The Late Qing's Artificial Equilibrium
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Attempting to explain the deteriorating state of the Chinese economy at the end of the Qing dynasty, Mark Elvin, in his 1970 book, History of the Chinese Past, developed the idea of a high-level equilibrium trap. Using this trap, Elvin’s theory explains what happened when a quickly growing population came into conflict with a finite amount of arable land and an elite class that refused to innovate. However, what if the same logical reasoning that lead Elvin to this trap, was the same reasoning that hid the faltering state of the Chinese economy from inattentive Qing officials? I argue that the stagnant growth of the Chinese economy originated from an artificial equilibrium caused by a false perception on the state of the laborer class, which subsequently allowed for the class as a whole to deteriorate without ever being noticed.