Explanations addressing why European civilization has been more dominant than Chinese often center on two points: First, Europe’s lead over the past 500 years was a historical exception; Second, Chinese weakness in the 19th century prevented them from harnessing the power of the Industrial Revolution.
This first point can be dismissed on grounds it ignores the greater accomplishments of Ancient Greece and Rome compared to their Chinese contemporaries. It also ignores Greek ruled Byzantium which outlasted the Western Empire by a thousand years and might still exist if the Crusaders’ efforts had met with more success.
The one span of history when China’s advantage over the West was greatest was the Dark Ages. This time was the exception; otherwise Europe’s lead in innovation relative to China has been consistently overwhelming before and after. The record of Chinese underperformance is of such a long-standing kind that it is debatable whether their civilization routinely matched the great pre-Islamic cultures of the Near East.
As for the point made in China’s defense about its extended weakness during the Industrial Revolution, there is no good reason to assume that if these episodes were ones of strength that they would have been sufficient to break China free of its normal trend of lagging Europe. When strong, China never innovated major aspects of civilization. Its cultural zeniths were reached when it was competently run and wealthy, but never rising beyond that.
Only European civilization has proven a capacity for reinvention.
Not so with Europe’s period of weakness: If we are asked to consider what the condition of China might have been sans particular stages of decline, we may also speculate about Europe’s condition absent the Dark Ages.
The Fall of Rome did not necessarily have to be followed by this hard-landing. Consider if it had been a soft-landing where the Empire dissolved but the new kingdoms that emerged from Rome had largely preserved knowledge of Roman engineering, law, government, standards of living, record keeping, literacy, and trade links; and finally passed this knowledge to the Germanic tribes as they were Christianized.
In this case the European advancements made from the start of the Medieval Ages to the Industrial Revolution would likely have instead emerged between the 6th and the 12th centuries, while the China of this alternate timeframe would not have proceeded very differently from how it did in history.
The consistent lead Europe has enjoyed in creativity over China for the past 3,000 years is obvious to anyone open to historical facts. That consistency must make the default assumption about this European advantage be that it is an inherently genetic advantage, and not one brought about by environmental circumstances.