A critical examination of Chinese influences on Quesnay

van den Berg, Richard (2022) A critical examination of Chinese influences on Quesnay. In: Amelung, Iwo and Schefold, Bertram, (eds.) European and Chinese Histories of Economic Thought. Theories and Images of Good Governance. London and New York : Routledge. pp. 215-229. (Routledge Studies in the History of Economics) ISBN 9780367434489


For one century a variety of authors has defended the thesis that Francois Quesnay (1694-1774), one of the most prominent European economic theorists of the 18th century, was fundamentally influenced by Chinese practices and social philosophy. This chapter takes a critical look at such claims. It finds that the textual evidence for this, even in Quesnay's Despotisme de la Chine of 1767, is limited. It concludes that some claims, for example, the supposed Chinese origin of the Tableaux economiques, can simply be discounted. If there was some influence of sources from or about China on other parts of Quesnay's thought, for example on his theory of 'legitimate despotism', then this influence was likely of a confirmative (i.e., fitting with opinions that he also reached in different ways) and a transformative (i.e. shaped by the context of his own time and place) nature.

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