West should bear in mind China's uniqueness

Having witnessed major changes over past decades, US scholar calls for deeper understanding and open dialogue

By CHEN YINGQUN and LIU JIANQIAO | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-05-24 09:30
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US students pose for a selfie in front of the Nine-Dragon Screen at the Forbidden City in Beijing on May 17. ZOU HONG/CHINA DAILY

Comparative studies

Pomeranz's research has focused on three primary areas: reciprocal influences of state, society and economy in late imperial and 20th-century China; the origins of a world economy as the outcome of mutual influences among various regions; and comparative studies of labor, family organization, and economic change in Europe and East Asia.

Another part of his work looks at the long-term significance and global context of environmental change during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and in 20th and 21st-century China. He has devoted particular attention to water management in China, past and present.

In his works, Pomeranz delves into comparative studies of different societies, offering fresh perspectives on historical questions. In The Making of a Hinterland: State, Society, and Economy in Inland North China, 1853-1937, published in 1993, Pomeranz offers a unique reassessment of critical issues in modern Chinese history, focusing on the social, economic and ecological transformations in inland North China in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (2000), a comparative history of China and Europe circa 1800, he provides new insights into the divergence of sustained industrial growth between Northwest Europe and advanced areas of Europe and East Asia, despite their apparent similarities.

Although it involves studying the history of the past, Pomeranz said he believes the issues addressed in these historical books remain relevant today, such as those concerning environment, economic development and the increasing power of states globally.

He observed that with China's increasing influence and the deepening of Sino-US relations, there has been a rise in research on China within the US academic community. Nonetheless, in Western discourse on China, there is a tendency for many to overlook China's distinctiveness, continuing to apply their own established concepts and terminology, he said. Rarely do they consider the necessity of reevaluating their system to effectively integrate China, Pomeranz added.

There are several things about China that are really important to bear in mind, he said. First, its immense size sets it apart, being among the largest in terms of land area and population.

"And the complexities that introduces both in terms of how to govern the place, but also what it means to be a member of this society, whether it even makes sense to talk about it as one society," he said.

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