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Silks by Sea: Trade, Technology, and Enterprise in China and Japan*

  • Lillian M. Li (a1)

Although East Asia's silk trade with the West stretched far back into antiquity, the middle and later years of the nineteenth century witnessed a remarkable growth in the European and American demand for silk. This imparted a tremendous impetus to the Chinese and Japanese industries. For some eighty years, from the 1850s through the 1930s, trade flourished until the coming of synthetic fibers and world war curtailed its growth. The rise of so large an international business obviously had a significant impact on these countries, one that was particularly profound in the case of Japan. When the upsurge in trade began, both China and Japan were at roughly comparable stages in their economic development, but when the trade ended with the onset of war, it was Japan, not China, which had emerged as one of the leading industrial nations of the world. While few would contend that silk alone, however important, accounted for this differing course of national development, the dissimilar paths followed by the Chinese and Japanese silk industries not only reflected many themes characteristic of business enterprise in those countries but also typified their divergent national experience during this dramatic era of economic growth.

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Marius B. Jansen , ed., Changing Japanese Attitudes Toward Modernization (Princeton, 1965).

Ezra F. Vogel's Japan as Number One: Lessons for America (Cambridge, Mass., 1979)

Thomas C. Smith , “Pre-Modem Economic Growth: Japan and the West,” Past and Present, 60 (August 1973), 158.

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Business History Review
  • ISSN: 0007-6805
  • EISSN: 2044-768X
  • URL: /core/journals/business-history-review
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