A SINGULAR CASE – Debating China’s Political Economy in the European Enlightenment

China held a unique place in European thought during the eighteenth century.

Considered a relatively unknown but advanced agrarian and commercial civilization, the Chinese Empire represented the apex of an economic system that was only beginning to be supplanted.

Europeans did not assume their superiority and were drawn to study the nature and organization of China’s economy. Analyzing the writings of early modern European travellers, missionaries, merchants, geographers, and philosophers, including Charles de Secondat, Denis Diderot, David Hume, François Quesnay, Abbé Raynal, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, and Voltaire,

A Singular Case evaluates the circulation of information about the Chinese political economy that fed European imaginations.

Ashley Millar examines perceptions of China’s science, technology, and moral and behavioural foundations, foreign trade policies, and the form and function of China’s government in order to question the extent to which consensus emerged on China’s successes and failures and to assess how knowledge of the Chinese system influenced the Enlightenment Shedding light on contemporary debates on the rise of the west and the Great Divergence from a historical vantage point, A Singular Case offers striking observations on Western views of early modern China.

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