If you didn’t catch How Earth Made Us on BBC1 last Tuesday, it’s worth watching this bit on the development of China and why it came late to industrialisation.
The presenter (who’s irritating but stick with it) gives a brief, flawed but interesting summary of why, because of the location of China’s natural resources, it was so much more difficult for them to efficiently extract them and transport them to population centres where they could fuel economic growth.
Conversely, in Europe, the smaller nations allowed for what resources were there to be extracted and transported to where they were needed far more quickly and cheaply. Centuries later, ideologues for European empire would come to consider this sanctioned by a greater power rather than what it actually was, which is fortuitous.
The geographic location of various parts of the world and how it affected their historical development is a fascinating subject. For beginners, Angus Maddison’s book Contours of the World Economy is a good place to start.