Ever since malthus, it has been conventional to cast the Chinese and European preindustrial demographic systems as opposing archetypes—Europe as a model of demographic restraint, China as demographic profligate. Europe's moderate population growth, fertility control keyed to economic conditions, and favorable living standards are contrasted with China's rapid growth, periodic mortality crises, and precarious balance of population and resources. Although there is some variation in approaches and vocabularies reflecting disciplinary divisions, and recognition of the substantial variability of institutions within Europe and China, this stylized contrast continues to flourish in the demographic and historical literatures. Its persistence is important because Malthusian dynamics underlie a popular and persuasive set of explanations for the divergent paths of Chinese and European economies and societies in the industrial era. In this article we challenge this conventional dichotomy and its empirical underpinnings.

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