The standard of living across time and space

  A very basic question for historians is how to measure and compare the standard of living experienced by people in different historical settings. Is it possible to arrive at credible estimates of the standard of living in the Roman Empire, medieval Burgundy, nineteenth-century Britain, and twentieth-century Illinois? Can we say with any confidence that …

Thinking cities darkly

Image: frame from West of the Tracks Cities capture much of what we mean by "modern," and have done so since Walter Benjamin's writings on Paris (link). But unlike the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, much of our imagining of cities since the early twentieth century has been dark and foreboding. A recent volume edited by Gyan …

Marx on a global wage

  What is the longterm tendency in the wage for relatively unskilled labor?  In the United States we've been thinking about this problem in the past three decades in the context of "outsourcing" and the flight of manufacturing jobs to low-wage countries. Moderate- and high-wage industrial jobs have left the country in large numbers.  In …

Transmitting technology

How do large technological advances cross cultural and civilizational boundaries? The puzzle is this: large technologies are not simply cool new devices, but rather complex systems of scientific knowledge, engineering traditions, production processes, and modes of technical communication. So transfer of technology is not simply a matter of conveying the approximate specifications of the device; …

China’s confidence

Traveling in China for the past two weeks has given me a different perspective on the country.  The most powerful impression I've had is one of collective national confidence; the sense that China is on the move, that the country is making rapid progress on many fronts, and that China is setting its own course. …

Toyota in Guangzhou

I got a chance to visit Guangdong this week, and it's a pretty amazing place.  You get a very vivid feeling for globalization when you see dozens of container ships lined up off Kowloon, preparing to off-load and reload in several container ports in eastern Guangdong and the lower Pearl River delta.  I visited the …

Sociology in China

Social investigation has a history in China that extends into the Ming-Qing dynasties and earlier, in the form of reports by scholar-officials on local conditions. Scholars undertook to provide descriptions of agricultural conditions, farming methods, famines, drought and flooding, the conditions of the poor, banditry, and many other topics of interest to the state or …

Contentious politics in China

By official count, the incidence of popular protest in China has increased ten-fold in the past fifteen years.  Kevin O'Brien and Rachel Stern report that the Chinese state reported 8,700 "collective incidents" in 1993, and this number had grown to 87,000 by 2005 (12).  And the issues that have evoked protest have expanded as well: …

Skinner’s spatial imagination

images: presentations of Skinner's data by Center for Geographic Analysis, Harvard University, AAS 2010G. William Skinner was a remarkably generous scholar who inspired and assisted several generations of China specialists.  (Here is a link to a remembrance of Bill.)  He was prolific and fertile, and there is much to learn from rereading his work. There …

Repression in China

The Chinese government signaled a major escalation in its policy of repressing dissidents with this week's conviction of dissident intellectual Liu Xiaobo on charges of subversion (New York Times link).  Liu's eleven-year sentence on charges of subversion sends a chilling message to all Chinese citizens who might consider peaceful dissent about controversial issues.  Other dissidents have …

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