Chapter 1 Introduction: comparative economic history and the trajectory of economic institutions
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This introductory chapter discusses the relevance of a comparative approach that would take into account the evolution of economic institutions and business practices dedicated to the same objective (economic efficiency), but unfolding in very different environments (Europe and China) and diverging sharply during the period studied (16th-19th century). It also highlights the special status of the economic realm in late imperial China, and its lack of autonomy from the political world. Chinese economic institutions' governance takes place at the local level. At the higher level of power, it is not embodied in an economic policy but remains dominated by the imperative of civil peace and the empire's good administration. To deal with this issue, it is necessary to identify the invariants but also the differences in the conduct of the economic operations, thanks to a rigorous contextualization of the sources.

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