This book explores the economic history of the traditional Chinese iron industry in the 19th and 20th centuries, with particular emphasis on the interactions among technological, economic, and geographic factors. For four separate regions of China it considers the traditional technology of iron production and the ways in which the technologies changed and developed in confrontation with foreign competition and the burgeoning modern sector of China's iron industry.
Violent changes in the economic geography of Chinese industry were caused by foreign competition, World War I, the Sino-Japanese War, and China's isolation in the first decades after 1949. The last episode in the modern fate of the Chinese iron industry occurred during the Great Leap Forward of 1958-9, when the traditional iron-production technologies played a part in an enormous effort to expand iron and steel production and bring China out of a situation of economic gridlock. That campaign was overall a massive failure, but it had some partial successes which have generally been overlooked.
Many of the book's findings are counter-intuitive, and will provide food for thought in the study of Third World industrial development.
The book does not skimp on technical details, but does what it can to make these less painful for the reader. Its explanations should be adequate for readers who know some chemistry and are accustomed to technical thinking. Others should be able to skip over the most technical parts without losing the thread of the argument.