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European Steel vs Chinese Cast-iron: From Technological Change to Social and Political Choices (Fourth Century BC to Eighteenth century AD, History of Technology) p. 297-312

Abstract : Traditionally, from a global point of view, the European ancient, medieval andearly modern iron-production has been considered backwards by comparison to the more efficient Chinese industry, where the smiths controlled the cast-iron technology from the fourth century AC onwards. Recent publications on Chinese and European cases give the opportunity to reappraise the question. Cast-iron was produced in both areas in the modern times, but not with the same purpose, and in very different productive contexts. A closer analysis of iron consumption in both cases shows that Chinese farmers used cast-irontools, which were produced in large furnaces controlled by the imperial bureaucracy. Such tools did not need any specific craft in the peasant community; animal power was not generally used in agriculture. European ploughmen instead used steel tools locally produced in small iron-works, which needed the skills of a smith to be fixed. Such steel ploughs could support animal traction (by oxen or horses) which made them highly productive, and caused important losses of metal. From a more general point of view, the use of cast-iron or steel has therefore to be considered as a clue for the description of the agrarian system: the human work-intensive Chinese tradition, with its high yields, was either a technologic, economic and social choice, as was the energy intensive European system. For Europe, the change from direct production of steel towards indirect production of cast-iron was a path towards higher productivity of work and technology. Cast-iron was the same chemical material but not the same produce in the Eastern and Western part of Eurasia.
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Submitted on : Wednesday, February 10, 2021 - 4:39:29 PM
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Mathieu Arnoux. European Steel vs Chinese Cast-iron: From Technological Change to Social and Political Choices (Fourth Century BC to Eighteenth century AD, History of Technology) p. 297-312. Bloomsbury Academic - Ian Inkster and the Contributors. History of technology (volume 32), 2014. ⟨hal-03124606⟩

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