enlightenment, looked outwards to foreign lands to satisfy their curiosity, enhance theories or support nationalist or religious agendas, as well learn from other advanced civilizations. This dissertation examines British and French views of China's political economy during the Enlightenment until the publication of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. It studies the construction of knowledge on China's political economy by British and French primary travellers, geographers and philosophers, which results in several conclusions. First, while certainly evident in eighteenth century encounters with China, the sinophilia/sinophobia dichotomy is a flawed way to assess early Enlightenment perceptions of China's political economy. Rather there was a striking degree of consensus among sources that have been conventionally divided. Second, Europeans did not possess comfortable assumptions of superiority in the area of political economy and expressed a great degree of civilizational relativism. Finally, Enlightenment commentators and observers displayed a genuine interest in what could be learned from China. At times, Europeans used China as a mirror for self-evaluation and exploration, such as when considering views of economic culture. In other instances an active engagement with the Chinese model existed, as philosophers analysed how aspects of the Chinese system could be reconciled with - and even be used to improve - their own burgeoning theories of political and economic organization. China's military weakness and scientific stagnation offered insight on pitfalls to avoid. Europeans often viewed China's history, geography and population as unique and thus argued that Chinese practices could not be replicated in a European setting. On topics such as foreign trade and the form of government, China was dismissed as a useful model, not on normative grounds, but rather because its uniqueness and singularity meant it could not comfortably be worked into the universal models that characterized European Enlightenment thought.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Political Science, General, History, Asia, Australia and Oceania
Sets: Collections > ProQuest Etheses
Departments > International History
URI: http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/2385

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