Tuesday, 23 July 2013

That was then, this is now

From an article at the BBC about a reforming Chinese civil servant in the 11th century:

The Chinese economy was far more commercialised than it had ever been before, says Peter Bol of Harvard University, who has written about this period.

"The money supply has increased 30-fold. The merchant networks have spread. Villages are moving away from self-sufficiency and getting connected to a cash economy. The government no longer controls the economic hierarchy, which is largely in private hands... it's a far richer world than ever before."

But all this created problems. As large land-owning estates grew, so did the number of people who were unwilling to pay their taxes - and the more rich people evaded tax, the more the burden fell on the poor...

The civil service has a way of doing things, and in the 11th Century Wang Anshi was turning it upside down, asking the mandarins to roll up their sleeves and manage every corner of the economy. He wanted state loans for farmers, more taxes for landowners, centralised procurement.

But he was not watching his back. He was too sure of himself and too focused on the big picture.

4 comments:

Lola said...

Wang Anshi was probably more like Cowperthwaite - but that wouldn't suit the BBC's agenda.

Lola said...

Apologies - having looked him up he was a central planner - which still suits the BBC agenda...

Mark Wadsworth said...

L, historically, China was always very centralised.

Every now and then, central power failed and there were periods of near anarchy or civil war (most recently after WW2) but then it always seems to go back to a massive, centrally planned empire/state/nation again.

Kj said...

Reminds me of the movie Hero, where the whole moral is that all the emperor's actions, however violent, are to ensure peace in the kingdom, or "everything under the sky". Very good movie btw.