Modern Mining

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Collectivization and industrialization of the Yixing mines began in the 1950s under the new communist government. Before examining the effects of industrialization, it is important to question why investment in mechanization didn’t occur under private merchant ownership in the late-Qing or RoC – a narrower sub-question of Needham's Grand Question[1]: “Why didn’t the scientific or industrial revolution take place in China?”[2]. China had the world’s largest domestic economy[3] and was technologically matched with the Western World until the industrial revolution in Britain (c. 1760 – 1780), when compounding developments propelled the West far ahead of the unindustrialized world. Plausible explanations include an equilibrium trap: whereas Britain’s colonial capital system created demand for continuously increasing efficiency from a small island population controlling vast swaths of the world’s value-added production, leading to mechanization; China in contrast had a single contiguous market and an oversupply of human labor – there was no competitive advantage to long-term investment in mechanization when abundant human labor was profitable and available. It should be noted that the same dynamic can be seen in Western controlled mines in colonized regions – the Dutch, for example, did not invest in mechanized mining operations before the 1850s in the colonies under their control, even while the steam engine was already in use for mining within Europe.

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