The Not-So-Great Divergence: Asian and Western World Economy before 1815, And Beyond

Here is an examination of Chinese institutional change and why the debate necessitates a new approach toward studying global economic divergence, one which focuses on a separation of mathematical evaluations rather than technological advancement. Great Divergence discussions and debate are historiographical disciplines that examine state formation in East Asia and its cultural evolution in juxtaposition with parts of Western Europe. The advent of steam power and other technologies in production and transport allowed Britain and other parts of Europe to extend their momentum past Malthusian restraints and separate themselves from “poorer” countries, or so it was largely held in academic circles. But recently, the “California School” of historians like R. Bin Wong, Kenneth Pomeranz, and Andre Gunder Frank contend that China shared several surprising similarities in proto-industrial development with their Western counterparts throughout Eurasia as late as 1750. Dynamics of political, economic, and cultural change that have been taken up by historians of Early Modern industrialization favored a Eurocentric approach to history. So, who is right? My article will add impetus to a new argument by focusing on separate commentary from historians studying Europe’s transition to an Arabic numeral system and China’s insistence on traditional numeric methods. Modernity originated from a new abacus based on a ten-place system calculating numbers as large as 1027, the year some purport it to have first been taught in Europe. Contemporary literacy materials are built on similar education standards. Before 1815, state formation in Europe and China resembled each other because of this and in the years after, Big History settled what had been lost when Chinese labor migration and diaspora to the New World made a hybrid world economy unmistakable.