Second Part

0:05:07 Something had gone right; I was two years ahead of Francis Hope at Eton, and after I got the scholarship in December, I left school and spent the year wandering round Europe with my mother, as she would not let me go on my own; we spent a lot of time in Italy and the rest in France; I played chess, and the great run of chess at St Paul's began with the people who were running it, and I joined them; St Paul's chess team when I came, for three and a bit years only lost one match; this was very important as by this point we wanted a chess tie for sporting respectability; we took the training of our successors with incredible seriousness which was why St Paul's became very good; your duty as a good chess player was to train the next generation which we spent our lunch hours doing; I was delegated to see the High Master to make our request with facts and figures; he disliked me because he knew I didn't believe in Christianity, but St Paul's does have a large Jewish population, and virtually all my best friends were Jewish; he didn't approve of chess because it wasn't a physical sport; I was very polite, and he was at least tolerant, and I explained to him that we had racked up a record which no team in the history of the school had managed to equal; fencing had done very well, but even fencing was behind us, and I requested very politely that we might have the right, as members of the team - about six people - to wear a special tie; he told me to come and see him in a week; when I came back he said we could have a chess club tie; suddenly the world exploded inside me but I had to concentrate to listen to the condition, which was that it must be impossible to mistake it for a sporting tie and that the design should be submitted to him for final approval; we designed a tie of black silk with thin silver diagonal stripes, in fact the school colours but not the ones used in the sporting ties; he approved it; it was generally agreed that we had the smartest tie in town; I don't know whether they still have this tie; perhaps I should tell you why he disliked me, because I would always beat him in his special class on Christianity; I had asked to be excused but he insisted I come; I tried to keep silent but he provoked me into explaining why I disagreed with him; when I went back to the school he was the only master there who would not speak to me

4:19:18 I went up to King's College, Cambridge, because my grandfather went there; he was Dutton, the man who became a Unitarian Minister when he migrated to America; I actually had Isaiah Berlin on my interviewing panel and I did it with a temperature of about 101o, full of aspirin, and he asked me questions about Spinoza; I had not read a word of his but had read a number of books about him, so I just about got by on that second hand knowledge, feeling thoroughly ashamed of myself; I read history, beginning with mediaeval and modern European history; finally I moved as a special subject to Chinese history; I was the only person to get a starred first with that particular special subject; it was on the Boxer uprising; the only teacher I regard as really memorable was Margery Chibnall, who was quite special; I only did a term with her but it was instantly recognizable as real scholarship; Walter Ullmann wasn't bad too; it was very useful to have him as a guide to reading mediaeval Latin, which I put to use again recently; Christopher Morris was a family friend, but let's leave it at that; similar comment for John Saltmarsh; these people were characters but were not the kind of historians that I had expected, but Chibnall certainly was; Postan was at Cambridge and I listened to one of his series of lectures, which were pretty good; I developed a great respect for him later, but his lecturing style was quite hard to follow; I got far more in going to lectures on non-historical subjects; that was the great thing about Cambridge that I could go off to John Wisdom’s lectures on philosophy, to lectures on anthropology, and all sorts of other things; as far as history was concerned I hardly went to any lecture at all; I got my degree in 1959; Cambridge was an enormous intellectual stimulus; I have always regarded these other subjects as being an integral part of the analysis of the human experience, which is what human history is meant to be about; although the anthropologist I learnt most from was probably Bill Skinner in the Chinese field, people like Meyer Fortes were wonderful people to talk to; I got on well with Meyer, possibly because he was a friend of my father's; Jack Goody's wife, Esther, was an old school friend of my wife, but that was later, after I graduated; there were people like Moses Finley who were fascinating on classical history, but that was not part of the syllabus; I could do a pretty good job in a few days, in getting together a basic bibliography on the mainline things, but for new starting points, Cambridge was absolutely priceless for me; I did talk to a lot of people in the sciences but at that point I had not got too deeply into it; it was completely obvious to me that if you were trying to get a grip on what ultimately at the very bottom distinguishes what we rashly call the modern era, it is fundamentally something to do with the nature of whatever modern science is in terms of modernity; I found that trying to get a grasp of this was something I got more and more interested in; it is evasive but it is not unreal, so I was always very careful because of my limited knowledge of science, to explore but not to come to conclusions; I knew Gerd Buchdahl, for instance, and was actually given the draft of his book on Newton to see if his explanations of Newton's 'Principia' were accessible to a layman; the answer is partially, and I know he was very disappointed; it was a well-done book, but it was difficult; I did Chinese as a special subject with a strange man called Victor Purcell with whom I argued a good deal; I had spent my entire summer vacation at the British Museum newspaper library at Hendon, and I had read every page of the relevant period covering the Boxer uprising in the 'North China Herald', which was probably the best single source to read; I knew that I was the first person to have read it there because I cut all the pages; true enough, it turned out that Purcell had not read it, so we had a set-too; I would quote the 'North China Herald' back at him; we settled down to an amiable relationship after I had stood up for myself because he was a bully; I was shocked that he had not read this very important primary source; the sinology came in for purely pragmatic reasons; I always approached history from that time on as essentially involving the framing of a question, and I went round looking for questions that seemed to be interesting; my first paper in public at the old King's Political Society was on Cathars and Troubadours - I knew Arthur Hibbert, but he wasn't any help with that particular subject - my question was why you should get troubadour poetry at the same time as the Albigensians in much the same society, what on earth could they have had in common? I don't think that I came up with the right answer but I posed the question quite effectively; I had read some of the sources in French and Latin, but had taken on something that was really beyond me, but the question was interesting; China came simply because of three very obvious questions deriving from Max Weber; given that China, particularly after the early publication of Needham's work, was clearly at some points technically ahead of the West - I take 1100 as perhaps a reference date - why did China not have something like an industrial revolution or scientific revolution, and whatever happened to democracy; later on I re-phrased that, but that was the primitive form in which it came; I took up Chinese immediately after I had done my final examinations in order to begin to equip myself to look at why, after Weber had set the way - he underestimated China seriously because he refused to read Jesuit works - why did China clearly not succeed in carrying on from its mid-Mediaeval pre-eminence in certain very relevant areas; that was this continuation of the habit of asking questions and why I sat down to get the tools of the trade, which took me far longer than I had imagined; I can rampage quite easily through European languages if I settle down with a dictionary, Chinese is a different proposition and I got very badly stuck for a while; it was a year and a half before I could produce anything I could put a footnote to, and even after that it remained a long hard slog; I went to Harvard and took courses that Fairbank had there for two years, and learnt academic Japanese; after that by pillaging Japanese work as an intermediate half-way house, as they are very good, I was able to at least get some movement; Cambridge was above all interesting for opening the mind but technically, in my area of history, it was a bit disappointing

18:50:08 The Oriental Institute was a different thing altogether; I studied there for a year at my own expense; although I had got a starred first I did not get a State Scholarship; I lived on £250 and my father paid my book bills; I could still dine in King's and use their facilities; for that year I worked around the clock and I lived in a room that was cheap because it was exposed to garage fumes in Victoria Street; at the end of the year I got a State Studentship and the year following got a well-paid Fellowship at Harvard, so it was quite an interesting up and down ride; the quality of teaching at the Oriental Institute was extremely good; there were some quite remarkable people that I dealt with, all master sinologists; it was not easy; they didn't believe in metaphorical crampons, you just used your fingernails, you got up fast, and there was a heck of a view at the top; one was Pulleyblank, still alive in Canada, another Denis Twitchett, and Piet Van Der Loon, who later on became Professor at Oxford; they had very limited visions historically, but the art of extracting fairly accurate information from extremely difficult texts is what sinology is about; they could hardly have been bettered anywhere in Europe at that time, so I was again extremely lucky

21:06:02 Going back to America, it was a different world; I had been back while my grandparents were alive but one was conscious of living on the edge of something dangerous all the time; occasional encounters with the police left one with a very uncomfortable feeling; of course, my introduction to America when I came back that time was to corruption; in 1962 I came by boat, one of the last generation to do so, arrived in New York and was met by a very courteous member of the Commonwealth Foundation, but my luggage has to go through customs; the custom's man opened my main bag and saw a pamphlet in English by Mao Tse-tung; he said it was subversive and that I was not allowed to take it; I didn't know what to say but explained that I had it because I was working on this subject at Harvard; I turned round to see where the Commonwealth representative had gone, but he had vanished; I hoped that I would not end up at Ellis Island; a little later, a man with the caricature face of a baby boxer, whom I later learnt was named Jampole, appeared with the customs officer; the custom's officer asked if it was educational material to which I said, yes; he slammed the case shut, marked it with chalk, and as I was taken away from the customs lobby, the Commonwealth representative reappeared and told me that I had just cost them $50; Jampole was a fixer employed by important employers to deal with routine problems with the customs, and they knew the tariffs; I was teased about this for about six months until people got bored, it was not a prelude of things to come, but it was quite a shock; Harvard was further professional training; again, the mental horizons of Harvard's sinology at that time, the techniques were very good, the library fantastic, but again also extremely narrow; I was aware that I was far more at home with sociologists like Bill Skinner and many others, who were much more like me in finding the questions I wanted to answer, and that was a source of discomfort; I remember a little later when I was a minor established figure in the professional field, I went to a conference in New Hampshire where Bill Skinner had tried to have a multi-disciplinary approach; one of the people there was Arthur Wright, a heavyweight professor from Yale, over-rated while his wife was under-rated, and he thought that as a historian I would be an ally against the dread anthropologists and sociologists; I remember he actually walked out of a session with me saying, "The historians won that, didn't they?" I just wondered what to say, I didn't want to have bad relations but didn't believe a word of this; I remember being genuinely shocked, but that is jumping ahead in time

25:50:16 I was at Harvard for two years; I could have stayed to do a PhD there, but I was aware of the time and money consumption of doing general exams in America, whereas back in Cambridge I would just have to write a thesis; I had also been offered a job at Cambridge at that point as an assistant lecturer, with very generous terms which would give me enough time to finish my thesis which I had actually begun; it was on the first democratic institution in China that actually functioned, run by Chinese - a book, because of Fairbank's hostility, was postponed from publication, and then never published, though I pillaged it for articles; what is interesting is again the role of chance; I had a great row with Fairbank about how I was rewriting my thesis for publication; he was too important to have a violent disagreement with so I just dug my heals in and blocked; I couldn't write it his way because it was wrong, so I got a contract from Weidenfeld & Nicolson to write a short history of modern China; I soon realized as I sat down to fill up my time that I needed to go back, to what I later called and people have adopted since, the Mediaeval economic revolution in China - think of Marco Polo symbolizing that time - so I wrote the book backward, having written most of the part on the more recent period; I then wrote the Mediaeval period and then had a sense of how I was going to write the first part, which was roughly when the Empire crystallized; I wrote the book with a very gentle thanks to John Fairbank for his generosity in letting me pursue another project; to my amazement it became an overnight success; it was called 'The Pattern of the Chinese Past', and it ran through all the questions that I had been raising in my last year as an undergraduate; it explained a small, but useful part of the problem that China ran into which was having a very productive high-Mediaeval technology in farming, which did not advance technically much further, but spread round a very large part of the cultivatable area, and then by supporting a much increased population meant that there was a kind of ceiling, and no easy progress, and opportunities for new large effective water systems increasingly disappearing, and the marginal return on effort clearly reaching a ceiling; this was the infamous high-level equilibrium trap; at any rate, I had established a number of things, why China stayed together over the long-run, the increasing mediaeval rate of improving technology and the centre core which enabled them to finance and equip armed forces, and an administration strong enough to keep the place together, just, and quite a number of other questions, beginning on the science one, but I had still not got very far there; thus, that book was a result of the quarrel with Fairbank which meant that I had to go sideways, if at all; the phrase, high-level equilibrium trap, and much of its substance in formulating it into a coherent form and generalizing it was the work of my old friend Radharaman Sinha, who was lecturer in agricultural technology at Glasgow where I had moved after my assistant lectureship had run out; that saddened me as my name has been largely linked with that; it should always be Sinha and Elvin or Elvin and Sinha, I have no preference, but the famous graph, which was ultimately borrowed from Ricardo, was found to fit by Sinha; what I contributed was a fairly detailed amount of research on how that technology reached a ceiling; he put it into a neat, memorable, marketable form, and, from an economist's point of view, one that could be formalized; every time I have talked about that it has stood up and I have always tried to stress that is was joint work, but Sinha has not received anything remotely like the credit he deserves for it; the reason for China hitting the high-level equilibrium trap and Europe not doing so was partly the result of the structure of farming; this is most evident in the most productive farming which is wet-field rice farming; putting it simply, what happened was that the Southern Sung and later dynasties taxed farming on the acreage of cultivatable land, this encouraged farmers to produce as much out of it as possible; if they could get a second crop, an inter-crop or a winter crop, all that is just pure gain; so the Chinese concentrated brilliantly on heavy fertilizing so that fallow soon disappeared completely; by the Southern Sung, people were already commenting on a place if it had still got fallowing; as far as people could they put productivity per acre up but they put productivity, in the end, per hour of human work, down; it is that scissor effect that is characteristic of China; to some extend it results from the fiscal system because it is much easier to collect tax in that way, and to some extent out of the fact that a system where irrigation can be refined and refined is capable, with fertilizer, productivity can go way up; I don't think that anything as acute as that happened in Europe; most of the China plain and some patches of central China are essentially former marshes which had been drained, so the amount of land that had been partly levelled already was very great and also very fertile; China got into a very severe fertilizer shortage and ultimately needed Justus von Liebig, not Chinese, to get out of that particular trap; the number of cattle fell as it was only in certain upland areas that a number of cattle could be raised economically, but scavengers like pigs and poultry went up; the returns for effort, despite extreme ingenuity, went down and down; I had heard of Geertz's book, 'Agriculture Involution', but did not read it until afterwards; the Chinese practice goes back to about the year 1000; one of the things that Chinese bureaucracy did achieve of great economic value was that officials had to move around the country, going to backward places, where they would introduce more labour intensive farming; in the end there was an agricultural base which was subject to very different rules, and had enormously reduced possibilities; fertilizer was always used to some extent in English farming but it wasn't everywhere; in China it was needed everywhere; they even became masters of the difficult technique of fertilizing a second time during the growing period, and even imported fertilizer, mostly soya bean cake from Manchuria, by sea to try to make up the deficit; it was an economy, amazing in its own way, which was in the end continually under pressure

39:36:07 The great divergence hypothesis, put forward by Pomerantz and others in California, that China and Europe were at similar stages of development until the eighteenth century, is not true as far as farming is concerned; there were many areas where China was actually ahead; for example, the use of cast iron tools from the Han onward is far ahead of the West; those that argue this don't get involved in the reality of wet rice farming; I was initially interested in water control systems; they don't study things like the problem of keeping the soil going and fallowing alone gives the game away; they are quite wrong, and for a very interesting reason, they stopped reading German; I discovered after coming to these conclusions myself that there was a massive authority in the form of Wilhelm Wagner whose book in 1926 based on over a decade of teaching farming to Chinese in China before the First World War, and household budget surveys as well as chemical knowledge of what was involved in farming, meant that he had said it already in a book of 600 pages; nobody reads it but it is still completely relevant; you cannot read that book and believe anything about the comparability of farming in the two areas; Americans do not live on the land any more and have lost a feeling for what it is like; also, I studied technology a great deal and reconstructed the first multi-spindle water-powered spinning machine which was already in a book in China in 1314, and that was actually passed as workable by a firm of Dundee spinning engineers; it was like Arkwright many hundreds of years before the event; what is interesting is that there were links between Italy and China in silk handling; while there are significant differences there are also things that are surprisingly similar; I don't think Pomerantz, though full of ideas, has really got the knowledge about what basic farming was like; I certainly know that Japanese historians felt that the picture shown in my book was broadly realistic; the trouble comes that there were things in China that do match up to the late sixteenth century with the best that Europe could produce; the most interesting, and I have written on, going on from Needham and Robinson's work is the system of equal temper tuning of wind instruments, described in the late sixteenth century, which predates Europe by about a century; however, the system in Europe was developing by that point into something far more formidable than just individuals; China did not develop, outside some very limited fields, an interacting system which communicated, criticized, commentated, financed, and passed down the generations; there are occasional peaks where you can be misled into thinking that China really had enough to have almost had modern science; the problem for Chinese science is that I think you could say that culturally, most of the resources were there; I studied the history of probabilistic thinking in China wondering why, in a gambling-mad country, nothing like the work of Cardama, or Fermat and Pascal, Van Huygens, and so forth, had developed; I was able to show that all the mathematical tools, the concepts of permutations and combinations, were all present and used probably by the end of the Sung, but certainly a bit later, and yet they were never put together in such a coherent fashion that you have the Western system of basis probability; the first time that you get a proper analysis of the relative probabilities of a simple gambling game and the correctly correlated pay-offs, is sometime in the nineteenth century, so I can't rule out some European influence by this point; what you got was a demonstration of a semi-latent cultural capacity which was never properly realized; China did not have modern science; on the other hand, people who write it off,  like Toby Hough, are completely missing the point; it is a knife-edge case which is perpetually tantalizing by occasional complete successes, but it never turned into a coherent system of socio-intellectual interaction; there is a vast gulf there; even inventions like multi-spindle spinning had died out and by the end of the Ming was merely a memory in increasingly badly executed woodcuts and garbled texts; the development of the Sung clock also showed that they had got a long way, but then had stopped; so China is perpetually teasing one - it gets so close, but doesn't build up any momentum; the case of clockwork and astronomy is something of an Imperial monopoly, though not completely, and therefore there are problems in it not spreading widely; the first time that Western history starts to move away from Chinese history is ultimately in developing the system, out of which modern science developed; I have also studied this in the history of plant science in Europe, where there was constant experimentation and debate; you do not find any of this intensity in China, and by the later seventeenth century there is no sign that it can develop into a science

54:38:19 I was in Glasgow for five years, and then Oxford for seventeen; in Oxford, though profitable in many ways, I was a single father; my first wife, a poet, Anne Stevenson, left me with two sons so I managed to do just enough research to keep me in play, but mostly I was engaged in teaching and administration, apart from doing a historical atlas of China which turned me again towards the history of environment, which has always interested me; I don't think that Pomerantz realized that China was an over-worked and exhausted land long before the West began to bite; indeed the West rescued China, above all with Justus von Liebig's chemical fertilizers; at Oxford I also got very interested in women's history and published on the cult of virtuous widows in China; I had originally a desire to study population and found out that the best sources were the substantially detailed, very numerous, mini-biographies of virtuous, chaste, widows; I worked with a research assistant, Josephine Fox, and we managed to get usable, though limited, data on perinatal infant mortality; all other researchers do not have for the main part of China the way of checking up on very early deaths; if you take a census once a year you will miss an enormous number of deaths in a primitive world; they are numerous; I have recently come across a paper made in the 1930s where monthly checks were made in the same area that we concentrated on in the Lower Yangtze, and the models c1814 that we made and this one fit exactly; all of the demography, apart from that on the Imperial family and the Manchu Banner men, is out of date and useless for lack of data; with the virtuous widows, it was recorded how many children they had produced and their ages when widowed; with 20,000 case such as we had, you can make something of that; it is very rough but it indicates that it is big; we come back to the situation where the California school has tried to be too kind to China for very good motives, but I don't think that their data is good enough

1:00:43:06 I remarried; Dian was trained at the Central School of Art in London, in both theatre design and historical costume; she also had two children that she brought up as a single mother; we met as single parents with children in their mid-teens and understood the difficulties; the link was bizarrely with my first wife because she was a good friend of Dian's parents who looked me up in Oxford; Dian complements me as she is an eye rather than a word person; for instance, I am a beginner at identifying plants, but she can identify them very quickly; I have written a children's trilogy, 'Dreamguard' under the name John Dutton; they are a mixture of realism and fantasy, books about children for adults too