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The Relevant Historical Analogy Isn’t Ancient Rome, But 15th Century China

July 13, 2011

Beware of the scholar-bureaucrats. In the Grand Titration, Joseph Needham writes:

I believe that it will be possible to show in some considerable detail why the Asian ‘bureaucratic feudalism’ at first favored growth of natural knowledge and its application to technology for human benefit, while later on it inhibited the rise of modern capitalism and of modern science in contrast with other form of feudalism in Europe which favored it–by decaying and generating the new mercantile order of society. A predominantly mercantile order of society could never arise in Chinese civilization because the basic conception of the mandarinate was opposed not only to the principles of hereditary aristocratic feudalism, but also to the value-systems of the wealthy merchants. Capital accumulation in Chinese society there could indeed be, but the application of it in permanently productive industrial enterprises was constantly inhibited by the scholar-bureaucrats, as indeed was any other social action which might threaten their supremacy. Thus, the merchant guilds in China never achieved anything approaching the status and power of the merchant guilds of the city-states of European civilization.

I can think of 534 grad school programs that do nothing more than spew bureaucrat scholars into the D.C. labor market, gumming up the works.


One Comment
  1. Wonks Anonymous permalink
    July 14, 2011 5:43 pm

    Mancur Olson claimed that merchant guilds had far too much power in old China.

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