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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 May 2019

University of New South Wales
School of Humanities and Languages, University of New South Wales, Morven Brown Building, 243, Sydney, NSW


T. R. Malthus was deeply interested in how his principle of population operated in societies distant to, and different from, his own. In this respect, China served as an intriguing case, already famous in his own time for its large and dense population and the central regulation of a closed economy. Malthus drew on both centuries-old Jesuit material and recent accounts from the Macartney embassy to the Qianlong emperor to assess its past and present food–land–population dynamics. This article explores Malthus's interest in China in the context of British public and private commercial interest in opening its trade, not least interest from his own East India Company. Historiographically, Malthus's China has been critiqued as an early rendition of orientalist demographic transition, posing a dichotomy of East/West fertility and mortality change. In disagreement with this interpretation, this article argues Malthus's key distinction was not East/West but Old World/New World.

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My thanks to Helen Dunstan and Henrietta Harrison for advice and assistance with this article, and to the Master and Fellows of Jesus College, Cambridge, for access to the Old Library Malthus Family Collection.


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29 Staunton, Account, iii, p. 467. See also Malthus, Essay (1803). ‘Chow-ta-Zhin, a man of business and precision, cautious in advancing facts, and proceeding generally upon official documents, delivered, at the request of the Embassador, a statement to him, taken from one of the public offices in the capital, and printed in the Appendix to this work, of the inhabitants of the fifteen ancient provinces of China’ (p. 146). For Qiao Renjie, see Mosca, Matthew W., From frontier policy to foreign policy: the question of India and the transformation of geopolitics in Qing China (Stanford, CA, 2013), pp. 149–54Google Scholar; Hevia, Cherishing men from afar, p. 90. Thanks to Henrietta Harrison for discussion on ‘Chow-ta-zhin’.

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52 Staunton, Account. Reprinted in Malthus.

53 Staunton, Account, iii, p. 389.

54 Malthus, Essay (1798), ch. 10.

55 Malthus, Essay (1803), p. 149.

56 Ibid., p. 148.

57 Ibid., p. 49.

58 Staunton, Account, iii, pp. 386–7. In drawing from accounts such as that of Staunton, Malthus was normally meticulous in his citations. But in this chapter, almost an entire page of Staunton was reprinted verbatim, and although containing a footnote, was unusually not in quotation marks.

59 Smith, Wealth of nations, ed. Cannan, book 1, ch. 11, ‘Of the rent of land’, p. 170. Staunton also referred to this passage from Smith in his Account, iii, p. 361.

60 Malthus, Essay (1803), pp. 151, 153.

61 Lavely and Wong, ‘Revising the Malthusian narrative’, p. 714.

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64 Malthus, Essay (1803), p. 150.

65 Ibid., p. 154.

66 Ibid., p. 151.

67 Smith, Wealth of nations, ed. Cannan, book 1, ch. 8, ‘On the wages of labour’, p. 82.

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69 Malthus, Essay (1803).

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