So many books on China recycle the same stories and historical anecdotes, but this one tells the story from the point of view of economic history. It is scholarly yet readable, interesting throughout but best in the first half, runs up through contemporary times, and does not have too much overlap with any other China book. Here is one excerpt:
The urban entrepreneurial elite in eighteenth-century England benefited from absolute and unconditional support from the state, which shielded them against resistance from below. This support was justified by the increasingly dominant ideology of classical political economy…The dominance of this ideology can be understood against the backdrop of Europe’s interstate conflict that urged state makers to ally with capital in building up its military capacity…The entrepreneurial elite in eighteenth-century China, in contrast, enjoyed only relative and conditional support from the state. It is true that the Qing state elite never saw the mercantile elite as their antinomies and were diligent in facilitating their business and helping them secure their property rights in merchant-merchant or merchant-official disputes…But when it came to managing conflict between entrepreneurial profits and subsistence of the poor, the state elite often favored the latter at the expense of the former.
File under capitalist oppression is underrated.
Definitely recommended, you can buy the book here.