Literature dealing with the history of Chinese printed books and printing is voluminous. Yet studies of how knowledge in general and utilitarian forms of knowledge in particular were generated, accumulated and circulated by printed books and their relationship with the long-term socio-economic transformation of China are rare. This paper aims to open up the subject by examining the long-term trends in the production of manuscripts and books and focusing on the connections between the generation and dissemination of useful knowledge in China and the production and circulation of printed books over the centuries and dynasties from circa 581 to 1840 compared to Europe. It connects trends in this indicator for knowledge formation and diffusion to economic growth, urbanization, changes in higher forms of education, the rise of literacy, the development of printing technologies, and changes in perceptions of the natural world. It concludes that human capital formation in China probably proceeded at a slower rate,which is relevant for narratives of the “divergence” between China and Europe.
- knowledge formation
- printed books