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Presidential Address: The Structure of Chinese History

G. William Skinner
The Journal of Asian Studies
Vol. 44, No. 2 (Feb., 1985), pp. 271-292
DOI: 10.2307/2055923
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2055923
Page Count: 22
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Presidential Address: The Structure of Chinese History
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Abstract

The developmental trajectories of North China and the Southeast Coast during the middle and late imperial periods are surveyed to illustrate the recurrence of regional macrocycles of development and decline and to show that such cycles may be unsynchronized as between regions. These cases provide a basis for arguing that economic macrocycles are a systemic property--not of provinces or of the empire as a whole but of regional economies viewed as internally differentiated and interdependent systems of human interaction. An exploration of the relation between regional developmental cycles and the Chinese dynastic cycle concludes that the latter was mediated by the former. It is suggested that regional developmental cycles are cycles not only of economic prosperity and depression but also of population growth and decline, of social development and devolution, and of peace and disorder. China's historical structure, then, is seen as an internested hierarchy of local and regional histories whose scope in each case is grounded in the spatial patterning of human interaction, and whose critical temporal structures are successive cyclical episodes. The uses of such an historiographic model are briefly explored.

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