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An Economic Cycle in Imperial China? Revisiting Robert Hartwell on Iron and Coal

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Robert Hartwell's article published in 1967 in this journal has had an extensive influence in both Chinese and global history. The present article reviews the reception and use made of Hartwell's arguments by secondary sources over the last forty years. It focuses on three aspects: the Song economic revolution; Hartwell's quantitative estimate for iron production; and Hartwell's proposition that coal and iron production and consumption peaked in the Song dynasty, at least on a per capita basis. It argues that a consistent set of estimates are needed for coal and iron development over the last thousand years of imperial Chinese history. En 1967 Robert Hartwell publia un article dans ce journal qui a fortement influencé l'historiographie chinoise et mondiale. Cette contribution passe en revue l'acceptation et l'utilisation des arguments de Hartwell qu'on trouve dans les sources secondaires parues depuis quarante ans. Elle traite surtout de trois aspects de sa thèse, la révolution économique sous les Song; l'estimation quantitative de la production de fer, et la proposition qui veut que la production et la consommation du charbon et du fer par tête furent maximales sous la dynastie Song. La contribution témoigne de la nécessité de disposer d'une série cohérente d'estimations traitant du développement du charbon et du fer durant le dernier millénium de l'histoire de la Chine impériale.

Affiliations: 1: Research Director in the National Institute of Chinese Studies, White Rose East Asia Centre, and Professor of Chinese Studies and Head of the School of East Asian Studies at the University of Sheffield;, Email:


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